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Buffalo Bills Going the Moneyball Route With Analytics

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the math-wins-games dept.

Math 94

Nerval's Lobster writes "Can data-analytics software win a Super Bowl? That's what the Buffalo Bills are betting on: the NFL team will create an analytics department to crunch player data, building on a model already well established in professional baseball and basketball. 'We are going to create and establish a very robust football analytics operation that we layer into our entire operation moving forward,' Buffalo Bills president Russ Brandon recently told The Buffalo News. 'That's something that's very important to me and the future of the franchise.' The increased use of analytics in other sports, he added, led him to make the decision: 'We've seen it in the NBA. We've seen it more in baseball. It's starting to spruce its head a little bit in football, and I feel we're missing the target if we don't invest in that area of our operation, and we will.'"

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Firsty (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42454649)

Gaming the analytical system.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (3, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454673)

I for one hope the new Browns owner decides to go down a similar path, for a decade the Browns have squandered draft choices and money on flop after flop. Since they're in the market for a new GM and head coach now would be the perfect time to inject such a new system into the front office.

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (5, Funny)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455679)

As a life long Bills fan, any person hoping their team 'follows the Bills' path is more certifiable than I am for being a life long fan ;-)

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (1)

Azghoul (25786) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456549)

As another, this comment isn't funny. It's true.

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (1)

afidel (530433) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456783)

Hey, at least you guys have actually made it to the superbowl and you're in a much smaller media market with arguably a less fanatical fanbase (it's taken almost two decades of mismanagement for any significant percentage of seats to go unsold)

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (1)

qwak23 (1862090) | about a year and a half ago | (#42457683)

Hey, we had 4 awesome yet disappointing years ;)

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42460577)

Hey, we had 4 awesome yet VERY disappointing years. FTFY

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42460869)

How does that joke go?
"How do you spell Bills? With four 'L's!"

Seriously, analytics could help up to a point, but I really think they should be looking at hiring coaches that can get the job done.

Here's a thought....maybe offer Jim Kelly the offensive line coach job? He seemed to do pretty well when calling the shots from the line.

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#42464107)

no no. the joke is:

What does BILLS stand for?


Boy I Love Losing Superbowls

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42457517)

I for one hope the new Browns owner decides to go down a similar path, [...]

I hope they do too, that way I'll have even more people that I can sue for patent infringement.

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42458717)

Moneyball analytics are not going to help very much with drafting since you have to pick players who play against different sets of players. Also, statistics in the NFL draft just don't tell the whole story. Otherwise, players like Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Charles Haley never would have lasted until the 6th, 3rd, and 4th round.

The Bills' problem, besides crappy drafting, is crappy coaching. Moneyball is not going to help the coaching problem.

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42461677)

Yep. Johnny Unitas wasn't drafted at all.

Re:Here's hoping the Browns go the same way (1)

theonesandtwos (1349467) | about a year and a half ago | (#42475071)

Cleveland would have won a Superbowl already if Art Modell didn't screw them in 95. We've seen what that staff has accomplished (Baltimore and New England).

Too late? (2)

paiute (550198) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454675)

Isn't it about 20 years too late to gain an edge on other pro franchises by following Moneyball? It's not like it is a secret weapon anymore.

Re:Too late? (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454851)

It's catching on a bit later in sports other than baseball due to the difficulty (until recently) of collecting fine-grained statistics in many sports. Baseball is fairly discrete: it operates pitch by pitch, with a lot of down time in between. So a large number of relevant statistics can be tallied by hand, which is why we have piles of statistics dating back decades. For every pitch, you can mark down whether it was a strike or ball, whether the batter swung, where in the field it went to if hit, what the fielder did with it, what the runners did in response, etc.

For football (and even more so, soccer), a lot of the relevant information you'd get from watching replays is more "continuous" and harder to extract manually. Traditional statistics did measured things like passing completion percentage and yards gained by a running back, but they didn't collect data that could be used to quantify things like the quality of an offensive line, or of blockers, except indirectly through overall team performance. Now a lot more of that information is being automatically tallied using computer-vision algorithms churning through digitized camera footage.

Re:Too late? (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454949)

Doesn't sound like the funnest of jobs, but as a beginning maybe they can hire somebody to watch play by play after the game and do some data entry. The algorithms can always be built up later. Statistics like this are cool, they help teams fill gaps with weaknesses that may not be apparent watching the team everyday and help to enrich the sport, but they're not to be confused with talent and smarts.

Re:Too late? (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455443)

Computers can do a lot of this data encoding from game tapes.

Statistics aren't confused with talent and smarts, any more than the weight on a bag of potatoes is confused with actual potatoes.
Statistics simply measure talent and smarts.

Re:Too late? (1)

Radres (776901) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455005)

Not only this, but it can be difficult to determine whether something like a drop or an interception was the fault of the quarterback or the wide receiver. Drops aren't an official statistic for this reason.

Re:Too late? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42455263)

That's where statistics become useful! If a quarterback's throws are consistently dropped by a single receiver then it's the receiver's fault. This can be missed when looking at each play on an individual basis, but in aggregate over a season or two could reveal a significant weakness in the receiving corps or the quarterback.

