Friday, October 7, 2011

Standards vs. Intagibles

Okay, not what I was originally going to go with but Dan, in Player Performance 3 comments, framed the discussion nicely I thought. What I'm on about here isn't really intangibles versus stats or some quantifiable measurements of performance; it's considering the limitations of stats--even the most comprehensive collections possible. (If you're interested in this sort of thing check out the movie 'Moneyball' and for the rest of the story take a look at the book of the same name or other volumes on sabermetrics or the baseball godfather of stats, Bill James. No links. What do you think Google is for? Sabermetrics, btw, is the ultimate extension of statistical analysis in evaluating players, their performance & team utility and predicting their likely near term performance. In doing so, or trying to do so, a lot of new categories of stats and ways of thinking about player performance have been created. Some swear by them. Others swear at them.) Baseball loves sabermetrics, basketball and football, not nearly as much--although there is a place for sabermetrics in those sports as well.
Some of you lazy slackers will recall a post (or three) [and have heard some generalized talk or rumors] about the chips Virtue has been testing in mostly Pro team guns for going on a couple of seasons now. In the NPPL one thing the chips can do--and do do (hahaha he said do do) is track ROF by individual marker. They do a lot more than that as well. In this developmental process the Virtue kids have been both refining the technology and rethinking ways of looking at the raw data and it may not be too long before our desire for paintball stats is a lot closer to being a reality.
Statistics, any statistics, do not--let me repeat myself--do not--provide or define a standard. For example, there is no set of statistical charts that clearly identify major league talent. The best stats can do for you is offer comparisons. Now it may be that a player's accumulated stats compare favorably with other up-and-coming players who proved to have major league talent so that the stats would weigh in a player's favor and suggest there is a good possibility that player has what it takes--but that isn't the same thing as measurable standards and why there remains an art to the science of player evaluation.
If you want to understand the limit of stats I have one word for you; A-Rod, the 250 million dollar man with Hall of Fame numbers and an earned reputation for disappearing in October. [For those unfamiliar with baseball that is the post season and playoff period. The paintball equivalent of playing on Sunday.]
So we're not really measuring any player against a standard. We are only making comparisons. (Or evaluating a given situations.) Of course that doesn't mean the the four-eyed geek with two left feet who sits in the front of your trig classroom has the same chance to play defensive end in the NFL as the first stringer currently playing at the University of Alabama. There are non-standards indicators and, frequently, physical requirements that fall, at a minimum, within certain ranges even if there aren't cut-and-dried standards.
Some of these indicators do not lend themselves to being boiled down into numbers, ratios or other bite-sized quantifiers. Among these sorts of indicators are the intangibles.
Why do two players with similar stats perform differently in similar situations? Why is one a Super Bowl hero and another the goat? How does a player who was a perfect fit on one team become an outsider on another?
There's more to the limitations of stats than our poster boy (A-Rod, remember?) suggests. Intangibles come in two categories; internal & external. By internal I mean things like confidence, motivation, determination, work ethic, etc. By external I'm talking about team chemistry, the relation of a player to the rest of his/her teammates. Both can have a determinative effect on player performance.
Remember last post's story? I am convinced it is the intangibles that separate the winners from the losers. In every sport there have been almost innumerable good, even great, players but only a select company of champions. And in team sports it isn't the accumulation of the most talent that wins, it's the best team that most often takes home the trophy.


raehl said...

One reason sabermetrics works (better) in baseball than in football/basketball is player interactions.

Baseball is a very rigid game. One batter faces one pitcher and either gets to one of 4 positions or is eliminated. Repeat until three batters eliminated, then switch sides. There is very little variety there, so straight statistics are fairly overwhelming predictors of performance (in the long run... the measure of success that counts, making it around to home plate, is relatively infrequent compared to the contest length that any given team can win any given game).

Football and basketball are totally different. Players have free reign of the entire field of play, and they have the ability to deny opposing players movement, something that is specifically prohibited in baseball.

When you open up the door to one player's ability to perform being highly subject to the performance of another player, your tangible stats become much less predictive of results.

In baseball, one team with 9 batters who are better than the other team's 9 batters are going to win very often, as each batter gets to individually face off with a pitcher in succession. In football/basketball/etc, everybody plays everybody, and 5 talented players can still add up to a not very good team.

Reiner Schafer said...

Good point raehl. The other players on your team can also greatly influence you stats. I remember, quite a few years ago, watching a couple of hockey commentators talk about a particular player who had been picked up from another team because of his high goal scoring stats. Unfortunately his goal scoring stats were considerably lower with the new team. The player in question had come from the Edmonton Oilers where he had been a line mate of Wayne Gretzky during some of Gretzky's best years. One commentator's line, "Sure he scored a lot of goals while in Edmonton. You could be a fire hydrant and score a lot of goals when you are playing on Gretzky's line."