What in the (analytics) world is going on in Toronto?
Toronto is home to four major professional sports franchises: Blue Jays (MLB), Toronto FC (MLS), Raptors (NBA), and Maple Leafs (NHL). Recent comments from Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis shed light onto the presence of analytics in the organization and inspired a look at the whole city of Toronto.
As does the rest of baseball, the Blue Jays have a clear focus on and appreciation for analytics. In 2007, then-GM J.P. Ricciardi was a keynote speaker at the inaugural MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Current GM Alex Anthopoulos continues to focus on analytics as the Blue Jays employ several statistical consultants and analysts.
Even Toronto FC has demonstrated interest in using more analytics. Despite a limited amount of analytics research in soccer and the MLS, Toronto FC has taken strides to increase the presence of analytics within the organization. The team recently hired Tim Bezbatchenko as General Manager. Bezbatchenko is expected to bring an “analytical mind to the job.”
Things get a bit more interesting when looking at the Raptors and Maple Leafs.
At first glance, it appears that the Raptors were one of the initial NBA teams to, at least publicly, employ analytics. Zach Lowe wrote, arguably one of the most interesting – and insightful – pieces on analytics in the NBA. If you recall, the article featured the Raptors and their use of SportVU cameras (now being used by the whole league). If you have not read the article, I highly encourage you do so.
A more thorough look, however, reveals that the Raptors are not as “analytics-friendly” as they may appear. The team, allegedly, was only one of three teams without at least two representatives at the 2013 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Furthermore, players DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay have openly rejected the value of analytics. While it’s not necessarily uncommon for players to be a bit more hesitant towards analytics than the front office, it’s never a good sign when they publicly – and strongly – demonstrate it.
“A lot of people get into the analytic stuff — we don’t pay no attention to that because we know how much we can help this team.” –DeRozan
“Honestly, how I view it, a computer can't tell talent, it just can't. When it comes down to it, it's all about winning, and however you get the win. According to analytics, you either [have] to shoot a 3 or get to the foul line, and it's not good for people like me that live in that mid-range area.” –Gay
Coincidently (or perhaps not), DeRozan and Gay fare quite poorly when looking at certain advanced statistics.
Through games played on November 12, the two had the following ranks for the 25 players with the most minutes (at least 276).
Though its two most important players have emphatically denied the value of analytics, the Raptors front office is indeed trying to implement analytics throughout the organization.
The same cannot be said for the Maple Leafs’ front office. James Mirtle, a Toronto-based sportswriter and radio analyst who covers the Leafs, attended the recently-held Prime Time Sports and Entertainment Conference where Leafs GM Dave Nonis spoke on a panel.
Dave Nonis: "Last six, seven years, we've had significant dollar amount, budget, for analytics, but we didn't use it."— James Mirtle (@mirtle) November 11, 2013
Nonis said Leafs have had pitches from something like a dozen different analytics people at various points. Only had interest in one group.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) November 11, 2013
Nonis: "One of the things we look for is does a player have character?... You're not going to find one HOFer that didn't have character."— James Mirtle (@mirtle) November 11, 2013
Dave Nonis on these new stats the fans/media keep bringing up: "As of right now, very few of them are worth anything to us."— James Mirtle (@mirtle) November 11, 2013
It’s no secret that the NHL is behind the MLB, NBA, and the NFL when it comes to the use of analytics. However, there is some still value present and much more value to be found. NHL teams are increasingly adopting analytics at a very fast pace. Nonis and the Leafs, however, seem content looking at “character” and traditional stats until the perfect metric comes along. Why Dave, why!?
Perhaps most interestingly, the Blue Jays, Toronto FC, Raptors, and Maple Leafs all demonstrate various stages in the analytics movement (call it what you wish).
The Maple Leafs either (a) believe in the value of analytics and just have not found something credible worth using, or (b) refuse to believe that analytics can provide value in hockey. Either way, analytics do not have much of a presence within the organization, and it does not appear they will anytime soon.
Toronto FC, a bit more open-minded, understand that analytics might have some value and began a shift in the front office by hiring an analytical-minded GM. However, there’s still much work to be done (analytics-wise) in soccer and the MLS.
With the NBA a bit more advanced analytically, the Raptors have much more to work with in terms of research and resources. As is the case with most front offices, the organization is committed to using analytics and appears to be doing so. To what extent are they committed and to what proficiency are they using these metrics? That remains to be seen within the next couple of years. One thing that is certain, however, is that two of its most important players (Gay and DeRozan) are strongly against the value and use of analytics.
With regards to analytics, the MLB is the most advanced and most established. Like all other MLB teams, the Blue Jays have clearly given analytics a presence within the organization.
One city. Four franchises. Four different positions in the analytics world.