Join 3,557 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Just in time for Football Manager 2013
August 16, 2012 5:27 AM   Subscribe

As you know, Bob, Bill James revolutionised baseball with sabermetrics, statistical analyisis of how the game is actually played. In football (soccer that is) this revolution is long overdue, as it has largely lagged behind American sports in its use of data analysis. Now however there's a chance for somebody clever to become football's Bill James, as Manchester City is going to release all player data and analysises from the 2011-12 season.
posted by MartinWisse (50 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Number of times Edin Dzeko was found standing the the broom closet: 14
Mario Balotelli T-shirt budget: 1.2 million pounds
Total Distance Traveled by Roberto Mancini's Hands While Gesturing: 754,000 km
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:36 AM on August 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also, code for the Metafilter Premier Fantasy League: 31925-10953
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:38 AM on August 16, 2012


Soccermetrics.
posted by eoden at 6:35 AM on August 16, 2012


This is a great idea, and I hope other clubs follow suit. I'm not convinced that statistical analysis will have the same revolutionary impact on football as it did in baseball because the games can't be broken down into the same kind of constituent pieces, but putting all the stuff out there for eggheads in the community to play with is great.

And it was pretty interesting to read about Kompany instituting reviews for City's defence -- no wonder he's captain. I'd love to be able to peek behind the doors at other clubs too and see what kind of influence captains (or senior players in general) have on training methods, etc.
posted by modernnomad at 6:47 AM on August 16, 2012


Amount of time spent by Balotelli trying to get his bib on: 1m24

Will be interesting to see this. As I understand it, there's an argument that the baseball techniques might not generalise easily to football, because baseball is more of a series of discrete occurences whereas football is more continuous. Anyone know enough to comment?

[On preview: thank you modernnomad for saying exactly the same thing, but first ;-)]

There's also the example of how bad statistical analysis ruined England's play: they discovered that most goals were scored from moves of three passes or less, so they developed tactics that used as few passes as possible (basically: kick the ball long to the strikers). Very unsophisticated, and didn't work, because they hadn't considered that while 80% (say) of goals came from moves of 3 passes or less, 90% of total moves were 3 passes or less.
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:50 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


This will only work in a sport where you use your hands.

I think it will be interesting to see how this does work. I wonder what data they track. Do players wear heart monitors during play? I think if you could combine fitness levels with tendencies, you can get some interesting data. Are players being beat when their heart rates are racing or are they just being beat because they are slow and out of position?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:06 AM on August 16, 2012


This is very cool. In a league where some teams are trying to pay 14million for a player like Steven Fletcher, there is definitely room for some scrappy lower table team to pick up on sabermetric/moneyball analysis and use it to their advantage.
posted by RabbleRabble at 7:15 AM on August 16, 2012


As someone who's a follower of the nacent hockey-metric community, the sheer amount of data that soccer analysts have available blows my mind. Hockey teams can't reliably give you numbers for total amount of possession by each team in a given zone, while soccer teams had that years ago and now have position and distance for every single pass in a game.

On a side note, I hope the stat guy for Rangers has a whale of a time poring over the data for Elgin City and East Stirlingshire.
posted by Copronymus at 7:16 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hockey teams can't reliably give you numbers for total amount of possession by each team in a given zone

I think NHL teams definitely record this info, they just don't make it available.
posted by ghharr at 7:26 AM on August 16, 2012


Here's an interview (Part 1 & Part 2*) with City's Gavin Fleig by Zach Slaton at Forbes.com.

*Those links might force a print dialog, but that seems better than the pagination in the standard display.
posted by dyobmit at 7:38 AM on August 16, 2012


Maybe I'm just a bit heartbroken about Van Persie, but this kind of thing is the death of sport as a meaningful thing. It's fantastic for sport as a business and all that, and I'm sure the data is interesting. It sounds like the kind of thing I'd like to delve into.

But where is the beauty in the beautiful game if it is reduced to spreadsheets?

