In the second installment of our ground-breaking, three-part investigative series, “Statistics Are Non-Nutritional, and In Some Cases Will Kill You,” Couch Slouch today examines statistical debris that is most often fatal.
Albert Einstein once said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction — the world will have a generation of idiots.”
Similarly, I fear the day that statistics will swallow up our sports experience — the world will have a generation of soulless, suck-the-joy-out-of-life human widgets.
Alas, that day is already here.
Sabermetricians of all intellectual sizes, come on down!!!
In the 1968 film “The Graduate,” during Benjamin’s college-graduation party, a family friend pulls him aside and tells him, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word: Plastics.”
If “The Graduate” were made in 2014, that man would tell Benjamin, “I just want to say one word to you: Analytics.”
Every day that I surf the Web or open up a newspaper — I’m the only person left on my block still opening up a newspaper; I love washing the newsprint off my hands before eating a late lunch — I am wide-eyed at the statistical flotsam and jetsam floating through the ever-congested stratosphere.
I remember clicking on a Dodgers-Reds boxscore last September on ESPN.com, where, under the heading of “Research Notes,” I read the following:
“Hanley Ramirez’s 431-foot home run in the 1st inning cracked off the bat at 114.6 miles per hour, boosting his average speed on home runs up to 107.5 miles per hour, 2nd-fastest in the league (min. 10 HR). It also got into the 2nd deck at Great American Ballpark in 7.75 seconds.”
I guess it’s possible you could use that information to land a job at Goldman Sachs or impress a first date between the appetizer and entree at T.G.I.Fridays, but from where I’m slouching, THERE IS NO PRACTICAL APPLICATION during this or any subsequent lifetime to a single number cited in that research note.
Now, there are practical applications to some of the newfangled metrics out there, but taken in even small doses, the micro data could choke a free-range chicken.
Does it interest you that of the NBA players who made at least 50 passes per game last season, Golden State’s Stephen Curry averaged the fewest passes per assist (6.2)?
(If it does, you’re in the wrong column, pal.)
Do you care that the Thunder’s Kevin Durant secured 74.9 percent of rebounds per chance, as defined as being within 3 ½ feet of the ball when it comes off the rim? Or that the Pistons’ Andre Drummond averaged 6.1 contested rebounds per game, meaning the rebounds come when an opponent is within 3 ½ feet of where the ball is possessed?
(Apparently, 3 ½ feet is the standard measuring stick here; likewise, in singles bars we used to say you had to be within 3 ¾ feet of a woman before making serious eye contact with her.)
If I told you that, in baseball, the Orioles used 595 shifts on balls in play last season — the most in five seasons tracked by Baseball Info Solutions — would you embrace me or pity me?
(MLB teams shifted about 4,500 times in 2012 and might shift 12,000 times this season. Shifts are the latest rage across our fruited plain, like craft beer.)
Would it make your day to discover that DeSean Jackson led the NFL last season in WR rating — the rating quarterbacks have when they throw to a wideout — among receivers targeted at least 50 percent of the time, with 124.4? By the way — and I’d be fascinated by this if I could understand it — Jackson also was fourth in yards per route run (2.35) when he went into a pattern.
All of this statistical sophistication makes me fear for the future of my favorite facts-and-figures human of all-time, “Stat Boy” Tony Reali on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.” The kid’s maybe 35 years old and he’s already an afterthought, a relic, an anachronism.
Heck, if “PTI” were created in 2014, there wouldn’t even be a Stat Boy; it would be “Stat Ph.D” or “Metrics Man.” Tony Reali would be ringing up burger orders at Wendy’s. I’m telling you, even when stats don’t kill you, they can kill your career.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Since my alma mater and yours left the ACC for the Big Ten, is it still okay to root against Duke whenever the opportunity arises, or must we now hate Ohio State? (Mitchell Shapiro; Rockville, Md.)
A. This is not an “either/or” conundrum: The beauty of a 24-hour day is that it allows you to root against Duke and hate Ohio State.
Q. Were you as surprised as I was that Joey Chestnut got engaged? I didn’t even know he was dating. (Donald Dixon; Spokane, Wash.)
A. I’d think twice if I were his fiancée — once he retires from hot dog eating, where’s the glamour?
Q. I hear there’s a new program on Showtime called “Penny Dreadful.” Is it about the second half of Anfernee Hardaway’s NBA career? (Joel Cockrell; Damascus; Md.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!