Re:Too late? (2)

ranton (36917) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455439)

That's where statistics become useful! If a quarterback's throws are consistently dropped by a single receiver then it's the receiver's fault. This can be missed when looking at each play on an individual basis, but in aggregate over a season or two could reveal a significant weakness in the receiving corps or the quarterback.

But these are the kind of statistics they already have, and can already very easily analyze. The problem is that there just aren't enough data points. A good receiver may get 10 targets per game, and a quarterback is going to through on average 1 interception per game out of 40 attempts. That means an average receiver will probably have 4 passes intended for them intercepted each year. Lets say that half of interceptions are the receiver's fault, so that makes 2 per year. You simply are not going to get enough information when one player has 5 interceptions and another has 1. It just isn't enough data.

But a human (or AI) that knows the routes and can identify a poorly run route, a bobbled pass, and an overthrown pass could let you know who was actually at fault for each interception. It just takes a lot more data collection and analysis (a lot more).

Re:Too late? (3, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455567)

Good example.

Too often the quarterback takes a bum rap for butter fingers down field, just like pitchers gain poor ERAs due to bad defense that allows easily defended ground balls to become runs scored, or pitchers that have bad win/loss records while playing with a horrible bunch of hitters.

Entire new measurements must be defined for football. How do you measure if the pass was catch-able by a competent receiver? Is it anything within arms length? Or is it more complex, taking into account direction of player motion? What about defensive coverage? Every one of these has to be assigned some form of measurement and then you have to start digitizing game tapes. It will take years to develop anything approximating what baseball has, but its probably long past due.

Re:Too late? (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455703)

due to bad defense that allows easily defended ground balls to become runs scored

If only there was some statistic in baseball for this...

Re:Too late? (2)

Red Flayer (890720) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455881)

, just like pitchers gain poor ERAs due to bad defense that allows easily defended ground balls to become runs scored

Just an FYI... ERA is Earned Run Average. It does not include runs arising from errors made by fielders (those are unearned runs).

Of course, there is still a very human factor in determining what defensive mishap is scored an error instead of a hit... not to mention great defenders who turn what would be a hit into an out because of their athletic range.

I say it is nearly impossible to do for football what Moneyball did for baseball. It's not just the scope of the stats that are important... it's also the team nature of football and the difference between systems.

In baseball, the average ball hit into play involves 5-6 people (catcher, pitcher, batter, fielder, baseman, sometimes an additional baseman). In football, the average play involves 22 people. The interdependencies are huge.

Plus you have the issue of players in different systems not playing to the same set of standards... how do you come up with equivalent metrics for players in positions whose role is different depending on the offensive scheme? Resort to video-game player stats for catching, awareness, blocking, etc? A wide receiver for the New York Jets is going to have a very different set of responsibilities than a WR for the Indianapolis Colts, and thus should be judged differently.

Plenty of people have been doing advanced statistical analysis of football players for a very long time. It's a muddle at worst, and can inform scouts and GMs at best... but I believe the Bills will have very limited success if they plan on going "pure Moneyball" style.

I think what this is really all about is normalizing the market for players. Costs are not even close to being in line with the value of a player or position, and by sticking to their "Moneyball" rules, the Bills gain some negotiating leverage... and some of the costly mistakes they (and other teams) have made wrt free agent signings.

Re:Too late? (1)

nabsltd (1313397) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455939)

just like pitchers gain poor ERAs due to bad defense that allows easily defended ground balls to become runs scored

By definition, and "easily defended ground ball" that does not result in an out is an error, and thus the runs that result from it are likely unearned. Since "ERA" is the earned run average, that pitcher's statistic generally would not be hurt by such plays.

And, sabremetrics has plenty of stats that deal with such situations, like component ERA, defense-independent ERA, and even ERA+ (which adjusts for the ballpark).

Re:Too late? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42456313)

This.

Too often a pass right at a reciever's chest bounces off the receiver's hands for an interception, hurting the QB's rating. Or a crazy pass is tipped and somehow caught by a receiver, helping the QB's numbers.

Also saw a "edumentary" show that did slow-mo analysis of pass protection. An offensive tackle that can push a defensive end 1 foot further when the end is running around to the QB will result in the QB having 1 more second to get the pass away.

Re:Too late? (1)

bogjobber (880402) | about a year and a half ago | (#42458927)

All of these things already exist, and most teams use them. The Bills are at least a decade behind if they haven't been using any advanced metrics.

Re:Too late? (2)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455403)

This!

The fine grained statistics that you can pull out of baseball go back over a hundred years. Every game has these gathered more or less automatically these days, and even from a box score one can piece together stats on each player's abilities.

As a result there are plays that are never even attempted anymore because the stats are so precise at describing the likelihood of success/failure that they virtually dictate how the game is played. A player's value at any given point in time can be measured very precisely.

This level of detail is missing from Football, in part simply because too many bodies are in motion at once making it hard and tedious to map them, evaluate them, describe them, measure them, etc. Modern TV gear changes everything. Now all of this is possible after the fact by combining a few camera angles.

It will probably take 10years of game tape analysis just to define meaningful measures (statistics). Some will be useful, others will fall into disuse. But how we evaluate football players today will change drastically over time.

Re:Too late? (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455509)

This level of detail is missing from Football, in part simply because too many bodies are in motion at once making it hard and tedious to map them, evaluate them, describe them, measure them, etc.

