ⓘ Advanced metrics
Advanced metrics is the term for the empirical analysis of sports, particularly statistics that measure in-game productivity and efficiency. Advanced metrics were first employed in baseball by Bill James, a pioneer in the field who is considered the father and public face of the practice.
1. General principles
The basic principles of advanced metrics were outlined in The Sabermetric Manifesto by David Grabiner 1994. In the piece, Grabiner explains that Bill James defined sabermetrics, the first advanced metric, as the search for objective knowledge about sports.
To glean objective knowledge, advanced metrics practitioners gather and synthesize thousands of situational game data points from a wide variety of sources beyond high level box score information. A large volume of situational data is then distilled into sophisticated statistics that help sports enthusiasts better understand, compare, and appreciate the on-field performances by athletes. Advanced metrics provide more objective answers to questions such as "which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the teams offense?" or "who is the best wing player in the NBA?" or "how many touchdowns is Dez Bryant likely to score for the Cowboys?". By removing the subjective observations of sports media members and the emotional opinions of fans, advanced metrics offer a more clinical, rational prism from which to enjoy sporting events and consume sports media coverage.
2. Early history
Advanced metrics were first posited in the mid-20th century, and Earnshaw Cook was one its earliest practitioners. Cooks research for his 1964 work, Percentage Baseball was the first publication citing advanced metrics to garner national media attention. Despite the competitive advantage offered by advanced metrics, the practice was unanimously dismissed by major sports organizations for most of the twentieth century.
In the late 1970s, Bill James helped bring SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research, and the empirical analysis of athletic performance, to national prominence. The analytical perspective on sports championed by James and SABR developed a wider following after Sports Illustrated featured James in the article He Does It By The Numbers by Daniel Okrent 1981.
3. Advanced metrics in baseball
Former Major League Baseball second baseman Davey Johnson was the first known member of a major sports organization to advocate for the use of advanced metrics. During his time with the Baltimore Orioles, he used an IBM System/360 to write a FORTRAN baseball computer simulation to determine the teams optimal starting lineup. When he proposed his findings to Orioles manager Earl Weaver, Johnsons proposal was summarily dismissed. A decade later, after becoming the New York Mets manager in 1984, Johnson tasked a team employee with writing a dBASE II application to run sophisticated statistical models in order to better understand the capabilities and tendencies of the teams opponents. At the close of the twentieth century, advanced metrics had gained significant acceptance by the management of many Major League Baseball clubs, notably the Oakland As, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians.
The adoption of advanced metrics by professional baseball franchises has been largely outpaced by sports fans and sports media. Bill James first published his Baseball Abstract in the early 1980s. In 1996, Baseball Prospectus sought to build upon Bill James work when it launched the website BaseballProspectus.com in order to present sabermetric research and related findings as well as publish advanced metrics such as EqA, the Davenport Translations DTs, and VORP. Baseball Prospectus has grown into a multi-channel sports media organization employing a team of statisticians and writers who publish New York Times Best Selling books and host weekly radio shows and podcasts.
4. Advanced metrics in basketball
North Carolina, under coach Frank McGuire, was the first known basketball organization to utilize advanced possession metrics to gain a competitive advantage. Since then, advanced metrics enthusiasts in basketball have borrowed aspects of Bill James philosophy in order to create weighted statistics that measure each player and each teams on-court efficiency. Most basketball-specific advanced metrics feature a per-minute measurement to ensure that a players incremental team contributions are measured irrespective of usage volume.
Beginning in the 1990s, statistician Dean Oliver and ESPN sports writer John Hollinger first popularized the use of advanced metrics in basketball. Olivers book Basketball On Paper and Hollingers Pro Basketball Forecast are credited with the advancement of basketball analytics. Major sports media proponents, such as Hollinger, have helped basketball evolve more quickly from rudimentary statistics to advanced metrics than some other major American sports.
