Archive for July, 2015

TechGraphs News Roundup: 7/31/2015

The MLB trade deadline has delayed us a bit, but we’re back to talk about all the sports-tech news we found interesting this week.

Engadget has a nice writeup regarding the money involved in esports these days. Want a hint? It’s a lot.

PGA Tour Live debuted this week. The new streaming service will allow golf fans to stream Thursday and Friday rounds of PGA events that usually aren’t aired on TV. It works on most devices out of the box. It’s a young technology, but it will be interesting to see where it goes.

It sounds like some prominent DOTA 2 players got their Steam accounts hacked. It doesn’t appear to be a wide-spread attack, but you might want to change your password anyway.

DraftKings — you guessed it — raised MORE money, and is looking to spend a bunch of it with FOX Sports. The NFL season is just around the corner, so expect to see a nauseating amount of ads running during games this year.

We talked a little about the use of robot umpires this week, and Wired has some more details.

Remember those new Converse Chuck Taylors that Nike is releasing? Well, it turns out they may be pretty great.

Nike is also working on some soft of hood that athletes can wear to keep themselves cool. It looks weird as Hell, but athletes might not care if it helps prevent overheating.

It appears that nothing is sacred these days. Technology is even sliding into the world of fishing. And it’s not just for the pros either. Amateurs can get in on the game.

That’s all for this week. Have a good weekend. Be excellent to each other.


The Technology Behind the U.S. Women’s National Team’s World Cup Victory

The United States women’s national team went into the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup with a chip on their shoulder, trying to avenge a heartbreaking finals loss in 2011. But eagle-eyed viewers might have also noticed the chips the women wore under their shirts as well, as Will Carroll pointed out on Twitter.

The objects were Polar Global’s H7 heart rate sensors as suggested by this Wired article and confirmed by Polar Global. The USWNT is also listed as a client of Catapult, an Australian-based company that combines GPS and inertial measurement units (IMU) into a single sensor.

Strength and fitness coach Dawn Scott confirmed that her team uses heart rate sensors and GPS systems to monitor player performance. However, because the team does not have a formal relationship with either company, she could not discuss the specific devices she uses in detail. Nevertheless, she was still happy to answer general questions about how she and the rest of the American coaching staff used the devices.

The GPS system and heart rate monitor produce a wide range of metrics. Head coach Jill Ellis and her staff were mostly interested in measures of intensity, rather than total distance covered. Scott specifically discussed the percentage of high-speed running (running faster than 11 mph) and distance covered during high-speed running.

“For me they’re the main factors that then show how much a player’s involved in the high-intensity activities,” Scott said. “[That means] overlapping for your midfield player, making high-intensity runs into the box. For defenders, [it means] having to recover.”

But not every position calls for such high-intensity bursts. For those players, the coaching staff relies on meterage — a player’s average speed in meters per minute.

“So say a Lauren Holiday, who isn’t necessarily doing a lot of sprints when she’s in a holding midfield position, but she’s one of the ones who does the highest meterage, so for her, that is more of a marker of her work rate,” Scott said. “In one of the games where she was pushed into the attacking midfield role, she suddenly had a lot of max sprints.”

The games presented an additional set of challenges. Although this tournament marked the first time FIFA allowed players to wear monitoring devices on the pitch, FIFA retained the regulations prohibiting the use of technology on the sidelines. This prevented the coaching staff from using these systems to guide their in-game decision making.

“I don’t always see the purpose of real time [monitoring],” Scott said. “Sometimes in training we’ll take out the real time system, but for me that’s only if we want to get a certain physical output from a fitness point of view.”

Making matters more difficult, several of the stadiums in this summer’s World Cup were domed (like Montreal’s Olympic Stadium) or had large roofs overhanging the field (like Vancouver’s BC Place). This meant the team’s GPS-based systems were much less accurate during games.

“The interpretation of that data is crucial, especially when you’re giving that back to players and the coaches who are interested in that feedback,” Scott said.

Scott doesn’t rely on a single number to judge player performance, instead adjusting her expectations and the numbers she looks at based on the game plan for that particular match.

“It’s knowing your team, your opposition, it’s knowing your own players, and what their physical capabilities are as well,” Scott said. “Carli Lloyd’s numbers were very different in the first three games from the final three games when her role was very different.”

But unlike a coach for a club team, who can monitor their players’ workouts year round, Scott had the added challenge of making things as simple as possible for her players after their training session ended. That meant shelving the more complicated GPS monitors and giving each player a wrist-worn heart rate sensor to wear during training. To their credit, though, the players diligently stuck to the team’s training plan — and just as diligently sent the data back to Scott.

“The players were very good at giving us updates in terms of their heart rate loads,” Scott said. “And they also logged into an online training diary or physical monitoring system, where every single day they would log in, answer five questions about how they feel physically, and so I can then log in and see where a player’s physical state is.”

Scott traveled across the country, working with coaches for every National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team to come up with a plan that kept the national squad healthy without hindering their club’s chances of winning. Scott was quick to praise her NWSL counterparts for their cooperation.

“The clubs were given guidelines in terms of when we want to train, when we want the players to have a day off, and also ideally how long the training session should be with the player,” Scott said “And to be fair to the clubs, in that crucial period in the leadup to the World Cup, they stuck to the programs we sent.”

Off the field, Scott is working towards a doctorate from the University of Western Sydney. Unsurprisingly, Scott’s research focuses on the physical demands and training loads of elite female athletes, with a focus on soccer players. Scott’s research relies on the hundreds of hours of game data she has collected from USWNT athletes since 2012.

“The main focus is going to be to develop a training model, so looking at what are the physical demands of women’s football,” Scott said. “And then with that, we look at what is the training intervention is to prepare the players physically for those demands,” Scott said.

But not all Scott’s methods are quite so high-tech. During March’s Algarve Cup in Portugal, players complained about stiff necks and poor sleep. So before this summer’s Women’s World Cup, each player was given an allowance to buy their own pillow to take on the road with them. The result, Scott said, the team was better rest and improved performance.

“When I first suggested it, people looked at me like I’d gone mad,” Scott said. “But the players appreciated it, because it just meant something they had at every single hotel.”

(Header image via GoToVan)

Independent Baseball’s Newest Umpire Isn’t Human

A simple Twitter search of #RobotUmpsNow or #UmpShow will show fans have been clamoring for an electronic umpire for the strike zone — among other things — for some time. While major league baseball isn’t quite ready to make that jump just yet — nor are any affiliated minor league clubs — there is one hero ball club we can turn to. The vaunted San Rafael Pacifics of the Pacific Associate of Professional Baseball are set to debut a strictly PITCHf/x umpire for tonight’s and tomorrow’s game.