Maybe, as a result of the classes I've been teaching this week, am a little bit weary of this drive to quantify everything, so that we can predict outcomes, so we need not ever be uncertain. Even when that is kind of the point.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:18 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


According to the Pepsi commercial I saw the other evening during The Colbert Report, the number of ladies with whom Aguero can score: 0
posted by Dr. Zira at 8:21 AM on August 16, 2012


Whilst it'll be great to have this for free, I'll be really interested to see what the difference is between what they record and what, say, I can get from Opta or The Player Performance Index. There's been plenty of data available on players for a long time if you know where and how to look. The idea that football is somehow virgin territory on which Sabermetrics has yet to fall is largely a myth - and I say that as someone who considers Moneyball to be one of the best books I've ever read.

Keen Fantasy Football players have had access to this kind of data for a while with a bit of effort - indeed i probably shouldn't by saying this given there'll likely be some MetaFilter FF rivals reading this but the wealth of information you can get if you pay the minimal sum needed to subscribe to Fantasy Football Scout is incredible.

Can you work out trends? - yes ("always play Vorm at home", "Alex Song played more through balls than the entire Stoke team last season"). Can you engage in Baseball-level breakdowns with much in the way of reliability? Not so far as anyone has been able to manage.

I've been pretty obsessed with and immersed in player data and - importantly - structuring and interpreting that data for about 6 months now, because a friend who's also a web guy/Information Architect/FF obsessive and I have been working on an FF-Auction related side project that unfortunately isn't quite ready for MeFi Projects yet. So one part of me is all "YAY! MOAR FREE DATA!" but the more realistic side isn't convinced its going to tell us anything really important that we're not already getting from existing data streams.
posted by garius at 8:26 AM on August 16, 2012


robocop is bleeding: "Also, code for the Metafilter Premier Fantasy League: 31925-10953"

Also, Fantasy Leaguers, don't forget about the MeFite head-to-head league as well: The code is 205169-135608.
posted by Dr. Zira at 8:27 AM on August 16, 2012


But where is the beauty in the beautiful game if it is reduced to spreadsheets?

This is one of the main reasons I can't stand the Fangraphs/SABR crowd in baseball and I get paid to predict outcomes and build forecasting models.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 8:33 AM on August 16, 2012


But where is the beauty in the beautiful game if it is reduced to spreadsheets?

1. Close Excel
2. Open YouTube
3. Search "Dennis Bergkamp"
posted by dyobmit at 8:46 AM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


But where is the beauty in the beautiful game if it is reduced to spreadsheets?

I actually think there's room for both in Football, that's why it's great. I love playing FF to bits, and really digging into the player performance stats looking for patterns. It makes me feel closer to the game and makes me more interested in the fixtures that otherwise I would have no interest in. I also love playing Football Manager, which is perfect evidence that the game could entirely be based on stats and still seem interesting and infathomable.

But I've also been lucky enough to sit and talk to Dennis Bergkamp about football, and half an hour with that man left me thinking that you could have robots playing this game with perfect statistical awareness and incredible computational software and there'd still be some players that run rings around them.
posted by garius at 8:51 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or what dyobmit said!
posted by garius at 8:52 AM on August 16, 2012


Garius.... squeee!

Ahem.

Don't get me wrong, I like my Football management sims to the point where I know I shouldn't play them any more. But this weekend it's Essendon v Carlton, and finals spots are on the line. You'd be a fool to try and pick the outcome.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:09 AM on August 16, 2012


Also check out this slow, lazy player who never tracked back. "I'm very glad that ProZone wasn't around when I was playing," Le Tissier said. "There would have been some very interesting statistics about how many yards I ran in a game."
posted by kersplunk at 9:09 AM on August 16, 2012


Also, did you see Bresciano's goal in the Australia v Scotland game yesterday? Statistically he shouldn't have bothered.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:13 AM on August 16, 2012


Maybe, as a result of the classes I've been teaching this week, am a little bit weary of this drive to quantify everything, so that we can predict outcomes, so we need not ever be uncertain.

