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Sunday, August 09, 2009

TFT: Chopra: Cricket Could Learn from Baseball When It Comes to Fielding Stats

I have no idea what he is talking about…and let’s keep it that way! (opens Bud top with trusty Fastenal brochure lip)

In that regard, the suggestion by many cricket fans that its statistics learn from baseball is an interesting one, especially since it regards fielding. Cricket has a large number of statistics for batsmen and bowlers but very few sensible ones for fielders. Sure, you can get a handle on the number of catches taken by a fielder but how many did he drop over the course of his career? We don’t know. Does the fielder generally drop catches in the outfield but not close in? We don’t know. How many runs did a fielder save in a game? Over his career? Who is the most valuable fielder of all? The list goes on and on.  For a game like cricket, this is a staggering anomaly.

The problem is that many of these statistics are simply not collected or scored for fielders.  And thus there is no sensible way to compare fielders other than at some superficial level like noting some aggregate statistic like catches taken. From that point onward it turns to a subjective assessment of their respective skills.

Batsmen’s strike rates were once not collected; now they are an integral part of the game. Cricket’s attitudes towards its fielding statistics needs rethinking, especially since fielding, in every sensible cricket fan’s mind, has changed dramatically, and for the better, in the course of the last twenty years.  I urge Faster Times readers to search YouTube for great cricket catches. The athleticism and skills on display are staggering; a little quantification to keep us fans chattering away for years would be nice.

Repoz Posted: August 09, 2009 at 04:13 PM | 9 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: international, sabermetrics

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   1. Greg K Posted: August 09, 2009 at 05:26 PM (#3286555)
I'm so used to thinking about defensive stats in baseball as fundamentally limited, but really...they probably are further advanced than any other sport. Cricket apparently, hockey definetely. I'm not as familiar with basketball or football, but it certainly seems like football defensive stats aren't super useful.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: August 09, 2009 at 07:19 PM (#3286651)
Given that cricket teams score something along the lines of 250 runs per 9 outs (if they ever even get to 9 outs) and not all those outs involve fielding ... fielding simply has very little effect. There is probably nothing more "wow" inspiring than a great cricket catch -- and, fair enough, that single catch might save 50 runs -- most fielding outs are lazy fly balls and those great catches are instinct (i.e. they're like a great diving stop of a liner). Plus you're talking about very small sample sizes as well.
   3. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: August 09, 2009 at 07:53 PM (#3286679)
Defensive stats in football are worse than not useful. They're a joke. Even the simplest counting stat - tackles recorded - is a total fabrication.
   4. G. Bostock Posted: August 09, 2009 at 08:46 PM (#3286722)
fielding simply has very little effect

Talk about a debatable statement...

You're on safer ground with the sample size argument, Walt. The main impact of fielding in cricket is in the slip cordon and wicket keeper, and their dropped chances. There actually aren't that many good chances that go begging in a given match, maybe one or two per innings. (Obviously, some matches have quite a few, others not even that many.) Furthermore, about half of all dropped catches, on my empirical impression, are difficult chances to begin with. On Friday, in the Fourth Test between England and Australia, Marcus North, playing for Australia, made a one-handed grab off England's Andrew Strauss. Most people think it was pretty amazing. I thought it was one of those 50-50 chances - a good fielder would nab it; but if an average fielder missed it, one wouldn't accuse him of dropping a 'sitter'.

One does see dropped catches outside the slip cordon, but again these are uncommon. Most 'fly balls' that are catchable get caught. Most fielding sides might see one or two of these in a Test match. They seem more common in One-Day Internationals, but that's a reflection of a different requirement on the batsmen in the short-form of the game.

I certainly think that cricket could do a bit more with fielding. As in soccer, we need a better record of 'chances'. (Shots on target in soccer is a good proxy for that, but they don't normally record the player taking the shot in the easily available records.) Beyond that, in terms of 'salixmetrics', I don't think more extensive fielding statistics would add a great deal to our understanding of what it takes to win a cricket match. There's so much potentially important data we don't record about the confrontation between the batsman and the bowler, that putting a lot of effort into fielding seems a distraction.
   5. jwb Posted: August 09, 2009 at 10:23 PM (#3286786)
Even the simplest counting stat - tackles recorded - is a total fabrication.
Even if they were counted accurately, there is so much team context involved, they make rating baseball players by RBIs look downright sensible. [Rant deleted because I don't keep up with high level football statistical analysis and they may be making adjustments for number of plays and personnel and philosophical approaches to defense.]
   6. philistine Posted: August 10, 2009 at 12:18 AM (#3286836)
It's not just the statisticians, the selectors don't seem to think about fielding in cricket - at least in Test matches.

In the one-day games, a player like Jonty Rhodes would be said to be worth "30 runs a game" regularly by commentators. The figure had been plucked from the air and became one of those "facts" that any commentator would state. Not only would Jonty save runs, he'd effect run outs because of the hesitation he'd create in the batsmen's minds about whether there was a single or not. Good fielding teams are looking to create two or three wickets per (one-day) match.

Now you see most sides have at least one excellent fielder in one-day games - it's become an almost essential part of the team. I'd expect teams to be estimating the value of fielding in one-day cricket if they are not actually measuring it.
   7. Rally Posted: August 10, 2009 at 01:15 AM (#3286891)
I'm not as familiar with basketball or football, but it certainly seems like football defensive stats aren't super useful.

The official stats are crap. In basketball you've got blocks and steal, which gives you information about maybe 10% of the defensive possessions. Tackles don't tell you anything. You get a tackle whether you brought the guy down for a 5 yard loss or 60 yard gain.

But like in baseball, there are people doing very good analysis with play-by-play data.
   8. Honkie Kong Posted: August 10, 2009 at 10:42 AM (#3287278)
The problem with cricket fielding stats is teh lack of data. And really, there are so many positioning issues, zones as a concept would eb very hard to work.

Just coming up with a model to estimate fielders' value would be big.

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