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The analytics of local madness at John Harbaugh and Revolution science

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Nestor Aparicio
Nestor Aparicio
Baltimore Positive is the vision and the creative extension of four decades of sharing the love of local sports for this Dundalk native and University of Baltimore grad, who began his career as a sportswriter and music critic at The News American and The Baltimore Sun in the mid-1980s. Launched radio career in December 1991 with Kenny Albert after covering the AHL Skipjacks. Bought WNST-AM 1570 in July 1998, created in 2007 and began diversifying conversations on radio, podcast and social media as Baltimore Positive in 2016.

The cries of heresy and “fire the coach” came early in the Baltimore Ravens’ 33-28 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

Head coach John Harbaugh once again chose to go for it on 4th down and short from his own 30-something yard line in a move that would make every one of his football head coaching heroes from Doyt Perry to Bo Schembechler shiver with risk aversion and chuckle in disgust from the other sideline at the sheer stupidity of going against conventional wisdom.

Every one of us who has watched football all of our lives knows that you punt the ball there!

Clearly, John Harbaugh has lost his mind – again – and has been swept up in the emotion of Lamar Jackson and the possibilities of this 4th down revolution and a new way of life in the NFL where you never punt or relinquish control of the football!

“It was the worst coaching I’ve seen in the history of the league!” they screamed in Dundalk.

“What the hell is Harbaugh thinking?!?!?” they tweeted from Bel Air.

“Coach Dummy strikes again with another foolish decision!!!” the purple army in Hereford cried!

The Ravens later converted on a 4th and 3 and went on to score a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal.

Was that dumb luck or designed genius?

Surely, Harbaugh wouldn’t be doing something that crazy and against any wisdom his father, brother or even his mentor and football guru Andy Reid would’ve given him from the other sideline in that sea of red?

In the postgame press conference outside the Arrowhead Stadium locker room when I pressed him about whether there is any 4th and short he doesn’t like, the new #RiverboatHarbaugh didn’t waver.

Instead, the Super Bowl-winning coach who decided to blow on the dice and repeatedly give the purple Lamar meter a short-yardage spin and allow Greg Roman to concoct some chaos at the line of scrimmage that will keep possession of the ball and a fresh set of downs, talked about math and odds.

Is this pigskin madness?

Or the budding genius of a football revolution where all decisions will be driven by science and data?

Time will tell.

But the Ravens haven’t come to these new-age decisions of “risk vs. reward” without plenty of science, human analysis and the off-the-field podium defense that John Harbaugh and everyone who comes next in line in the game of football and coaching edicts and norms will use for the media and fans:

“I did what the analytics told me to do!” said head coach X of City Y of Team Z in Sport Beta in the new age of managing by the new book.

Harbaugh has never painted by the numbers but he’s become a devotee to the good book of math and probability and science.

Any present baseball fan knows about analytics and the changing norms of the sport. It has created a different game and a huge generational debate within the inner circle of the game about the way science  says things are vs. the way they’ve always been done.

The Baltimore Orioles and the Angelos family have torn down an entire organization under the premise of the new math of baseball and sabermatricians and data nerds controlling every decision to – ultimately, they swear – bring you a better experience at Camden Yards.

(At least at some point…the Angelos boys promise! No, really…just a few more 100-loss seasons and they’ll make you proud!)

Eric DeCosta didn’t just meet Sig Mejdal and Mike Elias by accident last winter. They are charter members in a new society of sports executives utilizing highly-trained data specialists and sports scientists to analyze and change the way the games are played and every piece of information is measured.

When Elias and Mejdal took their baseball science data laboratory from St. Louis to Houston and lost 100 games in equal parts anonymity and disgrace every year – even while having their files hacked and data stolen Russian-style by Cardinals cyber crooks on an MLB database – the journalists and fans from Astros suburbia scoffed and stayed away.

The Houston Astros were a goofy baseball science experiment and losing every night. A laughingstock of the industry.

Then, suddenly, the Houston Astros were winning World Series games.

And now everyone in Major League Baseball is trying to tank for greatness and shift for progress and know where to be standing and where the ball is going to be hit before the pitch is thrown. Well, unless the hitter misses it or hits the juiced baseball into the second deck, right?

It isn’t very exciting but apparently it’s effective as a measuring tool to manage baseball games for a positive outcome. And we know the Angelos family is all about winning! And if this Elias and Mejdal thing doesn’t work out for the Orioles, at least the Angelos boys did what the analytics told them to do!

Now, on Sundays in the NFL, you are beginning to see the fruits of a similar experiment through science in the world of football where “conventional wisdom” will be pushed up against the history of the sport and downs and distances and probability.

“That is what the analytics are,” Harbaugh bellowed after a tough loss in

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