In case you cannot see clearly because I am not the greatest cell phone photographer (or because what all-stars rock star Jonah Keri earlier today called my "beard starter kit" is muddying the lighting), I am squinting a little and I am grimacing a little. This is because I am trying to understand a debate about whether a research presentation on the effect of player and coach experience on NBA postseason success is actually not really proving what it intends to prove, because something something counterfactual something something dispositive something something K-means clustering?
This is the face that many guys like me make at events like the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. That's because to the layman — even the most well-intentioned one who is keeping his mind open to the possibility that determined analysis of the between-the-lines minutiae of sports can yield fascinating revelations, new understanding and the ever-elusive competitive edge — the nitty-gritty details of the discussion often sound at least something like a warlock's incantation.
It's not, of course. The work that brought more than 2,200 attendees and representatives from 73 professional sports franchises (including 27 NBA teams) to Boston for this year's Sloan conference — the statistical modeling, the hardcore data mining, the countless hours poured into every research paper, presentation and product on display here during the two-day exhibition — are anything but magic. But because the language of analytics can seem impenetrable, and because people don't generally like to think about math once they're out of school, stat talk can drive fans away.
It should drive me away, because as I wrote last year, I'm no one's idea of an engineer or theoretical mathematician. Instead, I'm back for a second year, turning into the skid and trying to find some signal in what mostly hits my ears as noise.
I found some last year; I think I can find some again, and hopefully, we can learn something new together. (Or, failing that, we can just get mad at one another about how much we do or don't like numbers. Hooray!)
There'll be some longer-form posts coming later and over the weekend, but for now, you can follow along with my progress and my struggles at Ball Don't Lie's official Twitter account, @YahooBDL. If there's something in particular you want to see, or hear, or watch, or whatever, get at me and let me know.