Are Advanced Analytics Even Real?

One way you can use sports metric principles to make better decisions.

Posted Jul 04, 2019

Photo edit by future.nostalgia via Unsplash
Source: Photo edit by future.nostalgia via Unsplash

In sports, there’s a lot of talk about advanced analytics and advanced metrics. Old-school sports fans hate “advanced”; you might as well be citing Voldemort. Progressive intellectuals pound the table for it; the true believers don’t even watch the games, they just stare at the numbers.

Who’s right? Regardless of your position in the debate, how people treat advanced analytics in sports can teach you a lot about how decisions are made in your everyday life. To get into the specifics of how you can use advanced metrics and analytics to improve your action-taking outside of sports, we'll consider two things. In part one below, we’ll talk about one of the biggest obstacles you face when making decisions.

Have you ever tried to make an argument without really knowing what it is you’re talking about?

For such a commonly used term, there doesn’t seem to be a strong understanding of what advanced analytics even are. Webster’s dictionary doesn’t define it. The origins of advanced analytics come from sabermetric principles first coined by Bill James, but there’s been a loss in translation in the transition to other sports in a new era.

So, what makes a metric, or analytic, “advanced”?

From here on out, we will make a concrete decision to describe advanced metrics as any measure that is a compound (i.e., made up) of other measures.

The basketball measure of "field goals made" is a basic metric. You cannot break it down into a smaller unit of measurement. "Effective field goal percentage," on the other hand, is an advanced metric. You need to calculate other measures of shooting to be able to calculate effective field goal percentage. In football, "rushing yards" is a basic metric; how many yards a running back has gained cannot be simplified any further. "Yards after contact," by contrast, requires someone to know how many yards have been gained, as well as when a player was first touched.

We will also define advanced analytics as any analysis that uses an advanced metric.

These two definitions are preliminary, but at least we know what we’re talking about now! We have a line we can point to. From how we’ve defined it, an advanced metric is a measure that you would not be able to explain without explaining at least one other measure. Advanced analytics are examinations of behavior in sports that require the use of an advanced metric. We can now have a productive discussion about advanced analytics and whether or not they should be used in a sports decision-making process.

The process of properly defining what you are talking about is essential to making better decisions.

We used the idea of “advanced analytics” to demonstrate how important it is to have proper definitions of what you're talking about. You should use this process in your own life as well.

Want to “get more fit”? What exactly does that mean to you? Does it mean having six-pack abs? Or are you OK with a dad bod if you can deadlift 300 pounds with ease?

Want to be in a happy relationship? What would being in that relationship actually entail? What are the characteristics you are looking for in your partner(s)?

Too many times we get lost in big ideas and goals without considering what those ideas are, and how we can reach those goals. The next time you feel like you’re running in circles, try defining what it is you’re talking about, regardless of whether it’s “advanced” or not.

In part two, we’ll talk more about what makes an advanced metric useful, now that we actually know what advanced analytics are.