How Baseball “nerds” have made being a basketball fan more fun.
First of all, I love baseball, It’s easily my 2nd favorite sport and I spend way to much time on sites like Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and stalking KLaw to be a functioning member of society, so excuse me while I was poetic about this subject. Recently I found out my dad (he passed in 1999) not only loved Bill James, but apparently owned a bunch of his stuff, so this is probably hereditary. Anyway let’s move on into the piece and away from a nostalgia trip.
Sports fans seem to be engaged in many holy wars, whether it’s Kobe-LeBron, REDSAWX-Yankers, SEC school Q-SEC school J, or the one that crosses almost every sport, the “Stat heads who hate the sport” vs. “Well uh, I watch all the games and understand every detail of every play from every player.” Obviously a bit of hyperbole, but I named the blog after that so just let it go. If you have read really any post I have written you will have noticed two things: I love Chaz and I love those stupid objective stats. However since it would be really weird to debate the two different sides by myself and much smarter and more respected people have written on this topic, I will ignore the debate from here on out.
In NBA history the numbers surrounding the game have come a long way. There once was no shotclock (Rick Pitino’s wet dream), steals and blocks were not officially tracked until the end of Bill Russel trolling “competitive balance”, and 3-in-the-key was more of a polite suggestion than anything; whereas now we have a plethora of stats to analyze so many facets of the game which helps us learn about players and enjoy watching the games more. Now none of this would have been possible without the help of baseball and it’s own statistical revolution. (Insert overused moneyball joke here) While now basketball fans are learning about eFG%, Win Shares/PER (I find them flawed but nonetheless they help frame things), usage rate, and now some lesser known but equally important ones like inside/outside rating and offensive/defensive bias, much of these analytics and formula’s are based on baseballs sabermetics, whose prophet is often viewed as the aforementioned Bill James. I am going to attempt to show some that relate to others and end this with some more general thoughts.
(As I am writing this BBR is down, so all NBA stat links will go to hoopdata’s, sorry for any inconvenience)
Due to my decision to keep it slightly streamlined, I will just be using position players for baseball, as pitchers would require quite a bit more abstract analysis than I care to do right now.
A very simple way to compare these is to say that hitting and offensive metrics for baseball equal shooting and offensive metrics for basketball. While that basic idea holds weight and merit, there are some differences that need to be explained. In baseball their is no two point hit or three point hit, a hit is a hit, so you need to factor in walk rates, ISO, and other metrics to help show how a .300 hitter without any walks/power/base running would be like a guy who makes 3 threes a game while shooting 12 of them. It is also important to note that several of these stats take into account league averages for baseball, while basketball is just starting to learn how to correctly factor in things like pace and seasonal averages. Also sample size is VERY important for both sports, so please remember this.
A very simple way to view these are the defensive stats, and yeah that pretty much works. In baseball defensive metrics have long been the bane of pretty much everyone, as they are often incongruent with each other and often rely on subjective numbers rather than objective ones, so I just picked three that I see commonly used. Basketball get’s an easier route to their stats as it’s easier to get the objective data, and all of the best ones rely on rate statistics while doing that in baseball could really skew certain players. Another thing to note is that positional differences matter much more when analyzing the best defenders in baseball than they are in basketball. Also sample size is VERY important for both sports, so please remember this.
Your not crazy if you think baseballs WAR and basketballs WARP are similar, because basketball pretty much piggybacked the idea from baseball. These (and others) attempt to fully quantify how valuable a player is to their respective team, and tries to find who the most important (not necessarily best) players are from year to year. Remember that the Replacement level for WAR/WARP changes yearly and is also positional, so keep that in mind. Also sample size is VERY important for both sports, so please remember this.
So really I feel that we owe so much as basketball fans to our forefathers in the baseball analysis. As basketball now has room to branch off and really create their own advanced niche, much of what we have now stems from those nerds from baseball who don’t love grit and hate life!
To wrap it up I want to say a few things (of course I do)
- Just because I made a few parallels doesn’t mean they always work nor should they, Ttese are two different sports that require and measure different things.
- Please take time to research advanced stats for both of these sports to draw your own conclusions
- Please use stats in conjunction with one another. Just because player A beats player B in one stat doesn’t mean player B is worse and player A better.
- If you disagree please inform me, I really do value the impact baseball’s sabermetics has had on basketball and want to do it justice.
I hope this either piques in interest in either sport or helps explains how things are valued, and I hope you enjoyed reading. As always, please inform me of my errors and omissions, so not only is this article better, but my future ones also.