Sports analytics is a constant rising field with a debatable side to it. Thanks in part to the movie/book Moneyball, sports analytics made its way into a mainstream affair. This is one of the rare areas where geeks and sports come together. Numbers are a hip thing. Stats geeks, number crunchers, business professionals and sports executives all come together once a year at the Sloan Sports Conference to learn about the latest and there is nothing to take lightly. It’s one of the fastest growing conferences in the world and old school industry folks are taking the geeks more and more seriously and the results are there to prove it. Anything to get an edge right?
What is sports analytics: The field was born out of baseball by Bill James in 1977, the pioneer of sabermetrics. It’s the process of using techniques from data mining, statistics and economics to model performance and sporting contests. It’s applied for purposes of in-game strategy, player performance/evaluation, team management, sports operations, drafting, and fantasy competitions, among many other topics.
Former MIT analytics professor Daryl Morey is the general manager of Houston Rockets. The New England Patriots are huge on advanced statistics. Half of the NHL team has analytics experts in their management.
Not everyone is a believer. A lot of non-stat people are skeptical. I also don’t think that a professional athlete that gives his 110% want to hear about a geek that never threw a football predict his future performance and therefore influencing his future contract (unless it’s way up) with a nice fancy mathematical model. Certain sports are more stats oriented. Stats in baseball can be measure in isolation. But in hockey? You have 10 guys in constant motion. It’s way more difficult to isolate certain variables. One thing that makes it more acceptable is that stats are measurable and you can interpret it with a nice story.
I have a foot on each side of the fence. I love stats but I’m not an expert on them. Too much stat might just cloud your judgment and not enough of them might lead you to the wrong decisions. I’m still not convinced that you can go all the way by simply making decisions based on stats. Or can you? More and more teams are relying on specialty analytics boutique with proprietary technology and they have a lot of success. For me it’s important to factor a player’s work ethics, attitude, leadership, and confidence. How do you put a number on confidence? How do you measure attitude? What effects does a certain player’s leadership have on the stats of other players? Or maybe it’s already reflected in the historical performance. It’s certainly an interesting field. You can’t deny it anymore. It’s not just some mystic shady science. One company is able to map out a player’s performance simply based on certain keywords from a player’s interviews and they are fairly accurate. (The same technology is used in politics too.) You certainly can’t deny that it’s seriously growing fast and it’s gaining more and more influence in the sports landscape.
And by the way, analytic firms were strongly against the Philadelphia Flyers signing goalie Ilya Brizgalov to a $US51 million contract.
Below is a mini collection of videos of people involved the sports analytics field. You find material on sports franchise valuation, Mark Cuban, famous super baseball agent Scott Boras, sports gambling, fantasy sports, the general manager of the Houston Astros Jeff Luhnow. Most of the videos are from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
Joe McNulty: The Analytics of Sports Franchise Valuation
Mark Cuban one-on-one with Bill Simmons at the Sports Analytics Conference
Insider Trading Sports Bookmaking and Gambling Clip
2012 SSAC – Interview Scott Boras by Rikhi Jain
2012 SSAC: Mind Games: Psychological Assessments in Player Evaluations
2012 SSAC: Competitive Advantage: Sports Business Analytics
2012 SSAC: Fantasy Sports Analytics
2012 SSAC: Live B.S. Report: Bill James with Bill Simmons