That's a pretty dangerous overestimation of what data analysis can do. It's the same kind of mistake the led to the financial crisis.
posted by mullacc at 9:19 AM on August 16, 2012


Well yes, that's the point I'm getting at.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:25 AM on August 16, 2012


"To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature ... If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in."
posted by Saddo at 9:37 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since Bill James now works for the Boston Red Sox whose team ownership (New England Sports Ventures) purchased Liverpool F.C. two years ago, I suspect John Henry had quite a bit of influence on this development.
posted by ericb at 9:52 AM on August 16, 2012


This is a great idea, and I hope other clubs follow suit ...

"On Friday, City will make available through its website the data on every player in every team from every game in the Premier League last season."

Does that mean all other clubs' data and not just that of Manchester's? Does team = club?
posted by ericb at 9:57 AM on August 16, 2012


But where is the beauty in the beautiful game if it is reduced to spreadsheets?

I understand the sentiment, but that was the same sort of argument that FIFAUEFA have been using to ban goalline monitors and video replays from football, that the beauty of football lies in its unpredictability and that a goal not given, or given in error, or a penalty not awarded is what makes it great. But then I look at rugby and the natural way with which video refering has been integrated in that sport, to its betterment and there's still beauty and unpredictability and heartbreak.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:01 AM on August 16, 2012


Since Bill James now works for the Boston Red Sox whose team ownership (New England Sports Ventures) purchased Liverpool F.C. two years ago, I suspect John Henry had quite a bit of influence on this development.

Unfortunately, most people believe that Liverpool is mis-using the statistics currently available, at least in the case of Andy Carroll.
posted by inigo2 at 10:12 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well yes, that's the point I'm getting at.

But you are the one making the mistake of thinking the analysis eliminates uncertainty. You are elevating the power of the analysis in order to tear it down. But in reality it's only effective at margin--which is enough to give a team an advantage but not enough to spoil what you like about the game.

Also check out this slow, lazy player who never tracked back . "I'm very glad that ProZone wasn't around when I was playing," Le Tissier said. "There would have been some very interesting statistics about how many yards I ran in a game."

It seems to me that sabermetrics in baseball has been a boon to slow and lazy players who add value despite not conforming to some athletic ideal.
posted by mullacc at 10:28 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


but this kind of thing is the death of sport as a meaningful thing

Oh please. I like baseball from both perspectives, but l earning about meaningful stats in no way reduced my love of the game or appreciation for its beauty. All it provides is a different set of things for people to argue about. From my nerdy perspective, it improves things because it makes it harder for blowhards to run down a player for no reason or to wax poetic about a mediocre player whose only virtue is that he played back in a hazy golden era.

I get the idea of the mystery and wonder of sport and the "On any given day" aspect, but if you think understanding causes and effects better somehow takes away from enjoying a thing . . . I don't know a nice way of saying this, so I'll just say it: I think that's something casual fans think. It's like claiming knowing about a school of art or the paints used or techniques somehow ruins looking at art. "No no, I know what I like."
posted by yerfatma at 10:55 AM on August 16, 2012


which is enough to give a team an advantage but not enough to spoil what you like about the game.

Exactly. What I loved about The Theo Epstein Era with the Red Sox is my favorite team stopped treating personnel moves as a crapshoot. They used to just sign guys who had a good year somewhere else and guys who looked good in a uniform. You can't imagine the slow, plodding, useless sluggers I watched as a kid. When Theo started signed a big, burly slugger, a platoon first baseman with limited success, that guy turned into David Ortiz.

And then they got too smart and started looking at the wrong numbers or ran into bad luck or whatever and now they're mediocre again. So more and better statistics did not make them all-powerful. They took advantage of the stats, then everyone caught up and things equalized again. All that statistics changed in baseball was the kind of player who is allowed to stick around and become a veteran because they redefined what "productive" meant. If anything, that's made the game more beautiful.
posted by yerfatma at 11:00 AM on August 16, 2012


Ooo, I loves me some sports stats. As professional sports become more and more data driven, I expect some long-held axioms to fall as those data reveal the utter wrong-headedness of conventional wisdom. The analysis of data eventually will also reveal the extent to which the refs or umps influence the outcome of the games.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:28 AM on August 16, 2012


Unfortunately, most people believe that Liverpool is mis-using the statistics currently available, at least in the case of Andy Carroll.

