Crunching Numbers with the Queen’s Sports Analytics Organization

The Journal’s look inside Canada’s leading sports analytics think tank

Statistics and sports go hand in hand.
Credit: 
Supplied by QSAO
Hours upon hours of practice. Fierce dedication. Heart and soul. Raw talent. This is what comes to mind when measuring an athlete or sports team’s ability to compete.
 
Do these attributes alone define the winners and losers? Today’s professional sports world would say absolutely not.
 
Coaches and team management are turning to a different dimension of the game to gain the competitive edge: sports analytics.
 
Helping to fuel the flame of this industry is the Queen’s Sports Analytics Organization (QSAO), an AMS-ratified club that’s quickly became one of Canada’s leading organizations on this side of the sport since its founding in 2018.
 
In an interview with The Journal, QSAO Co-Head Nic Osanic, Comm ’22, described the club as a thinktank on sports analytics, comprised of like-minded individuals with a passion for sports and some hard coding skills to back it up.
 
The club has a team of analysts who perform deep-dives into programming and data from professional sports leagues to generate articles for the QSAO website.
 
Behind each article is a step-by-step process, which QSAO Co-Head Catherine Wu, CompSci ’22, explained in simple terms. Once an analyst decides on a project they want to pursue, they progress from initial research stages, to data collection, then on to coding, where they manipulate numbers and arrive at their results.
 
“Once they’re done and they have their results, they have a chance to write their article where they describe the motivation, the work flow they went through and ultimately the findings or maybe the predictions that they make, which is super exciting,” Wu said.
 
For example, QSAO’s most recent article, “Fixing the Toronto Maple Leafs,” tells readers exactly what Leaf’s management should do regarding free agents and trades if they ever want to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
 
QSAO’s articles encompass the crux of sports analytics—to use data and statistical principles to enhance decision making and optimize player performance.
 
QSAO’s sports content is both impressive and eye-opening to the regular sports fan. Their articles are laid out in an accessible format so that anyone can read, enjoy, and learn, no matter their level of statistical or analytical knowledge. Furthermore, the club hosts an informative podcast where analysts and content creators talk about their projects.
 
“As a club we really aim to foster accessibility […] and make sure Queen’s campus knows that there are opportunities to get involved with it and understand it even though it seems kind of like a complicated topic,” Wu said. 
 
Wu, a big Toronto Blue Jay’s fan, explained that growing up watching sports with her family was a springboard for piquing her interest in sports analytics when she came to Queen’s for Computing.
 
“I thought QSAO would be a cool opportunity to apply the skills that I was learning in courses and in class to something that I’m really interested in and passionate about,” she said.
 
Watching the Pittsburgh Penguins win the 2009 Stanley Cup—when Sidney Crosby was still “Sid the Kid” and the youngest captain ever to win—was where the passion began for Osanic. He also said watching the Tampa Bay Rays consistently beat the Toronto Blue Jays got him thinking more deeply about how data can help teams win.
 
“The Rays never had any money but they kept beating us and they kept being a consistent contender in baseball, so really just seeing how data can give teams the edge to separate them in such a competitive sports environment has been huge.” 
 
Sports analytics isn’t just for the benefit of the team, management, or franchise—it also enhances the viewing experience for fans. Being knee-deep in QSAO has changed the way both Wu and Osanic watch sports.
 
“Now instead of seeing a great performance by someone and thinking wow this guy’s amazing sometimes I just dig deeper,” Osanic said. “Maybe some regression could play into these performances.”
 
“I think I watch a little bit now to confirm some of the findings from my own research projects or not confirm them and realize that maybe we went wrong somewhere,” Wu added.
 
Currently, QSAO hopes to increase their exposure locally with teams here in Kingston and in the wider sports community. On campus, they’re exploring partnerships with Queen’s Hockey—a collaboration to which Osanic credits his own involvement with QSAO.
 
The club will be hiring for analyst positions in the fall, and they encourage anyone who loves sports, has hard programming skills, and some basic knowledge of sports analytics to apply.

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