How to implement Moneyball for your youth basketball team

 Gabe Skrinjar (second from right) tallies stats as the other members of the coaching staff remain engaged in the game in other ways.
 Gabe Skrinjar (second from right) tallies stats as the other members of the coaching staff remain engaged in the game in other ways.

Craig Musheno: Welcome to the Hustle With Us Podcast, Episode Number Two. So, for everyone who is new to Hustle, Hustle is the number one app today for athletic training, available on iTunes and through Google Play. You can also visit us at So, I'm your host, Craig Musheno, and with me is the founder and CEO of Hustle, Matt Michaux. So, Matt, we just finished recording with Gabe Skrinjar. He's a basketball coach. He's a statistician at Fox Chapel High School in Pittsburgh. What did you think of it?

Matt Michaux: Well, it's interesting to hear firsthand how somebody gets into becoming a statistician, and then the evolution of how it goes from tracking turnovers and assists to things that are advanced, like the Value Point System. Gabe gives some great, practical advice for anybody who wants to get into it.

Craig Musheno: One thing that I liked, he gave some real world examples of different things that he measures, things that make a difference between average players and great players, and then also some fun things, like how he measures a turkey. So, anybody listening, listen for that. Let's get into it right now with Gabe Skrinjar. All right, so Gabe, thanks so much for joining us today. You know, Matt and I, we've been talking about having a statistician in on the podcast to give advice to coaches who want to get more into analytics and better leverage statistics to do better in coaching, you know, to become better coaches overall. So, really, thanks so much for joining us.

Gabe Skrinjar: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me here. I appreciate the opportunity.

Craig Musheno: Cool. So, let's get right into it. Let's hear a little bit about yourself. You know, in addition to working as a statistician you're also a coach, so how did you get into coaching overall?

Gabe Skrinjar: Yeah, that's true. So, I started as an assistant coach, a volunteer assistant for the Fox Chapel boys varsity basketball team in the 2010-2011 season. I started that way because my older brother became the head coach and needed some people on his team, and I had the opportunity and time available to lend my support for him. One of the areas he needed some help with was somebody who could track the players' progress and give him some insight as to what was going on with the players, and give him up to date, real time kind of stats as the game is going on, or just, like, a feel for the game. So it was a mutually beneficial kind of thing for us at the time for me to come on board with that.

Craig Musheno: And so, what was your experience with basketball overall? Did you grow up playing it and coaching anything kind of less high profile than high school?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, from an early age I had always been involved, and our father was a basketball coach for the local church team team growing up. So, I became involved at a very early age. I was fortunate to be around basketball a lot, and we always were helping keep score, keep stats for the game, keep the book. That kind of translated into coaching. I did a lot in baseball as well, so our dad was always keeping book. So, it was kind of one of those things that was just an easy thing to pick up, and to use growing up, and to translate that into something at a higher level.

Craig Musheno: Yeah. You know, it's funny you mentioned baseball and score keeping. You know, my dad, we would go to baseball games and both of sit there and keep the book, like, just for no reason other than just the fun of keeping the book. So, let's talk about when you first started. You know, how did you even know where to start?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, early on it was definitely a process of just trying to figure out what worked. At the beginning, the first season, more of a basic approach to it, just because of trying to figure out how to incorporate all of the things that you could at once, and to try to keep kind of narrow and bare bones, just to say okay, here's what we want to do, and get a process done. It was mainly just the elementary statistics of offensive and defensive categories, you know, two pointers made, steals, assists, turnovers, and just simple kind of things, and using that to try to branch out into something more in depth. And I kind of called upon some of the things that I had in the past from playing high school basketball as well, and the assistant coaches on those teams, and seeing what they did. So, early on we also did a little bit of a plus/minus, but that became a little bit challenging with all of the offensive-defensive substitutions that would happen in the last few minutes of the quarter, or end of game situations, so ...

Craig Musheno: Expand on that a little bit, what's plus/minuses?

Gabe Skrinjar: So, basically the plus/minus system is where a player is on the court and taking that person's score while they're in the game. If you scored offensively, two points, you had a positive rating. If the defense, if you gave up points, then you had a negative rating. So, it was kind of saying that this is your value during the game. But I don't think that's always a true sense of it just because of the timing of the game and, you know, you could be in at the very beginning and go on a run, and just situational. It's not always as effective as the most, you know, utilized kind of statistic, for me, at least.

Craig Musheno: Well, now in 2018, 2019, what kind of metrics are you going to focus on? What's important for you as an assistant coach to feed into the head coach to help him make real time decisions?

