Saturday, March 2, 2013

Top Twelve Sloan Papers I'd Like to See

The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is taking place just a few miles from my house this weekend, a veritable nerd-vana which has ballooned into Comic-Con for mathematically-inclined sports fans. With roughly 3,300 attendees (and a growth rate of about 25% annually), the conference itself is a testament to the numbers boom in sports, and a nice counter-balance to the machismo-laden dreck that is most sports analysis. No longer confined to Bill James Almanacs and Iinternet message boards, these new paradigms of analysis have steadily gained mainstream acceptance. The Bucks, for instance, cited J.J. Redick's PER numbers in their press release upon acquiring him last week. It was a watershed moment for the stat (whose creator, Sloan superstar John Hollinger, is now a higher-up in the Memphis organization), but such moments will become more and more common.

I find that numbers actually enhance my ability to love sports because they let me view sports analytically while still leaving myself open to the unfettered drama that unfolds. I also love that numbers give us a way to analyze sports outside of narrative, and that the best analysis is completely unremoved from the sport. Basically, at this blog, we spend a lot of time deconstructing sportswriter myths but always a step removed from the game or the sport, essentially a reactive analysis. The research being presented at Sloan probably started as a counter to these narratives, but its analysis ignores them completely.

I generally read a few of the papers presented at each conference, and I find that they help me contextualize the sports that I'm watching. Good metrics also tend to line up with what I, as a pretty informed viewer, think I'm seeing. For instance, Omar Vizquel performs really well in most defensive statistics. If he didn't, I'd have a problem with the stat. I love this new information, but my one problem with these papers is that the writers often take themselves just a little too seriously.

With that in mind, I present to you my Top 12 papers I'd like to see presented at the conference.

12. Depth Perception: Does C.C. Sabbathia's Girth Affect His Pitching Ability?

11. Relic of a Bygone ERA: How to Convince Older Relatives that New Baseball Stats aren't Scary

10. Welcome to the Jungle: An Analysis of Relief Pitcher Walk-Up Music w/r/t Intimidation and Performance
(Categories include metal, thrash metal, death metal, and prog metal. There are no non-metal categories. RAWK).

9. Bats, Balls, and Ass-Slappin': Freudian Psycho-Sexual Behavior as Predictor of On-Field Performance
(Note: Julio Lugo's constant adjusting of himself would be the key to this paper.)

8.  REM or REM: Do Basketball Players Perform Better After Listening to Music or Napping? 

7. From Atomic Wedgie to Purple Nurple: Ten Ways to Dodge Jocks Who Bully
(There's a reason Malcolm Gladwell's a runner.)

6. Straw Man Straw Men: Mark Prior, Ben Sheets, and Deconstructing the Myths of the Injury Prone Pitcher
(I would actually be interested in this, beyond the stupid pun in the title.)

5. Nate Silver's Pretty Awesome, Huh? - One Man's Experience Trying to Get Coffee With Him

4. Quidditch, Smidditch: Why Every Player Should Ditch the Quaffle and Chase the Snitch
(Could also be titled JK Rowling Doesn't Really Get Sports)

3. Off the Charts: Should Backup QBs Ditch the Clipboard and Stay Loose All Game?

2.WAR of the Roses: The Big Red Machine, Pete Rose and the Real Value of Superstars
(This is actually a point of contention, as non stats-people tend to overrate Rose. He's basically Craig Biggio who stuck around another decade. That's valuable, but not that valuable.)

1. The Divac Principle: Do Really Smelly Looking Players Actually Play Better Defense?

And now for a real thing I'd like to see studied:
Mo' People, Mo' Problems: Do Big Cities Affect Performance?

Announcers and analysts so frequently cite players' makeup, or lack thereof, in the "media fishbowls" of Boston, NYC or Philadelphia as a reason for performance decline. John Lackey, so the story goes, just can't hack it in Boston, rather than he got older and moved from a pitchers' park in a (at the time) bad division to the exact opposite. I cheer for a small market team and also see fluctuations in play when guys are signed to that team, but no such narrative is attached. I happen to think this Big City Effect doesn't exist, but that the narratives of the players who fail (Randy Johnson, Edgar Renteria, etc.) are higher profile because the cities are higher profile. I'd love to see it studied, though.

Keep doing your thing, nerds (I say as if I'm not among them). You make sports more interesting.

1 comment:

  1. Just took a look at this. I've been busy; so sue me. Very, very clever.