SportsVision, creators and owners of PITCHf/x, are working alongside the Pacifics in handing off the task of calling balls and strikes to the system, though former major league player Eric Byrnes will be on hand for assistance should either team object to the system’s judgement. The two-game affair is designed to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation and for each called ball or strikeout, Byrnes will donate $100 to the foundation. If either coach disagrees with the strike zone, Byrnes has the option to eject a player or manager, and in doing so would then donate $10,000 to the foundation for each person tossed from the game.

Given PITCHf/x’s enormous popularity among statistically-inclined baseball fans — including but not limited to Brooks Baseball, Baseball Heat Maps, Texas Leaguers and Baseball Savant — seeing progression towards a computerized  strike zone, even in a charitable role, is amazing. The three camera system on hand for the Pacifics is set to capture a triangulated zone, and since three cameras are better than two eyes, we’ll see an automated strike zone for the first time in organized baseball.

The need for an automated zone is pretty clear, especially when we have the technology to review missed calls in near real time. For example look no further than Jeff Sullivan’s posts on The Worst Called Strike/Ball of the First Half, or more recently, let’s observe one of Sunday’s games. Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians started the game, and according the PITCHf/x system over at Texas Leaguers, he may have been robbed of a handful of calls at a very important point in the game.

salazar

It looks as though three pitches touched the strike zone that were called a ball with an additional trio of pitches in the zone that were called balls. It’s hard to boil down a game to a single pitch, however one pitch can be the difference between walking back to the dugout after the third out or being lifted with two outs and runners on. The latter situation actually happened, and thanks to MLB’s Gameday, we can see the events unfold.

salazar1

Salazar gets ahead of Tyler Saladino 0-1 before the second and third pitches, both appearing to be in the strike zone get called balls. Salazar does well to even things a 2-2, however he probably should have been out of the inning with the score still tied at one apiece. The calls don’t go his way and Zach McAllister comes on to relieve Salazar, who was at 113 pitches, and promptly gave up the tying run. Again, it’s one pitch, but it was arguably the sequence of events that decided the game.

The Indians and the White Sox are both likely outside of the playoff picture at this point, however that shouldn’t be the focus. Given that we have the technology to get the calls correct, it’s awfully disappointing to only see Independent baseball willing to go with an automated system. As Ken Jennings once wrote, I for one, welcome our new computer overlords.

(Header image via the Pacifics’ website)

How To Use R For Sports Stats, Part 1: The Absolute Basics

R Screenshot #4: summary(fg13)

If you’ve spent a sufficient amount of time messing around with sports statistics, there’s a good chance the following two things have happened, in order:

  1. You probably started off with Excel, because Excel does a lot of stuff pretty easily and everyone has Microsoft Office.
  2. At some point, you mentioned to someone that you use Excel to do statistical analysis and got a response along the lines of, “Oh, that’s cool, but you should really be using R.”

Politeness issues aside, they might well be right.

R is a programming language and software platform commonly used, particularly in research and academia, for data analysis and visualization. Because it’s a programming language, the learning curve is a bit steeper than it is for something like Excel–but if you dig into it, you’ll find that R makes it possible to do a wider variety of tasks more quickly. If you’re interested in finding interesting insights with just a few lines of code, if you want to easily work with large sets of data, or if you’re interested in using most any statistical test known to man, you should take a look at R.

Also, R is totally free, both as in “open-source” and as in “costs no money”. So that’s nice.

In this series, we’ll learn the basics of working in R with the goal of exploring sports data—baseball, in particular. I’m going to presume that you have no background whatsoever in coding or programming, but to keep things moving, I’ll try not to get too bogged down in the details (like how “=” does something different from “==”) unless absolutely necessary. This guide was made using R on Windows 7, but most everything should be the same on whatever OS you use.

Okay, let’s do this.

Getting Started

You can download R from https://cran.rstudio.com/.

You’ll have to click on a few links (you want the ‘base’ install) and actually install R, but once that’s done you should have a screen that looks like:

Screenshot #1: R consoleThe “R console” is where your code is soon going to run–but first, we need some data. Let’s take FanGraphs’ standard dashboard data for qualifying MLB batters in 2013 and 2014. Save it as something short, like “FGdat.csv”. (If you have a custom FG dashboard or just want to take a shortcut, you can just download the data we’ll be using here.)

In R, we’ll be focusing mostly on functions (that look like, say, function(arg1, arg2)), which are what actually do things, and naming the output of these functions so we can refer back to it later. For example, a line of R code might look like this:

fgdata = read.csv("FGdat.csv")

The function here is the read.csv(), which basically means “read this CSV file into R”, and the argument inside is the file that we want to read. The left part (fgdata =) is us saying that we want to take the data we’re reading and name it “fgdata”.

This is, in fact, the first line we want to run in R to load our data, so type/paste it in and hit Enter to execute it.

(You may get an error like cannot open file ‘FGdat.csv’: No such file or directory; if you do, you likely need to change the directory that R is trying to read files from. Go to “File” -> “Change dir”, and change the working directory to the folder you saved the CSV in, or just move the CSV to the folder R has listed as the working directory.)

If you didn’t get an error and R simply moves on to the next line, you should be good to go!

Basic Stats

The head() function returns the first 6 rows of data; since our data set is named “fgdata”, we can try this out with the line of code:

> head(fgdata)

R Screenshot #2: head(fgdata)And to get a basic overview of the entire data set, there’s the summary() function:

> summary(fgdata)

R Screenshot #3: summary(fgdata)See! Already, data on 20 variables in the blink of an eye.

“1st Qu.” and “3rd Qu.” are the first and third quartiles; the mean, median, minimum and maximum should be self-explanatory. So we can see that the average player in this data set had roughly a .270 average with 17 dingers and 10 steals in 146 games–not far from Alex Gordon’s 2014, basically.

Want to compare how the 2013 and 2014 stats stack up? R makes it pretty easy to pick out subsets of data. It’s called, reasonably, the “subset” function, and all you need to include is the data set you’re taking a subset of and the criteria the subset data should conform to.

Since we have “Season” as a field in the table, we just need to say “Season == “2013”” to get the 2013 players and “Season == “2014”” to get the 2014 players. We’ll name these new data sets ‘fg13’ and ‘fg14’:

> fg13 = subset(fgdata, Season == "2013")
> fg14 = subset(fgdata, Season == "2014")

A quick check should confirm that, yes, the data did subset correctly:

> summary(fg13)

R Screenshot #4: summary(fg13)and now we can do some basic statistical comparisons, like comparing the mean BABIPs between 2013 and 2014. (To single out a specific column in a data set, use the $ symbol.)

