Saturday, May 18, 2013

6 comments Marcus Hayes Goes the Passive-Aggressive Route to Criticize the Use of Analytics in Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers have hired Sam Hinkie as their new president of basketball operations and general manager. They fired (wait, I'm sorry he resigned and is now an advisor to the he completely wasn't fired nor was he going to be fired) Doug Collins, which really shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has paid attention to Collins' coaching history. Take a look at Collins' coaching record and you will notice two things. He's pretty good at turning teams around, but he doesn't stay long. The 76ers have hired a Stanford MBA graduate (that's Hinkie) as their new GM and Marcus Hayes is feeling very passive-aggressive about it. It's not that he doesn't like the hire, because he doesn't have quite the balls necessary to come out and say this, but he seems quite suspicious of whether this more analytical approach is going to work or not. It seems a Stanford MBA is very impressive unless you plan on getting a job in sports. Actually, it's fine to get a job playing sports and have a degree from Stanford (see: Andrew Luck, various other athletes who graduated from Stanford), the media loves that, but don't ever think of graduating from Stanford with an advanced degree and believe you can work in the front office of a professional team. Stanford degrees are only good for playing sports, not running a sports team.

Josh Harris acquired Twinkies and Hinkie in the same calendar year.

Either move could make the billionaire investor look like a Ding Dong.

What a gripping first sentence. I'm enraptured with this column already. Analytics are stupid. Long live measuring a player's ability through intangibles like how much heart the player has and clutchiness.

Harris' group of investment sharks, Apollo Global Management, in March bought a piece of Hostess out of bankruptcy.

Harris' group of hoops hobbyists, the Philadelphia 76ers, last week hired 35-year-old Stanford MBA graduate Sam Hinkie to be the team's president of basketball operations and general manager.

Making an attempt to purchase a company out of bankruptcy is being an "investment shark," while buying the 76ers is being a "hobbyist." I like how Hayes shades his comments. Basketball is just a hobby because Josh Harris clearly knows nothing about sports since he received an MBA from Stanford. Anyone who goes to Stanford for business can't know anything about sports. These types of people only understand numbers and how to run a business, and we all know running or managing a professional sports team doesn't require any knowledge on how to understand numbers nor is a sports team a business.

Twinkies have a timeless allure.

Hinkie is more the flavor of the month.

I see Hayes is going for the Bill Plaschke method of journalism in writing one sentence per paragraph. It's always fun to read an article written by a grown man that reads like a four year old's book about a boy and his lost dog.

"Billy woke up very sad."

"He couldn't find his dog, Sam. Where is Sam?"

"Billy went outside to look for Sam."

Considering the evolving nature of sports, Hinkie's profile and his background might endear him to half of the Sixers' fan base and doom him in the eyes of the rest.

Since sports are evolving towards more stats-oriented performance measurements and we all know any type of evolution is only a fad, clearly this is a good reason for Hinkie to be the flavor of the month. Who cares if the definition of "evolution" would indicate that something that is evolving isn't only doing so for a short period of time? Marcus likes that word and doesn't care if the use of the word in this sentence above contradicts his contention Hinkie is a flavor of the month.

Half a decade will pass before Hinkie's analytics-based approach can be fairly judged.

And outside of the 76ers winning a few NBA titles I don't think it will be fairly judged even at that point by Hayes.

Harris, whose investments also have included cruise lines, knows a bad boat when he sees it. This 34-win ship is listing severely.

Oh, so Harris knows a bad boat simply because he owns a cruise line? What does Harris and his investment group know about a cruise line? He isn't a travel agent and he has never been the captain of a ship. You can't just plug numbers into a computer and this means guests on a cruise ship will have a great time. Harris probably hasn't ever been out of his mom's basement, much less been in the sun long enough to know how to run a cruise line. Yet he thinks he knows how to run a cruise line? There are real people who work on the ship, not just numbers that can be put in a calculation. You can't calculate fun!

(See how silly this type of criticism sounds when not applied to sports and applied to other types of businesses?)