Everyone knows the best use of Andy Carroll is for him to carry the crippled scion of a fallen noble family through a dangerous journey of discovery in the North.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:53 AM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


It has been 14 0 days since an accident at Mario Balotelli's house.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:04 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Billy Bean has had an interest in moving to soccer, in fact he's a Liverpool fan I think, since he figured that the Moneyball phenom has squeezed down the marginal gains available in baseball.

where is the beauty if its reduced to spreadsheets? news flash - IT IS REDUCED TO SPREADSHEETS ALREADY

As far as I can see, in a league without any means to improve competitive parity between teams, unlimited money for the big clubs, some from god knows where origins in Russia and the MidEast, and a larger have and have nots situation than anywhere in American sport (Abramovich earns more in cash interest every year than the total budget of Chelsea, they can lose tens of mil a year forever), I'd rather see some innovation that for a few years might aid the smaller clubs gain an edge.

Baring that, better league wide management from the FA to try to catch up to the NFL in running a competitive league as a whole. The worst example of this is Scotland, which just had a duopoly reduced to a monopoly and watch the tv money drain away now.
posted by C.A.S. at 12:04 PM on August 16, 2012


When Theo started signed a big, burly slugger, a platoon first baseman with limited success, that guy turned into David Ortiz.

Who was juicing just like Manny.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 12:42 PM on August 16, 2012


You're batting .000 on points per post. Maybe you can get by on snark in the minor leagues, but it won't even get you a cup of coffee here.
posted by yerfatma at 12:55 PM on August 16, 2012


unlimited money for the big clubs....Abramovich earns more in cash interest every year than the total budget of Chelsea, they can lose tens of mil a year forever

Well, yes and no. Financial Fair Play will in theory reduce this problem. Even if it doesn't, even the richest owners don't keep pouring money into clubs (Manchester City haven't spent any money this season, and their manager is complaining about this; Chelsea keep talking about how they plan to break even. But I agree, Abramovich certainly could keep funding Chelsea forever, it's just a question of whether he will.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:32 PM on August 16, 2012


ericb: Does that mean all other clubs' data and not just that of Manchester's? Does team = club?

That is how I would read it. The only other way would be that by "team" they mean "the team that Manchester City selected for a particular game", but that doesn't seem as likely.

(Also, you are probably the first person ever to say "Manchester" and be talking about City, not United ;-))
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:36 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the looks of it they've bought all of last season's data off Opta and are going to give it away for free in order to see what people come up with.
Considering they are systematically destroying football they do make it hard to hate them
posted by fullerine at 4:02 PM on August 16, 2012


You're batting .000 on points per post. Maybe you can get by on snark in the minor leagues, but it won't even get you a cup of coffee here.

I'm assuming this is responding to the Ortiz=likely juicer comment? While maybe not well worded, I think it's a lot more realistic than the romanticized "When Theo started signed a big, burly slugger, a platoon first baseman with limited success, that guy turned into David Ortiz."
posted by inigo2 at 8:37 PM on August 16, 2012


Considering they are systematically destroying football

ITYM gloriously snatching another undeserved championship away from Man U.

I like City, for all the moaning about them having bought the league; as if the other big clubs, especially that other Manchester club, haven't done so. At their best, their football is brilliant and they have Balotelli, who is just crazily unpredictable. And they still have a proper fanbase.

Baring that, better league wide management from the FA to try to catch up to the NFL in running a competitive league as a whole.

Yeah, no, I don't think a league you can't even be relegated from has anything to teach the Premierships.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:30 PM on August 16, 2012


> Yeah, no, I don't think a league you can't even be relegated from has anything to teach the Premierships.

You say that so dismissively. The NFL can teach most sports leagues about how to encourage parity — for instance, share the TV money equally even though some teams get on TV more often than others. (La Liga decided to do the opposite, and now all clubs other than Barcelona and Real Madrid are threatening to revolt unless the deal is reworked to be more equitable.)

