Stats and Objectivity

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Stats and Objectivity

Hi everyone :Cool

I recently was involved in a civilised debate via PM with the respectful and knowldgeable 606v2 poster JohnnyJeep, about tennis and the objectivity of stats.
He argued that a player with more slams is a better player without question, as stats are quantitative and therefore objective. I disagreed, as you may expect, saying that just following the stats creates a false and misleading sense of objectivity; while in reality you must observe the circumstances as well, even if this does in bring in a certain degree of subjectivity.

He argued that saying Player A is better than Player B as he has won more Grand Slams is not subjective, as Player A has won more Grand Slam Titles.
I refuted this claim by saying that although the fact Player A has more Slams will count in his favour, this does not mean that saying he is better is not subjective. I used the examples of Murray vs Safin, and Martina Navratilova vs Graf as examples, according to his thesis, saying Safin and Graf are better players would be 'objective'- meaning that arguing Murray and Martina's case would be 'lying' (as you are trying to deny an objective fact). This I found was ludicrous, I hold both the latter opinions (in-fact I think Martina is women GOAT), and I think indirectly claiming I am a liar for saying this is crass and narrow minded.

I then moved on to my idea of judging two players, I said this:
When judging two players, I see many things to watch out for: their game (tennis), as well as how difficult it was to achieve what they have achieved. It is subjective.
Now I believe this approach may actually give you a better chance of finding the truth, although by being subjective is is open to greater abuse.
Let me give you an example:
Let's consider Agassi winning a Career Grand Slam, and Nadal winning a Career Grand Slam. As I am a judging an achievement here, I will look to the latter of my criteria- ie the most impressive one is to me the one which is harder to achieve.
Now some may argue, 'in the record books, they are still counted as Career Grand Slams, so we should hold that achievement (not talking about overall slams here) in the same light.'
But despite him being correct, the record books would indicate that both have won all of the 4 slams across 3 different surfaces, and statistically both have complete Career Grand Slams, I would argue subjectively that Agassi's achievement was better- as the surfaces were more contrasting at the time hence making it more difficult to complete a Career Grand Slam.
I believe in this case, I would have reached an verdict closer to the truth by applying my subjectivity and taking into account the circumstances, than just look at the stats directly and believing they are objective.

What do you think? Was JohnnyJeep correct? Or was my rebuttal argument actually valid?
Will be interesting to hear what you guys think on the matter.



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Stats and Objectivity :: Comments

Post on Sun 14 Apr 2013 - 19:13 by Jubbahey

Well, in this instance, the conversation is balanced on two fronts, a subjective opinion, being an emotional response and an objective response, supposedly being an impartial response.

Both are just opinions, but both will interfere with each other in a conversation about excellence. In one way you could quote stats as proof of a fact and in the other, quote how competitive was the achievement to prove another point.

To say someone is better than any other player can not, IMO, be judged on one set of stats or situations or opinions. Everything that the player had to overcome in order to achieve greatness must come into the equation, go back 60 years and the whole argument falls to one of perception, rather than statistics, leap ahead to modern times and stats are just one way of describing excellence.

Everyone will remember Federer as one of the greats, but will they remember all the stats and the tally of wins he accomplished or will they just remember how good he was on the day. Maybe its a combination of both, the knowledge that he was a prolific winner and a great player to boot.

The record books will record statistics and are a sterile, although objective account of a players abilities, whereas a spectator is a record book of the physical, and subjective account of them as well.

For me, greatness is a combination of both and others, but not necessarily the best in all worlds, as circumstances have dictated the arenas' competitiveness and that is another factor in determining how great a player is, technology, surface design and how quickly a player adapts all come into the bargain and contribute to how good a player becomes.

In twenty years time, hindsight will determine who was the greatest in any given era, up to that point, and we can all look to record books to glean info on their achievements, but word of mouth is a far better indicator of greatness IMO.