> mean(fg13$BABIP)
> mean(fg14$BABIP)

You can do whatever basic statistical tests you like–sd() for the standard deviation, et cetera–and pull out different subsets of the data based on whatever criteria you like. So “HR > 20” for all players who hit more than 20 home runs, or “Player == “Mike Trout”” to get data for all players named Mike Trout:

> fgtrout = subset(fgdata, Name == "Mike Trout")
> fgtrout

R Screenshot #5: fgtroutLastly, it’s not too common to need to reorder your data in R, but if you do, you can do so with the order() function. This line sorts the data by wRC+, ascending order:

> fgdata = fgdata[order(fgdata$wRC.),]

then returns the top 10 rows:

> head(fgdata, n = 10)

You can sort in descending order by placing a minus sign before the column:

> fgdata = fgdata[order(-fgdata$wRC.),]

R Screenshot #6: head(fgdata, n = 10)And, as you’ve probably noticed, most of these functions can be tweaked or expanded depending on the different arguments you use–adding “n = 10” to head(), for example, to view 10 rows instead of 6. One of the more fascinating and infuriating things about R is that pretty much every function is like that–but at least they’re all documented!

And, of course, you can access the documentation through a function. Use help() (help(head), help(summary), etc.) and a page will pop up with the arguments, and more additional details than you probably ever wanted.

Wrap-up

One final note: typing code directly into the console is fine, but it gets a bit annoying if you want to write more than a line or two. Instead, you can create a new window within R to load, edit and run scripts. In Windows, use “Ctrl+N” to open a new script window. Type some code; to run it, highlight the lines you want to run and hit “Ctrl+R”.

You can also use these windows to save your R script in R files–as I’ve done here for all the code used in this article. Feel free to download and start tinkering.

So those are the basics of R; not enough to really show its potential, but enough to start experimenting and exploring as you wish. For Part 2, we’ll start some data plotting and correlation tests, and in Part 3 we’ll try to recreate some basic baseball projection models. I actually haven’t done this before in R, so it should be interesting. Stay tuned!

(Thanks to Jim Hohmann for helping test this article.)


TechGraphs News Roundup: 7/24/2015

It’s been a busy week for sports-tech news, so let’s jump right into it. Here are the stories we found interesting this week.

If you don’t plan on subscribing to NBA League Pass next year, but worry that you really might want to see a random out-of-market game, the NBA has you covered now. You will be able to purchase single games, a la carte, from League Pass starting next season. This is good news! The not-so-good news is that single games will run you $7 a pop. Still, it’s nice to know the feature is available, and it might come in handy for the diehard fans who take a random trip but still want to catch their team’s games.

In a similar, but more stripped-down note, the NFL announced a new video service called Game Pass. Don’t get too excited — you won’t be able to stream regular-season games live with it. You do get to live-stream preseason games, and have access to full replays of past games, for what it’s worth. But that’s kind of it. Replays will be available right after the game ends, and fans can tap any prior game for any team all the way back to 2009. It’s like NFL Rewind, basically, but it will be available on pretty much all your devices.

The EA Sports Hockey League was one of the big missing features from NHL 15, but NHL is bringing it back for 16, and fans can sign up for the public beta to help test it out. Check the last link for all the details, but the skinny is that EASHL is getting a pretty big revamp. In a possible face-saving push, EA is issuing the beta as part of a campaign to involve more user feedback. It’ll be available July 30th if you have NHL 15 for either Xbox One or PS4.

You know how EA’s NCAA Football didn’t use player names, but pretty much copied everything else they could from the player to use in their game without paying the athletes? Well, they got sued for it, and EA shut down production of the game in 2013. Fast-forward to now, and the players won their $60 million settlement. If they file for compensation, they’ll receive some cash. Good job, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken.

Speaking of, NCAA teams might be making a comeback to 2K basketball games soon, though the scope isn’t quite known yet.

Something I didn’t know: Nike has been making the classic Converse Chuck Taylor shoe since 2003. Nike acquired Converse after the former went bankrupt. Hmm, the more you know. Anyway, the Chuck is getting a revamp, but only on the inside. Nike is using some of their shoe tech to make the Chucks more comfortable. Same classic look, more comfortable shoe. Cream on the inside, clean on the outside, if you will.

We talk about GoPros a bit on this site. We also talk about live-streaming apps like Meerkat a lot. So when it’s announced that people can now stream on Meerkat using their GoPros, it seems relevant to our interests.

We recently mentioned how drugs like Adderall were being used as PEDs in eSports. Well, some major eSports leagues are instituting drug testing now. I’m not quite sure how it will work for players with real-world needs for the drugs, but it’s a step in the right direction for those who care about that kind of thing.

Speaking of gaming, popular game-streaming site Twitch is ditching Flash for HTML5. This is good news for anyone who likes stable performance, secure computing, or living in the year 2013.

If you buy Madden NFL 16 for the Xbox One, you’ll get a year of EA Access, which is sort of like Netflix for EA games.

Because it seems there’s always Daily Fantasy Sports news, FanDuel has purchased the company that made their apps, and DraftKings will pay $250 million over the next two years to advertise on ESPN.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy your summer weekend, and be excellent to each other.


GoPro Might Pay You for Your Extreme Videos

The GoPro camera can be used for recording virtually anything, but the original market for the small waterproof shooter was for action sports. GoPro gave surfers, skateboarders, skiers, bikers, bungee jumpers, and all kinds of extreme athletes the ability to easily record (and share) unique views of their sport. Now, we mount them on our cars and our dogs. I mount mine on my golf bag to record driving range sessions. You can find GoPro footage of nearly anything these days, and GoPro is looking to turn the best footage out there into cash for them and the creator.

The newly-launched Premium Content Licensing Portal is GoPro’s take on the Getty licensing model. Essentially, GoPro is selling a service to ad producers, movie makers, journalistic organizations, or anyone else with enough money that will allow them to buy the rights to interesting footage shot on GoPro cameras. The companies pay GoPro, GoPro pays the video makers. It seems like a no-brainer for content producers. As Mashable puts it:

… high-quality original footage is costly and difficult to produce, so advertisers are more than willing to shell out the money to buy licenses. Thanks to the durability of the devices and savvy ties with extreme sporting, GoPro users have created a wealth of first-person action footage that’s hard to get otherwise.

While, at least at the moment, it seems unlikely that GoPro users could use the service as a full-time job, it seems like getting offered some cash for their cool videos would be a win for them, as well. Everyone likes a little extra money, and they’d also get the thrill of possibly seeing their footage on TV or the web. They’re going to do parkour on high buildings or surf giant waves anyway — might as well make a little money off it.

