I’m working on a longer study, but for now here are a few links.
Last week, the New York Times had an article on using Chernoff faces to visualize data about baseball managers. The Arbitrarian followed that up with a post that used Chernoff faces to compare some star players in the NBA. Chernoff faces are a way to display data by mapping it onto simplified human faces - you can read more about them here and here. The main reason I’m linking to these is because this method of visualizing data was invented by my great-uncle, Herman Chernoff. He’s made a lot of contributions to the field of statistics in his career, but most of them (like this) aren’t as fun as the faces that he came up with thirty-five years ago.
Here’s a long Q and A with Bill James that’s well worth reading. This response in particular caught my eye:
Q: Generally, who should have a larger role in evaluating college and minor league players: scouts or stat guys?
A: Ninety-five percent scouts, five percent stats. The thing is that — with the exception of a very few players like Ryan Braun — college players are so far away from the major leagues that even the best of them will have to improve tremendously in order to survive as major league players — thus, the knowledge of who will improve is vastly more important than the knowledge of who is good. Stats can tell you who is good, but they’re almost 100 percent useless when it comes to who will improve.
In addition to that, college baseball is substantially different from pro baseball, because of the non-wooden bats and because of the scheduling of games. So … you have to pretty much let the scouts do that.
These issues seem to me to be important in basketball as well, and I think they are a good starting point for thinking about the statistical analysis of sports. Taking them in reverse order, here’s one way of framing James’ points:
Statistical analysis of baseball is far more advanced than its basketball counterpart. But we can use that to our advantage by learning from the work done in baseball and applying it to the context of basketball. Of course not everything transfers directly due to the differing natures of the games, but more often than not the ideas, theories and methods used to analyze baseball can be adopted to some use in basketball.
To that end, I’ve been reading a lot of sabermetric work recently, even though I really have no interest in learning in just which base/out states it makes sense to lay down a sacrifice bunt. I’d like to recommend some of the books and websites that I’ve found to be great sources of ideas.