Yup, although the same issue applies to basketball. Baseball is fairly unique in that any given play usually is only influenced by 3-4 people. The pitcher is in every play, the batter is in every play, and then there might be a fielder where the ball goes, and maybe one or two where the ball is tossed, in particular first base). Whether the batter makes it to first is probably 95% of the entire game, thus the concept of batting average.

With football you can only advance the ball if just about everybody does their job right. Even receivers who won't get the ball need to run their routes to draw off coverage, and the lack of a good running back ensures that you'll see safeties all over the place. The whole game is just much more integrated. With baseball a lousy 3rd baseman is only going to impact the few plays that involve the ball going that direction, or a running heading for that base - it isn't like the batters are going to say "hey, let's run to 3rd instead of 1st because that guy is weaker!"

Re:Too late? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42455735)

The pitcher is in every play, the batter is in every play, and then there might be a fielder where the ball goes

Except of course for the pitcher picking off the runner ;-) Two out of three ain't bad

OMG! That's .667! You're an all-star!

Re:Too late? (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455681)

It’s not the down time, it is the discrete objective action vs. continuous subjective actions.

For baseball you have 1 pitcher and 1 man on bat. The batter can either strike out or the ball could go someplace – left field, right field, etc. You can then measure the result – did he get on base – did he advance any runners, etc. One can break things down into actions.

Other games are harder. In football there is much more interaction with you teammates - didn’t George Carlin say a football’s huddle is like a business meeting? A running play success is based on the QB, the Running back, offensive and defensive blockers – so you have a dozen different people involved – how do you allocate success? And does it matter? In football rushing yards and/or passing yards only have a low prediction value.

Soccer – I don’t know enough to know where to begin on that one. The guy on the other side of the field – is he adding value? Maybe. As a creditable threat he could be pulling players off the striker – or maybe here’s there because they don’t have a clue. But from a coding point it looks awfully subjective. (Note, in baseball they are moving away from subjective scores. Fielding Errors at one point was a big statistic – now it’s almost gone.)

Re:Too late? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42461437)

Try 45. Tom Landry started doing this in the 60s.

No wonder the Bills are so bad... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42454689)

Hint: Baseball can, for the most part, be broken down into a model of a face off between the pitcher and the batter.

Football is MUCH more of a team sport. It's far more difficult to tease out whether that running back is good because he's good, or whether he's good because his offensive line is leveling the defensive tackles and linebackers.

Check out places like Football Outsiders, which have tons of fantastic statistics for College and Pro teams, but individual player stats are... lacking.

Depends on their effort (3, Insightful)

ranton (36917) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455187)

Their success will likely depend on how much effort they put into collecting data. If all they look at is the same statistics you can find at CBS Sports, Football Outsiders, etc. then it will probably not help at all. But if they really get serious about data collection, who knows how much insight they could gain.

There are about 130 plays per game, and 256 games per year. That is 33,280 plays to analyze each year. That would increase to about 135k if you include Division 1-A college games. If you had two guys spend 15 minutes analyzing each play (2 guys to reduce errors) then it would take 20 full time employees to do this each year. More if you want to get more immediate results after each week. There are plenty of ex-athletes that couldn't make the pros and are intelligent enough for the work. Probably somewhere around $2 million per year in salary ($500k if you only look at professional games).

Just think of all the information you could gain. The first team to get this right could probably greatly improve their overall defenses and their offensive lines (positions that are very hard to rate with stats). I wonder how many teams know how many seconds thier offensive tackles can block an average defensive lineman, adjusted for their quarterback's mobility on each play, and any number of other mitigating factors.

Re:Depends on their effort (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455623)

Computerized game tape analysis should shorten the time required by quite a lot.
HD tv cams are becoming so cheap and so good, that teams could put time-synced cameras in two (high) mounts for each game. The league could assure that both teams have access to the video to do their own analysis, or maybe just the digitized results. I don't think it takes 20 employees to do this.

Re:Depends on their effort (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456191)

There are about 130 plays per game, and 256 games per year. That is 33,280 plays to analyze each year. That would increase to about 135k if you include Division 1-A college games. If you had two guys spend 15 minutes analyzing each play (2 guys to reduce errors) then it would take 20 full time employees to do this each year. More if you want to get more immediate results after each week. There are plenty of ex-athletes that couldn't make the pros and are intelligent enough for the work. Probably somewhere around $2 million per year in salary ($500k if you only look at professional games).

And for each play, you have 44 athletes whose performance needs to be evaluated according to specific metrics for multiple categories.

Let's look a one typical, very simple play: a running back dive through the strong-side B-gap with the fullback lead blocking out of a standard I formation. I'm not going to do this by each position, too much space, but here's a quick overview of the stats that would need to be collected:

Offensive line: Snap, blocking efficiency. This is complicated by blocking schemes (chip blocks, zone-blocking schemes, etc).
Fullback: Lead blocking -- did he clear the hole? Did he make a block at the second level but miss a free LB? Should he have blocked that LB at all, or was it someone else's missed block?
WR group: did they sell the decoy route, or make the block on the CB?
QB: Pre-snap activity, receiving the snap, handoff.
RB: Receiving the handoff, yards gained, yards after contact, depth of contact (none of which are the direct result of only his actions).
Defensive Line: block-eating, gap-filling, penetrate, containment: what's his responsibility? How do we know? If the weakside DE didn't fill his gap, but it didn't matter to the result of the play... is that scored at all? How can you determine if he filled the gap when he never had to get off the block?
LBs: Reads, shucking blocks, tackling, containment.
Safeties: positioning, reads, shucking, tackling.
Cornerbacks: reads, shucking, closing, tackling.

