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Roll ‘Bama Roll Reading Room: The Stats Game

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Surprising, but not in a good way.

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I am going to try and be as fair as possible here; I’m fully aware that seven years of formal training and graduate-level education in statistical analyses may have ruined me for lay assessments of those nebulous things we love so much in sports: “stats.”

So, how you feel about Aidan and Maxwell Resnick’s recent release on sports analytics, “The Stats Game,” will largely depend on what kind of knowledge base you enter the experience with.

For those with an intro-level stats course — or even passing familiarity in a general mathematics course — I hate to say, but this will be at best a self-evident read, and at worst, it will be a thin, almost vapid one. Worse, the authoritative tone used by the authors is probably going to be fairly off-putting to the average reader — and as the resident authoritative asshole around these parts, I know it when I see it. But, the worst sin of The Stats Game is that it just doesn’t add a whole lot to the body of knowledge that a savvy sports fan or gambler would possess.

Most people do not make it out of high school without understanding that illusory relationships often exist; that “correlation does not equal causation.” And I dare say anyone that has pulled the lever on a slot machine realizes that the the odds of winning are per transaction; that there is no cumulative chance the 101st pull of the lever gives you a better chance of winning than the 1st or the 51st. Put off that retirement in Aruba, because we intellectually intuit the gambler’s fallacy, even if it exerts a powerful emotional pull on us.

We have seen over the past two decades how data analysis has shaped contracts, shaped rosters, even changed the very nature of sports themselves. Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent in baseball: From moneyball, to the shift, to velocity pitching/velocity hitting, numbers have always ruled baseball and they do so no more than in the modern era. So, what can you impart upon a passionate viewer of sports? Knowing, as the sophisticated ones do, that you “can’t trust the eyeball test?”

And, anyone that has made any decision whatsoever in their life about anything, realizes that the decision-making process is only as good as the data you rely upon. We know that despite a career .200 hitter being on a “hot streak” in April, that the odds are good he’s going to come back down to earth; that players “regress to the mean.”

Right?

But, such are the chapters in the Stats Game: truisms such as the above. Don’t trust eyeballs. Get as much data, and as much high-quality data, as you can. Trust mathematical probability. Contextualize the data you do have. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s right (running plays on 2nd and 10, for instance, or midrange jumpshots).

What is advertised as a “deep dive into sports analytics in the modern era” comes off as little more than: “Analytics exist, and here are a few of those assumptions.”

It’s a descriptive read, not an investigatory one.

Bottom Line: Our readers are perhaps more sophisticated than most. Or, maybe I’m giving sports fans far more credit than they deserve. But, after doing this for almost a decade, there are two things that I’m certain of. 1. Passionate sports fans understand numbers, whether that is WAR or calculating luxury taxes and deferred compensation; and 2. RBR was founded in 2006 and were early adopters of analytics-based hot takes. If you found this site anytime over the last 15 years, you were exposed to that approach, sought it out, or have learned it by now. So, nothing in Stats Game is going to be new to you...and I doubt it would be with the guys down at the Lot Lizard happy hour either.

Does it have a place? Sure. But I suspect that audience is far more casual, far younger, or far newer to sports and the role that data plays in shaping our modern entertainment. And, in neither case can I recommend this to our audience.

The Stats Game is available on Kindle Edition for $9.95 at Amazon.