Question: Have you ever read an analytics article that turned your brain into mashed potatoes? You’re not alone.
They bring to mind this quote from the German philosopher Walter Kaufmann:
“There is nothing like obscurity to make shallowness look profound.”
Now, before any nerds go and get their knickers in a knot, let’s first make this clear: Analytics are a good thing for hockey. Check that, they’re a great thing. This editor, and all of his colleagues at The Hockey News, has been a backer since being introduced to them. Analytics make the dinosaurs of the game look as archaic as they’ve been all along, and they emphasize objective measurement over subjective judgment. This can only help the evolution of the game.
That being said, the biggest problem facing hockey analytics is their presentation. And the fault for that lies not with the fans but with the presenters.
The solution is simple: write clearly.
Advanced stats are going to get no further than the insular and insecure analytics community so long as its members write like they’re submitting papers to academic journals.
Fans have every right to refuse to put their brains through a blender when they’re forced to work through torturous prose filled with needlessly complicated terminology and unnecessary verbiage that makes them want to stab themselves in their eye sockets and then scoop out their contents with a spoon. And that’s not even counting the graphs and charts that require readers to take an acid trip to make sense of them.
With the exceptions of the Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle and a select few others, most analytics writers would rather pretend to sound profound than attempt to write, you know, clearly so that fans who don’t understand these metrics can learn about them.
That’s a shame, because fans would be better off if the trend ever went mainstream. Instead, analytics experts are forcing them to swim for their lives upstream against the impossible current of horrawful (to quote Shaquille O’Neal) academic-style writing.
Analytics experts will come back with the argument that what they’re doing is just too difficult to “dumb down.” Don’t buy it, fans. It’s a ruse of self-righteousness. Now that they have the ears of the hockey establishment, they would rather preach than teach, because they prefer the pulpit to the pew.
The term “advanced stats” is actually misleading, because the concepts behind them aren’t all that complicated yet, even if the calculations behind them sometimes are for those of us who are mental midgets when it comes to math. For the most part, we’re basically talking variations on possession. It's all very cool stuff that's being bogged down in a quagmire of pompous prose.
The slang “fancy stats,” however, is dead on, because current analytics articles are annoyingly dressed up to make these measurements look more intimidating than their concepts suggest. There’s no need for this section of the hockey world to wrap itself in writing that resembles the layers of legalese lawyers use to justify their existence.
True fans want to know this stuff, and with a little study they can understand it. For them to do that, however, the self-appointed professors of analytics must first stop preaching and start teaching.
Until then, their obscurity will remain shallow.