Engineering Sports

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One of the most fascinating thing about sports, from the engineering perspective, is that it produces, and can be broken down into statistics. Numbers, relationships between numbers,  correlations between different factors that influence the game. Forget about the emotion, as any engineer will tell you to do anyway. Sports is about numbers and analysis.

One interesting book about this approach to sports is Moneyball. But, if one wants even more statistics, more numbers, more analysis for a wide variety of sports, pick up a copy of a relatively new book, Scorecasting, by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim.

I am only part way through it, and I am here to report, it is fascinating. They analyze so many facets of sports and it is all done through numbers. There are no emotional heart tugs, no tears of victory or defeat. Just cold hard facts. The way an engineer would like it.

The really neat thing about this book is that they keep away from simple anecdotal analysis. Although they tell individual stories, they put them in perspective of analysis of numbers – a lot of numbers. The authors analyze millions of points of data, numerous times. For example, will an umpire behind the plate in baseball expand the strike zone if the count is 3-0, or shrink it if the count is 0-2? Analyze millions of pitches over the past 5 or 10 years and find out. What causes home field advantage? You may not want to know, but statistical analysis gives an answer.

It is not a love story (thank goodness). It is not a feel-good tear-jerker. It is not a sweet tale of an underdog who defeats all odds to win. It is better than all these. It is statistical analysis of sports, the way an engineer would like to see it.

Stats for the Diamond

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( has some wrap-up thoughts on baseball, now that the World Series just finished the season. Today’s post is technically about softball, if being specific.) has covered this in less detail before, in a Wednesday post. To be more specific, I will tell you about a conversation I had with a Non-Engineer (NE) wife of a an engineer.

I usually ask NE wives whether their husband is an engineer. Most all of them understand exactly what is meant by the question. Of course, he is an engineer because that is his occupation, but, more importantly, he is an engineer because that is who he is. The example this one particular wife gave me was her engineer-husbands keeping of stats for their daughter’s softball games. Lots of stats.

He kept her batting average, obviously, but also many of the stats that MLB announcers like to discuss – batting average vs. left and right-handed pitchers, batting average with people on base, and in scoring position, batting average for games starting at different times in the evening, and also all the various fielding stats. What made it all the more engineering-ish is that he kept it all on a spreadsheet and updated it for each game of the season. Actually, what made it even more of an engineer’s pursuit is that the kid was only 8. But, you know, the color chart covering his daughter’s batting percentage under differing cloud cover percents and temperatures was impressive.