Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Bradman Class and Sabermetrics

My link in yesterday's blog, which was to a discussion on the validity of sabermetric methods for cricket, was itself generated by the publication of this paper in The Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.

The authors propose a new method of evaluating Test batsmen, which tries to incorporate the consistency of a batsman's innings. Someone like Alistair Cook has a high average this year, but it's a consequence of a couple of big innings, rather than consistency. His median score is quite low. The question the paper's authors don't address, however, is whether a consistent batsman is more likely to produce Test match wins. What they do look at is the relative importance of a batsman's average to that of his team-mates, but this isn't the same thing.

This is where most of what passes for sabermetric research in cricket misses the point. Ranking batsmen is jolly good fun for a discussion down the pub. What I want to know, however, is the relationship between runs and wins.

And that's what I still regard as my key discovery: it is more important to stop your wicket from being taken than to score masses of runs. This means it is more important to have bowlers who take wickets than to have batsmen who score runs. The secret to success in Test cricket is the right balance between how quickly you take wickets, and how slowly you lose them. The first building block in this is to find bowlers, not batsmen. And that raises an interesting question about the relationship between bowlers' overuse and injuries or declines in effectiveness.

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