Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Keeping Score On The Lake

As the Yankees try to recapture the magic of their team-building outing last year, Joe Girardi doesn't have many activities to choose from if he wants to go a different route than a pool tournament. Finding something that sixty guys could compete in that doesn't involve significant injury risk is no easy task. As Matt conveyed before, that narrows it down to stuff like lawn games, shuffle board and laser tag. What else? Go-karts? Golf? Curling? Darts? A poker tournament? Fishing...?

It wasn't an official outing, but last year during Spring Training A.J. Burnett took a few teammates fishing with him in his boat. Having played in Florida for six years before leaving for Toronto and been an avid fisherman, it would be safe to assume that Burnett knows a couple of decent spots. If David Robertson were in change, that's what he'd do.

Joe Girardi probably wouldn't pick angling as the team's activity due to the cost, liability and logistics of it all, but if he did, they'd have a good way to keep score. Dale Bowman of the Chicago Sun-Times recently proposed some simple sabermetric-style stats that could be used for fishing (h/t BBTF):
Think of fishing by the numbers in the tradition of the 1977 Baseball Abstract, Bill James' 68-page spark to the sabermetrics revolution in baseball.

A similar method should work to compare performances of competitive fishermen.

Numbers are the measuring stick of baseball across time. James just took it past the basics of wins and losses, strikeouts, batting average, ERA and homers.

We already have the basic statistics of fishing (equivalent of average, ERA) with tournament victories, career earnings and Classic titles. But we can dig deeper to compare fishermen.
Bowman goes on to explain some intuitive metrics that place the weight of the catch and money earned in the context of the tournament they were recorded in. Not all competitions would benefit from increased statistical analysis, but pro fishing seems like it would be one of them. Tournaments held in different areas and under varying conditions can yield drastically different overall catches, similar to how certain eras in baseball have been characterized by higher or lower run scoring environments.

Analyzing the fisherman's results would be useful, but even more interesting would be the data on the fish. If there was a way to easily capture basic info about the circumstances a fish was caught under, a big enough sample might yield some interesting trends. Things like the depth of the strike, water and air temperature, type and color of lure, amount of sunlight, barometric pressure, time of year, etc., would lend valuable insight into fish behavior. Having that data available would close the gap between those who have been figuring things out via trial and error over long periods of time and those who have much less experience. That would be bad news for fish, but good for the casual fisherman.

Of course, this is impractical for a few reasons. First, you'd need a universal form to record the data and distributing them would be tough. Secondly, pro fisherman are notoriously reluctant to give away their tactics, lest they tip off their opponents and lose their competitive advantage. Consequently, you'd have to enlist average anglers to gather data, most of whom probably don't want (or are too drunk) to waste their time writing a bunch of numbers after they flip a largemouth bass or rainbow trout over the side of their boat or onto the bank.

However, while it wouldn't be practical on a wide level, perhaps individual fishing guides could distinguish themselves by diligently recording results and analyzing them over a long period of time. It's possible, but I think that fishing is probably stuck in a place where baseball was for a long time, where common knowledge, conventional wisdom, intuition and superstition go relatively unchallenged as the main sources of strategy.


  1. Believe it or not, I actually thought about recording things such as percentage of time when crankbaits, plastics, topwaters, etc were used. I think that would only be possible for the very top tournaments, such as the Bassmaster Classic. As much as I might wish otherwise, pro fishing has no where near the intense interest of baseball. And I think you're right, fishing skill or greatness will continue to be measured more by gut or feel than facts or figures, much as baseball was back in my youth. My hope is that somebody better with numbers than me might at least do a breakdown from the 40 Classics. I think that is very doable. Dale

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Dale. I'm in the camp that enjoys fishing but isn't captivated by the professional tour. However, I find it to be very interesting whenever people try to improve the quality of information used to evaluate a sport. There certainly is room for improvement in fishing, it's just a question of whether or not people are really interested in more accurate measurements of performance. Who knows, maybe a few years down the line, people will be talking about "Bowmanetrics" and how they changed pro fishing. Best of luck.