By Kevin York
When I’m thinking about topics to write on, I like to try and support some of my opinions with stats. I spend time researching, looking for data available that supports my stance. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don’t. If I don’t, I usually move on to another topic, or at times, proceed with the post I originally thought of, acknowledging in it that I have no data to back up my perspective. I don’t think all sports writers do this though.
The prevalence of metrics and analytics used in sports is quickly increasing. It all started with sabermetrics in baseball. We’re all familiar with the moneyball approach that Billy Beane popularized with the Oakland A’s in the 90s, especially after the concept went mainstream with the release of the movie based on it starring Brad Pitt. Now there’s even a conference dedicated to sports analytics. Everyone wants in on the data action. Which is fine, no great, for franchises; but what about for journalists?
I’ve noticed lately that more and more journalists are including deep stats in their articles. I’m talking advanced. So advanced that those of us that are commoners can’t wrap our heads around them. Not just something like PER in basketball, but crazy things like assist to traveling violation ratio when Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are in the game at the same time, each with two fouls. Or stolen bases success with men on first and second in the bottom of the third with one out.
I think we’re going a little overboard with the stats. I disagree with a lot of things that ESPN’s Colin Cowherd says, but there’s something he brought up often during the recent election season that I agree with: Americans don’t watch political television for education, they watch it for affirmation. Conservatives watch Sean Hannity and liberals watch Rachel Maddow, not because they want to learn, but because they know what they’re going to hear and it makes them feel better about their own positions. I think the same thing is now happening with sports to a degree. We just look for affirmation.
You can come up with a stat to support almost any position and I’m starting to think a lot of journalists do that to validate: I think Nick Swisher will be a great addition to the Indians. Hmmmm, let me dig deep to find something that affirms that. I know! His number of doubles when two starting pitches are on the DL and the starting second baseman is on the bench. Yes! If Cleveland loses two pitchers, watch for those days when Jason Kipnis is on the bench. Swisher will go off with the doubles!
Ultimately, there’s just one stat that really matters – win/loss ratio. Fellow sports writers, let’s not forget that in our efforts to look overly intelligent.