How the increased use of analytics and statistics are changing sports in modern society

Photo courtesy of the movie ‘Moneyball’

Numbers dominate the sports world in today’s society. Every major sporting body has devised ways to analyze a teams performance, from batting averages and pitching ERA’s in baseball, to free-throw and 3-point shooting percentages in basketball to handicaps in bowling and golf. Statisticians are constantly trying to find new ways to improve and maximize player and team performance in order to gain that desired competitive advantage.

Sports analytics is defined by Analytics Magazine as “the management of structured historical data, the application of predictive analytic models that utilize that data, and the use of information systems to inform decision makers and enable them to help their organizations in gaining a competitive advantage on the field of play.”

One of the experts in the sports analytics field is Justin Zormelo. Justin is a graduate of Georgetown University, where he also managed the Hoya’s men’s basketball team. He has since worked with 11 NBA All-Stars, four NBA Scoring Champions and two NBA MVP’S, Kevin Durant and Shaquille O’Neal. He recently appeared in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled ‘By the Numb3rs’. The short film depicts how Zormelo improved Durant’s field goal percentage in isolation, efficiency in half court and efficiency in Pick and Roll drastically from 2011 to 2012 through the use of analytics. These improvements played a key role in helping Durant win the NBA MVP in 2013.

Video coutesy of ‘Best Ball Analytics’

After his success with Durant, Zormelo decided to form his own company, ‘Best Ball Analytics’, a professional sports coaching service. He realized that analytics collection and analysis has created a major business opportunity, and many companies are now following in his footsteps, competing to compile, analyze and extract any data that could potentially be relevant. Even the sports media giant ESPN has a twitter account titled ‘ESPN Stats & Info’ that is dedicated to providing statistical information on upcoming sports events.

While analytics are widely used by most professional sporting bodies and in division one college athletics, SUNY Oswego head men’s basketball coach Jason Leone said, “the reality of things are at the highest level of division one and in the NBA they have the support staff available to properly use analytical data where we don’t in division three. So I believe in its powers but I also haven’t used it to the extent to see if I would really like it cause I don’t have the manpower to evaluate that way.”

Photo courtesy of Emory University.

According to Professor Manish Tripathi, who teaches at Emory University, one of the world’s leading research Universities, located in Georgia, “Analytics have helped some teams on the margin improve their chances of winning. It has changed some of the types of talent that teams recruit.” He said, “the best algorithms seem to be adaptive and flexible. They combine performance data with scout data. I think teams should be intelligent about the type of data they collect and how they model it. This could mean a greater investment in analytics in their front office.”

Professor Ampalavanar Nanthakumar, who teaches statistics at SUNY Oswego, believes that there are many different statistics and factors that all help contribute to a teams winning percentage. He thinks that chemistry between players and coaches is the most important aspect regarding team success.

The world of Analytics and ‘Big-Data’ in sports is constantly evolving. In the past decade alone enormous strides have been made regarding the different ways people are able to collect and analyze data. One of the prime examples of such new innovative technologies is the use of GPS tracking in soccer. The Seattle Sounders, a team from Major League Soccer in the U.S. has been using these trackers to analyze players work rates during training.

Photo courtesy of geekwire.com

According to geekwire.com, “This graph shows how each player was moving around during one practice and how hard they were working, depending on a specific exercise. Training load is a combination of heart-rate exertion and mechanical load (running). Based on the data, coaches may decide to ease off on practice the next day.”

It is clearly evident that analytics have come a long way in the past ten years and as they continue to evolve, the sports world will also continue to grow and become more competitive. Teams may hire more analytical experts in order to enhance their chances of success. This also helps to create job growth in the economy. It will be interesting to see if more technological innovations and statistical analysis improvements in the next few years can help aid the transition to sports organizations applying analytics and ‘big-data’ to increase their chances of winning.

Below is a link to a storify story on how social media also is playing a major role in the advances of sports in today’s society.

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