A football play is just far too complex to boil down to numbers for each position, since there are so many possibilities for what a player is supposed to do and how they fulfill their responsibilities.

So say you just look at the handful of players directly involved in a play... say, ten of them. Do you just look at the yards gained? How do you account for things like down and distance factoring into the style of play? A 2-yard run on 3rd-and-1 is much more valuable than a 4-yard run on 2nd-and-10... so how do your statistics weight that?

Long story short: unless the GMs office understands that statistics are a source of information, and not the be-all and end-all of player value, I can't see this being successful... scheme, coaching, other players are far too impactful on measurable results to make the stats definitive.

Re:Depends on their effort (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42456653)

A. The new prez has already said that this will not directly supersede the existing GM's decisions on personnel.

B. Although complex, some of the stats in question are beginning to be collected. See advancednflstats for an example.

C. Analytics can be helpful not just for personnel decisions but for play-calling.

D. It can be incorporated across the business side as well as the football ops side.

Re:Depends on their effort (1)

ranton (36917) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456807)

It may take longer than 15 minutes to analyze a play, but I doubt it is too much more. At 22 minutes, you can spend a full minute analyzing each player. And some plays only include half of the players on the field. It would take much more than 22 minutes to get every possible statistic about a play, but you could at least get some useful metrics about each players' performance in just a minute.

So say you just look at the handful of players directly involved in a play... say, ten of them. Do you just look at the yards gained? How do you account for things like down and distance factoring into the style of play? A 2-yard run on 3rd-and-1 is much more valuable than a 4-yard run on 2nd-and-10... so how do your statistics weight that?

That is the easy part. Football Outsiders already does that. There are some fairly basic ways to determine a successful play. For football outsiders, on first down you need 45% of the required yards, on second down you need 60% of the required yards, and on third and fourth downs you need 100% of the required yards. So a 2 yard run on 3rd and 1 is more successful than a 4 yard run on 1st and 15.

I am sure that with even more detailed data, it would be easy to come up with even better ways to determine if a play was a success. Sometimes a RB that gets zero yards did a good job if the blocking let him get hit initially two yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Long story short: unless the GMs office understands that statistics are a source of information, and not the be-all and end-all of player value, I can't see this being successful... scheme, coaching, other players are far too impactful on measurable results to make the stats definitive.

Even in baseball these statistics are not definitive. They are just a useful tool. Human perception is very biased and we are poor at being objective. Stats are very objective, but it is very hard to create a model which actually represents reality. Both methods of determining player ability are very flawed, but the goal should be to improve both as much as possible.

Any time someone says something is too difficult, it leaves a window open for someone else to exploit. Unfortunately, it also creates enough fools gold to get plenty of innovators into trouble.

Re:Depends on their effort (1)

mister2au (1707664) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456979)

Over-thinking it ...

In baseball, you don't measure how well a player bunts or takes a few pitches or leads off base for a steal ... how does not matter - it is only the outcome.

Same for football - don't care what a QB does pre-snap or how he receives the snap, or how a WR runs a route ...

instead it is a simple question - does the team score more points with or without the player on the field and typically this comes down to whether the team has more yards (or opposition less yards for defensive assessment) with the player on the field.

Re:Depends on their effort (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year and a half ago | (#42458603)

Of all the comments I've read so far, yours is the closest to what I would consider the case. Most commenters seem to be taking the same discrete statistical analysis approach that has been common for many years, and point out correctly that it's too difficult to follow and 'score' all those players' actions. But they are ignoring the progress of the last 20 years in probabilistic statistics such as Bayesian analysis (as opposed to 'frequentist' statistics, the traditional form), and machine learning methods such as neural networks, support vector machines, etc. The machine learning methods have the potential to work out the optima in the N-dimensional state space, where N is some product of the (players on the field + the coaches and maybe even the support staff), times the possible scorable actions or inactions of each. Add in factors such as lighting, announceming, noise level, and the color distribution of the crowd's clothing if you want.

In many ways, the problem is akin to the back propagation process in perceptron neural networks. As a related example, in the brain, a neuron whose outputs are continuously weighted low by the vast majority of its receiving neurons eventually just dies. Similarly, think of a player whose actions make little difference to the game - probably time to retire.

This method may not tell you what the player is doing wrong (a typical problem with neural networks is you often can not say _how_ it came to the conclusion even though it is recognizably optimal), just that the player's actions don't have a useful result.

Finally, from my recollection of a review of the Moneyball book, the success of the system was in finding good talent that fit into the team, that was being overlooked by other teams and/or being paid less than their abilities (as scored by the system) would justify - so the method here may also be more for scouting and trading than for evaluating their own players.

Re:Depends on their effort (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | about a year and a half ago | (#42468983)

In baseball, you don't measure how well a player bunts or takes a few pitches or leads off base for a steal ... how does not matter - it is only the outcome.

That's not true at all. Have you seen the type of stats kept by sabermetricians? I think you're mistaking casual fan stats with the stats pros use to evalute and manage players.

