Advanced Metrics is the term for the empirical analysis of sports, particularly statistics that measure in-game productivity and efficiency. Advanced metrics were first employed in baseball by Bill James, a pioneer in the field who is considered the father and public face of the practice.
The basic principles of advanced metrics were outlined in The Sabermetric Manifesto by David Grabiner (1994). In the piece, Grabiner explains that Bill James defined sabermetrics, the first advanced metric, as the search for objective knowledge about sports.
To glean objective knowledge, advanced metrics practitioners gather and synthesize thousands of situational game data points from a wide variety of sources beyond high level box score information. A large volume of situational data is then distilled into sophisticated statistics that helps sports enthusiasts better understand, compare, and appreciate the on-field performances by athletes. Advanced metrics provide more objective answers to questions such as "which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team's offense?" or "who is the best wing player in the NBA?" or "how many touchdowns is Dez Bryant likely to score for the Cowboys?". By removing the subjective observations of sports media members and the emotional opinions of fans, advanced metrics offer a more clinical, rational prism from which to enjoy sporting events and consume sports media coverage.
Advanced metrics were first posited in the mid-1900s, and Earnshaw Cook was one its earliest practitioners. Cook's research for his 1964 work, Percentage Baseball was the first publication siting advanced metrics to garner national media attention. Despite the competitive advantage offered by advanced metrics, the practice was unanimously dismissed by major sports organizations for most of the twentieth century.
In the late 1970s, Bill James helped bring SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research, and the empirical analysis of athletic performance, to national prominence. The analytical perspective on sports championed by James and SABR developed a wider following after Sports Illustrated featured James in the article He Does It By The Numbers by Daniel Okrent (1981).
Advanced metrics in baseball
Former Major League Baseball second baseman Davey Johnson was the first known member of a major sports organization to advocate for the use of advanced metrics. During his time with the Baltimore Orioles, he used an IBM System/360 to write a FORTRAN baseball computer simulation to determine the team's optimal starting lineup. When he proposed his findings to Orioles manager Earl Weaver, Johnson's proposal was summarily dismissed. A decade later, after becoming the New York Mets' manager in 1984, Johnson tasked a team employee with writing a dBASE II application to run sophisticated statistical models in order to better understand the capabilities and tendencies of the team's opponents. At the close of the twentieth century, advanced metrics had gained significant acceptance by the management of many Major League Baseball clubs, notably the Oakland A's, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians.
The adoption of advanced metrics by professional baseball franchises has been largely outpaced by sports fans and sports media. Bill James' first published his Baseball Abstract in the early 1980s. In 1996, Baseball Prospectus sought to build upon Bill James' work when it launched the website BaseballProspectus.com in order to present sabermetric research and related findings as well as publish advanced metrics such as EqA, the Davenport Translations (DT's), and VORP. Today, Baseball Prospectus has grown into a multi-channel sports media organization employing a team of statisticians and writers who publish New York Times Best Selling books and host weekly radio shows and podcasts.
Advanced metrics in basketball
North Carolina, under coach Frank McGuire, was the first known basketball organization to utilized advanced possession metrics to gain a competitive advantage. Since then, advanced metrics enthusiasts in basketball have borrowed aspects of Bill James' philosophy in order to create weighted statistics that measure each player and each team's on-court efficiency. Most basketball-specific advanced metrics feature a per-minute measurement to ensure that a player's incremental team contributions are measured irrespective of usage volume.
Beginning in the 1990s, statistician Dean Oliver and ESPN sports writer John Hollinger first popularized the use of advanced metrics in basketball. Oliver's book Basketball On Paper and Hollinger's Pro Basketball Forecast are credited with the advancement of basketball's version of sabermetrics, APBRmetrics. Major sports media proponents, such as Hollinger, have helped basketball evolve more quickly from rudimentary statistics to advanced metrics than some other major American sports.
Houston Rockets' Daryl Morey was the first NBA general manager to implement advanced metrics as a key aspect of player evaluation. In the years that followed Morey's hiring, the NBA moved quickly to adopt advanced metrics-based player evaluation practices. In 2012, John Holliger left ESPN to become VP of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Beyond professional basketball front offices, major sports media websites such as basketballreference.com and hoopsdata.com are now dedicated to the collection, synthesis, and dissemination of advanced metrics to pro and college basketball organizations, sports media members, and fans.
Advanced metrics in American football
The adoption of advanced metrics by college and professional football organizations has been a gradual evolution. While the sabermetrics revolution in baseball has already inspired a bestselling book, Moneyball by Michael Lewis, which also became a critically acclaimed film, the advanced metrics movement in football has had no such prominence.