Houston Rockets Daryl Morey was the first NBA general manager to implement advanced metrics as a key aspect of player evaluation. In the years that followed Moreys hiring, the NBA moved quickly to adopt advanced metrics-based player evaluation practices. In 2012, John Holliger left ESPN to become VP of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Beyond professional basketball front offices, major sports media websites such as basketballreference.com and hoopsdata.com are now dedicated to the collection, synthesis, and dissemination of advanced metrics to pro and college basketball organizations, sports media members, and fans.
5. Advanced metrics in American football
The adoption of advanced metrics by college and professional football organizations has been a gradual evolution. While the sabermetrics revolution in baseball inspired a bestselling book, Moneyball by Michael Lewis, which also became a critically acclaimed film, the advanced metrics movement in football has had no such prominence.
In 2003, the advanced metrics-focused website FootballOutsiders.com pioneered footballs first comprehensive advanced metric, DVOA defense-adjusted value over average, which compares a players success on each play to the league average based on a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and strength of opponent. Football Outsiders work has since been widely cited by analytical members the sports media establishment. A few years later, Pro Football Focus launched a comprehensive statistical database, which soon featured a sophisticated player grading system. Advanced Football Analytics originally Advanced NFL Stats has its EPA expected points added and WPA win probability added for NFL players.
Grantland lead football writer Bill Barnwell created the first advanced metrics focused on predicting the future performance of an individual player, the Speed Score, which he referenced in a piece written for Pro Football Prospectus. After analyzing data pertaining to running back success, Barnwell discovered that the most successful running backs at the NFL level were both fast and heavy, therefore, Speed Score weights 40-yard dash times by assigning a premium to bigger, often stronger, running backs.
The fantasy football community has been one of the driving forces in the evolution of advanced metrics in American football. Fantasy sports writer, and author of How To Think Like A Fantasy Football Winner, C.D. Carter is a leading advocate for the use of advanced metrics in fantasy football analysis. He and peers at XN Sports, NumberFire, and the long-form fantasy football analysis site, Rotoviz.com, have established an informal subculture of fantasy football sports writers who refer to themselves as "degens." The degen movement is responsible for the creation of numerous American football efficiency metrics that better explain past football performances and attempt to predict future player production. Height-adjusted Speed Score, College Dominator Rating, Target Premium, Catch Radius, Net Expected Points NEP, and Production Premium were recently created and disseminated by degen writers and mathematicians. Building on the work of these writers, sites such as PlayerProfiler.com distill a wide variety of established advanced metrics into a single player snapshot designed to be palatable to the casual sports fan.
6. Advanced metrics in ice hockey
In ice hockey, analytics is the analysis of the characteristics of hockey players and teams through the use of statistics and other tools to gain a greater understanding of the effects of their performance. Three commonly used statistics in ice hockey analytics are Corsi and Fenwick - both of which use shot attempts to approximate puck possession - and PDO, which is often considered a measure of luck.
- Target Premium
- Net Expected Points
- Speed Score
- Catch Radius
- Defense independent pitching statistics DIPS
- Burst Score
- Fielding independent pitching FIP
- Pythagorean expectation
- Agility Score
- Similarity score
- Production Premium
- College Dominator Rating
- Value over replacement player VORP
- Effective field-goal percentage eFG%
- Athleticism Score
- Height-adjusted Speed Score
- Fantasy batter value FBV
- On-base plus slugging OPS
- Range factor
- Wins above replacement WAR
- Batting average on balls in play BABIP
- Player efficiency rating PER
- Normalized Fantasy Points Per Game
- Win shares
8. Notable proponents
- Shawn Siegele: Creator of Height-adjusted Speed Score, Agility Score, and Breakout Age, Siegele is the foremost authority on the creation and application of advanced metrics in a fantasy football context.
- Scott Smith: Creator of Catch Radius measurement and writer for Rotoviz and Player Profiler.
