On +/- and such

2010 January 7
by rahat huq

“Chill out! Plus/minus is not invading. It’s not here to take over. The women and children are safe. Plus/minus will not replace everything you ever thought you knew about sports. It’s not here to extreminate your coach, your MVP voter or your eyes.”

Writing in TrueHoop, Henry Abbott makes a great case for +/-, and, in the process, proves that he’s far kinder than I.

I don’t find the arguments – if they even can be considered as such – advanced by the critics of +/- (and the various other related metrics) to be even worthy of the dignity such diligence as Henry’s affords.

The ever-predictable, now laughably cliche “just watch the damn games!” contention really only serves to underscore the root of the matter: in a display of basic conceptual misunderstanding, the detractors are merely attacking a strawman.

Not one credible proponent has actually claimed self-sufficiency on behalf of the modern metrics.  Advanced stats are not intended as replacements for observational analysis nor are they meant to serve as definitive proofs. Their value is as supplemental tools; aids to quantify, not exclude, that which we actually see.

When evident, few things should more greatly be cause for embarrassment than argument on the pretense of incomprehension.

But of course, as Abbott said, it’s only natural that this anti-intellectual paranoia would so bravely defend its last sacred sphere.  The nerds cannot be allowed free rein within the heavenly domain of sports.  There would be nowhere left to hide.

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  • Ish
    Taking a quick glance at the forums and the comments section of ANY basketball article on ESPN it is clear who plus/minus has offended and why it has become such a big deal... the simple reason every KOBE fan HATES plus/minus and any advanced statistical measure.

    Why? Because these stats point out heavy flaws in their favorite player's games and every measure points to other players such as Lebron being more efficient and perhaps better (I say perhaps because better is extremely subjective).

    Even looking at Abbot's post on +/- it is clear he was addressing the plethora of posters on the previous Wayne Winston interview who claimed according to +/- that Dirk is the MVP.. Naturally the imbecile Fakers went nuts and proclaimed +/- and stats to be the devil.
  • Kevin
    The best use of +/- is finding the effectiveness of a 5 man unit. I question the results of using it to find the effectiveness of an individual player. You also have to be mindful of sample size when using +/-. Abbott uses +/- to find the effectiveness of an individual player in a game (Andre Miller). He thinks that Miller going for Orebs and not getting back on D led to a bad +/-. That may have been true in this game, but chances are Miller will do the exact same thing in another game and have wildly different results in +/-. This is a stat that swings way too much to be judging individual games.
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