Is the field Sports Analytics regressive? Or merely their current usage?



A “hot taek”, as the kids say, has been rolling around in my head for a little bit. It goes something like this: The adoption of sports analytics is progressive within sport, but conservative in the way it’s used by ownership. It’s one thing to advocate to go for it more on 4th Down, but when it gets used for player value is when I question it.

This idea kicked off when Bill James basically said the only worth of a player is the shirt they wear, and that they are easily replaceable. (That certainly makes the very idea of “wins above replacement” a bit cringe-y!) Originally his argument was that MLB players earning a few million cannot be underpaid at all, which is clearly absurd. Just look up Mike Trout’s first 3 years in the Majors! It’s estimated that WAR was worth $6.5M per win in 2010-2013.

  • 2012: 10.5 WAR, paid $492,500, WAR value: $66,150,000
  • 2013: 9.0 WAR, paid $510,000, WAR value: $58,500,000
  • 2014: 7.1 WAR, paid $1,000,000, WAR value: $46,150,000
    (Stats via )

Now, the Red Sox vocally disagreed with comments like this, saying so on Twitter:

But it does have me wondering, how does sports analytics contribute to this problem? Ownership knows the value of its players, especially in part to advances in sports analytics. As player tracking and biometrics get embedded in the analytics pipeline, we’ll potentially know this with even greater precision. But then again, ownership has always colluded against player value in (North American?) sports, and like we always say: Analytics is just another tool.

So what’s to be done? Can data like this be used for the Players Union to pay rookies better? (See also Running Backs in the NFL who get discarded before they get their first big paycheck) Can we help agents use it to better argue for better salary earlier, or some way to get compensated when the value of the club goes up? Imagine if players could get shares of the club. Goodness knows the Angels and Nationals are worth much more after star players like Trout and Harper played for them on entry level deals, and even Trout’s current $34M might still be an underpay!

What do you all think?

tl;dr: <insert “are we the baddies.jpg” here>