The new service is also an interesting fork in the business model for GoPro. They’ve made a lot of money on their cameras and accessories, and the company is valued at almost $4 billion. But we’re seeing more and more that creating cool hardware isn’t enough. Look at Apple. They’ve sold unseemly amounts of their devices, but as the iterations offer fewer and fewer new features, customers become reluctant to pay for upgrades. The jump from the original iPhone to the iPhone 3GS was huge — much bigger than the jump from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 6. Apple caught this early, and that’s where the App Store came in. It’s another revenue model built on the backbone of their successful hardware. GoPros are built to last. It’s one of their main selling points, but could also mean a longer window of time between repeat sales. If the hardware market gets too saturated, they have to turn elsewhere for revenue. Now a hardware company is also a media company. It’s not a pivot, it’s diversification.

The site is already up and running, so we may very well see more GoPro footage in our TV and online streaming ads. And since GoPro is acting as the gatekeeper for what’s interesting and engaging, chances are good that the footage we see will be the cream of the crop. It’s a smart move for GoPro. They make a little extra money, and might even convince buyers on the fence to pick up one of their cameras. Whether it works or not, the move shows that GoPro is looking to get ahead of the curve, rather than waiting for camera sales to drop before trying to play catchup.

(Image via chriscom)

Is Yahoo! Daily Fantasy the Third Wheel?

The two titans of daily fantasy sports (DFS), DraftKings and FanDuel, have new competition. Recently, Yahoo! has joined the daily fantasy goings on in addition to their traditional fantasy sports leagues. The market growth of DFS sites has taken off on a meteoric rise, and according to Forbes there was an 847 percent rise in participation from September 2013 to September 2014. As the newest option in a popular area, Yahoo!’s approach is slightly different than both DraftKings or FanDuel.

Right off the bat, the aesthetics of Yahoo! appears similar to FanDuel. From left to right, we have the Yahoo!, FanDuel and DrafKings interfaces (click to embiggen).

dfs

Beyond the layout, Yahoo! has seemingly drawn influence from both FanDuel and DraftKings for the gameplay itself. Just like in DK, Yahoo! allows users to draft up to 10 players rather than the nine of FD, the difference being two pitchers in the former and one in the latter. Despite the identical rosters to DK, Yahoo!’s player prices are much different than anything we’ve seen before.

Rather than use the $50,000 or $35,000 salary allotment of DraftKings and FanDuel respectively, Yahoo! has a $200 scaled budget. As a percentage, the prices aren’t terribly different, but I found myself having a surprisingly difficult time adjusting. Of course, the prices are different because the scoring is different as well.

With the same left to right as before, the following picture shows the scoring differences between the three sites.

scoring

Where both FanDuel and DraftKings have negative stats for batters — -0.25 points for any out on FD or -2 points for a caught stealing on DK — Yahoo! doesn’t have a way of punishing poor batting or base running performances. Pitching statistics are even more varied as wins are very heavily valued in Yahoo! at eight points compared to four points for DK and FD. Yahoo!’s only negative pitching category is giving up earned runs, same as FanDuel, to the tune of -1 point per earned run surrendered. For example, let’s say a pitcher costs 20 percent of your budget in any of the three site ($40 in Y!,$ 7,000 in FD and $10,000 in DK) . He records a win after going seven innings, gives up two runs on a pair of solo shots, plus two other hits, two walks and strikes out seven batters, his point totals for each site are:

Yahoo!: 30.6 points
FanDuel: 16 points
DraftKings: 23.35 points

Thanks to the numerous negative pitching stats in DratfKings (hits and walks in this example specifically), you get hands down the least bang for your buck with pitchers compared to FanDuel and Yahoo!. The latter in particular places a massive emphasis on wins at eight points. Such huge upside in pitches in Yahoo! with minimal downside — no negative points for any hitter outcomes and only being penalized on pitcher earned runs — makes stacking your Yahoo! lineup with the best pitchers in line for the win is hands down the best option. This isn’t a flaw, a strength or a weakness on Yahoo!’s behalf, but it is certainly something to exploit.

The biggest issue I have with Yahoo!’s current layout is the lack of weather information for each game. DraftKings at least displays weather info at the top of the screen when you enter a contest.

weatherdk

FanDuel leads the way with a full weather forecast for each game, including chance of rain by percentage and if the game will be played in an open stadium, retractable roof or dome.

weatherfd

I’d always recommend cross checking the weather for the games as in any DFS format it hurts to lose a batter to a rain out and losing a starting pitcher is like throwing money away. Adding in weather seems like something fairly easy, as Yahoo! already has an entire page dedicated to weather around the world.

Beyond the weather related issues, Yahoo! has a bigger concern when it comes to attracting players to its new daily fantasy area. During its launch, Yahoo! promised a $22,000 prize pool, guaranteed even if the contest wasn’t filled. At a $1 minimum entry for the 10,000 player league, it sounded like a good way to gather new DFS players. Unfortunately the wording tripped up many players and saw the $22,000 guaranteed prize pool would be split up if the contest wasn’t filled, and not the way Yahoo! broke it down. The way $22,000 was guaranteed was awarding $2 to the 29th-10,0000 place finishers. So, if it the contest was full, then yes, the full $22,000 would have been handed out. Unfortunately calling a prize pool $22,000 and then not delivering the full amount flies in the face of every other DFS league or entry I’ve ever entered.

For now I’ll stick with DraftKings or to a lesser extend FanDuel to fulfill my DFS cravings. I know they pay out what is advertised, I’m familiar with the scoring, and having to open one less tab for immediate weather reports makes it convenient.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 7/17/2015

A “day without sports” does not a week without sports-technology news make, so here are the sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

Scientists in Switzerland announced the inaugural Cybathon, an international competition for bionic athletes. Unlike the Paralympics, the overriding emphasis of Cybathon is less on athletic achievement and more on encouraging the development of new robotic technologies that will aid those with physical limitations in their daily lives. The first Cybathon will take place in Zurich in the fall of 2016.

Audience streams for gaming tournaments have by and large been only in the first-person view. But a new company called Super League Gaming is hoping to bring a bigger, world view to their tournaments. They are partnering with major movie theater chains to display a broader view of the game’s environment on the big screen.

In case you had any doubts about the health of the daily fantasy industry, popular DFS site FanDuel just raised another $275 million, and is now valuated at a cool billion.

NHL 15, while still really fun to play, was a bit of a letdown in many areas. EA is making a push to improve the experience with their next offering, and offered a video showing some of the improvements coming to the game. It’s slated to drop on September 15.

We cover plenty in the way of wearable athletic technology in this space, but when it comes to golf, you probably already have an effective one in your pocket. Well-known golf instructor and former Tiger Woods coach Hank Haney has an active Twitter account, and all you need to do to receive expert analysis of your game is tweet Haney a video of that Tasmanian-Devil mess you call a golf swing and wait for him to respond with some advice, which he dishes out in his spare time.

