Release the Stats

“United are unhappy about the leak of ProZone statistics proving that Wiley ran further than all but four of their players in the Sunderland match. The club consider the leak to be a breach of their contract with ProZone, who are contractually obliged to keep match information confidential, but are undecided on whether to take up that issue legally.”

Let’s ignore the Republican-like tactics by Manchester United for the moment. Clearly, Ferguson was in the wrong and probably won’t be punished heavily for it. They’re Manchester United after all.

It brings me to a more puzzling conundrum in the modern game.

I am an American. As an American sports fan, I follow other sports like baseball and basketball.

Baseball has always been a sport tailor made for statistics. Unlike almost every other sport because of it’s sample size, statistics can actually tell you a great deal about a baseball player, even if you’ve never seen the player play. Obviously, they can’t give you a complete picture, but it’s better than nothing. There are various advanced statistics in baseball that have been formulated by stats freaks like Bill James and the people at Baseball Prospectus. This sort of advance in reading a baseball game has led to the deification of figures like Billy Beane and Theo Epstein, young general managers who took that knowledge and applied it to their own teams. Billy Beane was even invited by Premier League clubs to see if they could apply the stats methodology to improving football clubs.

Following this trend, basketball teams have started hiring statisticians to come up with formulas to better assess basketball players. It doesn’t work nearly as well for basketball as it does for baseball, but there are up and coming number crunchers who feel that they can make a better assessment with these statistics.

Which brings me all the way to ProZone. ProZone is a private company that many footballing clubs get statistical analysis from.

Frequently during Champions League matches, they show the “distance covered” statistic and that comes directly from ProZone, something that the newspapers used to prove that Alan Wiley wasn’t “unfit” for refereeing duties.

I’ve always wondered why I couldn’t get my hands on statistics like this. In fact, when it comes to statistics, football seems to be in the dark ages, at least for public viewing. You go to any major footballing website, and all they will have are goals and assists. The ACTIM stat index is available on the Premier League website, but even that is a confusing way to gauge a player because they don’t explain what is going on clearly enough.

I know fully well that there are advanced statistics in football. Wenger once spoke of the Castrol Football Index which allows him to pinpoint exactly how fast a pass a player can deliver. He uses that system to determine who may or may not be fit, help evaluate a future player for Arsenal, and see areas of improvement. This is a worthwhile feature to have available, but it’s not necessary for public viewing.

I just want the simple statistics readily available. Things like pass completion rate, number of interceptions, key passes, distance covered, and stats of that nature.

The Guardian chalkboard is a handy tool, but it’s nowhere enough compared to the amount of information I can easily find about baseball players. It’s silly that a Fantasy Football site can tell me more numbers about a football player than a site like the BBC or the Premier League site can.

I’m well aware that having access to these sites won’t necessarily enhance my knowledge of the game, but it could. Perhaps there would be more thought placed into some blogs, rather than trusting on what your gut instincts tell you. The example of Denilson should be enough for me to show why this access might make for better analysis.

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