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Advanced Metrics Replacing the Eye Test?

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We have to lend merit to both the eye test and advance metrics when it comes to player and team evaluation.

Chip Somodevilla

Kyle Scott (CrossingBroad.com) recently posted the article "On Advanced Statistics in Sports". The article addresses Larry Brown's comment regarding the growing role advanced metrics are playing in team and player evaluations. Brown was quoted as saying "Analytics, I think, are ruining the sport." While I don't think this is true, he does spark an interesting debate comparing the eye test versus what the numbers say.

Most of my life, I have relied on my eyes and personal knowledge of a particular sport to help me judge a team or player. I have never followed advance metrics all that closely.  Metrics, to me, have always consisted simply of the data on the stat sheet and I use those numbers to back my visual assessment of a team or player's performance. Simple stats like rebounds, assists, steals, field goal percentage, opponent's field goal percentage, etc... are what I am interested in seeing. I don't often dig into advanced metrics or much deeper than the game in front of me. If my rooting interest has decent numbers in these categories, gets the win, and looks good doing it, then I am good.

My assessment of the potential of a team or individual player versus another is also based largely on the eye test in addition to the basic stat line. I like to think that my inherent knowledge of the sport and experience in judging performance allow my eyes to be my best tool when predicting a team's potential.

It is becoming apparent though, especially in the presence of all the stat people on RCT, that I might be missing the boat a bit. At the very least, I am learning that without a metric to back an argument, I will lose more often than not. Case in point, I recently mentioned in a comment thread that I thought the 2011 KU men's basketball team had a better shot to win a championship than the 2010 team. A fellow blog commenter (2.1 seconds) quickly countered that idea by pointing out the 2010 teams top 10 ranking in Kenpom offense and defense. Hard to argue against numbers like that when my defense is "my gut told me so."

Side note: To be fair, with the way that bracket shaped up in 2011, it's hard not to say we missed out on a very good opportunity. I also believe, and correct me if I am wrong, the HCBS has said the VCU loss is one that sticks with him because he felt we had a clear shot at the championship. I understand this isn't a statistical argument that the 2011 team was better than the 2010 team, but it is a defense that this team had a better shot at a National Championship. SO THERE!  Stats guys have at that one.

Bottom line, I admit that my sole reliance on the eye test can be flawed and influenced by bias. Most certainly there is a place for both the eye test and advanced metrics in sports analysis. Both have their merits and both have their flaws. Metrics provide concrete data sets that can offset an engrained bias. They can highlight trends in a program or player's performance over time which, once identified, can be ironed out or enhanced. They certainly can be used in settings like this one to validate or discredit an argument. However, the eye test is a very credible measuring stick as well, especially in basketball. The eye test can account for things that the numbers might miss like momentum, player fatigue, coaching decisions, or someone playing at less than 100% due to injury. Factors like these that affect performance are an absolute reality and are tough to account for in the numbers. Does Wayne Selden's 2013 stat sheet calculate for his bum knee? Does Cozart's 2013 stat sheet take into account that he was a freshman who has admitted he was overwhelmed?

The bottom line is the eye test and the metrics, working together, can be wonderful tools. So all you "eye test" people, try and embrace the work that these stat gurus do. We can use their information to help us see through our Crimson and Blue colored glasses and be more objective. Maybe the numbers will prevent me from, without hesitation, writing KU in the championship slot of every single NCAA bracket I fill out, though probably not. (I have never put another team's name in that slot in 33 years and never will.) As for you stat driven minds out there, sometimes the numbers do lie and they cannot account for everything. Sometimes you need to simply use your eyes and trust your gut. Chances are you have watched enough of the sport to assure your gut knows what it's talking about.