Football season looms ever closer, and with it the danger of traumatic brain injuries. Doctors at the University of Miami, together with software company Neuro Kinetics and involvement from the U.S. Department of Defense, have developed concussion-detecting goggles, which they are testing on Hurricane athletes this summer. One of the practical advantages of the goggles is that they are portable: the apparatus fits in a backpack, meaning it’s easy to bring them to away games too. The university was one of the winners of the NFL’s second Head Health Challenge, an incentive program to support the development of brain-protection technology, and the $500,000 award has provided the bulk of funding to date for the development of the goggles.

Hawk-Eye for the masses? While nobody’s proposing a populist archery revival (to our knowledge), a French company is developing Mojjo, a camera-based tennis analysis system designed to be used by amateur players. While a relatively inexpensive, single-camera system like Mojjo won’t compete with the most advanced, multi-camera systems the pros use, it still appears capable of providing amateur players with plenty of insightful feedback.

And finally, to put this one on ice, rumor has it that some NHL teams have begun to use the player-tracking system the league debuted at the All-Star Game earlier this year. Unlike the NBA’s SportsVU system, which requires the installation of an array of cameras in each arena, the NHL’s Sportsvision program works by tracking specialized equipment each player wears under his uniform, which also can transmit biometric data like heart rate.

Like your work week, this News Roundup is ending. Have a good weekend, and be excellent to each other.


On-Court Headsets for NBA Referees Might be Coming

Most of the attention in the NBA right now is focused off the court, as NBA teams and free agents continue to negotiate. Recently, though, we saw the start of actual play in the NBA summer leagues, where the new arrivals included Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow–and some new tech for the refs.

This summer, NBA referees are experimenting with Bluetooth-esque wireless headsets to quickly communicate with each other across the court. The headsets, which were first tested in the D-League this spring, also allow the three-man crew to confer with an outside reviewer–this summer, that’s a courtside ‘sideline supervisor’, but down the road the headsets could provide instant contact with the NBA’s replay center in Seacaucus, N.J.

Veteran NBA referee Scott Foster, who served as a sideline supervisor during testing in the D-League, had good things to say about the referee headsets in an interview with NBA.com:

“[We can] hear them talking to one another and can understand when they’re telling one another, ‘Hey, I’m watching the ball right now.’ It’s easier, it’s better than having them screaming across the floor. […] We’ll be able to communicate in loud arenas in critical situations during live play. We’ll be able to make sure the entire crew is at a higher level of concentration.”

As it turns out, though, the NBA is somewhat late to the game when it comes to testing referee headsets. The NFL, as you may recall, provided wireless headsets to on-field officials starting last fall, though their impact was a bit overlooked amid the megahype for the sideline Surface tablets. The NHL tested wireless communication for its referees as early as 2011, but ultimately chose not to move forward; off-ice headsets are instead used for reviewing goals. The MLB uses a similar system to handle instant replay.

One referee who tested the NHL’s system pointed out a few of the cons, including volume calibration (if a referee blows his whistle next to his mike, you can imagine the other refs would pick it up a little loud) and physical issues caused by the headset itself:

“[I]t blocks your hearing on one side. There was one time where a player came out of the penalty box and I couldn’t hear him coming, and he almost ran me over.”

Not to mention, of course, the problems with interference that any wireless headset could have, as has been known to happen with quarterback helmet receivers in the NFL.

So should we expect any huge referee communication developments in the major leagues? Probably not for the MLB — tradition aside, there just isn’t as much need for umpires to confer mid-play as there is elsewhere — though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NHL give it another go. And of course, the jury’s still out on the NBA experiment. Though there has been discussion of introducing referee headsets in the NBA regular season as soon as 2015-16, no formal announcement has yet been made.

(Image via Keith Allison)

Esports Players turn to Adderall for Competitive Edge

Over the previous weekend the 2015 Electronic Sports World Cup Counter-Strike: Global Offensive finals took place in Montreal. Multiple countries were represented and competed for the $75,000 prize pool, with $30,000 going the champions. Aside from technical setbacks, other controversy arose due usage of Adderall as well as in-game communication advantages. In a bit of a surprise, North American team Cloud9 won their group and advanced to the finals, though former Cloud9 member Kory “Semphis” Friesen gave a candid interview with Mohan “Launders” Govindasamy where Friesen said how common it is to find Adderall usage. In a separate interview, current Cloud9 member Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir had strong comments regarding other teams listening in to the Cloud9 in-game strategies.

Transcribing and editing the interview, Friesen said the following:

Friesen: Ha, I don’t even care. We were all on Adderall. Like, I don’t give a [expletive]. Like, it was pretty obvious if you listen to the comms. People can hate it or whatever, but.

Govindasamy: So everyone does Adderall on ESEA LAN, right?

Friesen: Yeah.

Govindasamy: Just throwing that out there, so you’re good.

As someone who has played Counter-Strike (and other games) in a relatively high level for a number of years — as well as someone who has taken their fair share of Adderall, this topic hits pretty close to certain times back in my younger days. While dealing with working part-time or going to school, plus a practice schedule that took up at least two hours per day, it was clear that time was in short supply. A teammate at the time suggested I go for an Adderall subscription. However, living in a college town I soon found out that it wasn’t that easy to get my hands on the pills without my own prescription.

The effects of being on Adderall didn’t seem big like much at first, but then about four hours passed and I hadn’t really noticed. It really did help me focus — almost to the point of tunnel vision — and in the context of esports, managing your tasks and focusing on the matters at hand is critical. For example, at big LAN event or venue, it’s a really loud atmosphere. With your in-game sounds turned up to hear every footstep, your teammates calling strategies, the announcers shouting and the crowd going bonkers, it’s incredibly easy to get distracted. In fact, recent controversy arose over communication. In somewhat recent events, more and more tournaments have been tapping into team’s in-game communications with so called Point-of-View streams, showing gameplay alongside the team’s comms.

Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir said in an interview how it’s unfair to English speaking teams. To quote Abadir:

Interviewer: What are your thoughts on it [POVs]?

Abadir: I think it’s great honestly. I love POVs, but, if you’re releasing it [live] and we can’t speak their language, then, how can we use it to our advantage when they [opposing teams] can use it [POVs] to their advantage? So release it after we’re done playing.

ESWC had teams from Ukraine, Sweden, Germany, France, China, Brazil, South Africa and Australia, along with Canada and the United States, so a multitude of languages could be found. Abadir’s interview was actually in regards to the previous weekend’s Electronic Sports League tournament, but that also boasted an international lineup where French, Swedish, Polish, Finnish, Portuguese and of course English were spoken. League of Legends releases post-match communication highlights, and tends to be careful to limit the amount of strategy given away at any time.

