A look at Statistical Analysis.... without Stats!!

"I'm gonna take a (site decorum)" - Vincent Vega

"That's a little bit more information than I needed Vince, but go right ahead" - Mia Wallace


When I was a kid, I used to collect baseball cards. I would wash my Father's car to get some spare change in his pocket to go play Asteroids at the local convenience store, and while I was there, I bought a pack of cards that were easier to chew on than the stick of gum that was packaged with it. The back of those cards had a list of a bunch of numbers that I never considered relevant at the time. The only thing to me that had tangible value was the stick of gum. My gauge of the value of the pack of cards was based upon the chewabilty of the sugary goodness (there is nothing like the smell of a freshly opened pack of baseball cards) than the cards themselves. I never got into the obsession with baseball cards, and threw all of them away months later being that the only value to me at the time was the gum. Without realizing it, I was also throwing away information. That information was the player's statistics, which I didn't care much about at the time, and never thought I would use. That is, until I grew up and found the Internet. Now I can immerse myself into a whole quagmire of data, trying to make sense of it all. But the question is, is this more information than I need?

Hopefully, Florida Danny and smileyman aren't ready to browbeat me after reading the opener. I already see their fingers wagging at me as I write this. I would not dare to venture into their realm of study because I have no real clue of how to make sense of most of it. I'm not discounting the value of it either. Even before I found Niners Nation, I discovered the prolific work of Football Outsiders after reading an article about Paraag Marathe. What intrigued me most about the article was Marathe's belief in the Brave New World of football data, and how it applied to a football team. Marathe then was a chief architect in the rebuild of the 49ers, and his use of stats were part of it. The same week the article been published, Ralph Barbieri had none other than Billy "Moneyball" Beane as a co-host. Now I had to call in. My question to Beane was how "Maratheball" would work in the NFL. Beane didn't really have an answer to it, other than saying he thought Marathe was a bright young guy. I was left wondering "what the hell does Football Outsiders have to do with, well, football???". After spending a few days browsing the site, I gave up and went back into the cave to hibernate from the Brave New World. I was happy just being a layman as far as a fan. The Brave New World was cold, confusing, and it had way more information than I needed.

Until................................. now.

Crawling out of the cave and back onto the Super Highway of information, I found as a sports fan that stats were something missing from my experience as one. Those numbers on the back of those baseball cards actually were useful if I had a deeper understanding of the game. What I didn't realize that I was using stats while teeing it off at the local Muni course. I also didn't realize that keeping track of my individual stats would help me improve. Well, I didn't improve much due to other things than stats, yet at least I had a gauge to work with. In fact, the more I became aware of statistics, I also became aware of the probabilities. I realized that mostly anything that I do can be measured in a statistic, like say, a trip to Trader Joe's will in all probability mean consumption of a few pints of Guinness bought from there. Now look at me. I've become a "walking statistic", which isn't considered a Term of Endearment. Maybe it's safer in the cave after all.

The use of statistics in sports has always been the "Game within the game", and now people who endeavor in this science are finding new ways to analyze and weigh data so we can have a more thorough understanding of them. The thing is, it may never be a complete science, and it will evolve more due to sports itself evolving over a period of time. One person's metric can be tweaked by another. Data is always challenged and improved upon. Even when in use here, one either believes it, or they dismiss it. That goes to something more personal than data, either agreeing with it because it aligns with what you know, or you disagree with it because it tells you something that you don't want to know. Data is subjective due to how we see it, even though the proof is in the pudding. Stats are used in raging debates, like this Kobe vs. Lebron debate that continues to be endless with no real point to it. There has been plenty of heated discussions while using and misusing stats here, and even those who dismiss stats in a discussion inadvertently winds up using them to prove a point. What stats tell us is what happened, how, and what could happen. There is no real way to avoid stats. We might just have to sit here and deal with them from now on, right?

Or................................wrong?

The probability of leaving a perishable item out of the 'fridge for an extended period of time usually means it will spoil, and not be consumable. Pretty simple, right? Let's make it even more simple. If it smells bad, don't eat it. If it looks rotten, throw it away. I don't need a whole study to figure that out. I just know what I see and smell as good to me. If you like rotten food, that's good too. It's your choice. If you have your reason's for liking Quarterback A over Quarterback B, more power to you. We don't have to over analyze everything in life, and sometimes, just sitting back and having a hot dog with the kids at the ballpark is all we really need out of sports. Sure stats help us understand our world around us, but there are times when I need to shut out the statistical noise, just so I can enjoy the simple things around me. But at least I have resources to help me understand them. It's really up to me on how I use them, or not use them.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that it's just a game.


note: Just a quick shout out to all of the Stat guys who do great work here. I'm not abandoning youse, so put that finger away.

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