Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sports Stats Boring?


I thought I would take a break from the SCOTUS healthcare feeding frenzy.  There is plenty written about it on the PUSH blog.  Last Monday I was watching the Colbert Report when dapper sports writer Frank Deford was on promoting his book.  One thing he said got my attention: "The worst thing that happened to sports writing is its overwhelmed by statistics and the worst thing that happened is that (movie) Moneyball is all about numbers and numbers when it should be about blood and guts...Brad Pitt was nominated but it was as tedious as soccer is."

As Italy prepares to play Spain in the European Championships tomorrow I have a few comments.  Soccer or Calcio as it's called in Italy or football as it's called in the rest of the world is a sport that until recently been relatively bereft of statistics relative to American sports outside of goals and fouls (including yellow cards, red cards and offsides).  Baseball on the other hand has been loaded with statistics ever since the beginning when Alexander Cartwright modified it in the 19th century (Abner Doubleday had nothing to do with the game). 

Baseball Guy Brad Pitt and Numbers Guy Jonah Hill in Moneyball
I haven't seen Moneyball but would like to.  Deford has a point that just presenting numbers is dry and it's important to show the human side of those numbers.  Joseph Stalin once said "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic."  It's important to shine a light on the 'million deaths' and on the tragedy whether it be metaphorical in sports or literal in other spheres of life.  This blog tries to do both by not showing just dry statistics and also by showing the larger picture with statistics.  Sometimes sports statistics provides valuable illustration of phenomena in the natural world as is the case with Barry Sanders running style and global warning.

**Update**


Italy lost to Spain 4-0 and I saw Moneyball last night. There wasn't a lot of statistics in the film or the game. The game was dull because it was a rout. The movie was mostly about Pitt agonizing over going with Jonah Hill's algorithm rather than the old school scouting methods of baseball. It might have been more interesting for me and for Deford if they had focused more on the game and the numbers rather than Pitt's emotions. 

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