Matty Marshall sounds off on a little bit of sports statistics history, the fuzzy math behind some of the most valuable sports stats in the world, and the real beginning of paintball, at least as far as our grandkids are concerned.
Right around the time when the North and South were killing each other by the hundreds of thousands in the Civil War, and the railroad was beginning to open up the American West, a writer you’ve never heard of changed professional sports forever.
He was a Cricket player, born in London, who moved to Brooklyn at age 12, where he eventually fell in love with Baseball. The sport was a fledgling at the time, just starting to emerge from its chaotic roots to catalyze into the form we recognize today as the modern game. From the time the first true professional team was formed in 1869 it took about 50 years for baseball to hit its big mainstream stride.
Baseball was the first professional sport to capture the nation’s attention and it did so on the backs of Heroes and Statistics. Babe Ruth and his 60 home runs. Ty Cobb and his .420 batting average. Lou Gehrig and his 2130 consecutive games. A combination of amazing athletic skill, a means to measure it, and the location of Box Scores in newspapers, gave the fans something other than pure spectacle to dig their teeth into.
This happened in part because Henry Chadwick sat around one day watching a baseball game and thought, “Hmmm, shouldn’t we be counting how many times these dudes get a hit? Oh yeah, and if we add up how many times they get up to bat, divide it by their number of hits, we can get an average that will tell us who’s the best.”
This was the invention of modern sports statistics. And a sign of things to come. Chadwick came up with a couple of basic stats, invented the box score as a means to deliver the information to the public, wrote for decades defining early sports journalism, and went down in history as “Father Baseball”. In the subsequent 143 years the game of professional baseball has existed, they’ve added around one hundred different measures of skill. In 1977, Bill James invented Sabermetrics and again changed the analysis of the game dramatically, it’s effects depicted most recently in the film Moneyball. It took over a hundred years in order for someone to figure out that some of the most hallowed numbers in the game aren’t as important as the experts thought. It shook the pillars of the baseball temple.
I start with baseball because it was the beginning, and it has the most thorough statistics of any professional sport. Some might say Baseball needs statistics because it’s boring to the casual fan. Well, I say paintball needs statistics because it is confusing to the casual fan.
The NFL, which is anything but boring, especially in 1920 when it was created, and most of the first teams couldn’t afford the start up fee for the league. They didn’t start keeping players stats until the mid 30’s. Some NFL stats we take for granted are relatively new. For instance, the “sack”, which was first named by Hall of Fame Defensive End Deacon Jones, who said it had the equivalent effect on an offense as a city being sacked, wasn’t recorded until 1982, close to 50 years after the first football statistics were created.
The most important stat in football is the Passer Rating Differential, which was invented way back in the archaic age of 2009. In order to get the PRD, you subtract a team’s Defensive Passer Rating (the passer rating of a team’s opponent) from its Offensive Passer Rating. When prodded by Sports Illustrated, the stat savants at Cold, Hard, Football Stats took this new formula, applied it to the historical data, and it proved to be the best indicator ever created of how dominant a football team can be. But in order to get that number you need the Quarter Back Rating, which your average fan might say is the most important stat (other than wins, baby), and which has its own interesting history.
The formula used to create the QB rating is so complicated, most people, including the sports agents, players, and owners who spend or earn multi-millions of dollars based off its application, couldn’t figure it out if they had a loaded .44 mag to their heads. It’s used as an example in college algebra textbooks.
Here it is:
Funny thing about the QB rating: it was jerry-rigged so a great score would come out to be around 100, like in school. The creator, Dom Smith, had this to say about the matter in a GQ article from 2001. “I think our attitude was that 100 was an A,” he recalls. “And anything above 100, that was an A-plus.”
Another funny thing about the pass rating is most pro quarterbacks could care less about it. Unless they’re in the red zone, it’s 3rd down, or they’re negotiating their contracts, because of the fuzzy math it takes to come up with the number, they don’t really care. Trent Dilfer, who led the Ravens to a Super Bowl Championship, said in the same GQ article, “it’s (the quarterback passer rating) most useful for fantasy football people who are more concerned with numbers than good old-fashioned winning.” However, when put into the PRD, this shady funny number yields solid gold information about which teams, and which quarterbacks, are the best.
You can see the trend here. An athletic endeavor begins, survives and struggles over a number of years until it can organize its own house enough to start cataloging the game with objective measures of skill. It is only then that those who are casual fans of the game have access to something they can wrap their minds around. And then, as time progresses, more complex statistics emerge which actually, truly, finally, put a finger on the question all this nerd math was created solve in the first place–To find out who is the best.
The road to creating paintball statistics was not an easy one, as we had to get past the common questions of, “There is no way you can count who shoots who.” Or “The game moves too fast to catalogue”, issues that arise when something seems, on its surface, too hard to do. In reality, as the past years of experimentation has shown, we found the opposite to be true.
This was evitable and necessary. As things evolve, they become more complex. It’s how amoebas become apes and Model-Ts become Lamborghinis. In order for Paintball to move forward as a sport, we must have objective measures of skill. We must move beyond the subjective.
This has been over three years in the making, and a lot of trial and error. It has required a large amount of money and time. How does the 30-year-old Oliver Lang, arguably the best player the game has seen, compare to the 17-year-old version, the first year he came into the league? We will never truly know. We could sit around and argue for hours, but there is no evidence.
That’s what this is about. Evidence of excellence. Knowledge. History. Measures of greatness others can try to surpass. The team who runs the PSP understands this; all this paintball amazingness is happening out there, we just need to count it, and this couldn’t be more important. Dave Youngblood said to me a few months ago, dead serious, that this is about laying something down for when we are not around anymore. Like, when we are dead, dust and gone. You put in all those drills, games, points, matches, years, decades, gunfights, for what? Let’s get some records into the books so people remember we were here.
So paintball statistics are now alive, and they are for the fans, as much as they are for the players and the coaches. Argue away. This is a beginning; we will only get better and more accurate as things progress. Even today, stats in NBA, MLB, and the NFL are still tricky, with tackles, fouls, errors and the strike zone existing as semi liquid things. We are going to try to be as accurate as humanly possible.
What is our Passer Rating Differential or our OPS (On Base + Slugging) one of baseballs new important stats? We will soon find out. Oh and by the way, the formula for OPS looks like this:
Looks fun huh?
Mathematics is the language of nature. And stats are the language of athletic skill. Can you measure heart with a statistic? Maybe not. But can we count how many kills X-Factor’s Mykel Kovar got in the first two games of Galveston, a guy who was on the bubble, who needed to transcend in order to give his team, the best team ever to come out of Texas a chance to win on their home turf, and save his starting spot? Yeah. And his kill count is a direct measure of his ability to dig deep, do work, and display the heart he knows exists inside him. So yeah, we did measure Kovar’s heart that rainy day in Galveston, right off the gulf. And for that one day, it weighed 19 G’s.
Check out the Stats