The problem with using analytics to predict team performance

Read this interesting (and insightful+funny) article by McAfee on baseball and analytics (with reference to the enjoyable baseball movie Moneyball). Although it’s written about baseball, it’s really about sports and analytics, and how analytics has changed the way we made decisions. (Disclaimer: I don’t follow baseball; don’t play it; don’t know much about it.)

Moneyball poster
Analytics may predict individual performance. But the team’s?

The funny thing is, even though I’m certainly a believer in the power of analytics and how it can help businesses (including sports teams), I’m still not entirely sold on the concept that it’s the only thing that matters. Even while watching Moneyball, which I enjoyed, there was the very human intuition (maybe wrong, maybe right) that kept on telling me (shouting! in fact) that statistics weren’t–couldn’t be–the whole story.

I couldn’t help but agree with some of the statistical non-believers in the movie (portrayed like they lived in the stone-age) that building a team based on statistics alone, without due consideration for personalities or dressing-room morale, would work.

I mean, should know. I’m a veteran Championship Manager (and its latest variant Football Manager) fan, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that one unhappy player creates another. And with enough unhappy players, team morale takes a big hit and performance suffers. Multiple star performers on a team doesn’t always guarantee a star performance.

Bringing in players with abusive personalities, no matter how their performance on the pitch, can be a disruptive influence, right? (I’m just guessing here as I’ve no real-world experience.)The players with the abusive personalities may continue to play well. But will the other players continue to play at the standards they used to play at? And can analytics take these off-the-pitch, indirect influences, into account as well?

(By the way, I’m pretty sure I was deceived by Moneyball. It was sort of a feel-good movie after all. I just do not believe that personalities were never taken into consideration.)

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