A Day at the Park, Statistics and the Day 7 Recap/ Day 8 Preview

I spent the afternoon at Fenway with my father yesterday, taking in a beautiful day and one of the rare Red Sox games that moved at a brisk pace, as they played ten innings in under three hours. In the middle of that game, with the Sox still hitless, my father said something I never thought I’d hear leave his mouth. No, he didn’t tell me he was proud of me: he saves that for special occasions, like my college graduation and that one time I didn’t cry after making the last out in Little League. Instead, when we were talking about the team’s offensive struggles, he didn’t use batting average or runs batted in to document them, but OPS (which is on-base percentage plus slugging). This was almost as remarkable as him remembering to bring sunscreen and as unexpected as the back-to-back homeruns that allowed the Sox to walk off with a win.

My father has, for a long time, simply dismissed advanced statistics in baseball. He doesn’t necessarily think they’re wrong or bad, but superfluous. He was convinced that whatever he needed to know about a player, he could tell from batting average, HR, RBI and the fact that he hasn’t missed a game on TV since the Carter administration*. While I was reading Bill James and Alan Schwarz, and poring over Baseball Prospectus every March, my father sat in his overstuffed chair and “just watched the damned game.”

Maybe it’s the three World Series championships wrung from advanced statistics, or the fact that the announcers mention the statistic now and then. Perhaps, over time, OPS has simply become accepted as another stat and is no longer thought of as “new.” I mean, he wasn’t referencing WAR or VORP, and I don’t expect him to start going on about how Brandon Workman’s success is in large part a result of an unsustainable BABIP.

But almost twenty years after I first saw a Baseball Prospectus on the shelf at Borders*, some of the sabermetrics that were once only the province of nerds like me are understood and employed by fans who once scoffed at them, including my old man. They have become more commonplace because they expand our understanding of what goes on in the same and because the people who use them have started to do a better job of explaining how they do so. There will always be some folks who are suspicious of new concepts and novel explanations and statistics, but these advanced statistics are more likely to grow in use rather than lose the foothold they’ve gained.***

But you’re not here to read about baseball. To be fair, you’re probably not here to read about soccer either. But you’ve read a long way for having come here after googling for “hot mexican lady soccer o face,” so stick around.

Soccer has a nascent stats and metrics movement as well. Folks like James Grayson (@JamesWGrayson if you’re on the tweetbox) and Daniel Altman (@altmandaniel) have done a lot of work in trying to explain what happens on a soccer field, and then explain it to the rest of us. Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) is working the same territory, and also happens to have the good taste — if poor judgment — to be a Spurs fan. Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) concentrates more on tactics and formation than advanced statistics, but presents a different side of the game than you’ll usually see on TV or the internet. If you’re looking to learn more about the game within or underneath the game, follow these folks on twitter during matches and read their work before/after them.

I say all this because I did not get to watch any of the games yesterday, and so I can’t offer you anything other than what those guys have said about them. Spain is out, with another disaster of a game, and an embarrassment of a performance. Australia actually stuck with the Netherlands, but I can’t tell you if it was luck or design that put them in that position. Cameroon: “oh buddy.” Croatia now have a chance, but they’ll need to play much better against a determined Mexico squad than they did against the Extremely Domitable Lions if they are to go through. That match should be amazing though.

Today!

Noon: OOOH. This could and should be a very fun match. Côte D’Ivoire played some of the most aesthetically pleasing soccer of the first week and look like they might finally be putting it together as their window closes. Colombia, though, are still the favorites and would like to secure first place in the group. Both teams will be gunning for first place, which means trying to score goals, which means — one hopes — excitement.

(ed. update); This ALL THE TIME:

col

3:00: England need to pick themselves up after the disheartening loss to Italy. I thought they looked much better than the scoreline would suggest, at least in the first half. Once they went behind, however, it was as if they had no answer for the Italians sitting back and absorbing pressure. England will need one if Uruguay respond to their surprising shellacking at the hands of Costa Rica. If Luis Suarez is actually fit and able to contribute, he and Edinson Cavani could easily test the English defense, while Diegos Godin and Lugano are up to the task of choking off anything and everything England try to run up the middle.

6:00: Oh look! This game will be terrible. Do not encourage Greece by watching this match. Just pray that Japan scores first and early so the Greeks cannot just stack all eleven of their players across the goal mouth — unless it’s on some Cask of Amontillado type shit. That would be cool.

Enjoy the games!

*This may be an exaggeration, but it feels true.

** You know it was a long time ago because I was in an actual bookstore, and one that I don’t think even exists anymore.

*** Bob Ryan has been doing his best Abe Simpson impression lately, only serving to make himself look ridiculous in the process.

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