Is the ability to listen in on other teams’ communications cheating? Is it unfair for players to be taking Adderall? There are some fuzzy lines being skirted by major esports brands. Without pressure from sponsors or an overarching governing body, it doesn’t seem like any significant policy change will be in place for Adderall usage or POV streams. Despite the rapidly rising popularity, esports still have a long way to go when it comes to rules and regulations.

(Header image via ESWC)

How to Make a Poor Man’s Heat Map

Presumably you’ve got some data. Maybe it’s PITCHf/x data, maybe it’s just a bunch of data points, and you want those represented in a heat map. How do you make this happen? Well, in the spirit of leading with the lede:

Just make a scatterplot and reduce the opacity of the dots.

Yeah, it’s not elegant and it’s not truly a heat map — not algorithmically calculated like the fancy stuff Jeff makes at Baseball Heatmaps or the complex zone-grids over at FanGraphs. But, hey, for many people, it should be enough.

Let’s go ahead and make a faux heat map together!

Let’s start by ripping out some Expanded Tabled Data from Brooks Baseball and pasting that data in Excel.

For the sake of this post, we’re looking at Chris Heston’s no-hitter from June 9, 2015. Once we plop that data into Excel, we’ll want to cruise on down to the columns titled “px” and “pz.” Highlight these columns and plop in a scatterplot:

It's hideous right now, but we'll make it beautiful.

It’s hideous right now, but we’ll make it beautiful.

Right click on those blue diamonds and choose “Format Data Series.” Then, in the ensuing popup, browse to the “Marker Options” tab and change the markers to circles:

Circle icons are not only best for faux heat maps, they are also just more appropriate (especially for baseball) in general.

Circle icons are not only best for faux heat maps, they are also just more appropriate (especially for baseball) in general.

Then go to the “Marker Fill” section and choose “Solid fill.” We can then crank that transparency down:

You will want the dots pretty close to fully transparent, though this will depend on the amount of data points you have. Here, we only have about 100 and they are pretty widely dispersed, so we'll go with 60% transparent.

You will want the dots pretty close to fully transparent, though this will depend on the amount of data points you have. Here, we only have about 100 and they are pretty widely dispersed, so we’ll go with 60% transparent.

Now we need to get rid of the pesky blue outline on each of the data points. Head to “Marker Line Color” and change that to “No line.”

Without the marker outlines, the chart looks a lot more heat map-ish.

Without the marker outlines, the chart looks a lot more heat map-ish.

So we’ve effectively got a heat map now. With a little bit of tweaking (moving the Y-axis to the left, changing the background color, making the markers bigger, and adding a quick little strikezone box — pretty much all of which you can accomplish through the Format Data Series window), we can get something like this:

The transparency causes overlapping data points to appear darker, which is the key component of a heat map.

The transparency causes overlapping data points to appear darker, which is the key component of a heat map.

I should mention the strike zone is just a rectangle shape I inserted, and is not necessarily accurate. I set the fill to No Fill and made the border a hashed line. For specific guidance on where to put the strike zone, I suggest using Mike Fast’s article here, and then just eyeballing a shape like I did here.

Heat maps are really most useful when you have many hundreds of data points, not just one hundred. For instance, here’s a little heat map (took less then three minutes to make) that shows the correlation between HR totals and wRC+ (offensive production) for individual hitters’ seasons from 2000 through 2014. I threw in a reference line for 100 wRC+ (league average) and a linear regression trendline (in the Chart Tools > Layout section):

The heat map style here let's us see how the majority of hitters are clustered 6 and 32 homers, and between 74 and 148 wRC+.

The heat map style here let’s us see how the majority of hitters are clustered 6 and 32 homers, and between 74 and 148 wRC+.

Here’s another one. This one took more time to cook up, but it’s 1494 records — every NFL quarterback season since 1920 who’s thrown at least 10 touchdowns. So that’s a line for every QB for every season, thus Drew Brees — for his 2009 and 2011 seasons — occupies the top two spots in the completion percentage column.

Anyway, a heatmap here really helps us see the clustering around the middle:

The trend line show a weak correlation, but the heat map tells us where the data is clustered -- and how small sample sizes and random data points might be throwing  off the calculation.

The trend line show a weak correlation, but the heat map tells us where the data is clustered — and how small sample sizes and random data points might be throwing off the calculation.

The transparency on the markers is at 91% (you’ll want higher transparencies for certain colors and for more data).

It’s not technically a heat map, but if you need to throw together some data to make or display a point, the built-in tools in Excel will certainly work in a pinch.


TechGraphs News Roundup – 7/10/2015

Let’s kick the tires and light the fires, it’s the TechGraphs News Roundup. Here are the sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

In case you somehow missed it, the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks both made serious plays for free-agent center DeAndre Jordan. It got weird. And emoji we involved, for some reason.

We take saving video game progress for granted, but back in the NES days, it was actually pretty special. FTW tells you the details of how you could save your Tecmo Super Bowl domination.

Speaking of video games, OOTP Baseball 16 is on sale! We’re big fans of the game here at TechGraphs. If haven’t gotten your own copy yet, here’s your chance.

Yahoo! is now offering daily fantasy. We previewed it a little on this very site, but expect a more in-depth review soon.

Unofficial friend of the FanGraphs family and overall stats warlock Daren Willman was profiled over at Rolling Stone. Check it out. He’s very modest about creating a sabermetric juggernaut.

Fitness trackers are nice, but don’t forget that’s tracking more than you might realize. Pro tip – leave it at home if you plan on committing a crime.

That’s all for this week. Have a good weekend, and be excellent to each other.

 


Jason Pierre-Paul Didn’t Start the Fire: How Athletes Could Lose Control Over Their Health Data

Like many of us, NFL defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul spent last weekend launching fireworks in the course of celebrating America’s birthday. Unlike most of us, hopefully, Pierre-Paul injured himself in the course of his combustible activities. While the extent of his injury, reported to be to one of his hands, initially was unknown, that quickly changed on Wednesday afternoon, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter posted a photograph purporting to be of a Pierre-Paul medical record, which indicated, among other things, that doctors had amputated one of the football player’s fingers.

The news of Pierre-Paul’s digital truncation would have come out before long– it’s difficult for linemen to hide severe hand injuries– even if Schefter’s source didn’t leak it, but in an era of ostensible medical privacy, Schefter’s tweet still was a bit stunning to see. Though laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act do not apply to journalists, Schefter’s actions still cross a line of decency and ethics.

One of the central concepts here is authorization, and as we move away from a time in which the bulk of athlete health information exists in conventional medical records and into a reality in which people, including those involved with sports teams, are embracing wearable athletic technology with the capability of pervasively gathering vast amounts of biometric data, authorization may become a moot issue for the monitored athletes. Seeing Pierre-Paul’s records pop up on Twitter struck some as “creepy” and “invasive,” but we may not be far from a situation in which athletes are indirectly pressured or directly asked to authorize broad disclosure of their health information.

