Odds and Probability: Commonly Misused Terms in Statistics – An Illustrative Example in Baseball

Yesterday, all 15 home teams in Major League Baseball won on the same day – the first such occurrence in history.  CTV News published an article written by Mike Fitzpatrick from The Associated Press that reported on this event.  The article states, “Viewing every game as a 50-50 proposition independent of all others, STATS figured the odds of a home sweep on a night with a full major league schedule was 1 in 32,768.”  (Emphases added)

odds of all 15 home teams winning on same day

Screenshot captured at 5:35 pm Vancouver time on Wednesday, August 12, 2015.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to reproduce this result.  This event is an intersection of 15 independent Bernoulli random variables, all with the probability of the home team winning being 0.5.

P[(\text{Winner}_1 = \text{Home Team}_1) \cap (\text{Winner}_2 = \text{Home Team}_2) \cap \ldots \cap (\text{Winner}_{15}= \text{Home Team}_{15})]

Since all 15 games are assumed to be mutually independent, the probability of all 15 home teams winning is just

P(\text{All 15 Home Teams Win}) = \prod_{n = 1}^{15} P(\text{Winner}_i = \text{Home Team}_i)

P(\text{All 15 Home Teams Win}) = 0.5^{15} = 0.00003051757

Now, let’s connect this probability to odds.

It is important to note that

  • odds is only applicable to Bernoulli random variables (i.e. binary events)
  • odds is the ratio of the probability of success to the probability of failure

For our example,

\text{Odds}(\text{All 15 Home Teams Win}) = P(\text{All 15 Home Teams Win}) \ \div \ P(\text{At least 1 Home Team Loses})

\text{Odds}(\text{All 15 Home Teams Win}) = 0.00003051757 \div (1 - 0.00003051757)

\text{Odds}(\text{All 15 Home Teams Win}) = 0.0000305185

The above article states that the odds is 1 in 32,768.  The fraction 1/32768 is equal to 0.00003051757, which is NOT the odds as I just calculated.  Instead, 0.00003051757 is the probability of all 15 home teams winning.  Thus, the article incorrectly states 0.00003051757 as the odds rather than the probability.

This is an example of a common confusion between probability and odds that the media and the general public often make.  Probability and odds are two different concepts and are calculated differently, and my calculations above illustrate their differences.  Thus, exercise caution when reading statements about probability and odds, and make sure that the communicator of such statements knows exactly how they are calculated and which one is more applicable.

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Eric’s Enlightenment for Tuesday, May 26, 2015

  1. Frances Woolley on the changing dynamics in the relationship between economists and the media in Canada over the past 8 years.
  2. The unintended consequences of labour policies that are meant to be friendly for parents and families – a nice account of many examples by Claire Cain Miller.
  3. FanGraphs explains batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in great detail.
  4. How Neil Bartlett discovered compounds that contain noble gases.  (Yes – they can react!)  He began his research at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (my hometown).  He also discovered a compound in which oxygen is a positively charged ion.  Very cool stuff!