he sabermetrics revolution in baseball has been around long enough to warrant a bestselling book and a Hollywood film with several Oscar nominations. Advanced statistics in football, however, haven’t even come close to a Moneyball moment. They haven’t overturned the conventional wisdom or precipitated a titanic struggle with management over how to evaluate players. It’s possible they never will. But football statistics might still be nearing a tipping point, and they’d have very different consequences than sabermetrics. They may not prove worthy of a movement, but they could fundamentally alter how football is played.
The comparisons between advanced football and baseball statistics aren’t quite fair. Nearly every event in baseball can be categorized and quantified: walk or strikeout, homerun or flyout, ball or strike. Football lacks baseball’s clarity: Did the offensive lineman execute a good block, or not? Even if it was possible to judge a block with objectivity and clarity, it doesn’t appear in the box score. The success of individual football players is also far more dependent on their teammates than in baseball, where a strikeout or a homerun is the result of an interaction between just two players. How do you assign credit for a 10-yard running play—was it a great block, or a great run? And with only 16 games a year, there’s far more uncertainty in football statistics than in baseball’s 162 game season.