Monthly Archives: January 2016

Can advanced analytics have a significant impact in the NFL?

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Source: https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2016/01/09/can-advanced-analytics-have-significant-impact-nfl/UJYTVqUVXLRpCSz7AxKdfN/story.html

The Cleveland Browns went way outside the box last week, hiring Paul DePodesta away from the New York Mets to be their new “chief strategy officer.”

The team is 14-34 and about to hire its third head coach in three full seasons under owner Jimmy Haslam, but DePodesta’s hiring shows that Haslam is at least trying to commit to a more mathematical and stats-based approach to try to turn around the Browns’ fortunes. Despite firing the head coach and general manager last week, Haslam retained analytics expert Ken Kovash.

Everyone knows DePodesta’s prominence in “Moneyball” and how he is going to bring analytics to the Browns. But what exactly does that mean in a football context? Unlike baseball, football has several players who don’t produce statistics (offensive linemen), success is more team-based than individual, and the sample size of statistics is much smaller.

How can DePodesta’s background in identifying statistical inefficiencies help the Browns on the field? And how new is this approach, anyway?

“It’s really just an extension of what quality control coaches have been doing for years,” said Joe Banner, a former executive vice president with the Eagles (1995-2012) and CEO of the Browns (2012-14). “‘What’s the probability they’re going to blitz on third and 6?’ Every coach has probabilities for virtually every scenario you could come up with, and that’s sort of analytics.”

The most important aspect to remember is that unlike in baseball, where the scouting and stats-based communities tend to disagree on how to evaluate players, few in football believe that advanced stats are as important as good, old-fashioned scouting — game film, interviews, body type, motivation, medical checks, and more.

Banner says if you let analytics “be the engine that drives the machine, you’re in trouble.” Aaron Schatz, creator of the advanced stats website Football Outsiders, calls analytics “just a tool in the toolbox.” And no matter what the stats say, there will always be outliers.

The stats said that the Seahawks’ decision to throw the ball on the 1-yard line only had a 3.1 percent chance of being intercepted.

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