Gabe Skrinjar: We've taken a system called the Value Point System, which other coaches have used and adopted, and kind of brought that into our analysis. We do some statistics on the side as we're going through the game where we track all the statistical categories and just say that these ones are weighted more or less than something else. And we do some other stats where we take a look at shot charts of our team compared to the other team, and do it by quarter to see how effective we are in the offensive zone, and how effective we are in keeping other teams outside of that area as well. So, we do a little bit of multiple layers of different kind of statistics to say this is helping us out, we're keeping the team out of the paint, so make them shoot longer shots, and we're getting inside. So, we kind of use both things as a means to help see who these players are on our team that are scoring, or that are being inside of the zone that we want, as well as how are we keeping the other team out.

Craig Musheno: So you're playing money ball, essentially, at the high school level.

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, it's I guess a little bit of a watered down version of it, but we try to incorporate other things that we have seen that have worked, or that are being utilized within the current framework of analytics, and hopefully it's helping us out in being more successful. I think we have, as a team, accomplished that.

Craig Musheno: You know, something that we try to do is, here at Hustle, is offer resources to coaches when they identify a particular area of their game, or their team's playing, that's kind of underperforming. You know, say they're not doing a good job at boxing out and not getting rebounds, we put some great materials on the app to teach you how to do better at those things. Thinking about it from a statistical point of view, how do you evolve what becomes important to your team based on how the team's performing in various areas of the game?

Gabe Skrinjar: Yeah, well, we're always looking for new and improved ways to do things, so any time there's more data out there to kind of churn through, or to absorb, is a helpful tool for us to use. And with you having multiple things to teach kids at a lower level and up through a more developed level, it's helpful for coaches to say, hey, check out this type of drill or specialty to kind of focus more, because you had some other things that you are excelling at, but you need a little bit more work here. So, I mean, we do track a lot of things. Boxing out is one of our biggest categories that we try to improve upon, and that's always the first thing ... Actually, sometimes it's the first three things that are written down, box out, box out, box out. Because if you don't have the basketball, you're not going to be able to score. So, it's one of the things that we try to focus on, and having drills and teaching tools available for kids is a huge benefit, and it can be used for a great advantage.

Craig Musheno: Do you have to have a special kind of head coach to get buy in for using statistics to drive decision makings?

Gabe Skrinjar: A lot of coaches are accepting of the way that the game has turned to a more statistical approach. I know that our head coach was never opposed to having ideas brought in about the statistics that have been utilized, or that we were working on. So, he's been very helpful in being a major proponent and saying, “Yes, I want to know more about this,” or, “Tell me what we can do better, and how we can do it by the numbers that you're coming up with,” and, “Can we chart this?” or, “Can we take a look at something additional?” He's been a big pioneer of going into different types of stats and saying we want to focus on this, how can we do it better? So, I give a lot of credit to my brother, who's the head coach, as well as the other coaches on the staff for helping out with different metrics, or different things that we can bring up. He's been very helpful from that standpoint.

Craig Musheno: So, Gabe, where do you hear about different metrics? I mean, are you always sort of studying what's coming out from other coaches, or what they're reporting on ESPN, or ... You know what I mean? How do you hear about different opportunities?

Gabe Skrinjar: Yeah, it's kind of a just a different ... There are a lot of sites out there that you can pull from, like you said, ESPN, or from other coaches. I know that, as I said earlier, there were some things that I took from my assistant coaches growing up playing for high school teams. So, it was just kind of searching and just seeing what works for you as well. So, we just kept on trying to track more and more things, and say, how can we incorporate it without being too much of an overkill. You know, you don't want to be bogged down in the stats, but it's always good to try to stay current and read up a little bit on it on some different websites, or just talk to different coaches that are there that are within your program. So, maybe go to the girls team, or go to a different head coach from another team, or some assistants that you might know from within the different ranks. It's always good to just kind of ask your peers about those things, and always, social media has a lot of different things out there as well that you can call upon.

Craig Musheno: Let's talk a little bit about technology in basketball. You know, with Hustle that's really the name of our game. So, how can technology like Hustle change the way that you develop as a statistician?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, with different types of outlets through technology it will enable us to have more of a real time and up to speed type of return on what's going on within a game. I know that ... I think, within our ranks, they've allowed us to have some devices on the sidelines to kind of go through and look at different types of applications, or kind of just use an iPad or something on the bench, so you could go through that. We haven't used it as effectively as we could at this point, but I think that as that becomes more mainstream, that we'll be able to call upon that, and utilize that. Outlets such as Hustle and Huddle have helped us to be able to go through and do a lot of scouting and advanced scouting, as well as drills, and being able to help leverage those types of things for kids to use as training techniques and tools.

Matt Michaux: Walk us through how you're taking stats, and calculating, and crunching numbers in real time. Is it pen and paper? Do you have a calculator? Is there a spreadsheet? What do you have at your disposal?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, currently we do it the old fashioned way. So, pen and paper, so anybody can do it who's just starting out. We've just set up a ... Basically, a routine type of system where we just have the players names, and just the different statistical categories that we're using, and have the basics down to just numbering the amount of shots that are up, or ... So, just circle, or put an X by, a made or missed attempt, and just kind of chart out what each player's doing individually. So, take that, in turn, and put it into a spreadsheet. But as we progress we might be able to translate that into more of a online approach, where we can put it into a spreadsheet on the bench and have those stats kind of up to date and calculated as we need to on a quicker basis. But right now, with the game going as fast as it does, sometimes it's ... For me, currently, it's a little bit easier to do it in the system I have, but when I take some time I might be able to figure out a different way to do that with a technological approach.

