Sunday, February 14, 2016

Good time to be Birds' analytics guy

With Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly running the show, Eagles analytics expert Alec Halaby is among kindred spirits.

Good time to be Birds' analytics guy

0 comments
(Les Bowen/Staff)
(Les Bowen/Staff)

There is no statistical “Holy Grail” in football, nothing as definitive as baseball’s OPS or WAR, Alec Halaby was saying Wednesday.

Halaby, a 2009 Harvard graduate, is the Eagles’ special assistant to the general manager. That doesn’t mean he fetches Howie Roseman’s dry cleaning.

Halaby sees himself as working in all aspects of personnel evaluation, but his specialty is analytics.

“I think it’s where the world’s going,” Roseman said during a morning session in which the Eagles made their personnel staff available to reporters. “Every business you look at – I have friends in different industries – there’s so much data, so much information, that you’d be silly not to use it in any avenue you’re in. When the onfield matches the off-field, the objective matches the subjective, I think you feel really confident about your decisions.

More coverage
POLL: Where will Riley Cooper end up?
Download FREE Philly Sports Now app for iPhone!
FORUMS: Could Nick Foles return?
Latest NFL odds
SHOP: Eagles Training Camp sportswear

“Sometimes you see a player and you really like him, but you realize – ‘hey, wait, maybe there’s never been a running back who runs that at the combine and been a starter. So I really like him, but I’m really playing against the odds.’ When you talk about the percentages in the first round of hitting on a player, I think it’s 50 percent. Now if you’re taking a guy who doesn’t have the criteria that makes successful guys successful, you’re decreasing those odds again. Do you really want to use a resource, when we have limited resources, on someone like that?”

Halaby has been affiliated with the Eagles since a 2007 internship, but with Roseman running the personnel show now and Chip Kelly as head coach, he is very much among kindred spirits.

Halaby acknowledged that Kelly’s saying of “science over tradition” is “a view that is a great one to have in the building.”

Football analytics is an evolving field. Halaby cautions that football isn’t baseball, where so many activities are easily charted, independent of variables outside a player’s control. Football is 11 on 11, each guy to some degree dependent on the guy next to him. But that doesn’t mean you can’t break down situations and movements and discern patterns. Halaby calls what he does “trying to understand a player in a systematic way.”

He also notes that analytics are only one tool, used in concert with more traditional scouting techniques. “You’re seeing it from multiple angles,” he said.

Halaby might have the soul of a numbers geek, but he was a high school quarterback in Madison, Wis., and he seems to understand both the allure and the limitations of analytics.

“I think it in terms of the end point, which is an accurate evaluation of the player,” Halaby said. “Part of that is looking at what the data can tell you. You have to understand the imperfections in the data, where it’s telling you something really true and clear, and other parts, where you’re getting a really noisy signal. I think that’s one of the challenges, is sorting through … what’s telling you what you think it’s telling you.”

Roseman clearly sees a little of himself in Halaby; it was just over a decade ago that Roseman, armed with his Fordham law degree, started peppering the Eagles and other teams with emails, looking for an entry level job. He saw a similar drive in Halaby.

“Incredibly smart. He’s got an incredible work ethic, and he’s got a good feel for the game,” Roseman said. “It really is a big resource to us as a staff to have someone like that, who’s not sitting there saying ‘I just loved the kid when I interviewed him.’ He’s really a safeguard for all of us.”

Staff Writer
0 comments
We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Read 0 comments
 
comments powered by Disqus
About this blog
Eagletarian is your home for comprehensive coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Les Bowen Staff Writer
Paul Domowitch Daily News Columnist
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
letter icon Newsletter