Hinkie was part of the Rockets' retooling this past offseason that landed James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. He worked under Houston GM Daryl Morey, a new-age, big-picture man who runs his operation without fear of ridicule.

He runs his operation without fear of ridicule mainly because there isn't a reason to ridicule him. Also, I can't believe Marcus Hayes just described an NBA GM as a "big-picture man." This just seems like a description that goes without saying. There are probably GM's who don't seemingly look at the big-picture, but it is a GM's job to look at the big-picture. It's incredibly necessary. This description should go without mention because it seems so obvious from the job description to be an NBA GM. It's sad he has to include this description because it means there are not big-picture GM's running NBA teams.

Hinkie will be given a sledgehammer and a smartphone by Harris, a fellow geek.

And there is nothing wrong with being given a sledgehammer to change a team Marcus Hayes describes as:

This 34-win ship is listing severely.

Also, a lot of people have a smartphone. It's not just for geeks. Putting a smartphone together with calling someone a geek simply displays your own ignorance and fear of technology. It's not a good look. Of course Marcus Hayes was responsible for this classic chat, so I guess all bets are off when he writes a column. I guess we are just lucky he isn't calling Josh Harris a racist.

Fortysomethings and their elders likely will roll their eyes and regard Hinkie as part of an overvalued wave of fantasy nerds

Of course Marcus would never think these same things about Hinkie. This last sentence is what everyone else thinks about the Hinkie hire and not Marcus Hayes' opinion. Not at all. He is just very good at describing how these fortysomethings and their elders feel.

who use probabilities as sacred texts and who forsake what their eyes and their hearts (and their scouts) tell them.

Very impressive. This is one of the least intelligent descriptions of those who use analytics to evaluate basketball players. It's hard to see how Marcus Hayes has a clue about what he is discussing or trying to prove when he writes shit like this. I'm betting Marcus really thinks the Houston Rockets don't even have scouts. They just have a huge computer and Daryl Morey sitting in a room making decisions on which players to sign or draft without ever watching these players play. Even if the Rockets had scouts they would simply ignore them and do what their spreadsheets and "sacred texts" tell them to do. I'm not even sure what the fuck a "sacred text" is, but it's clear Marcus Hayes is very afraid of statistics, but not afraid at all of sounding like an ignorant dumbass when discussing said statistics.

It never fails to amuse me how these sportswriters frame those who use analytics to evaluate players. These sportswriters frame these descriptions in a way that is chock-full of ignorance and an outright fear of any alternative method of evaluating a player.

The thirtysomethings and their Freakonomics legions likely will rejoice that the Sixers have moved past sexagenarian Doug Collins, the crusty coach who just quit.

I love the assumption the "Freakonomics legions" are as closed-minded as those who criticize the "Freakonomics legions" seem to be. It's not entirely true in my opinion. Marcus Hayes did refer to Collins' exit as like a Shakespeare tragedy of sorts, so I'm not even sure what to take from that. 

Replacing Collins, of course, will be Hinkie's most urgent task.

Most NBA teams do need a head coach. It's always an important position to fill.

Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard was a panelist at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March, where the ComicCon alumni

This is just weak. I think bashing nerds has become the new puff piece. If a columnist is looking for an easy writing assignment that won't require much thought and one in which he can basically just re-word previously written works, just write about nerds and use a few generic references to what nerds like (basements, computers, comic books, ComicCon, statistics). It's like Mad-Libs for sportswriters.

who now work in sports administration meet to plot their revenge against the jocks they employ.

Why would they want revenge? Because they got wedgies in the locker room after middle school, that's why! This shitty article almost writes itself.

Hinkie was a candidate for the same job last year, but Collins' distaste for applied analytics and his assumption of complete control of the franchise would have clashed with Hinkie's religion.

Oh, so the coach who just resigned and helped built a 34 win team didn't like Hinkie and this is a strike against Hinkie? Of course no analytics-bashing column would be complete without a reference to analytics as a "religion," as if Collins' own distaste for applied analytics and wanting complete control of the franchise can't be perceived as a religion in its own right.