Re:No wonder the Bills are so bad... (1)

Lieutenant_Dan (583843) | about a year and a half ago | (#42460903)

You should read Soccernomics. A lot of the principles that Sabermetics has applied to soccer as well which is as a team sport as well. Specifically teams like Lyon and FC Porto have been doing something similar and exceeding expectations for many years. Manchester City who also have a ton of money, have now published their players' stats [mcfc.co.uk] .

To denizens of all nations besides USA (0, Troll)

idontgno (624372) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454719)

and also non-sports geeks of all nationalities:

"Football" == "gridiron football", aka "handegg".

"Buffalo Bills" == National Football League franchise in the city of Buffalo, New York. Has nothing to do with American Bison (bison bison), other than the coincidental resemblance between the bovine and some of the members of the sports team.

"robust football analytics" == "another opportunity for the beancounters to interfere with the operation of the team."

Re:To denizens of all nations besides USA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42454783)

and also non-sports geeks of all nationalities:

"Football" == "gridiron football", aka "handegg".

"Buffalo Bills" == National Football League franchise in the city of Buffalo, New York. Has nothing to do with American Bison (bison bison), other than the coincidental resemblance between the bovine and some of the members of the sports team.

"robust football analytics" == "another opportunity for the beancounters to interfere with the operation of the team."

A male bison is known as a "Billy".

The teams logo is a Bison.

Not sure I understand.

Re:To denizens of all nations besides USA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42454953)

GP == "grandparent post" == "faggot".

Now you're getting it.

Re:To denizens of all nations besides USA (1)

fldsofglry (2754803) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454811)

Re:To denizens of all nations besides USA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42455489)

Bison Bison had had had had had Bison Bison Bison shi shi shi.

I win

End the Lockout (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42454729)

Who the hell in Buffalo cares about the Bills? Bring back the NHL so we can see Sabres games again.

Re:End the Lockout (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454821)

THIS!!!

Re:End the Lockout (1)

qwak23 (1862090) | about a year and a half ago | (#42457781)

I've almost given up on the NHL. Having just moved back to the states I was hoping to catch a Sabres game or two this season... but there is no season =(

Re:End the Lockout (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454827)

Who the hell in Buffalo cares about the Bills?

Not even football fans, unfortunately. :)

Re:End the Lockout (1)

inode_buddha (576844) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455475)

Those of us who remember Marv Levy and Jim Kelly (among many other greats) care a *lot*

so shut the fuck up about that ghey french-canadian ice thing, eh?

Re:End the Lockout (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455837)

I'm a Bills fan too...and they suuuuuuuuuck and have for years. But not just suck, they give you a little hope before crushing it :)

Re:End the Lockout (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42457115)

Reminds of this ad [youtube.com] that ran one week after the Bills had lost their fourth consecutive Super Bowl.

Ten years later, the successors of that team gave us this. [youtube.com]

Re:End the Lockout (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42457281)

And this ad [youtube.com] has nothing to do with either the Bills or News for Nerds.

It's funny as hell though

Results (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42454745)

Ok, we've input the performance data of both teams, hit the big analyze button, and waited weeks for the answer to how the Bills can win the Super Bowl. It's formulated an answer and ... and ... AND ... Error 404, Universe not found? What does that mean?

(it was a toss-up between this and a 42 joke)

Re:Results (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454875)

Strange game... The only winning move is not to play. Would you like me to call in a bomb threat Professor Falkin?

Re:Results (1)

lurking_giant (1087199) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455233)

No sir Inspector Gadget... I do not... and by the way that would not be a bomb threat... it would be a "Hail mary"

Re:Results (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455865)

Well we agree, the Bills are certainly no 'bomb threat'

Re:Results (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year and a half ago | (#42458609)

Didn't they bomb this year?

This is my title (1)

Slyfox696 (2432554) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454839)

1) I thought NFL teams were already crunching data like this.

2) This seems like it would be far more effective to use in your scouting, particularly college scouting, as opposed to just members of your own team.

3) There are still intangibles no statistic can measure, so unlike the fans of sabermetrics in baseball, they will need to understand this data is only a tool, not a Bible.

Re:This is my title (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42455477)

1)
3) There are still intangibles no statistic can measure, so unlike the fans of sabermetrics in baseball, they will need to understand this data is only a tool, not a Bible.

If by intangible you mean 'from the mind', I would like to say that the brain is quite tangible, but also complex.

Sure, but.... (2)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454877)

Ok, I can see it for baseball. There is close to no interplay between players (even on the pitching team, coordination is restricted to whether you can catch what someone throws at you), and strategy is restricted to positioning players where a batter tends to hit and to how aggressively you go after a pitcher or batter. You're also playing 162 games a year - you can get some pretty good numbers in that time. Basketball is a bit harder, but with only four other teammates on the floor and a fairly static match-up (guards don't face centers much, you have zone or man-defense, and strategy revolves around how much you go for inside battles versus outside shots), the possible factors that influence whether a shot is made or not is still pretty small. You're also playing 82 games and taking a significant number of shots in a game. Again, you have a decent data set to work with.

