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On The 49ers’ Football Outsiders Prediction and Statistics

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Please re-sign with us! Oh yeah, this has nothing to do with the article. I just had to get that out...
Please re-sign with us! Oh yeah, this has nothing to do with the article. I just had to get that out...

I really, really wish that a few people at Football Outsiders have the sole job of rounding up laurel branches, a goat, and some money. That they would then travel to Delphi, present the laurel branches to Apollo, the goat to the oracle, and the monetary fee to the priest. These intrepid fellows would venture into the oracle and receive a message from the priest along the lines of "I decree / the Niners / shall win / between / seven and / eight games."  Except that it would be in Ancient Greek and the hexameter would be decent.

I wish they had a crystal ball. I wish they consulted soothsayers. And not just because that would be awesome, but because imagining it thus illustrates a great point: even when using statistical analysis in sports, the game is still played on the field - not on paper.

Follow me after the jump for a in-depth discussion of modern music just to piss off all you haterz.

Yes, today I want to write about statistical analysis in sports; specifically, I want to talk about statistical analysis in football.

I think Football Outsiders does a really cool thing. I know by writing this, I'm going to catch a lot of flak in the comments, but I just really dig their approach to predictions. I don't know how good they are at it - and frankly, I don't really care. I would rather read a sophisticated and comprehensive approach which capitalizes on mathematics and statistics and other -ics to come to a conclusion.

Why do I like this? Well, besides the fact that I like educated and hard-working people, I like it precisely because it is not like consulting an oracle at all! A crystal ball takes away all investigative curiosity from the predictor's hands. An oracle takes upon the predictive power. Statistics on the other hand, the puts the power in the fan's hands. Any fan can now look at these stats and tweak them and try to make a better argument. It's just fun.

This is why I like FO. They are the opposite of national sports writers who make predictions based on little to no accurate information. When I imagine FO making predictions, I image giant computers printing out pages and pages of graphs and calculations. I imagine a junior intern picking these up and running them to NASA-looking scientists who quickly walk down a hallway, talking over each other Aaron Sorkin style. Eventually all this knowledge is combined into an awesome prediction.

National writers? I imagine Peter King in his bathroom. The place is covered in those creepy looking translucent tarps, except his bulliten board which has post-it notes labeled "coffeenerdness" and "beernerdness." King is sitting on his knees awkwardly as he cuts open an animal and examines its entrails. He then mutters something to himself, shouts out Brett Favre's name in ecstasy, and writes down his predictions.

I get that both of these representations are not fair. I don't think Football Outsiders could take over the world with their brain power. And, I especially don't mean to disrespect Peter King - he is a very good writer and has the impossible task boiling down the entire NFL to one article a week. That's crazy hard. But, I do think these two renderings serve a greater purpose. It's King's job to make informed, but gut predictions. He has to synthesize an incredible amount of information in making predictions. It's FO's job to be statistically driven in their predictions. I'm not going to spoil it for you, dear reader, but there is a way for which I have a bit more respect. Why don't you make a guess?

So, we return to our original premise: my desire to see FO consult the supernatural and the occult in predicting football wins. I don't really wish that would happen. It would ruin all the fun of actually watching the season play out. Moreover, some evil person would figure out how to harness this power, make a ton of money, and then Marty McFly would have Biff for a father -  and I'm not going to subject Michael J. Fox to that sort of hell.

In a weird way, then, I like that fact that FO occasionally fails. I like that it cannot always tell the future. I like it when the underdog team comes out and fights its way to victory. I love the parity in the NFL. This is one of the reasons I would argue that it is the best sport in existence.

But the fact of the matter still remains that I believe in the predictive power of statistics. I believe that the only things that can be measured and evaluated are things that can be quantified statistically. I also believe that, as a fan, stats are some of the best ways to evaluate players. This may be different for scouts and coaches. And since I played DB, WR, and OLB in high school ball, I can look at whether or not a player is using their fundamentals correctly. Outside of that, though, the best way for fans to evaluate a player is through statistical analysis - or so I believe.

This is somewhat of a bigger debate in Baseball, simply because stats work better with larger sample sizes. Baseball provides that. Football, however, has seen a recent flourishing of statistical analysis and I think as fans we should embrace that potential. It can bring a whole new element to the game. Plus, DVAO just sounds super cool.

So, here, on Niners Nation. Let the two camps come together in a glorious meeting of companionship. Stat geeks? Admit that football is a game played by men and as such stats will not always match up perfectly with what happens on the field. And the anti-stats crowd? Admit that stats people aren't trying to play the game on paper, and maybe, just maybe, if you are feeling conciliatory, admit that stats might be the most effective way of evaluating players and teams - that DVAO and DPAR are effective tools, in fact.

Do it. Do it now, or I will ban all of you! Muhahaha! I have that power! (Right, Fooch? I have that power right? Wait? Fooch? Where are you going? Fooch?! FOOOOOOCCHH!).