As I’ve no doubt said far too many times on this here website, the only other sport I follow with any rigor - and I mean “rigor” a lot more loosely than I did even five years ago - is baseball. It’s always fun watching baseball after watching soccer, because it requires a serious downshift. In soccer, almost literally every play and every ball movement is consequential, and baseball is the exact opposite - things that matter happen, but a random at bat in the bottom of the second with nobody on is, by its very nature, fairly inconsequential.
One of the other things I love about baseball is how quantifiable it all is. Because it’s a series of discrete actions, all those actions can be and have been cataloged over decades, so it’s a fairly straightforward thing, if you’re good at math, to get a handle on the quality of both players and teams, and thus to be able to determine what “good” means in a very concrete way.
Anyway, as you all already know, soccer is in its relative infancy as far as statistical analysis goes. A lot of that is because, unlike baseball, where statistics are derived, in no small part, by a general public that takes the freely available numbers generated by baseball and thinks about them in new and different way, soccer’s more advanced numbers (every Premier League team tracks and keeps them) are not available to the general public.
So, unlike baseball, it’s really difficult for someone at home to think of a question about the sport and answer it using data. We have things like xG, and there’s some slowly emerging work trying to develop a soccer equivalent of win probability, but there’s not a soccer analog to a lot of individual baseball stats like Wins Above Replacement, in no small part because soccer can’t, by its nature, accurately define what “replacement level” is.
Which leads me to my question. How do you feel about the encroachment of statistics into soccer, a game that has largely eschewed any advanced analysis for over a century? It’s not like there’s no stats in soccer, though; score is a stat, possession (even though what they call ‘possession’ is actually pass volume) is a stat, etc.
As if you couldn’t tell from that meandering intro, I’m for statistics, in general. Having been through baseball’s Scouts Versus Stats Wars of the mid-aughts and early 2010’s, though, I completely get why someone wouldn’t be pro-stats - it can be overwhelming, and can make you forget there’s a sport on the other side of all the numbers. The way I like to describe the use of statistics in sports is by asking two simple questions.
- Do you like pizza?
- Do you like beer?
If you said yes to both separately, think how much you’d enjoy pizza and beer together! Deep dives into stats aren’t a requirement to enjoy a sport, but I find that said deep dives can enhance one’s love of a sport. I am a process guy by nature, though, so maybe I just like knowing the how, as well as seeing the what and why every game.
What about you? Are you pro- or anti-stats with your sports? If you’re pro, what are some of the favorite, most interesting stats you use in whatever sport? If you’re anti, do you just tune out when, for instance, we publish Scott’s stats pieces, or do you at least give them a shot before deciding they’re not for you?
This is a sort of trick question in that there is no wrong answer - I’m not going to judge you if you aren’t interested in stats. I may ask you a lot of questions to try to understand why (again: process guy), but this is not a post designed to shame anyone into loving the statistical side of the game, I was just curious.
Also, it’s Friday, so it’s open thread day! What’s going on with your weekend? Does it feel like fall yet where you are? Or spring if you’re in the southern hemisphere I guess?