What analytics means to me

Stock photo of tween, not Deuce Davis, acting surprised by whatever the Browns just did.

My precocious son*,  Deuce Davis, got busted yesterday. During math class, rather than dividing fractions like a good boy, he abused the Bring Your Own Device policy. Seems he was tweaking Version 9.2 of his mock draft while finalizing the Browns’ draft board after adjusting the injury risk factor to account for new developments in ligament repair techniques.

The teacher called him out: he needed to stop getting distracted by football, as it’s bound to damage his brain, and focus on the real world of Mathematics. This apparently triggered a frank exchange of views, in which the fractious Deuce (it’s a family nickname, don’t bug me) maybe was just like his father: too bold.

Depending on whose side you believe, he either provided a succinct and respectful summary of the increasing appreciation for the relevance of analytics in pro football strategy, or he “dug himself in deeper” with a strident objection to the “inane busywork” of detailing the steps it takes to make a bigger fraction out of dividing a small one into another.

What does it matter as long as the answer is right?

And when the teacher stressed needing to “show your work” so that errors can be pinpointed, the boy said if anything’s wrong he’d be glad to “own it,” but his policy is to keep such details “in house.”

Whereupon the teacher informed him that he just right then had made a mistake, unless his intention was to be assigned an essay (as a math penance!) about why math is more important than obsessing about the Browns, which I inferred later when the indignant tween asked me what exactly did she mean by “sorry schlubs.”

So, reprinted with permission, here’s what I hope with be the only Browns-related “rough draft” you’ll encounter today.

What Analytics Means To Me, by Deuce Davis

Math is important. In fact it will help the Browns change their course, and then who’ll be the “sorry” one?

This year the Browns hired Harvard graduates who majored in math-related subjects like economics and computer science. They use analytics. Analytics is using math to help make better choices than the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals. And the Patriots, Broncos, Giants, and everyone else too. Anyone really.

But many people don’t understand what analytics is and doubt the Browns do either. So here is what it’s all about.

Analytics equals looking at lots of data and trying to figure out what is most important to winning. The more data you collect, the more chances you have to find useful ideas. But it also gets confusing because you can get lost and never figure out what really matters most. For say, maybe the Browns will be the first team to gain an edge by finding helpful patterns through the tracking of player on-field movements that has already begun with RFID tags. Or maybe they’ll waste their time on that and some other team will just pick better players and ram the ball down our throats. Again. But it’s worth a try, right?

Analytics does not equal judging players only by numbers, or treating them as the sum of their measurables. Tom Brady was weak-armed and skinny coming out of college, so everybody passed on him lots of times in the draft. The Browns picked Spergon Wynn, a bigger QB with a much stronger arm, instead of Brady. They did not use analytics.

Analytics equals calculating as much as possible about the game, on and off the field, in order to make smarter decision than the competition. Whether it’s hiring and firing players, going for it on fourth-down, when to blitz or sit back in coverage, or what kind of exercises will keep the players healthy, you try to do things that give you better odds at winning, even if it seems crazy or you get criticized if a single decision goes bad. Over time, If you do all those things even 1% better than the other teams, it will pay off in the playoffs.

Analytics does not equal an owner trumping his experts who try to make this complicated system work, jumping to conclusions because of how he feels, and then blaming them for not suddenly making his bad choices look like strokes of genius.

Analytics is what you get when you listen to your wife and hire smart people to do things based on facts and instead worry about your own problems.

Analytics does not equal ignoring “football guys” and just paying attention to numbers. The sport has been played over 100 years, and unmeasurable human elements really matter: teamwork, motivation, discipline, pride, character, yadda yadda yadda. No really. Analytics means knowing what you do not know and recognizing that brains brought up on football their whole lives probably understand things even more than they can say how it is that they know it.

Analytics equals the Browns turning things around by focusing on math facts that can be shown to increase the odds of winning and ignoring influences no matter how loud and emotional. Prove that drafting Ohio State players helps win Super Bowls, and then I’ll agree with all these mock drafts that have Buckeyes becoming Browns. Focusing on past failures and reacting to them in your decision-making may be good politics, but it’s not necessarily the road to victory

Analytics does not equal a popularity contest. The Browns’ draft may not be an obvious hit, but the games don’t start for many more months. What does it matter how the draft looks in April, as long as the answer is right in the end? The players need a chance to develop in this new way, the Hue way, and maybe Jimmy Haslam also realizes he needs to chill for a while. There’s work to do, and today we bring in some big boys to help do it. Count me in.

*Any resemblance to actual sons is purely coincidental.