A Billy Beane for Basketball?

According to this article in Wired, a man named Dean Oliver is trying to do for basketball what Bill James and Billy Beane did for baseball: create and exploit new metrics in order to better distinguish players who win from those who simply generate gaudy traditional stats. The Wired article is written by Hugo Lindgren, who is in some measure responsible for Freakonomics. Hugo used to be an editor at The New York Times Magazine, and it was Hugo who sent me to Chicago a couple years ago to interview Steve Levitt. Thanks, Hugo. And nice piece. (Thanks to Adam Scott of www.angryman.ca for the link.)

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  1. rarely right says:

    I would expect there to be Billy Beane’s for every professional sport – I’m sure that at some level there already are. One of the reasons why is that Fantasy Leagues lend themselves to endless statistical analysis of the players and games.

    Here are two applied statistics questions I have about sports:

    1. In tennis, is it more effective to hit the second serve at the same speed as the 1st serve or is it more effective to take speed off it and increase the odds that it lands in? Each player can do a simple analysis of their success rates on 1st serve vs. 2nd serve and come to a meaningful conclusion.

    2. In golf, is it better to blast one’s drive as far as possible or just bunt it down the middle of the fairway? Top pros have foresaken high levels of driving accuracy under the premise that it’s easier to make birdie from the rough 100 yards out than it is to make birdie from the middle of the fairway 175 yards out.

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  2. rarely right says:

    I would expect there to be Billy Beane’s for every professional sport – I’m sure that at some level there already are. One of the reasons why is that Fantasy Leagues lend themselves to endless statistical analysis of the players and games.

    Here are two applied statistics questions I have about sports:

    1. In tennis, is it more effective to hit the second serve at the same speed as the 1st serve or is it more effective to take speed off it and increase the odds that it lands in? Each player can do a simple analysis of their success rates on 1st serve vs. 2nd serve and come to a meaningful conclusion.

    2. In golf, is it better to blast one’s drive as far as possible or just bunt it down the middle of the fairway? Top pros have foresaken high levels of driving accuracy under the premise that it’s easier to make birdie from the rough 100 yards out than it is to make birdie from the middle of the fairway 175 yards out.

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  3. drm7 says:

    There was a similar (and fairly balanced) article in Sports Illustrated about a month ago.

    On the topic of golf, long hitters have profited from reducing the length of their drives – Phil Mickelson consistently fell short in the majors until he became more conservative. Davis Love III (a tremendously long hitter) didn’t win regularly until he shortened his swing. Even Tiger Woods has taken a little bit off of his drives.

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  4. drm7 says:

    There was a similar (and fairly balanced) article in Sports Illustrated about a month ago.

    On the topic of golf, long hitters have profited from reducing the length of their drives – Phil Mickelson consistently fell short in the majors until he became more conservative. Davis Love III (a tremendously long hitter) didn’t win regularly until he shortened his swing. Even Tiger Woods has taken a little bit off of his drives.

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  5. Dr. Funk says:

    If you assume that speed of a serve and accuracy are inversely related, it’s fairly easy to show that 2nd serves should be slower. The data backs this up.

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  6. Dr. Funk says:

    If you assume that speed of a serve and accuracy are inversely related, it’s fairly easy to show that 2nd serves should be slower. The data backs this up.

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  7. Erik says:

    As a former math major and a lifelong basketball player and fan, I’d recommend unconditionally one of Dean Oliver’s peers. John Hollinger has written an annual review of new statistical methods, team analysis and player reviews.

    Basketball teams are well behind baseball in using statistics to measure performance. Each team does have its own metrics beyond the basics you read about in the papers. Pat Riley was one of the early coaches to start tracking hustle stats (passes contested, loose balls run down, shots contested, etc.). The key difference is these stats though are primarily to motivate players and reward hustle plays rather than measure players’ effectiveness.

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  8. Erik says:

    As a former math major and a lifelong basketball player and fan, I’d recommend unconditionally one of Dean Oliver’s peers. John Hollinger has written an annual review of new statistical methods, team analysis and player reviews.

    Basketball teams are well behind baseball in using statistics to measure performance. Each team does have its own metrics beyond the basics you read about in the papers. Pat Riley was one of the early coaches to start tracking hustle stats (passes contested, loose balls run down, shots contested, etc.). The key difference is these stats though are primarily to motivate players and reward hustle plays rather than measure players’ effectiveness.

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