The world of sports analytics is evolving quickly thanks to growth in accessible data provided by leagues, teams and third-party vendors.
This data surge is leading to new and creative ways to answer questions beyond traditional box scores.
Daniels College of Business Assistant Professor Ryan Elmore highlighted this “crazy amount of data” during his “Sports Analytics: A Competitive Advantage in the Sports Industry” presentation at the Business Information and Analytics Fall Breakfast sponsored by Grant Thornton on Sept. 21 at Anderson Academic Commons. Elmore’s discussion covered various data topics related to MLB, NFL, NBA, the PGA Tour and the DU volleyball team.
Many sports analytics studies start with a simple question such as, “What pitches does Colorado Rockies’ center fielder Charlie Blackmon like to swing at?” Elmore showed how this question was answered through open-source programming language R with a visualization displaying thousands of his pitch and swing locations. The data suggests Blackmon likes swinging at pitches down and in, and pitches across the middle and high in the strike zone, Elmore said.
“It’s not terribly sophisticated, but it’s stuff we couldn’t do even a few years ago,” Elmore said about the growth of professional sports data and its accessibility.
Elmore noted MLB’s Statcast platform has recorded 2.1 million pitches and 400,000 balls in play since it became available in every ballpark in 2015. Elmore, who serves as a consultant for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, developed an R API for basketball-reference.com called ballr and is working toward finishing it with public contributions from the GitHub community.
Sports analytics clearly has moved beyond the professional applications depicted in the 2011 movie “Moneyball,” and is reaching further into amateur sports. One example is the VolleyMetrics analytics service used by many collegiate programs and USA Volleyball. The Pioneers’ volleyball team incorporates the platform’s data into customized scouting reports, Elmore said.
Elmore also previewed PGA Tour golf research expected to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sports Analytics. Elmore and BIA chair Andrew Urbaczewski’s work sought to answer the question, “If a golfer makes a birdie or better on a given hole, is that golfer more likely to birdie the next hole?” The short answer is no. However, a “cold hand” effect with statistical significance was discovered showing a golfer was more likely to score a bogey or worse on a hole if a bogey or worse was recorded on the previous hole.
“Maybe there is some notion that athletes are so conditioned to do well that maybe a birdie doesn’t affect them, but a bogey creates a psychological impact,” Elmore said.
I have always been interested in sports statistics and can remember pouring over hockey box scores in my hometown newspaper growing up in Minnesota. Before coming to Daniels, I worked for 10 years as a daily newspaper sports journalist and covered many sports teams from prep to professional. I still enjoy telling stories through statistics and uncovering trends to show in visualizations. In recent years, my interest in developing my data analysis skills grew so much that I earned DU’s Business Analytics Graduate Business Certificate in 2017. The experience inspired me to continue pursuing the MS in Business Analytics.
I expect to compete in the Broncos Datathon competition along with my Daniels’ colleagues and with other students from around the country Oct. 21-22. As many as 200 teams will participate in the event with finalists earning the opportunity to present findings at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. I don’t know the question up for analysis yet, but I am confident our team and others will be able to find the data needed – and then some.