Mark Twain is credited with popularizing the quote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” With all due respect to the late Samuel Clemens, he never had the benefit of effective field goal percentage at his disposal.
Bill James has been preaching the gospel of statistical analysis of sports for more than 30 years, but it took Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ 2003 account of the Oakland Athletics’ and General Manager Billy Beane’s use of advanced statistics, to bring that conversation to the forefront.
The book divided baseball observers into two camps: The “old school” that relied heavily on feel, instincts and traditional measurables like batting average – they hated it – and those that embraced the fresh perspective and viewed the system as the natural evolution of statistical evaluation.
Despite its detractors, advanced metrics have begun to creep their way into other sports, like basketball. ESPN.com now lists PER, short for player efficiency rating, on its NBA player pages.
There’s no need to be afraid. Statistics aren’t here to overwhelm you, they’re here to help us understand the game better. Holding Florida to 50 points and holding Old Dominion to 50 points can be two completely different things because at least one of those teams is going to play deliberately, walk the ball up the floor and run 25-second sets.