Numb-ers - The Name Just Says it All

Why Favre's quarterbacking stats do not carry the day in the real world.

Statistics appear in many discussions of sports.  Let's not be fooled.  The next time someone unloads stats on you in a sports argument, the answer is: So what?  You cannot determine from stats if Brett Favre will be the best choice at quarterback or not.

Weaknesses exist in using statistics or applying any mathematical modeling.  Maybe the stuff sounds like rocket science, but it's not taking you to the moon.

If the mathematical modeling of the economy had been correct about the underpinning of those agreements called financial derivatives, the ecomony would still be running like a top, but it collapsed.  Why did that happen?  After all, they paid big bucks and hired the best math majors to work it all out.  Oops!  Real people don't buy and abandon houses like the model said.  Brett Favre is not an equation.  He is not a record book.

Sure, a computer weaker than your laptop can navigate to the moon, but all the hardware at NSA won't guarantee who is the best choice at quarterback.

If the richest financial corporations and math geeks cannot predict the safest bet in the marketplace, how is that guy with a beer next to you going to prove Brett Favre will be a bust in Minnesota in 2009?

He's not.   Let's talk.


Let me call my first witness to tell us a root of the problem.  (Calling the dead for testimony is the last refuge of a scoundrel.  They can't do this kind of thing on Law and Order, but being a sports blogger is more fun than being a TV lawyer.)  In the case against statistics, the prosecution calls to the stand the late Alfred Korzybski, Polish-American scientist and philosopher.

The map is not the territory.  - A. Korzybski


You cannot always build a mathematical model that will guarantee you what the best decision is in certain complex situations, namely those that exceed human comprehension.  No computer is going to reliably tell you that a Joe Namath is going to win the Super Bowl, because even the best Madden is not the real pro football, and Joe has more variables than you know what to do with.  Many games are determined by things so unusual, you'll never know what hit you. 

The next time someone hands you stats, please take it with a grain of salt.   Even if stats rule the past, the past is over.  What happened yesterday is not a guarantee for tomorrow.

But worse than that, the relevant stats often mentioned have nothing to do with how well Favre throws.  To learn more, on which stats will count in making Favre quarterback, read on

This mathematical stuff of IBM-you-make-the-Call works for picking moves in games like Tic-Tac-Toe, but if you have two properly programmed computers duking it out at Tic-Tac-Toe, they'll play to a draw every darn time until the power goes out.   What good does that do us?   More importantly, real life or even NFL football is more complex than Tic-Tac-Toe.   If Madden 2009 were an accurate model of pro football, we'd still notice the same team does not always win the game.  The best edge you have in Madden is a tendency.  But which tendencies rule?

To plagiarize a line from the Bard of Avon's Hamlet, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.   A stinking Super Madden cannot tell me if Brett Favre is the best choice for a Vikings starting quarterback or not.  In 1969, stats and bookies said Joe Namath was nuttier than a fruitcake, and that was before they knew the guy would wear panty hose.  Joe got the Super Bowl ring anyway. 

We all know those numbers that get stuck into Madden every year are not a gift from the gods, or even based on the record books, and the record books would only tell us what did happen, not what will happen.  Sports ability is not measureable by individual stats.  Football is a team sport.  Favre alone will not determine Favre's performance.  The interactions are vast.   You've got no data on Favre throwing to Percy Harvin.   You would need a statisically large enough sample size of them to measure the expected result of each event with any given statistical confidence level, and like it or not, Brett Favre is dynamic, meaning he changes and he's not your Packer Backer's Brett.   He's not the same Brett Favre as the 1991 rookie or the 1997 Super Bowl Champion or even the 2008 New York Jet.   Your history is based on a Brett Favre who no longer exists with a team for whom he no longer plays.  They only give some indication of who Brett may be in 2009, but they are not the real Brett Favre.  

For my next witness, I call on a dead comedian:

I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.  - Rodney Dangerfield

I loved the 1986 movie "Back to School."  Dangerfield plays a rich businessman, Thorton Melon, who goes to college.  He hires Kurt Vonnegut to write his literature paper about Kurt Vonnegut.  Melon gets an "F" on his essay, returned with the comment from the teacher that the author clearly knows nothing about Kurt Vonnegut.

We cannot predict the future any better than we predict the weather.   Things we never considered could happen do happen, and things that happen are determined by factors to small for us to measure in advance.  If the meteor streaking toward us is out of range of our detectors, we face the same bad day as the dinosaurs did 65 million years ago.  It does not matter if that meteor was the ultimate cause of death or not.  It was not a good day to be on planet Earth.

Ah, you may say, but what has this to do with Brett Favre?   We know Brett Favre, don't we?  The guys been in the NFL for eighteen seasons.   Certainly we can consult some sort of actuary and determine how dead his arm should be, pull a few key stats, and there you have it, no?     Um, no. 

The map is not the territory, and the numbers we pull are like apples and oranges.  Brett's right arm is a population of one.  We might assume that Brett's arm is like every other quarterback's arm, but assumptions are your worst nightmare.  We already know Brett's arm is not like every other quarterback's arm.  The guy has thrown with bad mechanics is entire career.   Kids may say they want to throw like Brett Favre.  Good coaches with tell them, no, you don't.   Bad mechanics mean he's a lousy quarterback, right?   (We'll discuss that in Canton, Ohio, later.)

Bubble bees fly even though aeronautical science once said they couldn't.  The bees ignorantly kept airborne.  Aeronautical science was wrong.  We did not know enough to model and understand how those bees fly.

Numbers are like the serving suggestion on the cereal box.   They're an interesting idea, but that milk, and berries, and the fancy bowl and spoon are all sold separately. 

We don't know what the 2009 Brett Favre will do.   Neither does Brett.   That's why the games are played.  The games are too complex to predict with more than a general range.  That's why we watch: to see what happens.

We can't use statistics from Super Bowls to show how Tarvaris or Sage might do.  They've never been in one. 

Statistics are just about useless for the purpose of determining a winner, except for the two stats which will appear on the scoreboard when the gun sounds.   If you've got the key's to Doc Brown's DeLorean, get me the video of those on YouTube from Miami.   Otherwise, it's all talk.

Brett knows the strategy behind the West Coast Offense.   He knows which plays force the defenses to do which things and how to counter them.    How well will the arm hold up?    No one knows.

We don't have artillery computers to make the call,   We can only rely on Kentucky windage.

Throw the numbers out the window.  Winning the blog agrument will not change the results of the 2009 NFL season.

You're not talking to Brad Childress or Darrell Bevell or Rick Spielman. 

Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback is not likely to fill as many seats as Brett Favre in 2009.   Making money is part of winning for Zygi Wilf.   Only making money will keep the Vikings in Minnesota.  That's the key stat.

So, yes.   It's a no brainer.   Barring collision with a meteor, Favre starts in purple in 2009, no matter what other stats may say.

How many throws will a quarterback throw, before he's forever benched?   The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.  

Whatever that means, it sells a lot more people than do Pearon's chi square tests to determine if the frequency distribution of certain observed events in a collected sample is consistent with a particular theoretical statistical distribution, where the events being considered must be mutually exclusive and have total probability.  

Remember financial analysts rule the world, right or wrong.

Computers may run the trains in D.C., but I feel another song coming on. 

Your statistics give me a thrill, but your statistics won't pay my bills.  Now give me money.  That's what I want.

Where's a Vikings cherrleader when you need one?

Fill those seats!  Fill those seats! Favre's got treats, he'll fill those seats!

The Outer Limits is over.  We now return control of your monitor to you.   We know you have a choice in travel, and we thank you for flying with us.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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