Senseless rant or brilliant diatribe? Don La Greca rails on analytics use in sports

Don La Greca is a sports commentator, radio and tv personality. He works with Michael Kay on ESPN radio, covers the Rangers and NHL. He’s also known for his epic rants from time to time.

The Rant!

This week, La Greca finally snapped on the use of analytics in sports. His focus was on some nonsense about the NY Giants offensive line, which is terrible. You know what, see it for yourself.

Regardless of his antics, he is SPOT ON! If you listen, and I mean listen, this isn’t a rant against the stats but how they are used (overused and misused in my opinion). This is about people who seem to be on a mission to create sports narratives based on numbers. Because they know about these stats, it makes them smarter than you. That’s the real issue.

He’s Right

It took about a day for this rant to go viral and has been met with its fair share of criticism. The funniest being La Greca’s mocking of the Pythagorean Theorem. Stats lovers have decided that’s the way to negate or disprove his argument. While a theorem is a statement that has been proven over time by other established statements, these brilliant people still missed the point. In sports, there will always be far too many variables to make accurate predictions or speak in absolute truths.

They also don’t seem to get the joke. La Greca isn’t a mathematician, most people aren’t but we’ve almost all heard of the Pythagorean Theorem. So the fact that he used a popular math term in his rant, doesn’t discredit his argument either. It actually makes those focused on that single point look like they really don’t have a valid counter argument. That’s because they usually don’t.

Value In Numbers

“What do you mean my stats are fancy?”

I’ve said it before, advanced analytics are here to stay and that’s a good thing. There is nothing wrong with more data, but hockey and other sports not named baseball, can’t be broken down into a single repeatable event. Simply put, batter A may face pitcher B 30 times over the course of a season. In essence that is a one on one repeatable event and valued information can be garnered from that. Same for how a batter or pitcher does against righties and lefties.

In hockey, there are far too many things happening on one shift or one play to ever be considered repeatable. It is organized chaos on ice, plain and simple. That doesn’t discredit the stats being utilized and improved upon today. However, trying to continuously drive nonsensical narratives like higher corsi teams/players do better is ridiculous.

Once again, corsi is a byproduct, like a goal, of what happened on the ice. We’ve known for decades that the teams that shoot more will likely win more. It’s not because of corsi, it’s because of the talent being better and the game plan being effective. NHL GM’s and coaches do not build teams or game plan to be better at corsi. That’s a fact.

Advanced stats are and will continue to be, just one tool of many in evaluating players and teams in all sports. When you effectively marry that with being able to spot intangibles like heart, toughness, and character you can build a winner.

Thank You, Don!

4 comments

  • If you ever listen to Kay on the Yankee broadcast, he is killing me with all the effing stats he throws out there. Awful….Good job by LaGreca

  • OBOY, this guy’s my new HERO!!!!
    It’s about time SOMEBODY ranted against these “mathematicians” who can’t do anything except add, subtract, multiply and divide life into columns of numbers!!
    If we let them have their way, might just as well not even play the game—all you would need is the best statistician to tell you who will win!!! What CRAP!!!!
    It doesn’t take a genius to watch hockey (as an example) for years and years to come up with what it takes to win. It takes heart, desire, work, skill and many more INTANGIBLE things to produce a winner! Just look at all the “sure things” and “can’t misses” that got nowhere. Compare them to all the undersized, slower, skinny, fat, and otherwise “also rans” that succeed in all sports, regardless of how deficient they are compared to the “statisical” hockey player! We can all come up with a ton of these guys, starting with Zucc, St. Louis(just as two examples)! Conversly, we can also come up with those who supposedly “can,t miss” potential stars who have been no more than mediocre when push comes to shove! ( Please don’t ask me to name some, there are MANY on this team that fit in this group. we all know who they are)!
    This is the truth about all atheletes— you have to WANT TO WIN!! And, you have to WORK to your absolute limit, ALWAYS, to make it!
    If you have all the so-called necessary statisical attributes, and don’t apply them, you’ll get nowhere. On the other hand, if you have the DRIVE to be the best, and are not blessed with more than average skills, most times you can achieve success.
    Three cheers for Don La Greca!!!!!

  • Advanced stats have their place….for GMs and agents during contract negotiations. My theory on stats is, if the average fan can’t figure out how they are arrived at, then, to me, they are useless in their ability to quantify what they mean. And if different stat agencies figure the same stat different ways, how is the fan supposed to look at them? WAR in baseball is the perfect example. Two different stat websites use the stat and figure them differently. So in one site Kluber has the best pitcher stats and in the other Sale does, but Kluber is 7th!! WTF? The eyetest works for most things, simple stats for the others.

  • I agree with the article and have always said you can’t just go by this corsi tool. As far as Lagreca goes I could do without his rants. To me it all looks like an act. He wants to have his own identity. Half the time he’s going on and on and it’s not even on point anymore.

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