Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lies, damnable lies, and statistics

Sagacious Saurians like ourselves really enjoy a deep dive into statistical analysis. That's why both Mergz and I appreciated the two three part series at Sunday Morning Quarterback that tries to shed light on which statistics are actually relevant to winning and which would qualify as what Mark Twain called damnable lies.

Here's the links:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Perhaps the most damnable lie that SMQ discovers is the supposed negative correlation between penalty yards and winning. There has been much wrenching of hair and gnashing of teeth among Florida fans about the Gators propensity to draw those annoying little yellow hankies this year.

Here's what SMQ had to say about penalties in part 1:

First counterintuitive result: the most penalized teams were slightly better as a whole than the least penalized teams. Penalty yardage, over the course of an entire season, had no discernible effects on winning and losing. You can probably think of a situation that would specifically argue otherwise, cuz penalties are definitely bad, mmmkay?, but they're bad more as situational mistakes than an overall, cumulative drain.

and in part 2 SMQ says:

Again, penalty yards stand out as utterly meaningless; as in Part One, higher penalty yardage actually correlates slightly more with success, which makes no sense and should not indicate that jumping offsides is desirable or even, in the short term, meaningless (hello, Louisville), but the overall, cumulative consequences of flags were apparently nil.

I also wanted to take a moment to thank SMQ for being so supportive of our blogging endeavor. Drinks on me in Glendale!


D. Tensor said...

If we assume that only a constant percentage of certain infractions are actually observed and flagged (for example, holding), then this would suggest that the team with more flagged penalties "gets" away with more unflagged penalties, this might confer an advantage, if the extra gain exceeds the yardage lost to penalties.

Henry Gomez said...

Great point.