BWB5 Moneyball Panel: “If You Are Not Embracing Analytics, You’re a Fool.”

Updated: October 17, 2012
 NORTH CAROLINA (BASN)—The title quote comes from ESPN’s Michael Smith, the event was Blogs With Balls 5 in Toronto this past weekend, and the illuminating panel workshop was: “MONEYBALLS: Measurement and Analytics in Sports Media”. 
A decade after Moneyball by Michael Lewis was published, Smith’s quote set the table as stat gurus tried to sort out the new “push-pull” midpoint between new school stats and old school scouts.
Is there such a thing as a hitting “hot streak”? Do football teams “go for it” enough on 4th and 1? Does calling a basketball time out to draw up a final play usually benefit the team? Don’t get this panel started.
Why don’t more coaches take sound statistical advice? Usually, the answer was “job security” by coaches to avoid backlash by media and fans.
Why do so many people believe Kobe Bryant is a great clutch closer at the end of games when data says otherwise? The answer was the “selective memory” we all have.
Does Lebron have an efficient post game? Surprisingly, the data says “yes”.
He just need to post more often.
While the power of well-constructed numbers were obviously embraced by all, Smith also warned that advanced analytics were “not the be all, end all”.
All panelists agreed on this point as Aaron Schatz from added: “Everything is related to context”.
What will it take for analytics to get a fuller embrace? Panelists say it will take a famous player or owner boldly supporting new stats.
Joining Smith and Schatz on the panel was Amanda Rykoff, espnW; Rob Shaw, Bloomberg Sports; Andrew Garda, Bleacher Report; Joe Fortenbaugh, National Football Post; and Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Heat Index (see full description)
The current “push-pull” has been most notably embodied in the debate surrounding the 2012 AL MVP award. In the pre-Moneyball era, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera would be a unanimous selection for MVP and dissenters picking a non-playoff bound man with 56 fewer RBIs would kindly be escorted to the nearest insane asylum. However, with the off-the-charts advanced metrics of the Angel’s Mike Trout that factors in his hitting, incredible defense and base-running, Trout backers get to be heard. That alone is progress.
Cabrera’s Triple Crown not only dominates the traditional numbers, but taps into baseball history, lore, and nostalgia. Trout’s all-around excellence has most notably produced an incredible 10 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
While almost all the panelists believed Trout’s contributions were more valuable than Cabrera’s, most also seemed quite okay with Cabrera winning the MVP. If they were not willing to fall on their sword for Trout, this was less a case of paying homage to Cabrera’s historic season, but more about protecting the future of the Sabermetrics movement. The general feeling was that giving Trout the award would be widely viewed as such a sports injustice that it would ultimately set the stat movement back. Schatz says:

“This is not the case where Sabermetrics wants to make their stand against the old school. Hard cases make bad law.”

There was an incredible irony to this understandable position. Most panelists seemed okay with Cabrera winning the MVP for the exact same reasons more coaches don’t go for it more often on 4th down: the mass social backlash would damage their credibility — even if correct.
I guess that old school football coaches and new school statheads are not that different after all.
And I’m probably not that different from either group.
My new school side showed up at BWB5 conference breaks and bar chats. When I defended the merits of Isiah Thomas as GM, I couldn’t even get out the silent “h” in his name before being looked at as having six heads. After about 13 “no — reeeeeallys” and “no — but seriouslys“, I attempted to explain that statisticians objectively rate Thomas as possibly thebest drafter in the entire NBA when accounting for pick position, and I have long argued that no GM could have turned around the historically putrid roster he inherited in just four years. Not Obama, not Clinton, and not Red Auerbach on steroids.
But you can’t just win a case if you never get a hearing. And so I fully understand why coaches play it safe at 4th and 1 at the 50 yard line.
Yet, my old school side still has Cabrera for MVP. It’s just too hard for me to rationalize how Trout’s year can possibly overcome a 139-83 RBI deficit.
Not 20 or 30 ribbies, but 56! Just can’t see it — even in a brave new RBI-devalued world. Have I too been brainwashed since birth by baseball history? Would I think differently if the Triple Crown had been originally conceived with “runs” replacing RBI’s in big-three importance?
Oh, the push and pull.
 Author can also be contacted at and new twitter account.

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