WHEELER: The Overly Analytical World of Sports
Disclaimer: I am occasionally guilty of some of the things I’ll be writing about below. I try not to be but I’m human. This is not being written in a scolding or demeaning tone, I’m just trying to help people preserve their sanity.
I’m a “Sports Guy.” It’s not just a description of what I like or what I watch on TV, it’s my job. I spend my work time looking for story angles, watching games and coming up with things that will be good for show topics, pre-game features or blog posts.
In doing my “homework” I’ve come to realize that we all – fans, media and probably even the teams themselves – are making things a lot more complicated, and a lot more dramatic, than they need to be. We “break down” every single game, every play for that matter, and try to figure out “what it means.”
Sometimes we find interesting facts or informative trends while other times we inadvertently go off the deep end in either a positive or negative way. Lately I’ve been trying to spread the message of patience during Sports Open Line shows. I’m doing this with the hope that sports fans in St. Louis can enjoy the games they’re watching, get fully involved in them as fans (myself included) do and then put it into the context of what’s going on in the big picture.
That context is almost always what is missing.
How many times have we all gone back and forth on this year’s Blues team? Or in previous years, for that matter. Isn’t it maddening to try to “figure this team out” on a day to day basis? Of course it is because the only true measure of a team is where they stand at the end of the season.
No other measurement of performance matters and even that one requires context.
I’ve got news for all of you: nobody can truly figure anything out based on a game or two or three. You might spot short term trends, sure, but the team can easily change course and provide totally new information a few days later.
Again, the Blues are a great example of that. They’ve had streaks, both good and bad, and they’ve had periods of inconsistency. What does it tell us?
At least not until the season is over, anyway.
As I write this the Blues are 6th in the Western Conference and have a 3-point lead over the 9th place team, Dallas. If the Blues just go 3-4 in their final 7 games they’ll reach 54 points and for Dallas to reach that point total they need to pick up 9 points in their final 7 games (4-2-1 would do it). Now, neither of those scenarios are impossible but the point is that the Blues are in control of their own destiny and it is pointless to form judgments right now.
If they miss the playoffs, we’ll have a whole offseason to dissect what went wrong and be angry. If they make the playoffs then what happens next is what will define the season.
People in town have been pulling their hair out about this team all season long and I don’t get why patience is in such short supply. For all their flaws the Blues are just 2 games behind the reigning Stanley Cup champs in the Western Conference standings.
There is nothing to panic about, yet. And no matter how much analysis we do, no matter how many complaints we fire of, we’re not going to impact the outcome of their season. The general public will have no role in how the team performs, except perhaps when it comes to the energy fans bring to Scottrade Center for home games.
My philosophy on this is simple: get into the games emotionally, have fun with it (or get ticked off, depending on the game), celebrate (or vent) when the game is over and then…
Take a snapshot of the big picture and let logic win out over emotion. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get fired up when the Blues go on a 5 game winning streak, just don’t start printing Stanley Cup Finals tickets. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be irritated when they play mediocre hockey or 10-11 games, just don’t start throwing around absolutes like “they just have to shake up the core of this team!!!!”
I’ll make the same argument for the Cardinals current situation. They’re 7-5 as I type this and that’s with several leads being blown in the late innings. They could easily be 9-3 or 10-2 and I understand why everyone is concerned. The bullpen has been a mess with Jason Motte on the DL and there is a chance he won’t pitch this year. I get why that makes people edgy.
But how different is the team’s current situation from 2006 or 2011? I cite those seasons for obvious reasons. The Cardinals had bullpen issues for most of the season only to see them be solved late while the team went on to win the World Series. That doesn’t prove the same thing is going to happen in 2013, it simply means that things often have a way of sorting themselves out.
Obsessing over Mitchell Boggs, Trevor Rosenthal, Edward Mujica or Eduardo Sanchez isn’t going to make anything better. Sometimes solutions come from places you don’t expect and that’s why, to use an old-school cliche, they play 162 games.
We see or hear all of the games. We have dozens of websites that provide analysis on a daily basis. We have talk shows, like Sports Open Line and the Sports Hub, where opinions of hosts, fans and experts from the sports world can be heard at just about any time of day.
We’re on information overload and too often that pushes us over the edge emotionally.
We know a lot more about the sports we follow than we did 10-20-30 years ago, no doubt, but none of us – NONE OF US – know as much as we think we do. Games are living, breathing beasts that often turn out unpredictable results.
Rather than trying to figure out the mysteries of the sports universe try to live in the moment while the games are going on and exercise patience in between.
I didn’t always see the sports world in this way but as I have gradually forced myself to this point of view I’ve found that I enjoy the highs as much as I ever have but I don’t obsess over the lows like I used to.
In other words, I have all the fun without the constant frustration.