In examining the “explosion of data and data collection” in the NBA for an ESPN The Magazine last fall, Pablo S. Torre and Tom Haberstroh wrote that

The boom officially began during work hours. Before last season, all 30 arenas installed sets of six military-grade cameras, built by a firm called SportVU, to record the x- and y-coordinates of every person on the court at a rate of 25 times a second . . . .

But to follow this logic to its conclusion is to understand why the scope of this monitoring is expanding, and faster than the public knows. Teams have always intuited that on-court productivity could be undermined by off-court choices — how a player exhausts himself after hours, for instance, or what he eats and drinks. Now the race is on to comprehensively surveil and quantify that behavior. NBA executives have discovered how to leverage new, ever-shrinking technologies to supervise a player’s sleeping habits, record his physical movements, appraise his diet and test his blood. . . .

“We need to be able to have impact on these players in their private time,” says Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro. “It doesn’t have to be us vs. you. It can be a partnership.”

A lovely sentiment, at least in theory. But how long will it be until biometric details impact contract negotiations? How long until graphs of off-court behavior are leaked to other teams or the press? How long until employment hinges on embracing technology that some find invasive?

Baseball fans benefit from the deepening analysis of the sport by writers at places like FanGraphs, who can easily query in-game data troves like PITCH/fx and Statcast to support their work, and recent work on this site highlights the leading edge of wearable technology designed for baseball applications. Will data from players’ heart-rate monitors and FitBits ever be publicly searchable on BaseballSavant? Probably not. Will they be leaked when the player is in the midst of contract negotiations, as Pierre-Paul is, like drug test results and Wonderlic scores already are? The mere existence of the data certainly allows for that possibility.

Reports indicate that Pierre-Paul still plans to play football this season, although it’s unclear whether he will do so as a New York Giant. Even a strong season, wherever he winds up playing, is unlikely to make him the most accomplished nine-fingered performer in recent memory. As we sit on the cusp of the “explosion of data and data collection” in sports, though, we nevertheless may remember the leak of Pierre-Paul’s medical records as marking an important transition point on the path toward the more all-encompassing biometric-data-gathering world. And also the part about blowing off his finger with fireworks.

(Header image via maf04)

Yahoo! Is Now in the Daily Fantasy Business

You didn’t seriously expect Yahoo Sports to ignore the daily fantasy boom, did you?

That’s the first line of Yahoo!’s introduction to their newly-announced daily fantasy offering. It’s bluntness leans on the cute side, but it’s now without merit. Daily fantasy sports (DFS) seem to be exploding in popularity, and the funding numbers certainly back that up.

Yahoo! is going up against two well-established DFS platforms — FanDuel and DraftKings. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but what they both possess is strong market saturation. FanDuel, especially, has been making a huge push in partnerships of late, teaming up with both Major League Baseball and NASCAR. And it’s become increasingly difficult to watch any kind of sporting event without seeing commercials for either DraftKings or FanDuel. Yahoo! has an uphill climb ahead of them if they plan on making a big dent in the DFS market. But they do have a few aces up their sleeve.

Their first advantage is that that are already a huge player in the fantasy sports market. It’s true that their reputation has taken some hits as of late, but they’re still one of the big providers. Millions of traditional fantasy players are already visiting Yahoo! on a frequent basis. All Yahoo! has to do is entice them to give DFS a try (or seven). Whereas FanDuel or DraftKings have to either pay for advertising or enter in partnerships if they want exposure on the popular fantasy sites. Yahoo! has it all baked right in. They just have to convince people it’s worth a shot.

While it hasn’t been up long enough to do a full review, a quick glance at the new DFS site shows a nice, clean interface. The nuts and bolts of it work much like DraftKings or FanDuel, but Yahoo! is taking a different approach with their salary caps. Instead of working within a $50,000 cap, Yahoo! works within a $200 limit. Of course, everything is prorated. Instead of dropping $9,500 on a top-notch player, Yahoo! users would spend something like $60 within their lower cap limit. This is most likely a stab at simplicity — making the the financials easier to manage across a whole roster. It’s a novel idea, one that separates them from the rest of the field. We’ll have to see how it plays out as the season goes on.

yahoofantasy2

The first game of the NFL season comes on September 10th. The second half of the baseball season is clearly the proving grounds for Yahoo!’s new platform — a time to iron out all the bugs before the real money starts rolling in. Whether it works or not, you have to give Yahoo! credit for trying. DFS is eating into their user base and they’re making a move to try and stop the bleeding. Perhaps they can leverage their place in the market into some higher revenues. They certainly have the foothold. Being valued at $40 billion probably doesn’t hurt, either.


Brentford FC’s Stats-Friendly Owner

Brentford FC has been making waves in the ocean of soccer nerds over the past several seasons, most notably due to their owner — Matthew Benham — being a leading advocate for mathematical modeling in soccer. Benham is a nerd after my own heart, a man who studied at Oxford and eventually created his own betting company, Smartodds. Prior to Benham’s purchasing the team after the 2011-12 season, Brentford had been a third tier league, finishing in the middle of the pack of League One, two levels of competition below the English Premier League.

Since taking over ownership duties, Benham has influenced the club’s overall philosophy with his statistical stylings, including publicly acknowledging a head coaching change was partly due to philosophical differences. The coach in question, Mark Warburton, was at the helm as the club ascended from the third tier to the second tier of competition. Despite the success, Warburton found his contract was not to be renewed after the 2014-15 season. With Benham influencing the decision making process and Warburton handling the field level duties of a manager, Brentford managed to escape the third tier after being there for five seasons (2009-10 through 2013-14). The Bees broke through to the Championship, England’s second tier behind the EPL. More success followed in the 2014-15 season as Brentford finished fifth in the Championship and thus found themselves in the playoffs for the right to join the big clubs in arguably the best league in the world. While their playoff run ended earlier than The Bees would have liked, their overall success is not to be discounted.