In 2003, the advanced metrics-focused website FootballOutsiders.com pioneered football's first comprehensive advanced metric, DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), which compares a player's success on each play to the league average based on a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and strength of opponent. Football Outsiders' work has since been widely cited by analytical members the sports media establishment. A few years later, Pro Football Focus launched a comprehensive statistical database, which soon featured a sophisticated player grading system. Advanced Football Analytics (originally Advanced NFL Stats) has its EPA (expected points added) and WPA (win probability added) for NFL players.
Grantland lead football writer Bill Barnwell created the first advanced metrics focused on predicting the future performance of an individual player, the Speed Score, which he referenced in a piece written for Pro Football Prospectus. After analyzing data pertaining to running back success, Barnwell discovered that the most successful running backs at the NFL level were both fast and heavy, therefore, Speed Score weights 40-yard dash times by assigning a premium to bigger, often stronger, running backs.
The fantasy football community has been one of the driving forces in the evolution of advanced metrics in American football. Fantasy sports writer, and author of How To Think Like A Fantasy Football Winner, C.D. Carter is a leading advocate for the use of advanced metrics in fantasy football analysis. He and peers at XN Sports, NumberFire, and the long-form fantasy football analysis site, Rotoviz.com, have established an informal subculture of fantasy football sports writers who refer to themselves as "degens." The degen movement is responsible for the creation of numerous American football efficiency metrics that better explain past football performances and attempt to predict future player production. Height-adjusted Speed Score, College Dominator Rating, Target Premium, Catch Radius, Net Expected Points (NEP), and Production Premium were recently created and disseminated by degen writers and mathematicians. Building on the work of these writers, sites such as PlayerProfiler.com distill a wide variety of established advanced metrics into a single player snapshot designed to be palatable to the casual sports fan.
- Wins above replacement (WAR)
- Value over replacement player (VORP)
- Batting average on balls in play (BABIP)
- Defense independent pitching statistics (DIPS)
- Fielding independent pitching (FIP)
- Fantasy batter value (FBV)
- On-base plus slugging (OPS)
- Range factor
- Win shares
- Player efficiency rating (PER)
- Effective field-goal percentage (eFG%)
- Pythagorean expectation
- Net Expected Points
- Production Premium
- College Dominator Rating
- Target Premium
- Normalized Fantasy Points Per Game
- Similarity score
- Speed Score
- Height-adjusted Speed Score
- Burst Score
- Agility Score
- Catch Radius
- Athleticism Score
- Sandy Alderson: Former General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, Alderson began focusing on sabermetric principles in the early 1990s toward obtaining relatively undervalued players. He became GM of the New York Mets in late 2010.
- Billy Beane: Athletics' General Manager since 1997. Although not a public proponent of sabermetrics, it has been widely noted that Beane has steered the team during his tenure according to sabermetric principles. In 2003, Michael Lewis published Moneyball about Billy Beane's use of a more quantitative approach. In 2011, a film based on Lewis' book which dramatised Beane's use of sabermetrics was released, starring Brad Pitt in the role of Beane.
- Earnshaw Cook: Early researcher and proponent of statistical baseball research. His 1964 book Percentage Baseball was the first book of baseball statistics studies to gain national media attention.
- Paul DePodesta: A key figure in Michael Lewis' book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game as Beane's assistant in Oakland.
- Theo Epstein: President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. He was hired as GM of the Red Sox after owner John Henry hired sabermetrician Bill James.
- Bill James: Widely considered the father of sabermetrics due to his extensive series of books, although a number of less well known SABR researchers in the early 1970s provided a foundation for his work. He began publishing his Baseball Abstracts in 1977 to study some questions about baseball he found interesting, and their eclectic mix of essays based on new kinds of statistics soon became popular with a generation of thinking baseball fans. He discontinued the Abstracts after the 1988 edition, but continued to be active in the field. His two Historical Baseball Abstract editions and Win Shares book have continued to advance the field of sabermetrics, 25 years after he began. In 2002 James was hired as a special advisor to the Boston Red Sox.
- Christina Kahrl: Co-founder of Baseball Prospectus and current ESPN columnist, Kahrl puts an emphasis on advanced baseball analytics.
- Rob Neyer: Senior writer at ESPN.com and national baseball editor of SBNation and former assistant to Bill James, he has worked to popularize sabermetrics since the mid-1980s. Neyer has authored or co-authored several books about baseball, and his journalistic writing focuses on sabermetric methods for looking at baseball players' and teams' performance.
- Joe Posnanski: A popular baseball writer and a proponent of advanced metrics.
