Tuesday, September 20, 2011

We Can Do That

Critics like to point out the shortcomings of sports statistics. There are areas where the numbers have minimal impact. But much of the criticism comes from misunderstanding what analytics do best.

A recent article stated that statistics do a much better job of describing the past than predicting the future. While there is some truth to that point, the predictive power depends on what you’re measuring.

The article states that no stat could have predicted that Mark Whiten would have the greatest one-game offensive performance ever. That’s true, but it’s also an impossible task. On the other hand, metrics like batting average on balls in play and home runs per fly ball can identify which hitters should break out after slow starts. Remember Dan Uggla earlier this season?

The real power of sports analytics is what they can do now and will do in the future, especially when combined with technology and/or social media. Last week, I learned about an Austin startup which built an algorithm that measures the level of excitement in sports games. Now fans know immediately if their favorite team is headed for a thrilling finish and whether to watch the game or not.

Several years ago, while struggling to learn a new computer program, a colleague offered invaluable advice: write down everything you’d like the program to do, because it probably has that capability. Turns out that it could do everything I thought of and far more.

I believe analytics and technology can solve many of the problems agents and other sports insiders face. In general, sports analytics can do much more than we realize.

What is your greatest challenge? Analytics may have a solution.