Archive for the 'sports' Category

Availability of Free NFL Statistics

As I’ve been trying to work on my program which parses an NFL.com box score, I have to wonder why there is such a paucity of usable statistics, in not only the NFL but other professional sports leagues. Sure there are stats out there, but it seems to be an either/or choice in terms of either comprehensiveness and timeliness (i.e. nfl.com’s stats) or ease of use and downloadability (i.e. the csv files at pro-football-reference.com). Now I can understand why a site like ESPN or SI.com wouldn’t be able to make the stats it shows available for download, since it gets them from the stats conglomerate stats.com. However, the NFL shouldn’t have any legal qualms about making their stats available for download. So you have to wonder what is stopping the NFL from doing this.

Is it an issue of time spent to put them in a format available to download, or a question of technical server demands? I highly doubt it. Is it pressure from companies like Stats Inc. wanting to maintain a quasi-monopoly on the market? Probably not? The most likely reason is money. The NFL is probably trying to work on a way that they can make the stats available, but for a price. So, if the stats are easily accessible for free now, but at some point down the line they decide to make them available for a fee, they have just lost some money.

So if money is an issue, why not start making these stats available for a small fee to personal (non-commercial) use. Or attach a disclaimer that they can only be used for non-commercial use but sell a commercial license? On the surface there seems very little reason for the stats to be available on the site on separate pages for free, but no database dump available for download.

Not All Sports Are Created Equal

As I am beginning my journey into the realm of sports statistical analysis, I am finding that MLB and NBA research and data dominate the amount of information that can be found for the NFL and NHL, especially in terms of Sabermetric and ABPRmetrics analyzing individual players. If I had to guess, I’d put the disparity at around 80% baseball & basketball to 20% football and hockey. These are just ballpark figures and may be way off, as they’re isolated to my meager hours of research into the subject on the Internet.

So, the logical question to ask is, how is it that a sport as popular in the US as football, with a league as lucrative as the NFL, that there is such a relatively small amount of information in this type of analysis for the NFL? The NHL can be written off because it never has measured up to the rest of the big four in popularity, but the NFL? There has got to be something holding it back that lies within the game itself. So let’s compare the sports of baseball and football.

Each has a clear, common goal: obtain more points (runs) than your opponent to win a game. Win more games than any of your opponents to be successful in the season. The difference is in how the two sports achieve this goal, and in the number of ways. In baseball, essentially the only way to score runs is through hitting. In football, points can be scored by running, passing, special teams, or even on defense, which complicates things greatly. Another factor that makes football more complex is that the current situation in the game greatly affects how your team will try to score (running the ball with a lead vs. passing when you’re down), while in baseball you still try to get a hit whether the score is tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, or whether you’re up 13 in a blowout (I realize that there are certain instances in baseball where certain types of offense are more valuable, i.e. sacrifice bunts, etc. but at the fundamental level, you don’t let the score of the game change the way you play, like in football).

There is also a greater difficulty of assigning value to a player and determining how great a role they played in achieving a particular outcome in football, than there is in baseball. Football players are broken up into different positions, which affect what they are doing 100% of the time. Baseball positions only affect what they are doing 50% of the time, because everyone is trying to get hits and score runs on the offense, (unless you’re a pitcher in the AL). Whereas in football, a left guard isn’t going to be trying to rack up receiving touchdowns or YAC, so there is no easy way to compare him to a wide receiver.

The bottom-line is football doesn’t lend itself to be dissected in the way that baseball, basketball, and even hockey do and in order for this to happen, there needs to be some sort of revolution in the way stats are kept at football games.

Sports + Math = Perfect

Sports fans rally behind the unpredictable, cherish the suspenseful, and celebrate the emotional. These are age-old tenets that are proven time and again by classic sports stories that will live in the annals of sports history. With those tenets acknowledged, what is there to be said of bringing method to the madness? Does analyzing sports under a statistical microscope detract from their underlying beauty and majesty?

There is certainly an argument to be made against a movement of limiting sports to numbers and data, especially for the casual fan. A 8 year-old boy watching his baseball hero on a Saturday afternoon doesn’t want to hear that his favorite player was traded because his GM is adopting a “Moneyball” mentality. At the same time, I’d be willing to bet that same young boy could rattle off that player’s batting average and HR totals for the last few seasons.

So, to answer the question of whether or not intense sports statistical analysis detracts from sports, I’d have to go with a resounding “Not in the least.” If I’m watching an regular season MLB game, in which I have no stake in either of the teams playing, I think that if the announcers discussed sabermetric stats such as Runs Created, or Win Shares, I’d be interested in a game I might normally find boring. Also seeing statistics about George Mason’s run to the Final Four and all its unlikelihood, only serve to make the feat even more special. To me, statistical analysis in sports serves to make the mundane interesting, and the arcane all the more memorable.