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Breakfast: Does football use analytics?


2015 is only a couple of months old, but it's been chalk full o' interesting debates in the sports world.

Deflategate. Oh, I love (not really) that one, not to mention the word gate at end of EVERYTHING nowadays.

Little League World Series cheating. If you've ever been involved in coaching baseball, the parents are the worst...and I mean that in the nicest way. I think.

One debate that jumped off the page a few nights ago was one that I don't suppose many people saw coming. However, when Charles Barkley and Rockets GM Daryl Morey squared off about the use of analytics in sports/basketball, it seemingly got many people talking. When people started talking, I realized that it was more of a debate than I expected. In large part, those people that were talking didn't really have a clue as to what they were talking about.

When Billy Beane created Moneyball with the Oakland A's, it riled up the old guard baseball community. That happens when anyone goes against the natural order of things. But, what really was he doing? He used information to find players on the cheap. He analyzed results based statistics to find that stealing bases didn't play well in his grand scheme. He found that a walk was as good as a hit. Beyond that, he found predictive measures that his team could use that made a team that couldn't buy a bunch of stars better.

In other words, he used information. That's all analytics are and all coaches/players have used some sort of analytics in their time as coaches and players. Even Charles Barkley. He may not have known that he was using analytics, but the analytics umbrella covers a ton of real estate.

In coaching football, I used analytics all the time. But, way back when, we called it studying tendencies. We didn't put a quantitative value on it, but we looked at how often a QB scrambled left or right. We studied how often a team ran into the boundary vs. the field. We measured how often the team was in zone or man. All football coaches do that.

That's what Morey does with his analytics.

Sure, the results based "points per possession" and others don't do a whole lot for me. But, the predictive analytics that tell a team where a pitcher throws his fastball or where Kobe Bryant likes to take jumpers or that Andrew Luck throws to his deep right 75% more than to his deep left are hugely valuable and used by all.

Or should be.

But, the one thing most talking heads didn't grasp is that NO ONE uses analytics solely. They're one piece to a complex puzzle, but used properly, it's an important piece of information. And, again, who wouldn't want information? Sure, smart people came up with some of this stuff. Some are eggheads. Some are geeks. But, so what? It's there; use it.

We asked Bill O'Brien about the use of analytics back during the 2014 season and he jokingly said, "I get asked that a lot. I know I'm a Brown graduate, but I don't really know what that means. Do I use a computer?"

And, he then asked us what we thought made up analytics. It was a good question because it showed that no one really knows what all fits under that umbrella. But, he continued on and said there were definitely measures that they used daily to assess given aspects of the team.

"No question," he said about using analytics.

Exactly. Everyone does it.

Barkley proved that he had one idea of analytics and a small-minded one at that. It's not his fault, it's not what he's supposed to know in his job. But, where he went wrong was when he criticized Morey for using analytics/information to do his job. Barkley criticized someone even though he didn't have an understanding of the full picture. Morey's never said that analytics are the sole basis for everything he does with the Rockets. He'd be foolish and that man isn't. Does he have a mountain of analytical answers to an artistic game? Sure, but not in lieu of taking in the full picture.

The athletes need the eggheads as much as the eggheads need the athletes. They're just all scared or too egotistical to admit it sometimes.

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