Have Analytics Made Baseball, Basketball & Football Too Predictable and Boring?

By Jason McIntyre

The media has been tripping over itself in recent years anointing this the “Analytics Age” in sports. Brains over brawn. Calculators over playbooks. Teams are working smarter, not harder. There’s even a hoity-toity analytics conference every year!

But something happened on the way to math class … sports have become boring?

Consider this:

June 20th, 2017: “Baseball’s pressing question: What happens to a sport when nothing happens?”

"That game is disappearing. In its place grows a game obsessed with power. It is driven by the pursuit of the most blunt of outcomes: strikeouts by pitchers and home runs by batters. Both outcomes, which render useless defense, baserunning and teamwork, happen more frequently this year than ever before."

Wait. Home runs are up, strikeouts are up, but nothing is actually happening. Analytics have taken the fun out of baseball, the traditionalists say.

The NBA has been pushing advanced metrics for a few years now, with PER claiming to be one of the best, and of course the move toward 3-pointers. See, I love the shift toward 3-pointers, away from the lumbering, physical, half court game. But is the NBA becoming too predictable? In 2007, only five teams attempted 20 or more three-pointers per game. In 2017? All 30 teams did. My FS1 colleague Colin Cowherd thinks the 3-pointers are an issue; so does GQ.

September 19th, 2017: “How Football Stopped Being Fun.”

The piece laments how boring the NFL has become [Aside: I disagree!] as offenses focus on short passes, so that QBs and coaches can tout high completion percentages. Scoring, up! Turnovers, down! You’d think this would mean the quality is high. But watchability? Allegedly down. Are analytics to blame? Football is the least analytically-inclined of the three major sports. So is it analytics … or the dearth of quarterbacks, the league over-extending itself – who can commit to football Thursday night, all day Saturday, Sunday, Sunday night, and then Monday night? – the declining offensive line play, or something else?

Sports and spreadsheets obviously go together. But to what extent? Analytics have worked wonders for the Warriors, and astute Falcons fans will note that the franchise began a hard push toward advanced metrics in 2016. Then, they went to the Super Bowl. MLB is far more one-on-one than the other two sports.

As is often the case with most aspects of sports, these things are cyclical. Who will be ahead of the curve when analytics are copied throughout the league – as “Moneyball” was in MLB – and it’s time to find the next advantage?