Moneyball and Football
One more thing you shouldn’t miss in the Sunday NYT: Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep by Michael Lewis, also author of the seminal work on the application of advanced statatistical analysis to baseball, Moneyball. I’m not what you’d consider a baseball fan, but reading Moneyball was a riveting experience. It was amazing to watch a guy dissect the game of baseball with statistics, challenging everything that everyone else believed about how you should run a ball club, and then prove them oh so wrong.
This NYT article describes the success of an innovative college football coach whose techniques have made Texas Tech’s football team much more effective than colleges with better-funded programs. He’s not the same sort of quant-head Beane was, but I see why Lewis loved him.
A quick quote:
What a defense sees, when it lines up against [Coach Leach’s] Texas Tech, is endless
variety, caused, first, by the sheer number of people racing around
trying to catch a pass and then compounded by the many different routes
they run. A typical football offense has three serious pass-catching
threats; Texas Tech’s offense has five, and it would employ more if
that wasn’t against the rules. … He regards receivers
as raffle tickets: the more of them you have, the more likely one will
hit big. Some go wide, some go deep, some come across the middle. All
are fast. (When Leach recruits high-school players, he is forced to
compromise on most talents, but he insists on speed.)
All have been
conditioned to run much more than a football player normally does. A
typical N.F.L. receiver in training might run 1,500 yards of sprints a
day; Texas Tech receivers run 2,500 yards. To prepare his receivers’
ankles and knees for the unusual punishment of his nonstop-running
offense, Leach has installed a 40-yard-long sand pit on his practice
field; slogging through the sand, he says, strengthens the receivers’
joints. And when they finish sprinting, they move to Leach’s
tennis-ball bazookas. A year of catching tiny fuzzy balls fired at
their chests at 60 m.p.h. has turned many young men who got to Texas
Tech with hands of stone into glue-fingered receivers.
And if you get a chance, go read a recent article on Billy Beane, the star of Moneyball, on why his techniques are becoming less and less effective.
Is anybody trying to do for football what Moneyball did for baseball?