But football? There are 10 teammates on the field, quite a few of which get switched out every other snap. You have 52 people on the roster, with many of them active during every game (especially on defense). Strategic decisions can take specific players completely out of the game for long stretches (simplest example: you're behind in the game, and start throwing - does that mean your running backs now suck?). And finally: there's only 16 games in a season. Some people may see action only 2-3 times a game or see action in trivial circumstances (see: kicker, long snapper). So not only do you have a huge amount of variables influencing a single player's success, you will also have a hard time creating a metric for success (touchdowns and sacks are rare outcomes of a long string of events), and on top of that, you're frequently dealing with a data set that maybe consists of 100 data points for an entire year, and maybe of 10 points for some lower-rung players. And it's exactly in the lower rungs of the players where moneyball was so wildly successful. Everybody knows an Adrian Peterson and Derek Jeter when they see one, but what about the journey players who switch teams once a year? Moneyball pretty much addressed that problem in baseball, but I don't see it working in football.

The Bills might prove me wrong, but I see this instead turning into the problem Girardi had with the Yankees: making player decisions based on stats that are calculated with 5 data points leads to decisions that will come back to bite you in the long run. You might as well save the money and just flip a coin.

Re:Sure, but.... (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455877)

The Bills might prove me wrong

Well they've been proving us fans wrong for years ;-)

Re:Sure, but.... (1)

mister2au (1707664) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456939)

Key is don't focus on score - that works for baseball and basketball but not for football.

Make the assumption that "yards = wins" and each play is a discrete event with yardage outcome - suddenly you have 1000s of events per year.

And the switching out of players may actually be the key to evaluating performance of the bulk of the players ie the offensive and defense lines ... It becomes much easier to determine offensive yardage with Player X on the field is "0.1 yard per play" better than with Player Y on the field instead.

Over enough plays most of the situation specific factors get averaged out ...

Re:Sure, but.... (1)

bogjobber (880402) | about a year and a half ago | (#42460999)

You can't make a general utility statistic like VORP for most football positions, but you can measure a lot of discrete situations. Then you use old-fashioned football knowledge to assess how that measurement is relevant to the position and the function of the team as a whole.

You're still going to have to make a lot more "eyeball" judgments, and that's going to introduce strong biases. It's a lot more old-school than baseball. Not only is it difficult in football to get a useful quantitative value, you also have to properly assess the quality and relevance of that value in order to give that number meaning. And to do both those things you must have an expert's understanding of the game and a solid mathematical background, and those aren't two skills that many people share.

You did touch on the greatest difficulty with football statistics, though, which is sample size. Often there just isn't a large enough sample size to do anything other than *suggest* certain things. Another problem caused by the relatively small number of games played is the large variance in schedule strength. Because of the divisional structure of the NFL, some teams play much easier schedules than the rest of the league, like the Colts this year. Sometimes an offense can go through the entire season and have to play only one or two elite defenses. It's difficult to adjust for that systematically.

Didn't Work Out Too Well Before (3, Interesting)

Snap E Tom (128447) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454959)

Football is fundamentally different from baseball and basketball. It has a lot more strategy, deception, teamwork, and on-the-fly communication between players. Something that happens innocently on one side of the field often has tremendous consequences on the other side. All this is very hard to quantify in a statistical model. For example, if your star receiver is shut down for a game, that might be because he's drawing double or triple coverage. Sure, his stats are low, but your slot and split ends can now have a field day.

The San Francisco 49ers tried a sabermetrics in their crappy years this past decade. Pioneered by the head of player personnel Paraag Marathe, they fielded a bunch of .500 and sub .500 teams before they moved him more to the business end of things and went with more traditional executives at talent evaluation.

Re:Didn't Work Out Too Well Before (2)

Radres (776901) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455077)

Maybe what football needs is sabermetrics on talent evaluators.

Re:Didn't Work Out Too Well Before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42455747)

I think this is the best news from the Bills front office since they signed Jim Kelly.Proper use of the advanced metrics will give the Bills an edge.
How do you think the Patriots get so much production out of fringe players.

Re:Didn't Work Out Too Well Before (1)

kencurry (471519) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456065)

... How do you think the Patriots get so much production out of fringe players.

Bill Belichik

Re:Didn't Work Out Too Well Before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42461741)

He is a scary man.

Re:Didn't Work Out Too Well Before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42460959)

So, because it's difficult we shouldn't do it? Eventually someone will get it right and become the Bill James of football.

Offense or Defense (1)

used2win32 (531824) | about a year and a half ago | (#42454961)

Baseball. Can you think of another sport where the defense is the team with the ball?

Re:Offense or Defense (2)

Airw0lf (795770) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455753)

Baseball. Can you think of another sport where the defense is the team with the ball?

Cricket?

Re:Offense or Defense (1)

MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) | about a year and a half ago | (#42459833)

Yeah but cricket is a cheap imitation of baseball.

Re:Offense or Defense (1)

rocket rancher (447670) | about a year and a half ago | (#42465493)

Baseball. Can you think of another sport where the defense is the team with the ball?

Hmmm..."with the ball" is relative. Only the offensive team can make points in baseball, which makes it different than most other sports that use a ball (volleyball is the only other one I can think of with this kind of point-scoring asymmetry, if you allow an equivalence between offense and "has the serve.") In baseball, the ball switches from the defensive team to the offensive team with every pitch. There are restrictions on how the ball can be handled by the defense and the offense, certainly, and they are certainly asymmetrical rules, but the offensive team definitely gets to handle the ball.

