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The Most Important Stat In All Of Sports

The Most Important Stat In All Of Sports

By: Steve Caronia


In recent years, there has been a tremendous spike in the number of advanced statistical metrics used to measure player performance.  Ignited by Billy Beane and the Moneyball Oakland Athletics, stat geeks have taken on new shape, creating formulas that require a degree from MIT to thoroughly understand.  Instead of worrying about batting average, points per game, and passing yards, sabermetric statisticians try to boil every aspect of a player’s game down to a single number.  In baseball, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) has been the dominant new statistic, as evidenced by last year’s heavily debated MVP race.  In basketball, PER (Player Efficiency Rating) has been used ubiquitously to define player value.  For football, we have the guys over at Football Outsiders designing DVOA and DYAR (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average and Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, respectively) to try and explain a player’s value compared to league averages.  Hockey has largely avoided the stat craze, but our neighbors to the north at have come up with some advanced numbers themselves.  All in all, these are some pretty smart guys trying to come up with ways to distill a very complex thing (a player’s true value) into a very simple one (a number).

Daryl Morey – affectionately referred to as Dork Elvis by Bill Simmons – is one of the pioneers of sabermetrics.

In the wake of the saber metric craze, I’d like to try my hand at creating a new stat. It’s simple to understand. You don’t need advanced mathematics.    It’s totally universal; I’m talking LeBron, AP, Mike Trout, Sidney Crosby, and even the world’s greatest jai alai player can all be measured with this stat.  It’s so advanced, it manages to include every single facet of the players game: offense, defense, even intangibles. Nothing is left out of my metric. I think it will become the time-tested, most accurate way to define a player’s worth.

I know you’re waiting on baited breath.  I’d like to present to you AWTFGP.

AWTFGP (pronounced oughtfiggup) – Actually Watch The Fucking Guy Play.

Scouts use it more than any other metric.  Amazingly, they are able to figure out a player’s value by using their intellect and watching him.

Here are a couple of examples of it in action.

Wanna know how good Amare Stoudemire has been since his return from knee surgery? Watch some fucking Knicks games, and AWTFGP will not fail you.  You’ll see nuances of his performance not represented in his PER: how explosive does he look? Is he a total liability on defense? What’s the flow of the offense like with him on the floor?  Is he playing at all above the rim? Does the fact that most Knicks fans are praying for a reinstatement of the amnesty rule because of him affecting his play? While PER overlooks these things, you can see them immediately with a little knowledge and AWTFGP.

Curious about who the worst QB in the NFL was last year? Instead of wondering what a -611 DYAR means, watch a fucking Jet game and AWTFGP will immediately help you realize that it was Mark Sanchez.  You’ll even catch a few sub-categories of stats I’ve come up with, such as RATPLATCH (Running Around The Pocket Like a Terrified CHild) and LUCAAT (Looking Utterly Confused At All Times).  You simply can’t know these things from looking at his QBR.  But AWTFGP works every time.

Try coming up with a stat for stuff like this.

I also like to use LeBron James and Adrian Peterson as sterling examples of AWTFGP’s validity.  We can all see LeBron and his almost perennial PER over 30, which is pretty damn good.  AP had a DYAR of 459, almost 100 yards greater than second-place Marshawn Lynch.  Pretty sweet.  However, AWTFGP will show you that these guys lead their respective leagues in stats like: completely controlling the flow of the game and what the opposing defense does, making you say HOLY SHIT! every time they do something, and forcing you to question the fucking human genome.  I’m sorry, but ain’t no number to measure that.

I think you get my point.  The truth is, I like advanced stats to a certain degree.  They serve as great markers for comparison between guys with disparate conventional numbers.  For example, looking at PER can tell you that Monta Ellis, while having 18.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game is not as valuable as Manu Ginobli with only 12.3, 4.5, and 3.6.  However, you can easily figure that out by watching a Spurs-Bucks game and noticing Ginobli seamlessly run through the flow of the offense and pick his spots while Ellis is a black hole for the ball who makes his teammates stagnate.  I also love DVOA for measuring team performance in the NFL, primarily because it uses the data involved in a more simple way that without trying to transition it into something more abstract (like WAR does).  WAR seems to be gaining major steam (see this month’s ESPN Mag), but I have a problem trying to translate a mashing of traditional single stats into “wins.”  I will admit, however, that I have a little bit of a lack of understanding of the details of WAR, so I will plead some ignorance.  I’m a fan of BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) too, as it does a great job of pointing out fluky seasons for hitters and pitchers. I also admit I very often fall back on Passer Rating or QBR to evaluate a QB at a glance.

At the end of the day, I think that the best bet for evaluating a player is knowledge of the game and consistently observing what he actually does.  You can’t crunch numbers and come up with a neat figure that automatically ranks player A as superior to player B.  I understand that we live in the age of Wikipedia and instant pseudo-knowledge.  But maybe it helps to know a little bit of the details about who and what you’re watching.  Novel concept, huh?