QJ Sports: Stats meet sports

There has been a definitive paradigm shift in the athletic world in the past decade or so.

Across virtually every major North American sport, there has been an explosion of popularity in using numbers to analyze games.

Dubbed by some as the “Moneyball” era — in reference to the 2003 book about the Oakland A’s baseball team succeeding due to their use of statistics — it’s undeniable that more people than ever are interested in the numerical evaluation of sports.

While basic stats — such as goals, assists, points, saves, blocked shots and steals — have been tracked for about as long as sports have existed, many new “advanced” statistics have come to the forefront in recent years.

Soccer and hockey have been overtaken by stats explaining ball or puck possession, while football has seen new ways to analyze quarterback and running back performance.

Baseball — one of the first sports to see this heavy sort of numerical integration — has introduced new statistics to evaluate how many runs that batters, pitchers and fielders help to create or eliminate on average.

All these new stats follow a similar idea: optimizing our understanding of player performance using objective methods. Inventing new measures, building on old ones and disregarding others as obsolete, the trend has led both hobbyists and official league sources to start tracking and sorting statistical categories in many different ways.

In 2015, it’s more accessible than ever for fans, analysts and team officials, such as coaches and managers, to integrate more stats into day-to-day discussions about plays and games.

Of course, with any sort of new ideas, there will be critics. Some journalists, fans and even managers of professional teams often claim that adding too many stats overcomplicate sports. But in reality, they simplify the game.

Want to know which two players play well together? Who is most efficient given their playing time? Who are the most effective shooters from a certain area?

There’s almost certainly a stat for each of those questions. They help coaches differentiate between two or more possible lineup combinations; managers identify valuable trade targets; and players determine which opponents to look out for in certain situations.

There’s also a big push in the field for stats that help predict future success, often referred to as “underlying metrics”.

These stats can play a part in determining which teams and players are performing at either a sustainably high or low level — for example, scoring on an extremely high percentage of their shots compared to their typical performance — and if slumps are just bad luck or if a hot streak has the likelihood to continue.

While there will always be room for standard analysis — such as in-person scouting and assessing a player’s character — many stats are great indicators of exactly why players perform as they do.

Many professional teams and managers have refused to use any sort of advanced analysis and instead rely on their traditional ways.

Still, several successful teams have openly attributed many of their accomplishments to their statistical departments.

The National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have each won two Stanley Cups in the past five years, publicly attributing much of their success to their stats departments.

Real Madrid — the defending champions of the European soccer Champions League — signed a multi-million dollar partnership last fall to integrate analytics for both their team staff and fans. Other teams are following suit in nearly every league.

Sports aren’t played on a spreadsheet, and teams will still need talented athletes and coaches to put everything together. But as the old saying goes: knowing is half the battle.

For the teams who acquire as much knowledge as possible by tracking as many statistics as possible — and making educated decisions as a result — you shouldn’t be surprised if you see them hoisting a championship trophy at season’s end.

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