anybody who has studied Sabremetrics in baseball has learned a lot about how to analyze and predict future events. Theo Epstein has used these concepts to win 2 World Series and build an organization that can win year after year. The Cleveland Indians built the 2nd best team in baseball with a tiny payroll, and the whole team will be back next year - all built on sabremetrics. What lessons can we learn from baseball and use to analyze and predict football? Lots.
1) Variance happens and matters
Have you ever walked by a roulette table and noticed that the ball has landed on red 10 times in a row, and figured that the ball was "due" to land on black? Well, you're wrong. Sometimes weird streaks like that just happen, and there is no explanation needed other than to acknowledge that variance exists and manifests itself all the time in sports.
the most basic example? the idea of "clutch", which is generally highly overrated by most people. is David Ortiz a clutch hitter? most people in Boston would laugh at the question - of course he is, maybe the best clutch hitter of all time!! if this is you, then please please please read this article
the conclusion, by Baseball Prospectus author Nate Silver, is that he is indeed clutch, but the ability is far far overstated.
in football, what does this mean? Well, read the Adam Vinatieri Mr. Clutch thread. my basic opinion is that AV makes the frozen ball kick vs the Titans or the blizzard kick vs the Raiders AT MOST 50% of the time. The odds of him hitting both? 25%. of course, he ended up making both. this doesn't make him clutch, it makes him a beneficiary of positive variance - instead of the likely 75% outcome (him missing 1) he got the 25% outcome. like a roulette wheel landing on red twice in a row.
now, I realize this is a foreign concept to most of you, so I'll give another example. This week AV missed a 29 yarder to win the game. Does this mean he has lost his magical clutchiness? Or that is he now a choker b/c he's on the Colts? No, neither - it just means that variance turned against him. even at his age, AV makes that kick 95% of the time. but THIS time he missed. too bad for him, funny for us. but please just recognize that AV benefited from variance in 2001 and 2003 - it wasn't b/c he was magically clutch.
given a large enough sample size, things tend to even out, which is what baseball analysis has taught us, and what AV is beginning to show.
2) The best team doesn't always win
Related to the above. the Patriots winning the SB 3 years in a row meant we were the beneficiaries of variance. even if you think the Patriots had a 70% chance to win each game, that means we win all 3 games 34% of the time. but we won all 3.
of course, there was no way we were 70% to beat the Rams. We were 14 point underdogs; we win that game MAYBE 15% of the time. but on that day we won. Ty Law had a ridiculous game, Mike Martz inexplicity stopped giving the ball to Marshall Faulk - these are things that don't always happen, but that day they did. sometimes the calls go against you (ie vs the Colts 2 weeks ago) sometimes key players get hurt at the worst times (the AFCCG last year), sometimes the ball bounces your way (almost the entire 2001 season), and sometimes the strangest, most unlikely timing means the game is not lost and you have a chance to win the game (Tuck Rule). teams don't plan these things, but they happen, and they are all reasons why on any given day the better team can lose. If the Pats lose to the Bills on Sunday b/c 100 things go wrong, everyone here will say that the Pats are the better team...but if you take a poll here, the majority of people will also say we were a better team than the Rams in 2001. learn to embrace variance guys, it happens and there is nothing you can do about it except build the best team possible and play the best you can.
3) our memories are awfully selective
again, related to the clutch discussion. most people here have no memory of the huge, clutch kicks AV has missed. the 2 kicks in the SB vs Carolina, the miss vs Denver in the playoffs, previous game winning misses. this is b/c they don't want to cloud their memory of the perfect clutch kicker.
another example: most people remember Tom Brady winning MVP of the SB in 2001. what most people don't remember is his actual performance in that game: 16 of 27 passes for 145 yards with a touchdown. Don't give me BS about "the gameplan calling for that". the gameplan certainly didn't call for Brady to complete only 59% of his passes, a below average mark. the gameplan didn't call for him to make 5.3 Yards/Attempt and only 92 yards with 2 minutes to go, and abysmal result. yes, he was awesome on the last drive, but before that he had completed 58% of his passes and had 4.8 yards/attempt - terrible. was the final drive great? Sure, but we were largely in that situation only b/c the offense and Brady had been so ineffective for the entire game leading up to that.
the lesson is that stats can give us a much more objective view of things. traditional stats tend to be bad, as they don't adjust for all kinds of things like strength of schedule, luck, and the effect one unit has on the other. Football Outsiders is the "Baseball Prospectus" of football, and every serious football fan should be reading this site. their team and unit stats DVOA and DPAR are far, far better than Points Scored, Yards Allowed, etc.
check it out: http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/teameff.php