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I’ll stop calling you a dick if you stop talking to me like I’m an idiot: making friends with advanced stats geeks

March 8, 2012

Just pretend I tried

Do you miss those seemingly endless “Bloggers vs Mainstream Media” debates that were ubiquitous not that long ago? Then you are probably overjoyed about the “Stats vs Watching The Game” debates that have taken their place.

What’s that? You’re not especially enamoured?

Is it because we’re at a point where some people refuse to talk about hockey with anyone who can’t rattle off a string of advanced stats? Or is it because the “watch the game” crowd has started chasing advanced stats geeks all over the internet, doing everything they can to point out what a waste of time numbers are?

Here’s how this generally goes:

“My favourite player/team looks so good right now!”
“Scoff scoff scoff scoff scoff scoff you’re an idiot.”
“What? Why?”
“Here’s a bunch of numbers you’ve never heard of. I’m not going to tell you what they are or explain why they mean I disagree with you, I’m just going to throw a wall of statistics at you and make you feel like you’re really stupid.”
“But why do I need these numbers?”
“To show you how wrong you are.”
“But I don’t get it, I watch the games. He’s really good!”
“(Eye roll) Then you can’t be helped”
“Fine I am packing up my toys and going home.”

A couple of weeks later.

“I just don’t understand why everybody doesn’t think like me…”
“Hah, because you’re wrong. I told you my player was good. Look at his point totals. Look at how well the team is doing because of him.”
“But don’t you understand? That’s unsustainable.”
“Whatever, you’re a jerk, you’re trying to take the fun out of hockey, and you turned out to be wrong.”
“You just have to wait and see. It’s only been a short period of time.”
“Maybe you just need to accept that my player is better than you thought. And by the way, I took the liberty of stalking you all over the internet and here is a list of things you said would happen that didn’t. I told you stats were a waste of time.”

And on it goes.

All of this just makes me want to scream.

*

Dear people deeply embroiled in this ridiculous argument,

Nobody cares about your pathological need to be better than everyone or right about everything. You are not smarter than someone because they don’t agree with you, or because they’ve decided they need a little more convincing before they’ll come around to your way of thinking. Oh, and by the way, talking to someone like they’re an idiot doesn’t make them an idiot, and it doesn’t make them want to listen to you. It just makes them think you’re an asshole.

So get over yourselves.

Love,
Everybody else

*

The conversation should be about informing and persuading, and yet all it ever seems to be about is belittling and berating. It doesn’t matter whether you believe only in the numbers or think it’s all hogwash (do people still use that word?). Why would anyone want to listen to what you have to say if you’re starting your argument with some variation of “here is why you are stupid”? Why would anyone want to talk to you if all you are going to do is scoff at them? And what is the point of discussing hockey (or anything else) only with people who think exactly like you and don’t have any other points of view? Why is it always about how wrong someone is and not about respectfully showing them how you came to your conclusion, instead?

Personally, I believe the Stats vs “Scouting” argument will go the way of the Bloggers vs MSM debate. Eventually most of us will come to the conclusion that there’s a place for both sides when it comes to hockey. A few bitter dinosaurs will continue to think stats are worthless, just as bitter dinosaurs still think that all bloggers make up rumours from their mothers’ basements. A few bitter stats heads will refuse to get over the way they’re being treated right now, just as some bitter bloggers can’t bring themselves to play nice with the MSM. But mostly we’re going to accept that there’s room for “watching the game” and a place for statistical analysis. And all that’s going to do is enhance our enjoyment of hockey.

*

I have been working on some variation of this post for a very, very long time. When I started it, it was a vehement anti-stats rant.

Over time, however, I realized I didn’t really feel that way. It’s not that I changed my mind. I just came to the realization that all along, I had been asking my good friend, the excellent Cam Charron, hockey question after hockey question after hockey question. I do it every day, whether I am looking for a comparable for Player X or wondering why Player Y appears to be having a terrible year. And Cam patiently gives me answer after answer. He explains everything to me using the very numbers I wasn’t interested in learning about. No arguing, no berating, no scoffing. I’d been into numbers all along, I just didn’t know it.

