How well does Jimmy Butler shoot when he doesn’t dribble before firing? How many posts have the Wild hit this season? Which Viking was the fastest while carrying the ball Sunday against the Saints? How well did opponents hit the slider of new Twins reliever Addison Reed in 2017?
The answers: 47.7 percent shooting for Butler, 21 posts for the Wild, receiver Jarius Wright (19 miles per hour) and a .239 batting average off Reed’s slider.
You don’t have to go to some obscure website in the dark corners of the internet to find that information, nor do you have to pay a data-gathering service. Instead, those statistics and thousands of others like them are available for free on the leagues’ official websites.
Analytics and advanced stats have crept more into the mainstream conversation of American sports in the past two decades and within the past few years, leagues have embraced the revolution instead of trying to fight against it.
“A knowledgeable fan is an engaged fan,” NBA vice president of media operations and technology Ken DeGennaro said. “The more you know about the game, the more you know about the nuance of the game, the more interest you’re going to show in and around the game.”
Or as John Dellapina, spokesman for the NHL, put it: “If we can post them, there’s no reason not to.”
Each of the four biggest pro leagues have revamped the kind of information they present to fans — and how quickly they can deliver it. The NBA overhauled its website in 2013 and posted all kinds of advanced statistics such as usage rate and player-impact estimates, along with tracking data on the types of shots players were taking and the defense they faced on those shots. It also provides advanced stats for former players as well as current ones. Want to check Michael Jordan’s usage rate for a 1998 game? Go for it.
“We should make this available and there shouldn’t be anything proprietary in and around this data,” DeGennaro said. “It helps tell a better story around the game. … Put the data in fans’ hands, let them know, let them absorb and let them come up with their own discussion points.”
Beginning in the 2016-17 season, the NHL added shot total metrics, also known as Corsi and Fenwick, to its website. It now boasts data for how well teams control the puck when a team is tied, leading or behind in a game, and how shots miss the net — if they miss high, wide or off the post or crossbar.
“People can argue about whether any individual piece of analytics is an accurate representation of how the game is played, how useful it is, but unless it’s just bad math, there’s no reason not to include it if you can,” Dellapina said.
The NFL has made available some of its “Next-Gen” statistics, which track speed and distance covered by players during games and on certain plays. It can tell you how far a player actually travels on a touchdown run and how fast he goes.
Major League Baseball has similar player tracking technology with its Statcast, which changed coverage when it debuted in 2015. The league uses cameras and radar technology in every ballpark to now map statistics such as spin rate on pitches, track outfielders’ speed and their probability of making a catch on a fly ball. You can find this data on the league’s official home for it, baseballsavant.com.
“Ten to 12 years ago, it was kind of this niche thing and if you knew the right spots to go to, you could find this kind of stuff,” said Michael Petriello, an analyst for MLB.com. “Now it’s everywhere. It’s on our broadcasts, you hear fans talking about it in the stands and see it actively being used on the field.”
There are plenty of nonleague affiliated websites to get this kind of information. Sports-reference.com provides a wealth of searchable data across all sports, as do places like FanGraphs in baseball, Natural Stat Trick in hockey, Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus for the NFL, while ESPN has its own advanced stats for different sports.
The trick for teams is how best to utilize their data. Numbers don’t mean much if you can’t act on them.
“If it’s not actually being used on the field to help the team, it’s not being used well and I think teams are getting a lot better at that,” Petriello said.
There has never been a better time for those craving the information only teams used to have.
It has never been easier to find.
Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune’s new sports analytics beat. Find his stories at startribune.com/sports.