MIAMI – The numbers almost always tell an incomplete story.
A few years ago sabermetrics invaded the world of sports, and it has begun to play a leading role.
Perhaps the letter of introduction of the “sabermetrics revolution” in sports was Theo Epstein, who as president of operations, helped the Chicago Cubs to become champions and break a streak of 108 years without being at the top.
And that is precisely the kind of achievement that sabermetrics needed to have its validation in the world of sport.
After all, if it had been enough to help a “cursed” franchise like the Cubs, it was definitely going to be able to help the rest.
But like everything nowadays, sadly, sabermetrics has generated a polarization.
There are those who love it and swear that if you don’t jump on the boat you are against evolution, while there are others who hold firmly to the way decisions always used to be made.
Personally, I believe that extremes are never good, and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.
The final game of the NFL regular season between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers presented us with several game scenarios that help us understand why the numbers help, but they don’t provide the absolute context.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley has become a “serial risk taker.”
It’s already become news when the Chargers don’t take chances on fourth down.
Although I usually applaud aggressiveness, because I believe that fortune favors those who seek it, and because it is always better to train to win than not to lose, the reality is that each situation must be analyzed individually because not all fourth attempts are same.
Against the Raiders, Staley decided to take a chance on a fourth down and a yard to go at his own 18-yard line.
I didn’t like that decision at all.
And it has nothing to do with being a traditionalist, or not taking into account the numbers and what the odds say.
You always have to analyze the cost-benefit equation.
Being so deep in your territory, even if you get the first down, the chances of you scoring points are still slim, and if you do, there’s more of a chance it’ll be a field goal.
Whereas if you fail on the first try, the chances of your opponent scoring points are pretty much absolute.
In other words, the risk was not worth taking, because you had more to lose than to gain.
There were other situations in the match in which sabermetrics proved to be a fabulous ally.
Down by 15 points, the Chargers scored a touchdown, deciding to go for two points. A decision that was clearly allied by sabermetrics, and that makes absolute sense.
Immediately, there was a fragment of the fans that shouted to the sky, since they claimed that if you fail in that two-point conversion, you are two possessions away, and you take the pressure off the rival.
Being fair to them, they are valid points. The theme here is that what you gain by going for two points is much more than what you potentially lose.
The most important thing here is to have the information as early as possible, because whether or not you hit the two-point conversion, you are going to know what you need to even the game, and that is going to change the way you train in the last minutes.
In addition to information being power, you still have the chance to increase the pressure on the opponent if you hit the two-point conversion.
In this instance, sabermetrics was the perfect ally.
But as I said before, extremes are never good and human beings cannot be reduced to numbers.
Of course they help, but they cannot measure neither the context nor the intangibles of the human being.
VICTORY (PLAYOFF) MONDAY!! 😁 pic.twitter.com/lLiJe8hp5u
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) January 10, 2022
Even Epstein himself recently admitted that “general managers need to scale back on their use of sabermetrics a bit.”
And he’s right, because the “numbers revolution” is losing control.
Brandon Staley is one of those who is taking it to the extreme, and he has gone from aggressive to careless and reckless.
The solution is not one hood or the other.
The solution is to analyze the context in each particular situation, and lean on the two schools of thought to bring out the best version of it.
Let’s say yes to numbers with due restrictions. And even more important, let’s say no to the polarization that confronts two lines of thought that can calmly coexist.
Not very very, not so so.