Monday, April 8, 2019

A Data Analyst Looking to Change the Way Teams Analyze Cricketers

Dan Weston is a data analyst who is trying to break cricket's traditionalists and conformists with a numbers based approach. Here he talks about the mistakes that T20 teams make in ignoring key number based data.

Think about T20 cricket leagues around the world and what comes straight to your mind? Sixes, boundaries galore, fireworks, music, cheerleaders and dancers, cricketers mixing with celebrities, and so on. Cricket's T20 leagues around the world, and the IPL in particular, are big entertainment extravaganzas that mixes the glitz and the glamour with cricket!

Twenty years ago, it would not have even been considered cricket by the purists.

The same purists today believe that cricket should be played according to a certain tradition. And the same goes for analysis. Their ways of analyzing the game are also traditional.

Playing conditions and formats have changed over the years, and the way the game is played now is also different from how it was in the past eras. Similarly, the way the game is analyzed should also change and that is what data analyst Dan Weston is doing.

He does this for all countries where cricket is played, including India, where the IPL is currently being staged, a tournament where the Chennai Super Kings are favorites on the back of their supremacy in the league over the past decade and more.

Check out online bookmakers or try betting with Betway and you will see how highly rated the Super Kings are.

“Quite a few coaches are old school, so it’s difficult to get them to buy into what you’re offering,” says Weston. “There are just not enough fresh voices. Cricket is full of inane data like: ‘This is the slowest century by an English batsman on a Tuesday.’ It’s completely worthless.”

“If a bloke like myself can sit in an office and produce decent theories and data about T20 cricket, then I see no reason why a team with bigger resources can’t do the same,” he says.

This has resulted in Weston limiting his public data analysis.

“I wrote an analysis of 10 English players who would perform well in the subcontinent and the top five all got signed,” he says.
Weston analyzes cricketers across formats and across different playing conditions around the world. He uses his data and numbers collated through millions of ball by ball data to predict certain outcomes for players.

Weston became a cricket analyst after producing exhaustive data on tennis, which he utilized to bet on tennis matches. Once he realized that his tennis data and analysis could be transferred to cricket, he figures that he could make cricket analysis more suitable to today's times by applying his learning.

According to Weston, errors being made in the sport. He says “you name it, they’ll make that mistake, be it selection, recruitment, in-game tactics”. 

This led him to set up a data analytics business, which will support cricket teams, players, and agents by eliminating errors and providing more accurate and suitable data to make the decisions required to succeed.

Weston's model is complicated.

He analyzes each player individually by going through his recorded ball-by-ball data and makes adjustments to the players' average, strike rate, economy rate, etc. based on recency, opposition, and playing conditions. Based on this analysis, Weston determines the expected performance for each player for an upcoming tournament.

Basically, Weston produces a comprehensive assessment of how a player will perform in an upcoming competition, based on which he recommends players to teams around the world, including for the IPL, Big Bash, T20 Blast, and others.

“Cricket is a conditions-driven sport,” he says, “so a T20 Blast match at Canterbury will be a pace-orientated affair, whereas in Dhaka it’s going to be spinner-friendly and low-scoring. If a batsman performs well at Canterbury, does that really apply to a match in Dhaka? Probably not. There’s limited relevance. So I analyse how historically similar players have made the transition from one league to another. I might be asked to find a pace bowler for the T20 Blast, where an Australian will be quite highly-rated, as opposed to the IPL, where they haven’t thrived as much as their reputation would suggest because of the quality of the league.”

Weston says that what he does can easily be replicated by teams.

“Lots of high-profile players are signed based on reputation rather than current ability. Take Brendon McCullum: he’s got a poor record against spin bowling, he doesn’t keep wicket anymore, yet subcontinental teams are signing him as a marquee player. It makes no sense whatsoever."

“Then you see players signed based on reputation from another format."

“So Sam Curran played very well against India in Test matches last summer and has subsequently got a mega IPL deal despite the fact that his T20 data is not particularly impressive. I will continue to argue that he is an anti-moneyball signing.”

Weston believes that at times teams tend to cram a lot of versatile players into one team, which decreases the impact they can have on a game. Weston in fact has the data and numbers that prove the effectiveness of specialists in T20 cricket.

“You don’t want to stick an all-rounder at No. 9 because he’s just not going to bat,” he says. “The average No. 8 faces about seven balls per match, and the average No. 9 faces about four balls per match. If those guys are required to face more than the average, your top order batsmen haven’t done their job properly."

“For No. 9, 10 and 11 you just want an out-and-out specialist bowler who would perhaps then be capable of playing a five-ball cameo. If you pick too many all-rounders you end up compromising where they bowl, because often they turn out not to be very good death bowlers.”

It is quite strange that even with such brilliant insights, Weston is seeking out more work rather than turning it down. He says that he knows that teams from around the world were using his work without engaging him as a consultant.

“That includes guys like Wayne Madsen, who had never had an overseas contract before."

“A lot of the time people say they don’t have the financial capabilities to pay for my work, but I don’t buy into that theory at all. You can’t tell me that a cricket team has no financial wastage."

“If they were to use my data, they would be able to release a player and free up the money to pay for a consultant. It’s an indictment of the game at the moment.”

Weston believes that cricket coaching and analysis is starting to change. He believes that younger coaches will bring on more emphasis on data analysis, the kind that he produces.

“I think things will change in the next decade or so,” he says. “We’ll find that cricket will turn to much more of a baseball-orientated, stats-driven sport.”

When this does happen, it will lead everyone back to the efforts of one Dan Weston.

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