February 19, 2017

NO ONE IS ACTUALLY GOOD IN ONE-RUN GAMES:

So much for "the table never lies" - data unravels football's biggest lie of all : London side Brentford FC are using data to rethink the usual football club model. (XAN RICE, 2/19/17, New Statesman)

Brentford are an outlier in English football. Since the professional gambler Matthew Benham bought a majority share in 2012, they have relied on the scientific application of statistics - the "moneyball" technique pioneered in baseball - when assessing performance.

The early results were positive. In 2014, Brentford were promoted from League One to the Championship and the next season finished fifth. That same year, Benham's other team, FC Midtjylland, which is run on similar principles, won the Danish Superliga for the first time.

Yet in 2016 Brentford slipped to ninth. Despite the disappointing season so far, Ankersen insists the strategy is the right one for "a small club with a small budget".

Underpinning Brentford's approach is the understanding that luck often plays a big part in football. "It is a low-scoring sport, so random events can have a big impact," Ankersen says. "The ball can take a deflection, the referee can make a mistake. The best team wins less often than in other sports."

In a match, or even over a season, a team can score fewer or more than its performance merits. A famous example is Newcastle in 2012, says Ankersen, who besides his football job is an entrepreneur and author. In his recent book, Hunger in Paradise, he notes that after Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League, their manager, Alan Pardew, was rewarded with an eight-year extension of his contract.

If the club's owners had looked more closely at the data, they would have realised the team was not nearly as good as it seemed. Newcastle's goal difference - goals scored minus goals conceded - was only +5, compared to +25 and +19 for the teams immediately above and below them. Statistically, a club with Newcastle's goal difference should have earned ten points fewer than it did.

Moreover, its shot differential (how many shots on goal a team makes compared to its opponents) was negative and the sixth worst in the league. That its players converted such a high percentage of their shots into goals was remarkable - and unsustainable.

The next season, Newcastle finished 16th in the Premier League. The team was not worse: its performance had regressed to the mean. "Success can turn luck into genius," Ankersen says. "You have to treat success with the same degree of scepticism as failure."

While the Patriots are obviously the dominant sports franchise of the past fifteen years, this year's win featured the widest margin of victory in any of their seven Super Bowls.  A single play here or there could have changed the final result of each game and often did, many of them unrelated to skill or strategy.

Posted by at February 19, 2017 12:24 PM

  

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