Monday Musings – Big Data & Sport

As the processing ability increases it becomes more and more practical to do large scale data analytics. The massive amount of data has allowed for Moneyball-esque analysis in almost every sport. Long after Billy Bean did it for the Oakland A’s, there has been rapid growth in its utilization. The Los Angeles Dodgers utilized it to the extent that they were using lasers and GPS during practice to identify the exact positions to “shift” for each hitter. The massive growth of wearable tech (and the money associated with it) has done nothing but feed this immense growth. Various leagues have partnered with wearable tech companies for players to wear “bros” (thanks for the terminology Seinfeld) to track distances, speeds, heartrates, etc.
This week’s musings are in regards to whether this helps or hinders sports? Is there any benefit to being able to map every aspect of an opponents game? So far, in baseball it’s seemed to have substantial success setting up a number of data-heavy teams with advantages in fielding because they have a good idea where the opponents are going to hit the ball. This growth has even started to grow into college football where companies have begun aggregating data on a massive scale and then marketing it to schools providing insight into the tendencies of a coach.
This has also led to the growth of a huge analytics industry to support the use of analytics not just in actual gameplay — but most recently it’s started to move into the daily fantasty sports arena. The data analytics industry has ballooned by an insane amount to support the increasing demand.
To the root of the question now, does the focus on the analytical aspect undermine sports? I think that basic analytics are fine, but I think once we get so focused on analytics it begins to detract. Personally, I prefer analytics about the game far explanations of how things happen (think ESPN Sportscience) where they take a great play from a game and then explain the science behind it. For example, they analyze free kicks and the amount of spin, “weight” of the shot, angles and the torque required. Sports start to lose some of their luster when everything becomes analytical, baseball has statistics for extrapolations upon extrapolations… SIERRA? xFIP? I’m fine with tracking strikeouts, strikeouts per nine, but when does it become too much? When do we lose the sport inside the sports analytics?
I think being able to use wearable technology to monitor players health is a great advance, hopefully we can decrease the occurence of major injuries (heart, collapses, etc.).
I think we’re starting to take analytics too far in modern sport, what are your thoughts?
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