Thoughts on football analysis and another FO/TMQ plug

I know it’s not evident by the volume of posts about baseball and basketball, but I really don’t favor those sports over football to such a great degree.  This is mostly a result of my interest in statistical analysis, which is profoundly more difficult for football than the other sports.

For baseball, I can grab what I need from a major-league play-by-play log if I want to analyze everything but fielding.  Here, I try to provide some win probability-related analysis that’s not common for baseball.  There are plenty of great sabermetrically-inclined news sources out there, so I’m just trying to shed some light where there otherwise is none.  After all, there wouldn’t really be any point in posting anything (or messing around in Excel to come up with stuff) if other people were already doing it.

The same is true for basketball, where I can grab a box score and tell you plenty of things about player and team efficiency on the offensive side, and maybe I can guess about individual defensive ability.  There’s still a long way to go before individual ability can be properly measured, though.  How do I know that one player is efficient if he has to rely on positioning himself, getting the ball, and making decisions in relation to his teammates?  The short answer is: I don’t.

Football has an even longer way to go.  The best stats (Football Outsiders’ DPAR and DVOA) could be equated with basketball “efficiency,” I suppose, but their methods are proprietary and based on data that’s not readily available to the public (at least as far as I know).

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t have much to add in terms of football insight, unless I piggyback off of Football Outsiders’ DVOA stats and tell you what they say.  As a result, there are far fewer football posts, and I don’t have much to say much about the 49ers except that I’m excited they won this past week (well, I guess the defense looked good, and the running game was frustrating to watch, especially for a Frank Gore fantasy owner).  They were also the only winning team to have a lower DVOA than their opponent in Week 1.

So, let me point you to my main sources of (NFL) football insight, since I seem to have little to add on my own:

Football Outsiders
Gregg Easterbrook’s TMQ column (this week’s linked)

That’s about it.  I’m not a Peter King fan, but I’m certainly open to suggestions.  Is there something I’m missing out on because I don’t read a particular person’s column?

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on football analysis and another FO/TMQ plug

  1. Football Outsiders, obviously, is a great site.

    However, much of what makes it a great site is the simple fact that, like you said, there’s not much else that’s out there.

    The fact that they don’t actually publish their methods makes it impossible to analyze what they’re doing from a statistical point of view, so it’s impossible to really evaluate whether or not what they’re doing has any sort of legitimate foundation to it.

    Slapping together a bunch of numbers with a bunch of ad hoc corrections for various things doesn’t necessarily work. (Exhibit A: 99% of college football ranking systems.) Now, I’m not saying that’s what any of the FO efficiency stats are, but it would be nice to see exactly what’s going on.

    In the absence of knowledge of their methods, the only real way to evaluate what they’re doing is, well, to see if their predictions work out. And that’s awfully hard to judge.

  2. Yeah, that’s my biggest problem with FO. Baseball Prospectus keeps the actual formulas for VORP pretty well under wraps as well, which is why I tend to avoid using it when there are so many other good measures out there. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with trusting FO for football, and as you said, there’s no way of knowing if they’re right.

    Why can’t these guys just be like Oliver, Hollinger, and the other basketball guys out there who have published books explaining their formulas, and just leave it at that? It makes me question whether their methods are sound, for sure.

    I think I want to look more into football analysis and see if I can duplicate what FO does based on what’s out there for the public to see. I’m pretty sure they buy proprietary data from someone, but it’s probably worth looking into anyway.

  3. And, of course, the biggest thing with the football data is: How “good” are these numbers they give us? If FO says Team X had an offensive DVOA of 15% in 2006, then how accurately does that imply that they can predict future performance?

    In other words, are their numbers the equivalent of a batting average over 5,000 AB or over 50 AB?

    It’s rather frustrating that it almost seems like they’ve divined their DPAR and DVOA stats without even bothering to explain why they’re the way they are. Sure, DPAR and DVOA go up when you do good things and go down when you do bad things, but what’s to indicate that they go up and down appropriately? The NFL’s QB rating formula goes up and down in response to good and bad things too, but nobody seriously thinks it’s an accurate reflection of much of anything.

    I just got through reading their description of “success points” for the DVOA system. (For example, a play gets three bonus “points” if it gains 10+ yards, four if it gains 20+, and five if it gains 40+.) Where do these numbers come from? I have no idea whether they’re completely arbitrary, or whether they’re rooted in some sort of measurement of something. And without an explanation of exactly where they came from, who’s to say?

    And as far as duplicating what it is they do, well, it depends on what it is you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re trying to evaluate football at a team level, I really don’t get the impression that they’re going about it in the right way. If you’re looking at individual players, then that might be different.

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