The Sixers opted instead to promote Tony DiLeo, a loyal soldier for more than 2 decades – who, it should be noted, appreciates analytics in NBA strategies. DiLeo is expected to be let go.

Just another strike against analytics, the religion of dorks. Applied analytics didn't work for one season so they clearly will never work.

And, lest anyone throw aside conventional wisdoms, consider this: The Oakland A's, sport's pioneer into calculus-dependent franchise-building, have made the playoffs just six times in Billy Beane's 15 seasons as GM, and have won one playoff series.

Morons like Marcus Hayes don't even understand what they are criticizing. The A's don't claim to know everything. They play in a small market and don't feel they have a chance at making the playoffs at all if they don't look for overlooked players and inefficiencies in the market. That's what they are about, looking for inefficiencies in the market, not worshiping statistics.

How much credit should Hinkie get for Houston's qualified success? Who are his guys?

Fashionable, serviceable point guard Lin? Prized shooting guard Harden?

You can't really argue against the acquisition of James Harden. That was a great move.

Did Hinkie slam his red stapler on Morey's desk and threaten to burn down the building if Asik stayed in Chicago?

And we have a random "Office Space" reference. Let's brainstorm how this one came about. A character in "Office Space" loved his stapler, he was moved around the office a lot, had his office moved to the basement, and eventually burnt down the building. Nerds live in the basement. Hinkie is a nerd who lives in the basement so he obviously has a red stapler and is prone to burning buildings down. Brainstorm done. That's how we got to the random "Office Space" reference.

Of course, there are facets to running a team that cannot be graphed.

There are also facets of running a team that can't be seen through the eyes of a grizzled old scout.

How do you quantify chemistry?

That's easy. Bill Simmons says chemistry can be quantified by counting the number of high fives a team gives to each other.

What metric gauges the likelihood of, say, players eating chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games?

What's the likelihood eating chicken and beer in the clubhouse during a game will cause a team to lose quite a few games in a row?

Even if Hinkie is an eyes-on GM, an eager, tireless scout, does that mean he knows what he's seeing?

One would hope Hinkie understands and knows what he is seeing, though contrary to Marcus Hayes' opinion, the 76ers will still employ scouts that will give reports on what they see to Hinkie.

Harris has hired what he knows; what has worked for him in the past. Dispassionate acquisition and manipulation of resources, inevitable "reorganization" of "assets," resulted in a lack of humanism that helped lead to the disastrous moves the Sixers made last year.

But you just said that Doug Collins wouldn't relinquish complete control of the 76ers team and that is why Hinkie wasn't considered for GM last year. You can't have it both ways. The 76ers can't have rejected Hinkie's methods while also adopting them and failing in the process. Don't blame Hinkie for another GM's failings simply because you are not informed enough to understand how applied analytics works in the NBA.

The questions about Bynum's toughness, professionalism and commitment all turned out to be warranted. Any questions about Andre Iguodala's value were not.

Marcus Hayes has a huge hard-on for Andre Iguodala. I would imagine he has spent quite a few nights outside of Iguodala's residence reciting poetry that extols Iguodala's virtues to all within ear shot. Iguodala is to Marcus Hayes as Brett Favre is to Peter King.

Still, teams implement everything they can to produce wins. Consider some of the better teams over the past few seasons.

After passive-aggressively bashing applied analytics, this is the part where Marcus Hayes desperately plays both sides and starts to acknowledge some of these methods could work. See, he is against and for the use of applied analytics. However it works out for the 76ers in the future, he will be right, and can write a column saying how he KNEW this is the outcome that would occur if the 76ers used/didn't use applied analytics to evaluate basketball players.

The Celtics, operating in the shadow of the sabergeeks at Fenway, hired Harvard law grad Mike Zarren almost a decade ago, and he advanced to assistant GM as the team acquired stars like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – but also was bolstered by less-heralded veterans Jeff Green and Brandon Bass.

I wouldn't say the acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was an analytics decision any more than it was a decision to trade for two Hall of Fame players who wanted a championship ring.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is rabid about analytics. The Spurs, perhaps the benchmark for professionalism, have used an analytics arm for years. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra created the team's stats system when he was Pat Riley's gofer, and Spoelstra uses the software to run simulations.

