This is part two of a three-part series examining the rise and impact of advanced statistics on sports nationally and at Ohio State. The first part can be read here.
The rise of statistical analysis has changed the way fans have looked at sports. Mostly used in professional sports, the data analytics phenomenon has trickled down to the college level. Ohio State athletic teams have embraced this transition and now use some of these stats to their advantage.
“Obviously the small, intricate details could be a difference-maker, and as a staff we try to look for those intricate details to be more prepared,” said Patrick Klein, an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team.
Those intricate details vary by sport. For Klein and the staff for women’s basketball, statistics give the coaches a better idea of what is happening on the court.
“I think statistics give us some real, hard facts about the performance and productivity of our players,” Klein said. “Not just from minutes and field-goal percentage, but from what they are doing with offensive rebounding, assists, steals, blocks to affect the game on both ends of the court.”
These hard facts that coaches learn from statistics are non-negotiable, especially in the sense of a position battle. Each coach has his or her own way of evaluating a particular player’s performance.
For OSU football coach Urban Meyer, statistics played a large role in deciding the nation’s most talked about offseason storyline: the quarterback battle.
At the Big Ten Media Days in July, Meyer said “gut instinct” would be a factor in determining whether redshirt junior Cardale Jones or redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett, but a lot of the decision would be made off data.
“There’s also going to be a lot of statistical data that we chart and watch very closely,” Meyer said in July. “So, basically, we’re keeping score of everything. And everything, obviously, multiplied when you start adding 7-on-7 mini field, third-down periods and all that.”
Statistics are also a way for coaches to think outside the box in terms of coaching strategy. This especially comes in handy for Greg Beals, the head coach of the OSU baseball team. Instead of having a traditional batting order, Beals changes it up a little bit.
“We try and be a little more offensive in the two-spot in the lineup,” Beals said. “If you look at sabermetric numbers, that two-spot has great opportunity for, one, being that guy that gets on base, and second, to be the guy that drives in runs.”
Beals said he thinks the statistics his team uses help the players more than they hurt them.
“We want our guys to understand the statistics and understand what they mean to the performance and to control the things that you can control,” Beals said. “The stats we use in our locker room are to help motivate the guys.“
That is why most of the statistics Beals keeps are performance-based, not result-based. An observer can see this based on the stats he uses to evaluate his pitchers.
“One thing we look a lot at is their WHIP — walks and hits allowed per inning,” Beals said. “We are also really big on first-pitch strikes and bad counts which counts the number of pitches they throw in a 2-0 or 3-1 count, which we consider a real strong hitter’s count.”
Baseball is arguably the most statistical sport out there today. New stats are finding their way into coaches’ stat sheets all the time. Some baseball personnel and fans even generate new stats to help understand a particular part of the game.
“I take their runs and their RBIs, subtract the home runs because it’s the same run, and then divide it by their total plate appearances to get an idea of what their production average is as opposed to just what their batting average is,” Beals said. “I want to see how many runs they are putting up on the scoreboard per plate appearance than just how many hits they are getting.”
New kinds of stats are popping up at many college campuses in America. Coaches are trying to find ways to stay ahead of other teams so they may have the advantage. Beals said this trend will only continue to grow larger on college campuses.
“As coaches continue to evolve and growing with the information that has become available, things evolve, and I think the evolution of sabermetrics will catch some wind in the college game also in the near future,” Beals said.