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