Today I am a Scientist

Posted on August 9, 2008 by


The August issue of Popular Science magazine (available in stores, not for free on-line) examines the Science of Sports.   Within this issue are articles examining the biomechanics of throwing a baseball, changes in Olympic training, the future of cheating (a separate article from the discussion of Olympic training), and advances in medical treatments for injured athletes.

In addition, Jason Turbow penned “Settling the Score” (again, you can find it in-stores, and if you pay for the digital version of Popular Science you can get it on-line).  Turbow looks at advances in the statistical study of sports.  

He focuses on the four major North American team sports: football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.  For football Turbow discusses DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), a metric developed by Aaron Schatz and presented at Football Outsiders (and discussed in the forum back in 2006).

For advances in baseball stats, Turbow interviewed Chris Dial.  Dial has created a metric to capture defense called Defensive Runs Saved.  Dial’s metric employs the “zone rating” from STATS.  In essence, Dial’s metric “accounts for not just the balls a player handles but the balls a player should handle.”  Turbow presents the 2007 National League Gold Glove Winners and the 2007 Defensive Runs Saved Leaders for the National League.  With the exception of Carlos Beltran, the two lists are entirely different.  This suggests voters for the Gold Glove awards are not getting it right.  By the way, Chris Dial posted numbers for 2008 a few days ago at Baseball Think Factory.

Turning to Hockey, Turbow focused on the work of Alan Ryder.  The traditional metric for evaluating goalies in hockey is save percentage (saves divided by shots on goal).  But not all shots on goal are equal.  Ryder looks at where shots are taken on the ice to determine Shot Quality.  He then evaluates goalies by not only noting what shots were allowed in the net but also the quality of shots the goalies had to face.  More on Ryder’s work can be found at his website, Hockey Analytics.

And then we have basketball.  The advanced metric that Turbow focused on for hoops is something called Win Score.  Apparently some economist – the article says he is at Southern Utah University – has come up with a statistical measure of player performance in basketball.  And this metric indicates that many scorers – who are paid the most in basketball – do not help their teams much because they are inefficient shooters.  More on this metric can be found in this forum.  You can also read more about Win Score in The Wages of Wins (and the sequel to this book, which is still being written).

By the way, my friends in the natural sciences (such as my wife) often scoff at economics and the social sciences.   These friends often wonder if economics should really be thought of as a “science” and whether I am actually a “scientist”. Now that I have been mentioned in Popular Science, I think I can now claim that I am officially a scientist.  At least, that’s what I am telling my wife.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.