Required reading from the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

March 14, 2013

sports conf

One of the many highlights of this month’s seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was the research paper competition, featuring in-depth analysis and presentations by faculty and graduate students from leading research institutions. In case you missed the conference, or simply crave some detailed analysis on common dilemmas in the sporting world, here are the 2013 research paper finalists. Basketball, football, baseball, hockey, soccer: There’s something here for every sports fan.

The Value of Flexibility in Baseball Roster Construction

Sometimes a Major League Baseball team’s greatest asset is the flexibility of its players. The San Francisco Giants’ Pablo Sandoval, for example, plays first base, third base, and catcher. Researchers from University of Toronto and Harvard Business School quantify the value of flexibility in this paper, which won the Alpha Award at the conference.

To Crash or Not to Crash

To defend or crash the boards of an offensive rebound? It’s one of the biggest split-second quandaries an NBA team faces. There is a tradeoff, but it turns out—according to this MIT research—it’s best to get back on defense.

Going for Three

The field goal is crucial in football, but its success or failure is affected more by weather than by so-called psychological factors like icing the kicker, according to several MIT researchers in their paper, “Going for Three: Predicting the Likelihood of Field Goal Success with Logistic Regression.”

The Hidden Foundation of Field Vision in English Premier League (EPL) Soccer Players

Athletic prowess is an indicator of success in all sports. But sometimes vision is what helps win games. Several European-based researchers contend that soccer players who heavily rely on “visual exploratory behaviors” play more effectively than those who don’t.

The Dwight Effect

Who’s the best interior defender in the NBA? More importantly, how do we evaluate defensive performance in professional basketball? This paper from researchers at Harvard University and Sports Aptitude defines the Dwight Effect, named for the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard and his tendency to keep his opponents’ close shots out of the basket.

Total Hockey Rating

Did you know that the Philadelphia Flyers’ Kimmo Timonen is the NHL’s top defenseman? Hockey is such a low-scoring sport that it’s tough to fairly evaluate players, but researchers at St. Lawrence University, the University of Iowa, and Statistical Sports Consulting developed a rating system and they say Timonen is a keeper.

Acceleration in the NBA

Where does the most action occur on the basketball court? What kind of movement could lead to the most scoring? Philip Maymin of the NYU-Polytechnic Institute examines “burst locations” in the NBA to determine where and when a play may be set into motion.

Live by the Three, Die by the Three? The Price of Risk in the NBA

We’ve all seen NBA teams suddenly come back to win at the buzzer. New work from researchers at University of California-San Diego and Microsoft assesses the level of risk teams should accept as time winds down in a tight game.