Debunking the Trap Game and Letdown Game Myths
Yesterday, Aaron Schatz issued a challenge to his readership to prove the existence of a “trap game” or a “letdown game”. Bothterms are thrown aroundin the mediafor almostevery sportall the time, but I have not seen a hard definition or analysis of whether or not either phenomenon is real. This post defines and examines both types of games to see if there is evidence for either one’s existence.
Let me begin with trap games. As Schatz writes, there is no widely-accepted definition of a trap game, only the mushy understanding that sometimes good teams lose to bad teams when they have a “bigger” game against a better opponent the following week. In this narrative, the good team doesn’t take the bad team seriously, and is focused on the good team coming up the following week. For this study, I defined a “trap game” as a game between a team that finished the season above .500 against a team that finished the season below .500 that occurred one game before the above .500 team played another team that finished the season above .500. (From here on, I use the terms “above/below .500” to refer to a team that finished the season above/below .500.) There are many other ways to define a trap game, but I think this one is true to the soft understanding of the term without overly restricting the sample size.