It's almost like when analytics are applied with the use of old-fashioned scouting, along with good coaching, they can help a team win playoff games be successful. Choosing to use analytics isn't necessarily an "either/or" situation when compared to the decision to use grizzled, old scouts. Marcus Hayes is very desperate to paint it as an "either/or" situation though.

15 NBA teams that have installed SportVU, the Stats, Inc. camera system that tracks players and the ball and how they relate and interact. SportVU is not, of course, the only such tool, nor is it universally loved by analytic nuts. The Heat, for instance, does not have one.

Again, it is almost like all stats geeks aren't exactly alike. What a shock that is for Marcus since he much prefers placing any ideas or theories he doesn't like or understand into a little box and make generalized, universal assumptions about the people who believe or follow those ideas or theories.

The Sixers also hired Aaron Barzilai in November, long after he might have analyzed a trade for a player such as, say, Andrew Bynum . . . an unfortunate timing development, perhaps.

Barzilai's website computed players' values for the two seasons that preceded the end of the 2012 playoffs.

The website showed that, remarkably, Andre Iguodala was slightly more valuable than Kevin Durant . . . and was worth considerably more than Andrew Bynum.

Any measure that says Andre Iguodala is very, very valuable is a measure that Marcus Hayes can get behind. Maybe that's what this column was all about really, making sure the reader knew that trading Hayes' idol and BFF Andre Iguodala was a bad idea.

This column had zero "likes" on Facebook at the time I wrote this column. This shouldn't be a shock after all, only nerds use computers for such things like Facebook.


JimA said...

What metric gauges the likelihood of, say, players eating chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games?

During an NBA game? Can they bring it out to the bench with them?

Bengoodfella said...

JimA, I think there's probably an Eddy Curry joke that goes somewhere in there. Your point stands though. It's just Marcus Hayes' way of making a joke I guess, even though it isn't an applicable joke to the NBA. I would think bringing chicken to the bench may draw some attention to yourself if you are an NBA player.

Snarf said...

Have you ever considered how ridiculous these criticisms regarding the use of metrics would seem in any other setting (other than sports)?

Marketing exec A: "So ad 1 tested through the roof with focus groups."
Marketing exec B: "Yes, but ad 2 feels better."
Marketing exec A: "But all of the data says ad 1 is more effective."
Marketing exec B: "Ad 2 is more rugged, and grittier, though. It's not afraid of being a lesser ad."
Marketing exec A "Fuck you."

Bengoodfella said...

Snarf, funny you say that b/c I just wrote something Friday that compared these criticisms to another profession.

It's hilarious how intentional ignorance can get transferred to another profession and it seems incredibly ridiculous.

JD said...

Fortysomethings and their elders likely will roll their eyes and regard Hinkie as part of an overvalued wave of fantasy nerds who use probabilities as sacred texts and who forsake what their eyes and their hearts (and their scouts) tell them.

Man, we seem to read this message a lot when the black helicopter crowd begins to feel “statistic creep.” Ever had a boss who explains why a particular task is done a certain way with this gem: “Well, we’ve always done it that way.”? That’s how I feel about scouting. It’s been around forever and it has its place, but good Lord it’s no longer the be all end all for player evaluation. Statistical analysis has just as much relevance when determining whether a player is of a professional caliber.

In my eyes statistical analysis should be where you start in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, then send your scouts out to begin prioritizing the order of talent. Why some of these sportswriters feel the need to insult the stats group probably points back to some inferiority complex that can only be soothed with self-righteous indignation delivered from the business end of a ball-point.

Bengoodfella said...

JD, I am with you on that. I completely see a need for scouts on the ground watching the games. There is an easier way to start the process of scouting players. Why be so resistant to it? I don't think scouts on the ground watching games is going away anytime soon.

I think this is very true in the NBA where it is more of a team game and how a player interacts and plays with certain teammates is of great relevance to how he would fit in with a team. Why spit in the face of something that can help to make your life easier and cut through some crap?