Which Sport Benefits the Most From Analytics?

Are analytics more important to certain sports than others? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Brian Burke, ESPN Senior Analytics Specialist, Creator Advanced Football Analytics, Ex-Navy, on Quora.

Analytics in baseball is far ahead of the other sports for a couple reasons. First is that it started decades before analytics in other sports began. Second, it's far easier.

Baseball has only about 27 possible base-out states (combinations of base-runners and outs) that it needs to deal with. Football, in contrast, has billions of possible combinations of down, distance, yardline, score, time, etc.) Baseball is an orderly serial sequence of pitcher-batter matchups, and defense is only marginally involved. Football is parallel, involving 22 players simultaneously colliding in apparent chaos.

Football has caught up in terms of in-game decision analysis, but still has far to go to catch up with baseball in terms of player valuation and roster construction. There are generalities we've discovered, such as the relative importance of positions, or draft strategies, but we can't put a number on a player and say 'he's worth X wins per year' like baseball can.

Basketball and hockey are somewhere in the middle. Player tracking in both of those sports is beginning to bear a lot of fruit in terms of tactical insight and player valuation. Interactions between players in 'parallel' sports are critically important, and the math becomes very difficult when trying to account for them.

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