The 2011 Academy Award nominated movie, Moneyball, brought the idea of sports statisticians into the mainstream. Billy Bean, general manager of the Oakland Athletics and the subject of this film, mentioned actuaries no less than 7 times in an interview he had with Risk Management Magazine in 2014. “…when we used sabermetrics, it was essentially looking at a baseball team like an actuary would. And what I mean by that is an actuary will probably be a better advisor as to whether you should sign a player or not sign a player based on the information they have.” This evaluation tool isn’t a passing fad or exclusive to baseball as results are matching the hype.
Statistical Recorder or Research Statistician
“More and more teams, collegiate and professional, are developing and expanding their in house analytic staff,” explains Dr. Lynn Lashbrook, an active NFL agent with Sports Management Worldwide. “For example, there are 302 NCAA division one baseball teams. Of those 302 teams, about ten (in 2017) has someone on staff who does baseball analytics. Our research shows, that most teams will employee at least one analyst in the very near future.” These sports statisticians are falling into one of two categories, either a statistical recorder or a research statistician. Statistical recorders can provide a vast amount of information to their teams but a research statistician can take that information and provide more sophisticated analysis. With artificial intelligence and machine learning more and more common for data driven decision-making, sports statistics is realizing a need for more advanced degreed expertise.
In 1991, five years after receiving his Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries, John Dewan left his insurance actuary career, to develop the most timely and comprehensive computer database in sports, and market it through his company, Stats, Inc. It was so successful he sold it for $45M in 2000 to FOX News. He found he wanted more than the real-time capture of statistics though, so left Stats, Inc. to do more research. His firm Baseball Info Solutions, provides analytical services to 22 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams.
34% Increase in Sports Statisticians by 2024
Employment for sports statistician is expected to increase by 34% from 2014 to 2024 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Actuaries interested in a career in this field already have a head start with their undergraduate degree in math, econ, computer science or statistics. Advanced degreed candidates and data science skills are becoming more and more important. NFL agent Lashbrook says, “The most important part is translating the analytics to a coach, scout or GM so they can incorporate it in their strategy. This isn’t a career for introverts, this is a career for sports-minded people with an eye for scouting, who desire every advantage when it comes to evaluating players and team performance.”