“How did you get your job offer from ESPN?” was one of the questions at last night’s MCSP Conversation Series talk. Taylor Ferebee, Sky Weber, Abby Hobby, and Connor Sampson talked about their summer work in sports analytics, the hot new field of statistical analysis of sports. Work with the Stat Crew has led to internships with professional sports teams and a Summer Scholars project. In Taylor’s case, it has also led to the possibility of doing analytics for ESPN.
Stat Crew is a group of students collecting and analyzing data for Roanoke College athletics teams. It is an excellent collaboration between academics and athletics, giving the coaches and players useful information and giving the students experience in sports analytics. A presentation on Stat Crew at a regional meeting last April included the Crew’s work on lacrosse. This caught the eye of the director of analytics for the Atlanta Blaze of Major League Lacrosse. A couple of conversations and emails later and Taylor and Connor had internships with the Blaze.
Taylor and Connor had separate projects, both involving watching game film and creating charts and visualization of passing and shooting tendencies of teams in the league. Connor focused on shot charts, creating profiles of locations on the field from which shots were taken and locations in the goal for successful shots. Taylor focused on passing schemes, where successful passes started and ended and which passes led to good scoring opportunities. The combination of their work gave the Blaze coaches detailed scouting of their players and each of the other teams and players in the league. Taylor created different types of graphs to find the formats that best conveyed information to the coaches.
Sky interned with the Cape Cod Baseball League. She computed various baseball metrics for the league. Park factors measure the influence of the different parks (which have different sizes and shapes and looks) on the outcomes of the games. Smaller parks, for example, create more home runs. Sky can tell exactly how many more or less for each park, and how to adjust each player’s record to allow fair comparisons. She also computed WRC+, which quantifies the total offensive contribution of a given player, adjusted to remove home park biases. Her statistics are used by professional scouts to evaluate players.
Abby created a successful Summer Scholars project. She is captain of the women’s soccer team, and her project is a statistical comparison of strategies and results in women’s versus men’s professional soccer teams. She found several differences, including higher scoring rates off of corner kicks in the women’s game. Abby adapted a computer app used by Stat Crew for lacrosse to allow her to collect detailed passing data for soccer. Her data allows her to measure the quality of a shot, given distance and angle to the goal and location of defenders. This will allow Stat Crew to better evaluate shots in future seasons.
One of the themes that emerged in the four talks was the need to program. Connor emphasized that the programming did not have to be very sophisticated, but when dealing with large amounts of data you do not want to work by hand. Another theme was the importance of gaining experience in the field, an opportunity that Stat Crew provides. Part of the answer to getting a job at ESPN is being able to dazzle recruiters with your experience, something Taylor did on her website with many of the visualizations that she created for the Blaze, Stat Crew, and her own research.
Sports analytics is an exciting new field. Join Stat Crew (contact Dr. Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org) and get started!