Basically, the defensive players get to use their hands to handle the ball (one of which is equipped with a device to make handling it *much* easier) and are allowed to handle it as many times as they want when the ball is in play, while only one player on the offense is allowed to handle it (with a large stick, which makes it exponentially harder to handle) and must thereafter avoid being touched by the ball if he indeed is able to handle it at all. The defensive team must give the player with the stick three chances to handle the ball. If the offensive player with the stick can handle the ball in a way that prevents the defensive players from touching him or his teammates with the ball before they can run a certain distance (360 feet in four serial 90-foot segments) the offensive team scores a point. When the defensive team manages to touch any of the offensive team with the ball before they have traversed the fourth 90-foot segment, or prevents the offensive team from handling the ball, in any combination of touches or preventions totaling three, the teams switch offensive and defensive roles, and after nine such role switches, the points are tallied and a winner is determined.

Certainly, the odds are stacked against the offensive team, but since they are the only ones that can accumulate the points required for victory, this shouldn't be surprising. At most only four offensive players (one per 90-foot segment) can be on the field at any given time, only one of whom (at the start of the first 90-foot segment) can touch the ball at all, and only once at that, with said large stick. The defense has nine players on the field at all times with absolutely no restrictions on who can touch the ball. As you can see, even though the defense definitely has more and easier opportunities to handle the ball than the offense, the defense is not exclusively the "team with the ball" by any means.

Not as relevant to football (2)

BadMrMojo (767184) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455039)

The reason this works particularly well in baseball, basketball and hockey is the schedule. You have 162 games a year in MLB, for example. In the NBA and NHL, it's 82 games. That's a relatively substantial sample - each game only accounts for roughly 0.6 or 1.2% of the season record.

The NFL, on the other hand, has a 16 game season. A team having a particularly good or bad game carries 10 times the weight it does in baseball (just going off the percentage of the season's games). Also, unlike baseball, football's playoffs are single-elimination.

The reason analytics aren't as directly relevant to football is exactly the reason that I enjoy it immensely.

---

Legend for our friends abroad:
MLB = Major League Baseball
NHL = National Hockey League
NBA = National Basketball Association
NFL = National Football** League

** - yes, we're talking about American football, rather than the game known internationally as the game in which you kick a ball with your foot.

Re:Not as relevant to football (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42455649)

yes, we're talking about American football, rather than the game known internationally as the game in which you kick a ball with your foot.

Gridiron football and Association football (soccer) both take their name from the comparison to polo. In polo, the player is on horseback. In either type of football, the player is on foot.

Re:Not as relevant to football (1)

mister2au (1707664) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456891)

I see where you are coming from there, but it slightly misrepresents the actual analysis being done.

In baseball, the logic is "runs scored" win games (or more precisely, the run differential) and each play influences the expected runs scored over 9 innings. Good batting or good pitching is converted into equivalent run differential gained (through positive contribution on the batting side or limiting the opposition runs on the pitching side).

You can simply evaluate run differential contributed per dollar paid.

Likewise with football - you do not try to link a single player to win percentage with only 16 games per season. But you can:
- determine how yardage differential impacts the likelihood of winning .. this over all teams and multiple seasons so is easy
- determine each players contribution to yardage gains on a per-play basis

So in football, it becomes feasible to mode individual contributions when you are looking at 1000-2000 plays per season per team.

Possible but still not easy !

Instant Genius! (1)

evil_aaronm (671521) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455169)

Because it makes too much sense to, I dunno, hire a GM and coach who know what they're doing, and bring in players that can actually perform? Is their analytical system going to take the field in place of Ryan Fitzpatrick? Couldn't get much worse, could it?

Analytics Won't Help you Buffalo (2)

jchawk (127686) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455321)

Unfortunately it's poor ownership and overall lack of leadership that is forcing you to suffer season after season after season of terrible records.

This team is hopelessly lost. They have not made the playoffs since 1998 and haven't had a winning record since 2003.

Invest in proper coaches and support staff. Commit to building a franchise instead of quick picks that you think will instantly win you a super bowl. Teams don't win with one or two guys. It takes a good (not great) quarterback, a good running back (not great) and a couple of good receivers. Couple that with a consistent defense and you can win Championships.

Look at Pittsburgh or New England. Year after Year these teams are in the hunt and have won a truck load of trophies.

Re:Analytics Won't Help you Buffalo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42455797)

Unfortunately it's poor ownership and overall lack of leadership that is forcing you to suffer season after season after season of terrible records.

http://blogs.buffalonews.com/press-coverage/

Re:Analytics Won't Help you Buffalo (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455913)

New England is a proving ground for Belicheck's (sp?) prowess as a talent scout. I despise the man and his tactics, but he's been the top of heap for figuring out how to make effective use of other teams cast-off players. Eventually teams price themselves out of the competition.

I don't know that you can build a franchise anymore. You have to have that 1 or 2 super stars to build it around and they don't come around that often - but if you guess wrong on them, and the Bills do this quite often, you're screwed no matter what you do.

Heck even with Jim Kelly they got screwed because he went to the USFL for almost half his career.

Re:Analytics Won't Help you Buffalo (1)

Azghoul (25786) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456613)

Bullshit. Bellyache is a genius because of 1 person: Marcia. If Marcia Brady wasn't there, he's a .500 coach just like he was before Brady. Fuck him.