I’ve started looking up some data on my own now.

That doesn’t mean I no longer want to see pretty passes that lead to even prettier goals. That doesn’t mean I’m no longer turned on when goalies poke check. That doesn’t mean stats ever cross my mind when I’m at the Bell Centre or watching the game on TV. And above all, it doesn’t mean that I look at advanced stats as though they are the hockey gospel.

It doesn’t mean you have to, either. You don’t have to care about advanced stats at all, but I’ll tell you from experience that they’re worth exploring, because they help explain so much (although, any stats head worth his or her salt will tell you that the numbers don’t tell the full story and that context is paramount). You don’t have to live and die by the numbers, and you can still watch and enjoy the game any way you like. There’s no right or wrong way to do that.

*

But planting yourself firmly on either side of this debate is not a prerequisite for talking puck, no matter how many people seem to make you feel that way these days. The only prerequisite, I feel, should be a little less condescension on the part of either camp and far, far more respect on both sides.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. Ally permalink
    March 8, 2012 9:51 am

    LOVE this :) I wish more people would see that how others choose to interact with the game in no way impedes on how they choose to do so.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 10:14 am

      Thanks, Ally! That is exactly what this was about.

  2. leafer1984 permalink
    March 8, 2012 9:51 am

    Your qualblog is thru the roof

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 10:14 am

      Leafer, that might be my favourite comment on the blog in a WHILE

  3. March 8, 2012 9:58 am

    Great stuff Laura.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 10:16 am

      Thanks for discussing this with me so many times, Ferg. You really helped me put my thoughts together.

  4. March 8, 2012 10:24 am

    Awesome as always!

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 1:00 pm

      You rock, buddy.

  5. Winkle permalink
    March 8, 2012 10:41 am

    There’s always been one constant in every form of human civilization throughout recorded history, and that is the proverbial “my dick is better than yours” mentality.
    The whole “I’m a better than you because I’m a Stats-head” is just the latest iteration of this.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 1:02 pm

      Well, don’t forget the “I’m better than you because I’m NOT a stats head” side, too. Let’s all just stop measuring our dicks.

      And thanks so much, buddy.

  6. mikenumberfive permalink
    March 8, 2012 11:03 am

    Great Post, Laura. Everything in life should always be viewed from both sides of the fence, because neither are wrong, just different. It’s always about the context.

  7. March 8, 2012 11:07 am

    Bravo!

    I love digging into the analytics and sharing it because I believe it does provide value and insight, but understand that the vast majority of hockey fans don’t give a rat’s ass about such things, nor should they be expected to.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 1:02 pm

      Thanks, man. Awesome to have one of the guys I go to for statsy type stuff comment on here!

  8. March 8, 2012 12:20 pm

    I can appreciate the apparent frustration that led to this post. Im not up-to-speed enough to call myself an expert on advanced stats, but I love trying to incorporate them into my understanding of the game. For sure, there will be douchebags on every side of every debate, because people want to be smarter and better than other people. But generally, as long as people stay away from the Puck Daddy comments, it seems like people are pretty reasonable on these matters. I see what I did there.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 1:11 pm

      Yup. Those comments are a doozy.

  9. March 8, 2012 1:00 pm

    I think the breakdown always comes when one side asserts that the other is using illegitimate means to judge hockey players or teams. People don’t like being told what they’re saying wrong, but it’s even worse when you attack the entire process they’re using to make their judgements. This is exacerbated by the fact that nobody ever admits they’re wrong on the internet.

    It’s a great article Laura, and one that could apply to nearly any argument. One of my profs always used to say “cooler heads prevail” when speaking of politics, but I think the same is true of any situation. Thanks for this one.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 1:12 pm

      Thank you, as always, Andrew.

