Predicting the Next Game-Changing Statistics in Sports

By now terms for sports statistics – such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and True Shooting Percentage – are commonplace. And they are also changing the way fans, analysts, and franchises look at athletes and the way business gets done.

What’s next in tracking your favorite sports teams?

Experts don’t exactly have the same take about the next big thing in statistics we’ll buzz about in 10Predicting the Next Game Changing Statistics in Sports image 275101 l srgb s gl 300x206Predicting the Next Game Changing Statistics in Sports years.

In the NFL, where teams have increased the number of analytics departments in recent years, could there be entirely new sets of data that changes the way teams scout players? In every sport, could it simply be a question of advancing how we’ll look at the copious amounts of information being generated daily? Vince Gennaro, president of the Society for American Baseball Research, thought the answer to the latter query was the angle to take.

“My feeling is the big innovation is in the areas of technology and analytics – how data is being processed, rather than new stats,” he said in an e-mail. “I guess you could say that the new ‘statistic’ could be looking at patterns in existing statistics and not looking at them in a static manner…as single numbers.”

Bo Moon, co-founder and executive vice president at Bloomberg Sports (who spoke to us about Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise), had a guess about where sports analytics will be focused in the future: “Ten years from now, I predict that athletes will be measured and metered like a car — knowing the mileage, the fuel, and the conditions at all times to optimize and shave even a few seconds off ‘lap times’. Aside from the obvious benefit of improving player performance, the huge area of immense proportions to consider is injury prevention.”

Moon was defining what’s called remote health monitoring, something he says is already beginning to be practiced in the sports world. “I know of one racing team in the [United Kingdom] that suits their drivers up with a monitoring vest that sends a signal remotely back to the headquarters, which allows the team to measure how much rest a driver has gotten so that they can prescribe the exact amount of practice race time,” he said, also adding that NBA teams are doing the same with their roster.

Indeed, some front offices in professional hoops have already shifted their statistical focus to player health. Dan Devine of “Ball Don’t Lie” wrote about a panel at the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference – which we’ve written about recently – on that very subject. R.C. Buford, the general manager of the San Antonio Spurs, hit it right on the head, according to the article: “I think that the two fastest-growing areas [of study] are medicine and technology, and the more you put those two together, the better return-to-play criteria you’ll have.”

And if a team can use those kinds of stats to protect a multimillion-dollar asset from potential injury or optimize performance by adjusting the amount of rest and practice time, the return on investment in this type of data could be priceless down the road.

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