Competitive balance seems to be one of those odd American ideas about professional sports; sports fans in other countries don't seem to care that the league title circulates among three or four teams at most. But it's good business: all 32 NFL teams are in Forbes's list of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. Jacksonville, the least valuable NFL franchise, is worth almost as much as Chelsea.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:58 PM on August 16, 2012


Fair point, although the Premier League is a lot more equitable in terms of TV money than La Liga (great article here giving the exact figures).

But the context is very different. The big clubs can threaten to leave the PL and play in a breakaway European league, and by doing so take away much of the TV money. Too, the Premier League couldn't easily implement things like salary caps (which wouldn't be a bad idea IMO) because the players would just go to Spain or Italy instead. Whereas there isn't an equivalent to the NFL anywhere in the world.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:16 AM on August 17, 2012


You're batting .000 on points per post. Maybe you can get by on snark in the minor leagues, but it won't even get you a cup of coffee here.

Metafilter has post police?
posted by playertobenamedlater at 4:02 AM on August 17, 2012


I think it's a lot more realistic than the romanticized "When Theo started signed a big, burly slugger, a platoon first baseman with limited success, that guy turned into David Ortiz."

It's badly put if it sounds romanticized. What I meant: he found big, slow slugger who was undervalued and paid very little to take a risk on him. As opposed to the "saviors" of my childhood, guys like Jack Clark, Ivan Caulderon and the Corpse of Andre Dawson.
posted by yerfatma at 7:41 AM on August 17, 2012


Competitive balance seems to be one of those odd American ideas about professional sports; sports fans in other countries don't seem to care that the league title circulates among three or four teams at most.

Yeah, we don't like socialism in our sports and for teams to actually lose if they, well, lose.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:36 AM on August 17, 2012


> Fair point, although the Premier League is a lot more equitable in terms of TV money than La Liga (great article here giving the exact figures).

Yeah, I think this is one of the things that the EPL gets right.

> But the context is very different. The big clubs can threaten to leave the PL and play in a breakaway European league, and by doing so take away much of the TV money. Too, the Premier League couldn't easily implement things like salary caps (which wouldn't be a bad idea IMO) because the players would just go to Spain or Italy instead. Whereas there isn't an equivalent to the NFL anywhere in the world.

I think this would certainly happen, though perhaps not to a doomsday extent. The Bundesliga, for instance, has financial rules that prevent the kinds of shopping sprees we're seeing from Man City and PSG. And they're third in UEFA's country coefficient rankings, ahead of Italy.

But, yes, I do think stricter financial rules are the sort of thing that should be mandated by UEFA. So I'm cautiously optimistic about FFP, which is a good first step even if it's imperfect.

> Yeah, we don't like socialism in our sports and for teams to actually lose if they, well, lose.

I suppose I'm not against promotion/relegation in theory, but I don't know how well it would work in a country as big as America and with sports as weird as ours. In the NFL, for instance, I have a feeling it would mean three or four teams in each of the big cities (New York, Chicago, LA, etc.), with all the small-market teams perenially in the minor league. And a newly-promoted team would have a hell of a time attracting the quality talent it'd need to stay in the top flight, because an American football team needs 53 players and doesn't have a worldwide talent pool to draw from.
posted by savetheclocktower at 1:19 PM on August 17, 2012


Paying what Liverpool did for Andy Carroll seems like the most un-Sabermetrics thing possible. Or at least un-Moneyball. They could have bought so many talented young foreigners for the one Carroll they did buy, it just seems baffling, and makes me glad I'm an Arsenal fan partly because they don't throw huge fees around. It's infuriating enough to watch one of your players fail, but when you know they cost the equivalent of whole other teams that still might beat you?
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:49 PM on August 17, 2012


The Guardian's put together the first batch of stats released by City.
posted by modernnomad at 9:41 AM on August 22, 2012


« Older As foretold by the prophets of Atlantis, before it...  |  "The convent would have been s... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments