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Wayne Winston: Analytics in the World of Sports

Nov 25, 2013

Photo of Wayne Winston

Wayne Winston

Wayne Winston, John and Esther Reese Professor of Decision Sciences at the Kelley School of Business, Analytics hotshot, Excel prophet, and all around interesting human being. 

Basketball and Analytics
At the Decision Sciences Institute Annual Meeting, on November 17, 2013, Wayne spoke about using analytics for sports decision-making, team line-ups, and player selection. This was one of many presentations on this topic following his book, published in 2009, Matheletics: How Gamblers, Managers, and Sports Enthusiasts Use Mathematics in Baseball, Basketball, and Football.

Not all sports fans want the metrics of the story. But Winston’s explanations are for the mathematical and general sports fan.

This year, Winston made appearances on ESPN’s TrueHoop TV interviewed by Henry Abbot. Listening to these interviews, Abbot asked about the “most improved” players, best team combinations, or strategies. Wayne interprets the relevant information in his advanced metrics to prescribe and rank these items.

Winston’s interview with the “The Double Bonus” sports podcast chronicles the history of analytics in sports, specifically basketball. The first tool used in hockey, Plus-Minus, tells how many points were made when the player was in the rink. He lays out the most highly used rating metrics, and highlights what certain metrics aren’t capturing.

His story in sports analytics begins as a general interest in sports, attending a Dallas Mavericks game in 1999. Mark Cuban is a Kelley MBA Alumni, former student of Winston’s, and partial owner of the Mavericks. He approached Winston to ask if he had anyway to make the team better. Winston and Jeff Sagarin, a friend and former MIT classmate, developed a strategy to rank players and lineups with an adjusted Plus-Minus.

“If they need something I haven’t taught, I should be teaching it.”

As a winner of over thirty teaching awards, his teaching skills are not in question. He often consults around the country for companies like Broadcom, Roll Global, Booz Allen, Deloitte, New York Knicks, Ford, Pfizer, and more. Since 1999, Microsoft has invited him to teach their employees about Excel modeling and analytics.
“I love teaching. How can you convince others to be interested if you’re not?” comments Winston.

When asked about the most prevalent misconception about analytics, Winston said students think the subject is “incredibly hard.” In his presentations, he highlights how to use the tools of programs like Excel to “help people with their real jobs. If they need something I haven’t taught, I should be teaching it,” explained Winston.

And students adore him.

Recently, Winston posted on twitter that he was visiting his daughter in Brooklyn, New York. The next day he was in Manhattan enjoying breakfast with Kelley MBA Alumni who reached out to him when they saw his update.

“Be yourself”
His interests vary between pages of data and current headlines. In a recent presentation, a comment read, “…audience does not like your TV Commentary.” 
He laughed the comment away saying, “I would like to be a sensitive person but not be sensitive.”

Winston doesn’t hide his accompanying interests. He is well-versed in current television programming and loves to talk about it.

As a two-time winner of Jeopardy!, Winston knows his fair share of interesting facts. Close to a third of the books in his office are comprised of American trivia, general pop-culture reading, and other topics not business-related. 

For those who know Winston, he brings an enthusiasm and charisma that can hardly be masked. He advised, “Be yourself. You have good qualities, let people see them.”