SNIDER: Sorry, analytics don’t add up to wins

Rick Snider
June 18, 2019 - 12:09 pm
Source: Redskins hire new executives in business office

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First, fantasy sports turned the younger generation into numbers nerds. Everybody thought they were a genius by plugging in stats. Then gamblers started showing their numbers, and everybody thought a player was worth a point or two when making their bets.

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Now the analytics crowd has become insufferable, claiming every baseball move has to coordinate with favorable stats or it’s wrong.

Sorry, as long as games are still played on the field, you can keep your numbers to yourself. Last time I checked, dugouts weren’t NASA knockoffs.

The Redskins recently hired someone from Pro Football Focus, which is well respected for its analytics. It seems Washington ranked third-worst among 122 teams in the big four pro leagues in analytics. However, I suspect the Redskins longtime woes weren’t because they were bad at math.

There’s nothing wrong with looking at numbers, especially pitcher-hitter combinations. But the game is not a spreadsheet. It’s about experience, finesse, and gut instinct.

Former Nats manager Dusty Baker took a lot of grief when going against numbers. I’d take Baker’s instincts over a spreadsheet any day. Sure, sometimes analytics give you an edge, but there’s nothing like experience. The game is not about playing robots who do exactly as expected.

Thoroughbred racing is a great example. The “numbers guys” emerged in the early 1980s when reducing a horse’s effort to a single number. Andy Beyer’s improved system is considered by every handicapper nowadays in each race.

But I was taught the old system of looking at the horse before the race. How does he appear in the paddock and on the track before the race? Does it look bothered, sweaty or moving strangely? These are critical clues.

Watching War of Will in the days before the Preakness Stakes last month showed a horse ready to peak and he looked sharp in the post parade. War of Will didn’t have the biggest number entering the race, but I cashed a 6-to-1 winner based on what I saw and not the stat sheet.

Maybe the Redskins will find a play or two through analytics. Perhaps they’ll sign or not sign free agents based on it. But, watching the game film will have a bigger impact.

The bottom line is numbers don’t add up to wins. Experience in the game makes the difference.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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