But again this week, he hit the lowest common denominator, "stats are for nerds". Reading that kind of lazy, anti-intellectual bullshit from a crotchety old newspaper hack is one thing, but from fantasy sports devotee who constantly references the current season of the Real World?
The Sports Guy is a unique case, because he bridges the gap between the old school and new school of sports writing. He pumps out content like a blogger but has the the rigid weekly schedule of a newspaper columnist. He made his name on the internet, but loves intangibles and greatness and as you will see in this column, considers any sort of statistical analysis dorky. And just like two weeks ago, right after he is finished reinforcing that stigma, makes suggestions for new interesting stats.
Never come between an NBA stat geek and the truth.
A few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday at MIT's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, or as I dubbed it, Dorkapalooza 2009!
I'd save the "Dorkapalooza 2009!" tag for something like this. Or this. It's only March.
A slew of statistical rock stars showed up: Dean Oliver, Aaron Schatz, John Hollinger. Panels argued topics like "Where are basketball analytics headed?" and "What's more important, coming up with a cool formula or kissing a girl?"
Rick Reilly approves this message.
The hottest celeb? My friend Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, who was hounded by MIT students as if he were Britney among the paparazzi. I dubbed him Dork Elvis. Even he admitted that was funny. Begrudgingly.
How I imagine that going down:
Simmons: [Breathlessly] Daryl, Daryl... I can't believe how everyone is following you around this place trying to talk to you...
Morey: That's probably because they all knew I was going to be here and read the article Michael Lewis wrote about me for the New York Times a of couple weeks ago.
Simmons: You are a rock star. Like the Nerdy John Lennon. Or the Geeky Bono. Or the Dweeby Dave Matthews. No, I've got it... You are DORK ELVIS. Can we all agree that Daryl Morey is DORK ELVIS??!!?
Morey: I mean, it doesn't have anything to do with basketball...
Simmons: DORK ELVIS!!! Is that NOT hilarious?!??!
Morey: Yes, Bill. I suppose it is somewhat funny.
That's the thing about stat geeks: They have a sense of humor about themselves.
They have a sense of humor because they "begrudgingly" admit Bill Simmons' jokes are funny. Why stat "geeks", exactly? These guys are creating cutting edge statistical techniques to break down and quantify a very fluid, fast-paced sport played by some of the sickest athletes on earth. That sounds pretty cool to me.
And yes, I count myself among them.
Why does he throw himself into the nerds/geeks/dorks category? You know he doesn't think of himself that way. Aren't those terms more relevant to some one's personality type and social disposition? There is noting inherently nerdy about systematically drilling down into a topic like sports, which by most people's standards is about as far from geekdom as one can get. It's not like these guys are trying to calculate the Expected Value for plays in Magic the Gathering.
I played entire Microleague baseball seasons on my 1984 Apple and kept handwritten stats.
Okay, that's pretty nerdy.
I've played fantasy baseball since 1982. I frequent the Prospectus sites and devour their books. I try to hide my inner geek, but believe me, it lurks.
Yes, try to hide that intellectual curiosity. It will do wonders for your analytical sports columns.
Remember, I'm the guy who figured out Hickory High's title-game box score.
How could we forget?
In my mind, basketball lends itself to the perfect blend of objectivity and subjectivity. Statistics help only so much; we still have to interpret what we see.
Which is totally different than say, baseball, where there is nothing to interpret or read between the lines.
I hear that some NBA teams factor "clock-saving attempts" into adjusted shooting percentages. But do they share that info? Of course not. And that's what's wrong with this revolution: We have access to only some of the data.
It's been said that a lot of baseball teams have their own sophisticated methods of defensive analysis that they keep secret from the public, and more importantly, other clubs. Because that would, you know, sacrifice their competitive advantage and defeat the entire purpose of creating the system.
There's one problem with that: Baseball isn't basketball. It's an individual sport; teammates don't matter unless they can help get PEDs. (Sorry, I had to.)
No, you didn't. You (presumably) typed this at a computer. You could have very easily applied the backspace or delete button and removed those six words (or the three unnecessary ones in parentheses).
Every conceivable diamond talent can be measured objectively.
Can you measure a pick-off move "objectively"? Bunting? A catcher's ability to call a game? A third baseman's arm? A reliever's ability to hold runners on?
There is a long way to go before defensive metrics can be considered objective. John Dewan's Fielding Bible is great, but the methodology is still subjective [emphasis mine]:
Video Scouts at BIS review video of every play of every major league game and record detailed information on each play, such as the location of each batted ball, the speed, the type of hit, etc.
It's still a scout's eye, just more methodically applied. UZR is objective but still somewhat crude in terms of measuring defense, especially in the infield where Baseball Info Solutions locations data are less accurate.
I thought Derek Jeter was a great shortstop until the defensive stats told me otherwise.
I thought he was when I still lived in Boston and couldn't watch him play every night. Eventually you notice that, aside from the step-throw maneuver, Jeter doesn't make that many impressive plays and a lot of balls seem to get by him.
Like every other forward-thinking GM, he considers numbers not a sacred evaluation tool but rather part of a bigger process: How can we calculate the best way to win?
This isn't a phenomenon contained to "forward-thinking" GMs. Steve fucking Phillips probably thought stats were "part of a bigger process". No one thinks numbers are a "sacred evaluation tool", whatever that means.
Does it not bother anyone else that certain teams meticulously keep track of and hoard those moments? It's valuable data that would give us all a better understanding of what we're watching.
No, it literally does not bother anyone else.
In fact, that's what made Dorkapalooza so much fun. But one thing we all agreed on was that the basketball revolution will be much rockier than baseball's.
Are you shitting me? Please show me one column by a basketball writer who thinks statistics are ruining the game? ONE. Now go to FJM and start from the begining. Baseball is fraught with traditionalist fans and writers who have fought and continue to fight the movement tooth and nail.
It's not as simple as embracing WHIP and OPS or creating watershed, easy-to-prove stats like VORP and PECOTA.
Rough estimate, but I'd say that that 75-80% of baseball fans don't embrace WHIP or OPS. You won't find too many of them in the blogoverse, but you will in the stands. I'm not sure what good "proving" VORP or PETCOA would be, but I know it wouldn't be "easy".
NBA teams need to stop acting like they're protecting nuclear info during the Cold War. Aren't we in this together?
No...? Every NBA team, by definition is in it for themselves. Why should they give a shit if a very select few die hard fans want to know their advanced statistics? They league has them by the balls anyway, they really don't need to appease them by disclosing proprietary information. Do other businesses disclose their secrets to their customers...
When I asked Daryl that before begging for a few secret stats, he laughed the way Frank might if you asked for his RedHot sauce recipe. In other words, not a chance.
Shocking. You mean he wouldn't disclose his competitive advantages to one of the most popular sports writers in America?
Next year I'm returning to Dorkapalooza, strapping a recorder to my chest and getting him drunk on tequila -- or laser-printer fumes.
The secrets of Dork Elvis will be mine.
What, your laser printer doesn't fume?
/Morey files restraining order