Barnwell: Bridging the analytics gap

From Bill Barnwell at on February 28, 2014:

As the eighth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference approaches this weekend, I find myself thinking more and more about the next frontier for quantitative analysis. Authorship certainly isn’t a problem, as there’s no lack of metric creation out in the wild. Data, once a problem outside the world of baseball, are widespread and rapidly expanding into spectra that wouldn’t have been remotely imaginable at the turn of the century. Awareness is steadily rising; the Phillies became the last Major League Baseball team to hire a stat guy, and 29 of 30 NBA teams were represented at last year’s Sloan conference. (The lone holdout, the Los Angeles Lakers, were shamed into attending this weekend’s conference.)

Understanding, though? That’s still hit or miss. There are really smart executives, coaches, and players who have either managed to neutralize the idea of analytics or flat-out rejected it. In many cases, I find the expert in question is really just misinterpreting a statistical concept or stretching it beyond its reasonable limits. In others, impossible straw men are drawn up that disqualify not only analytics from adding anything to the discussion, but also any sort of intelligent thought about how to win at your particular sport.

Which is to say that both the concept of analytics and the actual ideas behind analytics are probably being sold short by those holding out. The popular reasoning is that analytics should coexist with traditional measurements and concepts, and in many cases, that works perfectly. It’s also a catchall that doesn’t always fit. There are some situations where analytics are totally useless; I wouldn’t use a quantitative metric to figure out which left tackle I should draft, for one. There are others where analytics so thoroughly answer the question that the conventional wisdom is simply wrong.

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Originally published: February 28, 2014. Last Updated: February 28, 2014.