By Andrew Luther
On Oct. 27th, Dr. Drew Pasteur of Wooster College gave a talk titled “Sports Statistics: Past, Present, and Future (or how to Make a Living Watching Ballgames) as part of the Math, Computer Science and Physics department’s MCSP Conversation Series.
He started with a brief history of sports statistics, from the founding of the Society of American Baseball Research, to the Oakland A’s hiring a statistician as a general manager, and, finally, the creation of Rotisserie Baseball, the foundation of all fantasy sports. Although his historical review focused largely on baseball, due to the sport’s history with statistics, he did include other sports like hockey, football, soccer, and basketball.
Once he laid out the background, Pasteur focused on the current state of the industry and its future potential. Specifically, he mentioned the prevalence of high speed camera arrays around sporting arenas that capture continuous images of the court/field from all directions, resulting in an abundance of positioning data.
In the future, sports statistics are going to become more prevalent, even in sports that were typically considered too difficult to track, because of the high speed cameras and increased analyzing capabilities of computer software. This new wealth of data will help answer questions like the effect of altitude, or home-court advantage, on the performance of teams and specific athletes.
Pasteur suggests these new forms of data analysis will have a huge effect on the drafting and contracting processes of sports teams, because it will give them more information on the value of a certain player. For example, it may soon be possible to compare a punter on a championship football team and a punter on a mediocre team more accurately without the data being contaminated by the conditions the players were put in by their respective teams.
He gave a few examples of the paths taken to get a job in the field of sports statistics. The first was what he called the “fast track,” which is exemplified by Jason Rosenfeld who became the NBA Director of Basketball Analytics in 2014, just 2 years after he graduated. This track involved working as the Director of Statistical Analysis for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, a professional Chinese basketball team.
Since this isn’t the typical way to get into the business, he then related the story of one of his students who managed to get a job with STATS LLC, a major sports data tracking company. The student took advantage of a connection with an employee that was a graduate of Wooster College, and got a job working as a data analyst classifying pitches from MLB game footage. After working that job diligently for over a year, he ended up being promoted to the Head of the Nippon Professional Baseball league and managing the database for it.
Pasteur ended with an explanation of what it takes to get a job in sports statistics for the audience. The necessary steps were having applied statistics knowledge, programming ability, sport-specific knowledge, and practical experience. Additionally, it requires networking, passion, and grit. Pasteur said, “Without the ability to present your ideas well, in writing or in speaking, you cannot be successful in any professional career.” Lastly, an Ivy League-level MBA would help.