Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Analyzing Analytics

Yesterday ESPN published kind of an interesting piece in which all 122 professional teams in the country’s four major sports -- that is, the MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL -- were assessed with regard to their relative commitment to “analytics” or using the advanced stats available to guide them in the development of their franchises.

They say they came up with the list “after looking at the stats, reaching out to every team and dozens of informed sources and evaluating each front office." Not sure what stats they looked at, actually. In fact, it almost sounds like they eyeballed it. (Rim shot.)

I wrote a couple of posts some time back about reading Moneyball and reinvigorating an interest in the topic that for me traced all of the way back to reading Bill James’ Baseball Abstract each year as a teen.

The Oakland A’s and their sabermetrics-using general manager Billy Beane were the focus of that book, and they earned a spot inside the top 10 at No. 9 in the rankings. Meanwhile the Philadelphia 76ers -- for a time earlier this year the worst team in the NBA -- sit atop the rankings as the franchise that has “embraced data the most.”

Within each league teams are broken down into categories as either being “all-in” with analytics (using a poker metaphor), “believers,” having “one foot in,” being “skeptics,” or being “nonbelievers.” The New York Knicks -- the team that took over the distinction as the NBA’s worst this year from the Sixers -- ranks dead last among NBA teams, with their president Phil Jackson described as a “conscientious objector.” The Knicks rank just above the Philadelphia Phillies at the very bottom of the overall list.

There are a handful of NBA teams who are “all-in,” but in the NFL not one team is accorded that status. Only one NHL team is -- the Chicago Blackhawks -- while the MLB has the highest percentage of teams “all-in” with analytics (nine of 30 teams), reflecting how most of the earliest work in that area occurred in baseball before making its way to other sports.

My Panthers are described as “skeptics,” while my Hornets have “one foot in” the analytics door. I’d probably describe myself as having “one foot in” as well, and so tend to feel better about the Hornets’ commitment than that of the Panthers.

In fact, I would guess that each team’s fans feel more or less encouraged by the report according to how closely their team’s evaluation matches their own views of using advanced stats to guide roster decisions, the management of salaries, line-up creation and other in-game moves, and so on.

Someone should poll fans of all 122 teams and with the results build a spreadsheet, then measure the findings against team performance, attendance figures, regional climate, the city’s GDP, and other relevant factors to create a Fan Contentedness Index to be used for the scheduling of promotions and ticket pricing.

Or, you know, they could skip all that and just listen for cheers and boos.

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