clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Non-Sports Expert Journalist wades into Sports Analysis, with predictable results

If you haven't followed this site for a long time, you might not know that we're huge fans of statistical analysis in sports.  Don't get me wrong, we also love bench-clearing brawls, ridiculous goals (see Pavel Datsyuk, 2nd round vs San Jose) and stories of Tim Thomas' redemption or Dustin Byfuglien's red suits.  But we don't understand why we take so much flak for taking a cold, unemotional look at the game when we want to put some money on it.  We would not get along with Jonah Lehrer, who has an "interesting" take on the NBA finals:

"By nearly every statistical measure, the Mavs were outmanned by most of their playoff opponents. (According to one statistical analysis, the Los Angeles Lakers had four of the top five players in the series. The Miami Heat had three of the top four.) And yet, the Mavs managed to do what the best teams always do: They became more than the sum of their parts. They beat the talent."

I guess Jonah has never seen a betting line, which estimates the probability that a weaker team will beat a better team. But as a result of Dallas' win, he concludes:

"sabermetrics comes with an important drawback. Because it translates sports into a list of statistics, the tool can also lead coaches and executives to neglect those variables that can't be quantified. They become so obsessed with the power of base runs that they undervalue the importance of...having playoff experience, or listening to the coach. Such variables are the sporting equivalent of a nice dashboard. They can't be quantified, but they still count...What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that [J.J.] Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups...and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane."

This is what we call an after-the-fact explanation.  Jonah Lehrer had no idea that J.J. Barea possessed this talent to be more than the sum of his parts before the series started.  But now that the series is over, Jonah's sure of it.  And when the next series is over, he'll come up with another tidy explanation for us.

The only problem is that Jonah has no insight when the series starts.  He's like Amanda Seyfried in 'Mean Girls' - she can't predict when it will rain; she only knows when it's already raining.  Were a statistical analyst, like Dallas' Director of Analytics, Roland Beech, to make an incorrect prediction, Jonah would indict his entire worldview because it doesn't account for intangibles.  But if you don't make any predictions about the outcome of the game until it's over and you already know the score - like Lehrer - that's just super.