Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vulgar Statistics: The Value of Statistics

I think we’ve all heard it at some point, probably myself more than others that “statistics don’t tell the whole story.”  It’s a fair point, after all numbers can be slanted and manipulated.  But I would counter with the assertion that they do tell most of the story.  There is a reason that no sub .500 team has ever won a Super Bowl and only two have ever brought home the Stanley Cup (the 37-38 Blackhawks, and the 48-49 Maple Leafs).  The statistics are telling most of the story, in this case the records are telling us that the teams are simply not very good.

I’m not sure why statistics are so degraded, but I can posit a theory.  I think that since compiling usable stats requires a certain amount of time, dedication, and intelligence.  It is certainly far more difficult to present statistics regarding a situation than it is to make a judgment based on what you’ve seen with your own two eyes.  Furthermore, people seem to distrust numbers, far more so than their own (often biased) perception even if they are the ones putting together said numbers.  When an incident comes down to statistics versus someone’s perception, statistics are always going to be the bad guy.

That having been said, I’m not saying there’s a winner in this battle.  Only in extremes is only one side necessary (for example you don’t need stats to tell you that Gretzky was an amazing talent).  For the majority of players and teams and situations, you need to be able to take a two sided approach.  Look at the situation in question, then look at the statistics and see what they come together to tell you.

That’s the approach I try to take when writing my column.  Often times my ideas are spurred by a notion that I have and a desire to pour through the numbers to see if I’m analyzing it correctly.  I like to have that double edged confirmation when it comes time to talk hockey, it gives me more to talk about and more weight behind my argument (if there is one).

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