Saturday 30 August 2008

It's all about the numbers

Apart from the fact that I genuinely enjoy watching a lot of different sports there is one other thing that I really like about sports. The numbers. I adore that there are statistics for everything. I keep spreadsheets to monitor the statistics, even the ones that don't mean anything.

It all started ten years ago when I first started watching football and following Charlton Athletic. I made myself a spreadsheet to keep track of the scores through the season. It was a fairly straightforward fixture list with a few complicated "if" formulas and some formatting. Still going strong, now in it's tenth year it provides an interesting side-by-side comparison of Charlton's fortunes.

The next sport to be tracked was F1. Again, fairly straightforward to track grid positions, finishing positions, points accrued... and also effectiveness (how many retirements, accidents, etc.). I have to have one of these for every season as the whole thing gets pretty huge after a while.

The masters of sporting statistics, however, are the American sports. Baseball and NFL. Nothing like these for actual statistics and some more meaningless numbers.

My first baseball spreadsheet was designed to keep track of the American League East (as Rich supports the Red Sox and me the Yankees this seemed logical). It has 162 rows which have to filled in upon the completion of each round of games for the teams in that division. The front page then calculates the current standings. Yes, I realise that I can get this just as easily from CBS, ESPN or a number of other places - but lets face it, they don't always get it right first time!

Just as interesting is my master sheet which tracks the whole of MLB. Games won and lost home and road for every team. This of course gives you winning percentages. Runs scored and runs against - which gives you the difference between the two. A real time assessment of who's hot and who's not! Slightly stranger are my especial favourites - the 'expected win/loss' and the 'elmination number' (also known as the magic number). The expected win/loss uses a rather complex formula to calculate on the basis of runs scored and conceded what a team's win/loss record should be (almost never what it is!). The elimination number gives the combination of wins and losses which eliminates a team from winning the division (or making the wild card race) and conversely gives the 'magic number' for the leading team to win clinch the title.

Sadly the baseball season is into the downhill stretch now with only a month or so before the post season (which isn't looking good for the Yankees right now). No matter though, as this brings me to my favourite statistical sport of them all. NFL.

I love NFL because there are fewer games. The statistics are easier to keep on top of - I can really appreciate the numbers over the course of the season. At a simple level it is a question of winning and losing. For more complex calculations the game stats can be brought into play (rushing yards, passing yards, etc. etc.).

So, I'm off to pick my fantasy NFL team. See you in the end zone!