- Dan LeBatard: A popular sports writer, radio and television host, and active proponent of advanced metrics.
- Nate Silver: Writer and former managing partner of Baseball Prospectus, inventor of PECOTA. Later applied sabermetric statistical models to the study of politics, particularly elections, and published the results on his blog FiveThirtyEight (later affiliated with The New York Times and ESPN).
- David Smith: Founded Retrosheet in 1989, with the objective of computerizing the box score of every major league baseball game ever played, in order to more accurately collect and compare the statistics of the game.
- Keith Woolner: Creator of VORP, or Value over Replacement Player, is a former writer for sabermetric group/website Baseball Prospectus. He was hired in 2007 by the Cleveland Indians as their Manager of Baseball Research & Analytics.
- Voros McCracken: Developed a system called Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) to evaluate a pitcher based purely on his ability.
- C.D. Carter: Author of How To Think Like A Fantasy Football Winner, Carter strongly advocates for the use of advanced metrics in fantasy football in his writing for the New York Times and several fantasy football-specific publications.
- JJ Zachariason: Author of Late Round Quarterback and Editor-in-chief at NumberFire, Zachariason utilizes a variety of advanced metrics in his writing about fantasy draft strategy.
- Jonathan Bales: Author of Fantasy Football for Smart People spearheaded multiple in-depth quantitative studies that would become the philosophical underpinning of particular football advanced metrics.
- Frank Dupont: Author of Game Plan, Dupont created the College Dominator Rating metric, and soon after, launched RotoViz.com, a source of advanced metrics content for fantasy football enthusiasts.
- Shawn Siegele: Creator of Height-adjusted Speed Score, Agility Score, and Breakout Age, Siegele is the foremost authority on the creation and application of advanced metrics in a fantasy football context.
- Scott Smith: Creator of Catch Radius measurement and writer for Rotoviz and Player Profiler.
- Moneyball, the 2011 film about Billy Beane's use of sabermetrics to build the Oakland Athletics. The film is based on Michael Lewis' book of the same name.
- The season 3 Numb3rs episode "Hardball" focuses on sabermetrics, and the season 1 episode "Sacrifice" also covers the subject.
- "Using Box Scores to Analyze a Position's Value to Winning Games" Academic research analyzing the impact of player contributions by position and by statistical category.
- BaseballProspectus.com, publishes analytical articles as well as advanced statistics and projections for individuals and teams.
- Hardball Times.com, evaluates the preceding major league season and presents original research articles on various sabermetric topics.
- FanGraphs.com, publishes advanced baseball statistics as well as graphics that evaluate and track the performance of players and teams. The site also features the analysis of play-by-play data and PITCHf/x.
- BeyondTheBoxScore.com, specializes in advanced metrics analysis and research. It has also launched the careers of many successful sabermetricians.
- BaseballThinkFactory.com, a web forum that includes extensive coverage of and commentary on baseball, usually from the perspective of sabermetrics.
- APBR, a central discussion source for quantitative basketball analysis.
- 82games.com, offers a wealth of player and team data, +/-, counterpart, by position, time on clock.
- Basketball Prospectus.com, an on-based online basketball analysis site from the publishers of the Baseball Prospectus.
- BasketballReference.com, current and historical stats, including many advanced stats.
- BasketballValue.com, features raw and adjusted plus-minus for players and lineup data.
- BBALLsports.com, site focusing on computer basketball simulations
- TheCity2.com, Golden State Warriors blog focusing on the advanced metrics enthusiast's perspective
- HoopData.com, daily advanced box scores, advanced statistics, analysis and shot locations.
- KenPom.com, tracks College Basketball basic and advanced stats.
- PopcornMachine.Net, documents game flow and charts player movement in and out of the game.
- ESPN Stats & Info, makes advanced atatistics delivered to ESPN columnists and on-air talent available to the public.
- FootballOutsiders.com, performs in-depth analysis of NFL play-by-play data to rate players and teams and publish counter-intuitive insights.
- ProFootballFocus.com, charts advanced NFL stats and features a sophisticated player grading system.
- RotoAcademy.com, helps fantasy football enthusiasts leverage advanced metrics to bridge the gap between the typical owner and fantasy football’s elite.
- NumberFire.com, takes the unstructured, and often misleading, data and mines it for insight into future player and team performance.
- RotoViz.com, provides data-intensive, often contrarian, fantasy football analysis as well as a suite of online player evaluation tools.
- XNSports.com, advanced metrics-focused fantasy football columns focusing player evaluation and fantasy draft strategy.
- PlayerProfiler.com, distills a wide range of opportunity, productivity, and efficiency-related advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.
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