A 3-point shot is worth ~3.5 times more than a 2-point shot? Data analysts in the dugout? What the…. Is this the apocalypse?
To say that analytics has changed sport would be a gross understatement. Professional teams are stocked with Master Data Scientists that dissect and cross reference every movement on the field and court. Proof point: As of May 14, there were 28 NBA Statistical Analysis job openings.
In the NBA, teams such as the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics have led the charge in embracing off-court strategies involving neural networks and advanced analytics. Some of their research has led to the current strategy of avoiding “no man’s land” (the area between the paint and the 3-point line). Last season the NBA set a record for 3-pont attempts (about 32%) with this season to eclipse it. This season about 34% of all shots were from 3-point range. This compares to about 20% for the 2005/2006 season.
Why the uptick in 3-pointers? Analysis shows that, for the 2017/18 regular season and taking shooting percentage into account, 3-point shots and shots from “the paint” are almost 3.5 times more valuable than midrange shots taken between the paint and the 3-point line.
Analytics has been a hot topic in MLB since Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” came out in 2003. Now it is even used to measure umpire sentiment/tendencies during extra innings. According to this piece by fivethirtyeight.com, when games go to extra innings, umpires want to get home too. And, apparently, they alter their pitch calling to do so.
While now it is not unusual for an MLB team to have a cadre of data scientists, the Houston Astros (being true to themselves) have crossed the chasm between front office and the dugout by including a data scientist as a coach. They sent Sig Mejdal, one of baseball’s top quantitative analysts, to spend a season in the dugout with one of their minor league teams.
Not all has been good with analytics permeating MLB. Many credit the lengthening of the game to the increased reliance upon analytics. There are more pitchers (13?) on staff which leads to more pitching changes – with the relievers taking more time between pitches than the starters. Batters are hitting more home runs as they’ve discovered the proper launch angle to blast one out of the park. With analytics likely to stay for MLB, one should expect to see some rule-tinkering to address long games. Or just let the umpires do their thing when going to extra innings.
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