Seldom Used Reserve was born out of a love for numbers and their usefulness in telling the story of sporting events.  Human memories are often wrong, misguided or biased, so I thought I could sway some minds, or at least give a new perspective, by putting numbers to “paper” and explaining their usefulness.

After some success, I got away from it for a few years due to family obligations and I went back to watching games and commenting on what I saw on the field, not what I saw in Excel.

A funny thing happened when I returned: I began to believe that most of the new metrics are bunk.

While I still find the numbers useful at times, especially in baseball, I rely less on them now than I ever have and rely more on the eyeball test.

As the numbers craze has boomed, so has the number of “experts” using them, believes in them blindly (even if they don’t understand them) and will happily tell you you’re a moron if you dare question their conclusions.

I’ve listened to podcasts (listened, as in past tense) that do nothing but spew out terms like “line yards” and “EPA” (expected points added) in explaining why team A is going to cover the spread against team B.  

It almost sounds like they’ve never watched a game and my guess is that in some cases they haven’t watched many.

Most of this is in an effort to cover all 130 college football teams.  There’s no way that can be done, but getting clicks demands a podcast/show/twitter that covers every possible team, so they use scrapers to create an algorithm that does that for them and that way they don’t have to bother to watch the games, they can just spew out meaningless numbers and sound smart.  

There’s also the “go for it on 4th down” crowd that continually blasts coaches for not going for it on 4th down because “the EPA there is +.02 on 4th and 3 if you go for it and if you punt it’s +.01.  What a stupid decision.”  Says the guy drinking his latte on the couch without a multimillion dollar contract and the sweat of 120 kids on the line.

Often, there’s no room for context like, oh I don’t know, 4th and 3 against the Georgia defense or 4th and 3 against the Connecticut defense? Spreadsheets don’t lie.   

These guys typically hate field goals unless their team is driving down 2 with 3 seconds to go.  Then they love field goals.  These guys are never wrong.  I’m sure you’ve met him on Twitter or a message board.

There’s rarely context about game situations, or if you’ve got your third team, former walk-on running back in the game due to injury, whether your at home or road, how good your offensive line is, opposing defensive line, how good (or not) your punter is, or any other of a myriad of potential situations coaches process when making these decisions. “I looked at my spreadsheet and it said they should have gone for it.”  It’s pure lunacy. 

Two recent examples are the aforementioned line yard discussion and the vaunted SP+ metric.  Last week someone had the temerity to tweet a list of the best offensive lines per the line yard metric and that list included Clemson’s offensive line at 10th best in line yards in 2021.  I know this:  if your metric includes the Clemson offensive line as 10th best in anything it’s time to rethink your metric.  

Spreadsheets don’t lie!

Mind you, this is a metric that even the creators say “is not perfect” and a variety of factors can’t be included.  Hmmm, sounds like a wild guess to me. 

Yet it’s used, repeated, regurgitated and praised as the metric that tells us how good an offensive line is.

Five minutes later I saw Bill Connelly’s SP+ metric that had 4-3 (at the time) Clemson rated number 4 in the nation.  The excuses flow from his accolytes explaining that I’m too stupid to understand it.  That’s a distinct possibility, but I’m not too stupid to understand Clemson is not the 4th best team in the nation.  I think Connolly is really smart.  I think having Clemson at #4 is really stupid.

As mentioned, this is born of the excess of human beings trying to rank and analyze 130 teams because we must include every team to be “legitimate”. We have to have more and more and more.  That drives clicks and clicks drive idiocy.

The explosion really occurred as sports betting became more popular and accessible across the country.  It’s not enough to watch the games, form an opinion and go from there.  We can’t watch all the games, so we must measure everything and everyone and immerse ourselves in numbers that are often a) wrong or b) misleading or c) ridiculous. But people believe them and rely on them. 

It’s the American excess story. People want to bet and they don’t want to bet on a few games, they want options and somehow these ridiculous numbers from “experts” give them comfort, even though in one instance their creator admits the metric is flawed and the other is obviously not accurate. But we got numbers and we can now “safely” bet on Ball State and Miami of Ohio!

That way, we can blame someone else for our losses.  It’s the American way.

Numbers can be a valuable tool when they are a valid measure of something, but I’ve long stopped believing that you can make a decision on a football game based solely on what’s on a spreadsheet.

Me, I still use numbers at times, but they’re ancillary to what I see on the field.  If I’m deciding whether or not Clemson is a top 10 offensive line I’m not using the flawed “Line Yards” metric, but rather my eyeballs and common sense, which seems to be in short supply these days.

More of us should try it.  

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