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Post on Tue 23 Apr 2013 - 23:24 by Guest

Interesting post Jubb.

I agree with the principle of what you say, we have to look past just the stats.

About Federer himself, and the competition he faced, I think we both know we disagree there; I am of the opinion that he was fortunate as there was a lack of world class competitors who were his age- when in 2006 you have Ljubicic at number 3 (who only reached 1 slam SF), and a young teenage Nadal who can only really play on clay at number 1- this is indicative of the competition for Federer at the time.

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Post on Sat 27 Apr 2013 - 15:53 by Jubbahey


I agree that Fed didnt have enough decent competition to compete against him, but I have to go back 2 yrs before Roger won his 1st slam.

He wasn't doing that well, he was getting beaten by journeymen in the early stages of slams and Masters, not all the time, but although some saw the greatness in him, he wasnt realising that potential in the big matches.

His breakthrough began when he got to the QF's of the FO and Wimbly, but then he had bad 2002 after this. How he came back to win Wimbly the next year followed by 3 slams in 2004 is indicative of his resolve to iron out his service and swing and become far more consistent. That the competition did not follow suit and decided to stay in Mediocrity Town is not his fault.

To me, Federer raised the bar with a quantum leap, putting it far beyond the reach (except of course Nadal and the FO) of other players, and he stayed there for nearly 6 yrs creaming off the slams with almost consummate ease, so yes, the argument is concrete, he had no decent competition through that era, but to me that is down to his playing ethos and will to be the best.

Thats what makes him great to me, not the record books or all the stats some people want to throw at the conversation, yes they provide some insight but eventually as we all mellow out with age, its not the stats we recite, but the matches he played and how he won them.

So yes, we disagree to a degree, but with different views as to why.

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Post on Sun 5 May 2013 - 14:46 by Guest

Fair enough Jubb, you make some good points in your post.

I think specifically in terms of Roger we disagree on this:
the argument is concrete, he had no decent competition through that era, but to me that is down to his playing ethos and will to be the best.
I believe that may be true, but the fact there were no world class players his age as well.
Haas may have been, but he had an accident and was taken out in the prime of his career. (Doing quite well now even at 35).

This for me was quite an interesting stats, comparing how a teenage Murray between 2004-2008 still managed to trouble Federer more than his rivals put together:
Between the period 2004-2008 Murray ammased more wins against Federer than Roddick, Davydenko, Ljubicic, Haas, Gonzalez, Ferrero, Baghdatis, Hewitt, Youzhny, Agassi, Philippoussis, Safin did put together.
This list consists of every single Grand Slam finalist Federer faced until 2008 apart from Nadal and Djokovic. And some other 'rivals'.

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Post on Sun 5 May 2013 - 22:58 by Jubbahey

Hi Amrit.

I started watching Murray as much as possible when he beat Federer 1st time at a masters, somewhere round the 2nd/3rd round I think, can't remember where but it was on a H/C, then he began to beat him more often than not. It wasn't easy trying to get TV time of him playing, but often caught highlights.

At that point in Murrays career, he was a stayer, not match long stamina, but point stamina, he could keep the ball in play which Roger couldn't get a handle on for a couple of years. And he could occasionally whack a ball down the line after a long rally.

Not sure why Federer has this chink in his armour, he'll try most of the time to beat the player at his own game, maybe to be the consummate player he always wanted to be. It was his downfall on a few big occasions, I suppose this demonstrates my theory, a desire to be the best at everything tennis and maybe a reason why he was able to leap ahead of the competition.

I have to agree in part that Fed never had the competitive players that should have been around to test him, but tennis never stands still and its up to them to rise to the occasion and become better players. Was it down to a lack dedication or intensity that provided a depleted playing field ?

But yes, at the end of the day, for what ever reason, Federer was champion in a weaker than normal, early part of his era considering the type of players that were at his disposal. I'd say he had a good 3 yrs creaming the tour, but can we ever say that if any better players came along, would they have beaten him ?

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