Stats and Sports

Not just sports, but how the use of analysis and statistics – typical tools of our trade – are being incorporated more and more to help teams become successful.  We thought it would be appropriate to talk about sports in this issue.

The World Cup is a very complicated tournament - six games, seven if you make it to the final - and maybe if you lose one game you're out, even if you're the best.


Over the last ten years , since the book Moneyball came out, analytics have become more and more prevalent in the day-to-day life of both sports executives and many sports fans.   There are many ways that analytics have helped in the sports world, but we’ll look at just a couple; the critical thinking – looking at situations in a new and different way – that has been improved with the onset of new tools and metrics, for the executive and management and data visualization innovations that benefit the fan as well.   All of these things, theoretically, lead to a better game (whatever the sport) and fan experience.

Let’s look at baseball first, for a critical thinking example.   For years, Bill James who is considered the founder of Sabermetrics (taken from SABR – the Society for American Baseball Research), has advocated a whole toolbox full of new metrics and ways to quantify what goes on in a baseball game.   Much of it involves how to best put a value on specific players and their contribution to a team.  One of the earliest and most common statistics still used to gauge a players ability is his batting average.   It’s very simple – take the number of hits a batter gets and divide it by the number of times he was at bat. (OK, you do have to subtract the number of walks, times he might have been hit by a pitch and any sacrifices from the denominator first – but it’s still real easy!) Because of its simplicity, that particular statistic is the most often quoted about a hitter.

Now, back to that example…  It is a general rule of thumb that .300 (read “three-hundred”) is the benchmark for being a really good hitter.   If a player gets a hit 30% of the time he gets up, he’s probably an All-Star and probably makes more money than most.   Conversely, the player who hits “only” .250 (“two-fifty) is considered below average, (unless of course he also hits 50 Home Runs, but that’s another discussion.)   Thinking critically about this, is a .300 hitter really that much better than a .250 hitter, (ceteris paribus of course, all other things equal)?   Well, the typical season may consist of 500 times at bat for a hitter. T  hat means a .300 hitter would have 150 hits.   The .250 hitter would have 125 hits. Assume they both play 150 games of the 162 games season, that means the .300 hitter gets just one additional hit every six games.   Doesn’t sound so much better when you put it that way, does it?

As for data visualization, and how it helps the fan, look at this example of how the Wall Street Journal has been reporting on games in the World Cup.

I’m not even that big of a soccer fan, but I’m finding I can tell a whole lot about the game by how this is charted.   As a fan, we love to be able to re-live a game, especially like the USA win over Ghana!   Statistics and visualizations can help immensely with that; the convergence of analytics and creativity results in new and innovative ways to tell the story.

I know you’re wondering, “What does all of this have to do with what we do as consultants and market researchers”?   It is incumbent upon us to think critically and creatively for, and with, our clients.   We need not fall back on the old, “it’s how we’ve always done it”, routine.  We should be thinking about any recommendations we give and if they will really make a difference.   If not, we need to look at things differently.   And when we tell the story, it needs to be compelling… and easy to visualize.   So, the next time someone asks you what ResearchWISE® means, maybe you can use one of these examples.

~ Bud Sanders

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