Lies, damn lies… and the newspapers
“There are lies, fucking lies and statistics.”
A phrase originally attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, by the great American writer Mark Twain, but there is no record of Disraeli ever having uttered it.
Does anyone else see the irony in a statement about the origin of a phrase about statistics that turns out to be meaningless?
There have always been, and always will be, many examples of deliberately misleading statements, the most famous of late being next to a big red bus, used to persuade voters to vote for Brexit.
When it’s just a misrepresentation it’s called a “lie”, but call that lie “a statistic” and somehow it suddenly has a kind of magical credibility that doesn’t can be questioned.
Unfortunately, the same seems to apply to sports statistics.
I have said many times, and I see no reason to stop now, that the only relevant “statistics” are goals for and goals against during the match. Everything else is breadsticks, designed to fill out an otherwise disappointing meal.
My “favorite stat” right now is xG (expected goals). When I say “favorite stat” of course I mean “useless to anyone, full of old dribbling, far from accurate, lying”, but xG is a topic for another day.
This morning, I read an article stuffed with “statistics” to convince me how great a goalkeeper Nick Pope is.
Now I happen to agree with that, an opinion formed by watching every one of Newcastle United’s league games this season, so yes he’s a top tier keeper, and if he doesn’t part of the England squad, no, even the starting line- up, it’ll be a travesty, but when you then start throwing so-called ‘statistics’ at me to prove your point, I’ll be right in your face every time.
To demonstrate the ‘flaw’ in these stats I’m going to compare Pope’s performance to Wolves keeper Jose Sa, and yes before you jump in I understand Sa is not English but that in no way negates way my logic here.
In the first six games of the season, Pope made an astonishing 28 saves. ” To hit ! Great!” As Jim Bowen might have said.
Jose Sa, according to the enlightened, has only made 17 saves, so logic dictates that Pope is much better than Sa. Or does he?
The two guards kept six clean sheets. Pretty even there.
But Sa only conceded four goals while Pope conceded six! Oh, then Sa must be better than Pope.
But then Sa’s conceded goals ended in two defeats, while Pope, conceding 50% more goals than Sa, has just one defeat against him.
Then Pope had 91 shots against him, 36 of which were considered by statisticians to be “on target”, while Sa had 70 and 20 respectively.
So do we say that the pope saved 28 out of 91 (30%) or 28 out of 36 (78%).
Sa’s numbers would be 17 out of 70 (24%) or 17 out of 20 (85%).
If you take the first digit, Pope is better, but if you take the second, Sa is significantly better.
Personally, it would make sense to me for the valid number to be saves made against shots on target, making Sa, statistically, the better goalkeeper.
So what are the factors to consider when determining the number of backups performed?
Obviously, that should include who we played against and how many shots that opponent had. I think it’s fair to assume that Man City will give Pope more shots than, say, Forest?
I was heartbroken when I recently suggested that our brilliant second half of last season was largely ‘helped’ by the fact that we had played most of our 12 games against the ‘big six’ before the end of January, and in the same way that it helped our run, the fact that we had already played against Man City and Liverpool added 44 shots to the tally for Pope to try.
But he’s not trying to save every shot, he’s only aiming for those he thinks will come in.
There is another factor to consider! His idea of what might happen and the ideas of other keepers might add or subtract to the number of “stops” they make!
Then there is the quality of the shots. Does saving three misplaced dribbles straight into your hands make you a better keeper than the guy saving an 18-yard thunderbolt from De Bruyne flat out?
Then, of course, you have to consider how many of those shots were blocked by defenders or ricocheted off another attacker, preventing Pope from making another save to add to the list!
So, as you can see, we don’t have to go too far into modern fashionable numbers, to see that the number of saves our keeper makes isn’t really related to his quality, as much only to the quality of the opposition, and how bad their defense is.
Many years ago, statistics told us that 80% of dentists recommended Colgate toothpaste, so moms across the country shot down the local co-op in an effort to save little Billy’s yellowed teeth.
It turns out that the statistics were misleading and that 80% of dentists had actually recommended the use of toothpaste.
The sports stats feature is purely entertaining.
To close gaps when the ball is out of play.
The icing on the cake of choosing an interesting fact, manipulating it, and now trying to match it to your argument is a development that has been seized upon by those without a valid argument to try to capture the gullible .
We must remember that the same logic used to prove most statistics also led to the conclusion “If it weighed the same as a duck…it’s wooden.”
Pope is quality and has been a brilliant addition to the team, but don’t try to convince me that I’m right based on meaningless numbers.