Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Numbers, numbers, numbers

ESPN has decided that fantasy football geeks need a new stat to drool all over. According to "The Worldwide Leader," the NFL's passer rating system is passe and in need of an update. I'm not going to bore you with the details - but I will agree that that current rating system yields a number that means next to nothing.

But here's the problem with statistical analysis in football - unlike baseball in which you can boil every confrontation down to pitcher v. batter, football is a team sport and the result of a pass play is far more dependent on the other 20 players on the field.

Besides, numbers have never been nearly as important in football as they are in baseball. The rules in football change every so often because the offense, or the defense, has "too much" of an advantage. The season has expanded from 10 to 12 to 14 to 16 games. There's also the realization that every yard gained on the football field is the result of an entire team working together. In baseball, if you hang a slider, it's more than likely going to find its way into the bleachers.

Before "Big Head" Barry Bonds stole took the title of Homerun King away from Hank Aaron, everyone knew what the numbers 755 and 714 meant. Before the juicers wiped Roger Maris' single-season homerun mark off the books, everyone knew what the numbers 61 and 60 meant. Nolan Ryan is baseball's strikeout king and has thrown more no-hitters than anyone else. "The Splendid Splinter" Ted Williams is the last big-leaguer to hit over .400 for the season. Pete Rose is the all-time hits leader. Quick -- what's the significance of the number 56?

If you're a baseball fan you know that's the number of consecutive games the "Yankee Clipper" Joe DiMaggio got a hit in. And it is also one of the few records that is not likely to ever be broken.

Thanks to Bill James we can argue over a beer until the end of time who the best baseball player was. We've got batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (slugging + on-base percentage) in our debate kit. On the pitching side we've got ERA and WHIP (walks/hits per inning). In the world of baseball, these numbers mean something - they always have and they always will.

But who has the record in the NFL for most passing yards in a season? Most rushing yards? Most receptions? Most touchdowns? Most career passing yards? Most career rushing yards? And, even if you know who, what are the numbers?

We don't know because it isn't important in football.

So, thank you, ESPN, for another meaningless stat that no one outside fantasy football will concern themselves with. Just like the esteemed members of our legislature, ESPN has created a solution for a problem that didn't exist.

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