The trend of sports teams hiring statistical analysts continues, with the latest move along those lines being the Milwaukee Bucks tabbing Seth Partnow as their director of basketball research. Here’s the part of their release on him:
Partnow, 39, most recently was the editor of The Nylon Calculus, a preeminent basketball statistical analysis website. His work has been featured in the Washington Post, ESPN the Magazine, Vice Sports and The Cauldron/Sports Illustrated.
A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Partnow graduated with an economics degree (B.A.) from Carleton College (Minn.) in 1999 and received his law degree (J.D.) from the University of Minnesota in 2005.
This is a step-up of an existing role, as Partnow announced back in May he would be doing some consulting work for the Bucks and reducing his writing as a result. That post has some interesting thoughts on the trend of many top statistical analysts taking their work in-house, and the pros and cons of that:
As you might have noticed, I have somewhat disappeared as a #contentgenerator during the last bit of the NBA Playoffs. The reason for this is very happy news. Earlier this month, I began consulting for the Milwaukee Bucks. Obviously, this means the majority of my “work” is not going to be public. For which I am somewhat sad, as I’ve enjoyed exploring, promoting and discussing the statistical side of basketball a great deal.
But the tradeoff between contributing to the public discussion and working with proprietary data to contribute directly to a team – not to mention having some tiny influence on actual decision-making! – is an easy one to make. Also, NBA rules and regulations regarding discussing free agents or potential draft picks place additional restrictions on my ability to write and share information for public consumption.
I’d say this was a dream job, but that would imply that I had considered such a thing possible when I started doing this as a hobby a few years back. I have to give a hearty thanks to the Bucks organization and specifically to Mike Clutterbuck, the team’s Director of Analytics, for this opportunity.
This doesn’t mean Nylon Calculus is going away. I’m staying on as an editor for now; with one important caveat: Anything discussing the Bucks specifically is going to be handled by Ian. It is probably obvious, but needs saying anyway, that nothing written here by others should be taken to reflect any sort of official opinion or analysis of the Bucks, nor should anything I’ve written, said or tweeted about the team prior to this point. I stand by everything I wrote or said based on what I knew at the time, and my opinion may or may not have changed in the interim, but that’s between me and the folks here in Milwaukee!
Presumably Partnow will be doing even less public writing and discussion now that he’s a full employee of the Bucks rather than just a consultant, and that is a loss for the basketball community. He’s shown an excellent ability to use advanced statistics for insightful analysis, combine them with video and observation, and communicate those concepts to those less familiar with them, as illustrated by pieces like this SI one on James Harden.
Many stats-minded writers have proven great assets for teams, such as former ESPN writer John Hollinger, who’s been the Memphis Grizzlies’ vice-president of basketball operations since 2012. We’ll see if Partnow can join that group. His exit does mean there’s one less prominent voice writing well about analytics, but it’s worth noting that teams aren’t the only ones investing in stats experts and stats writers; ESPN and NFL Network are amongst the media companies that have made big hires there recently. There also are plenty of up-and-coming stats analysts and writers making names for themselves, and they’ll help to fill the gaps left by team hires.
In some ways, team hires like this particularly illustrate that analytics and writing about it is only going to become more prominent. There are still plenty of broadcasters and columnists willing to trot out anti-stats rants, but the more teams that hire and listen to analytics types, the more ridiculous those rants become. Much of the world today is analytics-driven, and sports is becoming more and more that way all the time. The media types who don’t like that are just going to have to adjust.