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More and more, sports teams around the globe are turning to big data to better evaluate players and plan new strategies to keep them ahead of the competiton. The 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference held recently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. gave advocates the opportunity to share their findings.
Analytics is fairly new to sports but is nothing new to business. With today's technology, vast amounts of data is analyzed by increasingly more powerful computers to predict success rates for game strategies, a player's potential for success, betting, or marketing a team. It's all there right in front of you. The field, made popular in sports by statistician Bill James and Oakland A's general manager Billy Bean, the focus of the book and movie Moneyball, is based on crunching numbers and data over watching an athlete's or team's actual performance. Both men have been featured guests at this conference.
The goal is to make a team better while using fewer resources. It helps a team pick important role players at a lower cost while avoiding the ones who demand higher salaries but may provide a low return on a team's investment. Even small market teams can be competitive — case in point the Oakland A's.
We'll check out strategies put forward by sports management and researchers that are based on cold numbers, not hunches or out-of-date game plans.
A paper presented at this conference tackles when and where and when an NFL coach should send out his field goal unit. Here's the analytical analysis presented by three students from MIT's Aueronautics and Astonics Department — Torin Clark, a PhD candidate, and two graduate students, Aaron Johnson and Alexander J. Stimpson. Their study is one of one of eight finalists in the research-paper competition at this year’s Sloan conference.
Based on their examination of 11,896 NFL field goal attempts, they've determined that environmental factors are much more important than psychological factors in the success of a field goal attempt. Calling a timeout to ice a kicker has little value while factoring weather conditions such as wind velocity or temperature are much more critical.