Sunday, September 30, 2007

Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to my latest blog, VolleyMetrics. The basic aim of this site is to apply the kind of analytical and statistical reasoning that has come to be known as "sabermetrics" to volleyball. The term sabermetrics derives from SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, but increasingly is used used to refer to quantitative analysis of sports in general. Phil Birnbaum's Sabermetric Research Blog is devoted to all sports, for example.

Three things about me make a sabermetric volleyball site a logical next step:

1. I am a member of SABR and am very much in tune with the sabermetric approach. Another of my blogs, The Hot Hand, is devoted to the statistical study of sports streakiness.

2. I am a professor at Texas Tech University in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Although my primary substantive research area is adolescent and young-adult drinking (and personal development during this part of the lifespan more generally), my teaching load regularly involves introductory and advanced graduate statistics classes.

3. My family and I go back a long way with volleyball. My father Leonard played on the U.S. team in the Maccabiah Games in Israel 50 years ago! My dad started taking me to UCLA men's volleyball matches at Pauley Pavilion in the early-mid 1970s, when I was around 10-12 years old. Then, while attending UCLA as an undergraduate, I covered men's and women's volleyball for the Daily Bruin in the early 1980s.

As far as the content of this blog, the immediate focus will be on the currently ongoing NCAA women's volleyball season. However, I'm planning to be flexible and see what looks interesting from week to week. Specific topics that will probably come up are those that have been prominent in sabermetrics research across different sports: which particular performance statistics (e.g., hitting, blocking) seem most predictive of teams' winning percentages, momentum, clutch play, risk-taking, and so forth.

One of the biggest contributions of sabermetrics in its original domain of baseball has been to development more sophisticated and informative statistics than the old stand-by statistics of batting average, home runs, and runs batted in (RBI). These traditional stats suffer from serious shortcomings. Batting average treats all hits (singles, doubles, triples, and homers) identically as just "a hit," with no greater credit for hitting for more bases; slugging percentage does accomplish the latter. Batting average also does not reward players for getting on base via the walk; on-base average (encompassing hits and walks) is thus an improvement. The problem with RBI is that players' totals depend on how many runners are on base when hitters come to the plate, which is not intrinsically part of someone's batting ability. With pitching, a hurler's number of runs allowed has some dependency on the defensive abilities of the fielders.

Through rigorous quantitative analysis, sabermetricians have been able to come up with statistics that better reflect players' performances. For hitters, OPS (On-base average Plus Slugging percentage) is a value that can be calculated without too much trouble (just adding two numbers) from published statistics (the OBA and SLG) and gives a much better idea of players' contributions to scoring runs and winning games. Also, Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) have been developed, for getting a more pure assessment of pitching contributions, regardless of the surrounding fielders' defensive abilities.

There are several excellent books available for learning about the sabermetric approach: The Numbers Game, Moneyball, Curve Ball, and The Mind of Bill James (all related to baseball), and Basketball on Paper.

I've done some web-searching and have found very little that might be described as sabermetric volleyball research (although I certainly could be missing some). My blog will thus seek to contribute to building a base of sabermetric knowledge for volleyball. Ideas, suggestions, and comments are always welcome; you can e-mail me via the link to my faculty webpage.