Though the Bees fell short in the playoffs, their rapid ascent has made people take note, including their fans. Benham made time for a Q&A session last year on the Griffin Park Grapevine fan forum, and some of his answers were on point. In order to read the entire session you’ll have to register a free account on GPG, however below are just a few snippets of the Q&A (click to embiggen each picture).

qa1

As one would suspect, Benham is reluctant to give any details about the models and math at work, however his pasta preference is certainly concerning given penne reigns supreme.

qa2

Benham again doesn’t give away anything telling, but he quick to give traditional scouting and reports respect.

qa3

The context behind this answer is quite interesting given the history between Benham and Comolli. Damien Comolli came up as a scout with Arsenal, then worked his way up to director of football for Tottenham, in a similar way a baseball scout would climb the front office ladder. Comolli was dismissed after being at Tottenham for three seasons, landing as sporting director at Saint-Étienne. By the time he was relieved of duties there, Liverpool beckoned and he was appointed director of football strategy in November of 2010. After catching criticism regarding his negotiating abilities more than his scouting talents, Comolli and The Reds parted ways with the club near the end of 2011-12 season. The story, as written in Calvin’s book, is that Benham met with Comolli and was not impressed by any of the numbers Comolli showed him. Benham was also shocked at how Comolli asserted that his numbers and nothing else could be correct. Disagreements among analysts is nothing new, just look at the Red Sox and Mike Gimbel. He served as a specialist and consultant to then general manager Dan Duquette before Gimbel was, in his own words, used as a whipping boy.

Benham has generated his wealth using the best tools available to create the model in order to most accurately project outcomes. The best publicly available stats still leave much to be desired, however given Benham’s background, perhaps he and his team of analysts at Smarodds have broken down some of the walls surrounding statistics in soccer. While not a general manager or coach, as owner of a second-tier English soccer team, he certainly could be a pivotal character in the soccer realm. Just as Billy Beane came under fire for a number of his decisions, Benham has also been a target of the media. As the line near the end of Moneyball states, the first guy through the wall always gets bloodied. Always.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 7/6/2015

The FanGraphs family took July 3rd off, so the News Roundup is appearing on your screens a little later than usual today. Here are some of the most interesting sports-tech tidbits we found this week.

Valve’s biggest DOTA 2 tournament, known as The International, announced that it will be offering $15 million in prize pool money. A challenging and leveling system being employed means that the total could actually go higher. This is where I would insert some overdone joke about nerds needing to do their hand stretches, but I feel like $15 million is an amount of money that prohibits me from making these comments anymore. Get that money, dorks.

Speaking of gamers, they will now be able to share their favorite frags and long-range, no-scope headshots to mobile YouTube users in their beloved 60fps format. This feature has been available on the desktop for a bit of time, but now anyone with a modern iOS or Android device can enjoy the carnage (or Minecraft videos) in their preferred frame rate.

Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium got a major WiFi network upgrade during the end of last season, and just in time to see the baseball club take the World Series to seven games. That postseason traffic proved to be a great test, it seems, and the Royals are seeing the benefits this season. Promotion of the new network is going strong, and new features like a parking payment system have been added.

Dish’s new Sling TV platform showed signs of promise when we saw it at CES, and the potential to be a real disruptor is still there. However, if more major outages keep happening, Dish will start having customer retention issues before their platform is even fully off the ground.

This technically counts as sports-tech news because tennis is a sport and slow-motion video utilizes technology, but I mostly just want to make sure all of you see what really happens to a tennis ball when a racket hits it.

The San Antonio Spurs’ Matt Bonner thinks he gave himself tennis elbow by upgrading to the iPhone 6 Plus. Seriously.

GoPro has announced their newest offering, the Hero 4 Session, and it looks pretty rad. It’s basically a waterproof cube camera that packs many of the features a modern GoPro has, but in a much smaller and lighter package. Gizmodo had a chance to play with an early-release version, and the reviews and results seem quite positive.

That’s it for this (last week). We’ll have another news roundup on Friday to get back on the regular schedule. Until then, be excellent to each other.

 


BU and edX Are Bringing Back their Sabermetrics 101 Course

Let’s be honest. Learning new stuff as an adult is hard. Without the regiment of formal schooling (and without curriculum provided by experienced professionals), getting a grasp on a new topic can be very challenging. This might be more true of the technology field than any other. If you want to bone up on your history or math skills, many times you can pick up a few books and gain knowledge. But unless you’re researching the history of BASIC, books aren’t always the most helpful thing for learning new technologies. Sure, I can buy a few books that promise to teach me Python (I have) and do all the exercises (I have), but the subject matter is so wide, it’s hard to feel like you have a real good grasp on the subject (I don’t) even after you’ve finished the books. That’s why places that offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) like edX are so great. You get curriculum and direct instruction and are able to interact with other students and instructors when you get stuck.

Learning the underlying technology of baseball analytics is no easy task either. There’s scripting and database work involved. You need a firm grasp on SQL and R and other languages to be able to do what you want. It’s easy to get stuck, and that’s assuming you knew where to start in the first place. Well, edX has a solution for that as well. Boston University is once again offering their Sabermetrics 101 course through edX, and it’s the perfect place to start your understanding of everything that goes into being a good baseball analyst. Oh, and you can take it for free.

Our FanGraphs colleague/spirit animal Paul Swydan did a great writeup of the course when it was offered the first time around. The course starts with some history and basics of sabermetrics, and then moves on to teaching some of the technological tools needed to do one’s own research. You will learn the basics of SQL and R, but, more importantly, how to use these languages for the specific needs of baseball research. Though I didn’t have the bandwidth to take the course the first time around, I did poke around a little, and the offerings are both in depth yet totally approachable for seemingly anyone. All it takes is (very basic) computer skills and a willingness to learn.

Dr. Andy Andres, a senior lecturer at BU and the instructor for the course, told me that even more is in store for version two.

“We have re-vamped the second half of the course, making sure we do justice to WAR as much as we can in an introductory course — we cover not just hitting now, but cover the basics of fielding and pitching. And we have completely re-worked our R curriculum, hopefully having more success is learners getting through some intro programming skills.”

A while back, I presented some how-tos on getting a Retrosheet SQL database onto your machine. Many of you asked for help in querying the thing, which is a reasonable request. However, every time I tried to write one, I got stuck. Sure I could have supplied some sample queries, but to really be able to use the database, one needs understanding of how SQL structure works. If you got through building the database, but still aren’t quite sure how to use it, this is the course for you.

If you didn’t build a database, you can still use the course, however. One of the best parts about Sabermetrics 101 is that all work is done in hosted sandboxes. You don’t need SQL or R installed on your computer to partake in the learning. edX hosts the necessary machines for you. All you need is an internet browser. Sure, you can work on the exercises on your local machine if you wish, but the sandboxing option ensures that any user has access to the proper tools and takes away any apprehension one might have of wrecking their system while they’re trying out new things.

Class starts on July 7, and is certainly worth a look for anyone looking to improve their baseball analysis skills. You can take the course for free, or pay $25 if you want to receive the verified certificate. You won’t learn everything (Andres says that a 201 course is in the works), but you will walk away confident enough to use Google and other tools to find answers that actually make sense.

I encourage any and every TechGraphs reader to take part. I’m fully committing to this session and look forward to seeing all of you in the forums.