  10. March 8, 2012 1:11 pm

    I’m mostly only interested in the Fantasy aspect during the seasons now, because both the Avs and Wild are perennial losers, what’s the point in torturing myself seeing the Canucks win all the time? So the stats actually interest me more until the second week of April. I watch every single playoff game and don’t give a crap about stats anymore.

    Good post. Now figure out a way to replicate this passion every few days. Consistent depth, concision, strong opinion and factual analysis.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 7:49 pm

      Thank you so much. I think maybe people who keep telling me my writer’s block is due to Habs suckage may be right. It’s hard to muster up the passion sometimes.

  11. Cam Charron permalink
    March 8, 2012 2:50 pm

    Sure, this is a good post, but I think it was up against easy competition…

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 7:49 pm

      Love you, buddy.

  12. March 8, 2012 4:44 pm

    In reality, the arguments about these matters are pretty typical in terms of the long time, uh, ‘discussion’ guys have had with each other about sports in general. That level of discussion permeates through every medium of sports entertainment. It’d be nice if we could discuss things rationally and hopefully this post converts a few souls, but this is a pretty uphill battle we’re facing.

    Still, I likey this post.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      March 8, 2012 7:49 pm

      Thanks, Bruce!

  13. March 9, 2012 11:09 am

    Thanks for a great post. It’s great to have stats to back up your arguments but I firmly believe stats, trend, predictions don’t always tell the story. I hate when someone decides to make me look like an idiot for praising one of my players by saying well his Corsi sucks so ya stop celebrating that win or that goal and his fenwick is omg so bad. These comments usually come from people who haven’t watched a single game from my team.

    Good work again!

  14. March 9, 2012 11:53 am

    Sports are an emotional endeavour that deliver tons and tons of data and metrics on us to poke through to gain understanding. The head vs heart battle gets engaged immediately.

    I’m always reminded of Lawrence Tierney’s line in Reservoir Dogs: “You don’t need proof when you have instinct”. There are fans out there who dump on the use of stats because they trust their own eyes more than anything. The problem is everyone else doesn’t necessarily trust “that person’s” eyes. And so we turn to the stacks of data that we all have access to.

    I use stats in a lot of my writing, but I would not call myself an “advanced stats geek”. I personally don’t see a lot of value in them and in a fluid sport like hockey that changes from one instant to the next, the stats can be hard to interpret. I like trends and history to help understand what’s going on, not quick snapshots.

    The key in all of it, especially for those who use stats to form their viewpoints is to be a teacher to those who are receptive to knowing more. Ever try to get a religious person to abandon their faith? I haven’t, but I bet it’s not an easy task, and so it is with stats vs instincts. People will believe what they want to believe (i.e. Kostitsyn is inconsistent) regardless of what the numbers say (that you can set a watch to his production).

    My example this season has been to say that teams finishing 5th-8th have virtually no chance to win the Cup. Some believe me, some don’t. But the fact is that no team in the past 15 years that finished 5th-8th has won the Cup, though a couple have come close. If we get in to semantics, of course a 5th-8th place team *can* win the Cup, but they haven’t in a long, long time, which is why I butt heads with the “anything can happen” crowd.

    Lastly, a lot of fans are lazy or just pressed for time. They can’t be bothered to back up their opinions, or they don’t have time to do the research. When I discuss hockey with friends or coworkers, I quickly learn that none of them are basing opinions on anything other than what they see. When I bring up the simplest of facts, their eyes glaze over like they’re in 9th grade science class. Conversation over.

    In the end, I’ve learned to try to not have conversations with those who are unwilling to look at facts. It’s just too frustrating and tiring. I also realize that there is room in sports for things that cannot be explained, and that facts don’t tell us everything. For example, we know Halak’s stats are better than Price’s, but we also know who the better goalie is, don’t we?

  15. March 10, 2012 10:20 am

    “Oh, and by the way, talking to someone like they’re an idiot doesn’t make them an idiot, and it doesn’t make them want to listen to you. It just makes them think you’re an asshole.” I love it when blogging and sports fan lessons turn into life lessons as well. Keep being awesome!

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