Re:Analytics Won't Help you Buffalo (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456991)

Uh, if I remember right, 2008 was when they didn't have "Marcia" (ie, Tom) Brady. They still went 11-5.

Re:Analytics Won't Help you Buffalo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42458757)

Like or it not, other teams had 5 rounds to pick Brady but didn't. Also Belichik did also draft Rob Gronkowski and consistently ran a two tight-end set to great success, which is unusual.

Re:Analytics Won't Help you Buffalo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42457131)

Actually New England is an example of analytics in action. New England was found cheating by getting the opposing team's plays. Then for a few years they knew the opponent's plays and just had to pick the correct counter play. Now they no longer have inside information, they still have a wealth of information from picking the perfect counter play over and over again. They wouldn't have got this information if it hadn't been from cheating.

Re:Analytics Won't Help you Buffalo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42462823)

This is completely false. First, a lot of ex players and coaches came out and said that it was a common practice while they played. Second, they were not fined for filming the other team. They were fined for filming the other team FROM AN UNSANCTIONNED LOCATION. There was a memo released earlier that year saying this practice should stop. New England certainly wasn't the only team to do it in the prior years. Filming aside, It has nothing to do with his scouting of talent.

Honestly (1)

Darth_brooks (180756) | about a year and a half ago | (#42455763)

They could go the "Voodoo Witch doctor throwing darts at names in a phone book whilst simultaneously factoring in the price of tea in China" route and have equal success. That franchise is all but cursed.

I'm not sure that the analytics will work as well. football players have exceptionally short careers.

This Seems Like a Moot Point to Me (1)

terrab0t (559047) | about a year and a half ago | (#42456301)

As much as I like how the game of Football plays, I will forever see it as one of the brain injury sports.

The Boston University School of Medicine studied 35 brains of former pro Football players. They found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 34 of them. The disease can lead to sufferers experiencing memory loss, dementia and depression.

It's fun to watch and play, but I can't support a sport that knowingly puts hundreds of thousands of kids through that. I don't know how much of this they knew when they published it, but the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic about Headbrick [smbc-comics.com] was frighteningly accurate.

To make it safe, they would have to turn it into what we currently call “flag” or “touch” Football. It would be a different sport.

Re:This Seems Like a Moot Point to Me (1)

tragedy (27079) | about a year and a half ago | (#42457585)

To make it safe, they would have to turn it into what we currently call “flag” or “touch” Football. It would be a different sport.

Or they could go the rugby route and just get rid of all that padding. There would be a modest increase in severe, acute injuries, and a drastic decrease in these long term ones. This would largely be based on the players learning not to use their heads as weapons.

A good example for this is FootballOutsiders.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42457571)

While I have no employment or ownership connection to that site, I'd like to point out that they compile an incredible amount of statistics about teams, players, and other affecting data (weather, altitude, wind, etc) for every game. They have a custom stat that they call VOA/DVOA which is essentially a value number that indicates the value of the player as opposed to a league average replacement player. They readily admit that their data has limited predictive ability, but, it does give you answers to some of the more complex questions that can be asked about a certain team's performance in certain circumstances.

The main issue with Football is limited sample sizes. FO uses each play as an analytic unit. FEI in the college football world uses each drive (from the moment a team has a first down after gaining possession until the end of the drive due to a score or loss of possession). An average football game will see about 100 plays or so. An average season, about 1600 plays. While some players will appear in almost half of those plays, some situational players will only appear in about 10% of them at most. You can attempt to add pre-season data, but, often times, overall game strategy in preseason games may not be to win as much as it is to test new players and new strategies. Inside of each individual game, strategies can change. In the first half of a game, you may be trying to score as often as possible, in the second half, you may be trying to just run down the clock. This can also change the basis for statistical analysis. This makes metrics analysis of football very imprecise and frustrating.

It minimizes the costs to benefits ratio (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42457721)

or else it gets the hose again.
Minimize the fucking ratio!
*dances around with penis tucked between legs*

College analogy (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#42460687)

The University of Texas can get just about any 5-star, Blue Chip football recruit they want. They then proceed to loose about 80% of their games againt Kansas State University, which features a roster of 2 to 3 star players and a bunch of walk-ons from tiny little Kansas towns. Why? It's akin to genius sometimes being not too far from madness; sheer athletic ability is frequently accompanied by arrogance and selfishness. It also can't help being told you're god-like in your abilities by adults since the age of 12. But in the face of real adversity? Having never had to try very hard before? They fail more often than not. I don't think analytics will help too much where it really counts: heart, desire, and humility.

many ways to look at this .. (1)

trippytom (569403) | about a year and a half ago | (#42462091)

I'd be surprised if scouts and/or agents weren't already doing a lot of this when marketing and evaluating players.

- arrests? #?
- children by different mothers?
- college GPA? School? Graduation? etc?
- catches during a scoring drive, finger touch drops, yards after contact, block success, etc

As far as the in game stuff goes, my guess is you could create a supervised but automated system to review game film, and more easily radio feeds to get a ton of useful data. Eventually you can throw all the 32 teams, 256 games, 1696 players per year and start some Machine Learning training. You'd have to continually iterate, but my guess is you'd be a lot better of going this route than traditional intuition.

I have no idea what you'd find ... but surely it would be interesting.

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