- Nate Silver: Writer and former managing partner of Baseball Prospectus, inventor of PECOTA. Later applied sabermetric statistical models to the study of politics, particularly elections, and published the results on his blog FiveThirtyEight later affiliated with The New York Times and ESPN.
- Joe Posnanski: A popular baseball writer and a proponent of advanced metrics.
- JJ Zachariason: Author of Late Round Quarterback and Editor-in-chief at NumberFire, Zachariason utilizes a variety of advanced metrics in his writing about fantasy draft strategy.
- Keith Woolner: Creator of VORP, or Value over Replacement Player, is a former writer for sabermetric group/website Baseball Prospectus. He was hired in 2007 by the Cleveland Indians as their Manager of Baseball Research & Analytics.
- Theo Epstein: President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. He was hired as GM of the Red Sox after owner John Henry hired sabermetrician Bill James.
- Christina Kahrl: Co-founder of Baseball Prospectus and current ESPN columnist, Kahrl puts an emphasis on advanced baseball analytics.
- C.D. Carter: Author of How To Think Like A Fantasy Football Winner, Carter strongly advocates for the use of advanced metrics in fantasy football in his writing for the New York Times and several fantasy football-specific publications.
- Paul DePodesta: A key figure in Michael Lewis book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game as Beanes assistant in Oakland.
- Sandy Alderson: Former General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, Alderson began focusing on sabermetric principles in the early 1990s toward obtaining relatively undervalued players. He became GM of the New York Mets in late 2010.
- Billy Beane: Athletics General Manager since 1997. Although not a public proponent of sabermetrics, it has been widely noted that Beane has steered the team during his tenure according to sabermetric principles. In 2003, Michael Lewis published Moneyball about Billy Beanes use of a more quantitative approach. In 2011, a film based on Lewis book which dramatised Beanes use of sabermetrics was released, starring Brad Pitt in the role of Beane.
- Frank Dupont: Author of Game Plan, Dupont created the College Dominator Rating metric, and soon after, launched RotoViz.com, a source of advanced metrics content for fantasy football enthusiasts.
- David Smith: Founded Retrosheet in 1989, with the objective of computerizing the box score of every major league baseball game ever played, in order to more accurately collect and compare the statistics of the game.
- Earnshaw Cook: Early researcher and proponent of statistical baseball research. His 1964 book Percentage Baseball was the first book of baseball statistics studies to gain national media attention.
- Rob Neyer: Senior writer at ESPN.com and national baseball editor of SBNation and former assistant to Bill James, he has worked to popularize sabermetrics since the mid-1980s. Neyer has authored or co-authored several books about baseball, and his journalistic writing focuses on sabermetric methods for looking at baseball players and teams performance.
- Voros McCracken: Developed a system called Defense Independent Pitching Statistics DIPS to evaluate a pitcher based purely on his ability.
- Jonathan Bales: Author of Fantasy Football for Smart People spearheaded multiple in-depth quantitative studies that would become the philosophical underpinning of particular football advanced metrics.
- Bill James: Widely considered the father of sabermetrics due to his extensive series of books, although a number of less well known SABR researchers in the early 1970s provided a foundation for his work. He began publishing his Baseball Abstracts in 1977 to study some questions about baseball he found interesting, and their eclectic mix of essays based on new kinds of statistics soon became popular with a generation of thinking baseball fans. He discontinued the Abstracts after the 1988 edition, but continued to be active in the field. His two Historical Baseball Abstract editions and Win Shares book have continued to advance the field of sabermetrics 25 years after he began. In 2002, James was hired as a special advisor to the Boston Red Sox.
- Dan LeBatard: A popular sports writer, radio and television host, and active proponent of advanced metrics.
9. Popular culture
- Moneyball, the 2011 film about Billy Beanes use of sabermetrics to build the Oakland Athletics. The film is based on Michael Lewis book of the same name.
- The season 3 Numb3rs episode "Hardball" focuses on sabermetrics, and the season 1 episode "Sacrifice" also covers the subject.
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