May 10, 2019 - Sports

Three-pointers are leading the sports analytics revolution

Data: Sports Reference; Note: NFL data through 2018 season, MLB 2019 data through May 9; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Searching for every edge, modern analytics are driving sports teams to hyper-optimize their strategies. NFL passing is way up and MLB home runs have risen to historic heights — but neither can touch the rise of the NBA three-pointer.

Breaking down the revolutions:

  • NBA: In the 20-year span from 1980 to 2000, NBA teams averaged 2.6 three-pointers per game. This season, they averaged 11.4(!!!). Barring progressive rule changes, this analytics-influenced explosion shows no signs of stopping.
  • MLB: Whether it's the balls, launch angles, or absurd velocity of modern pitchers, dingers have never been hit at a higher rate than the 1.30 per game mark so far this season. Even at the peak of the "steroid era" in 2000, home runs topped out at 1.17 per game.
  • NFL: A correlation between winning and passing-oriented offenses led NFL teams to pass for a record 243.8 yards per game in 2015, up from 221.6 in 2010, 206.9 in 2000 and 194.8 in 1990. This revolution is the weakest of the three, however, with multiple dips occurring throughout the years. From 2015-2017, for example, passing yards dropped every season.
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