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Technology Trends: Advanced Metrics: First Sports, But Then What?
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Technology Trends: Advanced Metrics: First Sports, But Then What? - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Advanced Metrics: First Sports, But Then What?

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Advanced Metrics: First Sports, But Then What?

For a hundred years, certain statistics in American sports were regarded as the measuring sticks by which players’ excellence was evaluated. A batting average of .300, twenty wins for pitchers, a hundred runs batted in, and thirty home runs were among the standard, revered benchmarks separating the mediocre from the good. Yet because baseball, basketball, and football are team activities, individual statistics are often misleading, poor representatives of a player’s actual contribution to his or her team’s success.

Although advanced metrics, a term loosely defined as a statistical, empirical analysis of sports, especially as it measures in-game productivity and efficiency, has its roots in the mid-1900s and gained some attention in the 1970s as Bill James (the acknowledged father of advanced metrics) pioneered his approach to baseball, it is only in recent years that the concept has taken off in professional sports. Old-school evaluators of talent scoffed at the idea of making personnel and strategic decisions based on anything other than the wisdom that comes from experience or the sense that a real “baseball man” just seems to be born with. Yet despite the conflict, every professional sports team in America now employs a team of statisticians whose job is to locate undervalued inefficiencies and exploit overlooked contributions and skills once thought to be immeasurable or unimportant.

If you’ve seen the film Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman (based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis), you’ve seen the dramatic tension between the schools of thought. Experienced coaches and managers, at one extreme end, say you can’t tell anything from a statistic, while stat-heads say your eyes are misleading, and the numbers never lie. Yet while teams struggle to find some way to deal with both, the fact that every team employs an advanced metrics crew is acknowledgment that there is a new way to evaluate performance, and in order to remain competitive, they are all at least paying token attention to the new numbers, many of them developing their own top-secret measurements in order to gain some kind of advantage. Now databases and computers are as critical to team-building as tryouts.

It’s important to note two characteristics of the advanced metrics approach, especially as they apply to realms outside of sports. First, the metrics attempt to identify a single person’s contribution to a team’s outcome, something that can be extremely complicated to isolate, especially in larger team sports where each person’s role is highly specialized. Second, as is often the approach of big data, this smaller data is also concerned more with correlation than with causation. It may not matter what player X specifically does that results in outcome Y, but if the correlation is strong, it can influence big decisions, especially in combination with other correlative—possibly predictive—data.

We’ve mentioned in recent articles that many firms use personality tests in making decisions about hiring or promotion, some of them sticking strictly to a correlative approach, not attempting to glean meaning from personality types other than whatever trends are illustrated by sample sizes large enough to mean something. But what else can be quantified and correlated with desirable outcomes? Is there a connection between the amount of printer paper one team goes through in a typical work week and how often that team meets its goals? What relationship is there between the number of vacation days a team uses and its retention of good employees? Does the frequency of certain buzzwords on a potential recruit’s LinkedIn profile relate to the likelihood of a good fit with your firm? If it can be measured, it can be analyzed for possible correlation.

In any competitive field, as professional sports teams are discovering, it never helps to ignore emerging analytical trends. Advanced metrics contributed to success among some baseball teams, so similar energies were employed by football and basketball teams, each with their own take on how contributions are identified within their realms. With the capacity for isolating measurable behaviors increasing daily in all everyday circumstances, is there unexplored statistical territory in your own universe that offers untapped, meaningful information?

 

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Technology Trends: Advanced Metrics: First Sports, But Then What? - Executive Leadership Articles

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