For Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and their acolytes, sports analytics proved transformative. Today, sports analytics are more necessities than differentiators, and as we watch the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs, and hear of the Twins building an analytics department to rival the CIA, you won’t need a calculator to figure out why certain teams succeed and others fail.
Judging personality is the oldest sports analytic, and the most important.
Baseball scouts have long called this “makeup.” They’re not talking about mascara; they’re talking about something deeper than cosmetics — discipline, ambition, adaptability, coachability, leadership and the willingness to fit into a team.
Miguel Sano possesses All-Star and perhaps MVP talent. Analytics can inform his approach at the plate — he is much better when he is willing to drive the ball to right-center. Personality will determine whether he can develop the discipline to adopt the correct approach, keep himself in optimal shape and capitalize on his immense gifts.
Eddie Rosario is a little more than half Sano’s size. Since signing with the Twins he has often shown a willingness to swing at bad pitches, but he is a determined young player who has proved to be durable, and who has learned to harness his aggressiveness at the plate in a way that has made him the Twins’ best all-around player since midsummer of 2017.
The Timberwolves have built their best team since 2004. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns are deserving All-Stars, and Andrew Wiggins might be the most talented athlete on the team.
Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA draft. He has worked to become a powerful athlete and a quality shooter. He is also headstrong and capable of dividing a team or franchise, as his mid-playoff critiques of his teammates proved.
Butler could stay in Minnesota long-term and become a franchise leader, or he could leave in a year and destroy what Tom Thibodeau is trying to build. Analytics will tell you that the Wolves need to improve at three-point shooting. Duh. What will determine the near future of the franchise is personality — how Butler handles his leadership role, how players and key members of the organization react to Thibodeau’s demanding nature and whether Wiggins ever learns to compete consistently.
Conversely, the Lynx are the gold standard for Minnesota sports excellence and stability. While the team’s talent is undeniable, the key personalities and how they mesh make this team capable of winning a fifth title in eight years.
Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson could fight over shots and honors. They instead have chosen to adapt their offense to what each situation or series demands, and under coach Cheryl Reeve they have created a template for superstar unselfishness.
The Lynx employ analytics, yet insist that the key to their success is the compatibility of their personalities.
The Wild, for years, has been defined by the personality of recently fired General Manager Chuck Fletcher. Ambitious and impatient, Fletcher displayed desperation in free agency and the trade market, giving away assets without markedly improving his team.
The Twins, under Terry Ryan, displayed his foremost traits — hard work and loyalty. According to a few of his friends in the organization, those traits led Ryan to become too reliant on a handful of key figures, and unwilling to make major changes that would have cost the jobs of longtime allies.
For the Vikings, analytics will determine how they build an offense around Kirk Cousins — which pass plays create the best chance of success for him. Cousins’ personality — his ability to handle championship-level pressure, to handle the responsibilities of a highly paid franchise quarterback — will set the ceiling for a franchise that believes it should win a Super Bowl.
Analytics are a necessary component for a winning modern sports franchise.
You want to win a championship? You’d better have the right kinds and combinations of people in the locker room, and the front office.