Matt Michaux: I've been told that we'll be able to share this spreadsheet with our Hustle listeners here. So, there will be a link on the landing page here for the podcast.

Gabe Skrinjar: Perfect. You know, I know somebody here who's helped create that, so I think that's definitely all right.

Craig Musheno: So, Gabe, what role do you see sports technology playing in the future of statistics for basketball, and maybe in particular for middle school, high school statisticians?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, I think it will definitely, again, help with the real time to get that, because sometimes when you're in the heat of the game you can't really recall everything as clearly. So, you have that right at your fingertips, That’s exactly what happened here. Or to be able to help coach kids on the bench, where you can see the plays that are happening. So, you might be able to draw out a play, and to kind of go through the motions. And funnel that down to all levels and now just have it at the top, or upper echelon schools within a certain area. So, hopefully that will be able to help bring it more real time, as well as to help more in the coaching, so you're not doing all the tabulation, so that you can say, okay, here's ... It's already done for me, the numbers are here. I can now coach the player a little bit more effectively rather than having to constantly tabulate everything out. So, you've got more time to spend instructionally with the kids.

Craig Musheno: Yeah, that certainly sounds like the direction for sports technology overall when it comes to statistics. But let's talk about your players, you know? How do they leverage technology? I know all of them have a smartphone, you know, whatever they're doing on there.

Gabe Skrinjar: Sure. Well, we're hoping that they are watching all of the game film that we've cut up for them so they know what's going on with their next opponent. I know that our coaching staff does a really excellent job of putting together clips to have our kids watch, specifically, other players and plays so that they are well informed of what's going to be taking place. But we know that they're not always doing that. It's a lot of social media, where they might say hey, I had a great play. I'm going to cut this clip up, and show all my friends, and put it out on the social media, which is great. It's also been a great tool for them to use for recruiting, so they can do all these highlight reels that they can put together and share with different coaches that will be able to see what they have done, and to have that clip of them. So, it's been helpful in those aspects for the kids, and just the being able to do drills on the technology as well. So, they need some help with a certain aspect of their game, ball handling, or learn how to proper defensive techniques, they can go through and use technology to figure that out. And just the amount of data that's out there for them to go through and utilize is just overwhelming now. So, the places that are able to streamline it for them make it more effective for them to utilize their time, especially with as limited as it is now, with basketball being pretty much ... Well, all sports really not having too much of an off season.

Craig Musheno: Yeah, no kidding. No, that's certainly what we're here to do at Hustle. All right, let's go in to our rapid fire round. So, we've got five questions for you here in the rapid fire round. What is the most obscure thing that you measure?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, I don't know if it's obscure, but we recently started to track what we call a turkey, which is similar to, you know, in bowling, where you get thee strikes it's really good?

Craig Musheno: Yeah.

Gabe Skrinjar: We're saying when we have three defensive stops in a row we call that a turkey. So, it gets the bench excited, it gets the kids on the court excited, so everyone stays involved. Some kids might have a little more fun with it, you know, with the gobble gobble and the things like that, and it’s coming right around the Thanksgiving time. So, it's a fun thing to keep the kids entertained, and to keep them looking for a goal within the game.

Craig Musheno: I like it. Going to start measuring turkeys in everyday life. All right. Okay, the next one is, so what measurable separates great players from the rest?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, I think that some of the things that we've tracked recently, and things that I like to track that are like that, are those gritty kind of stats like offensive rebounding, charges, and steals, that don't always show up in the paper or anything like that. But without those, without getting those possessions, something that kind of separates and puts ... You know, might have that kid on the court rather than somebody else because they're willing to take that extra effort to be out there. So, I think those are some of the things. You can't really teach those stats, or those traits, but we want to have those kids, because that separates them.

Craig Musheno: Awesome. Who is an inspirational coach that you look up to?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, I ... Matt might know this one beforehand, but Coach Izzo, he's one of my favorites. We got an opportunity to take our team out there during a summer camp, and I was always impressed with how he and his team were able to convert on situational plays coming out of bounds, or out of time outs, and halftimes, and end of game situations. So, I've always thought it was pretty incredible that they had such a high success rate on those, and I've always enjoyed watching his team, and the way his players play.

Craig Musheno: Awesome. So, what is the best sports movie ever made?

Gabe Skrinjar: Well, sticking with the basketball theme here, I can't go wrong with saying Hoosiers, right?

Craig Musheno: Yeah.

Gabe Skrinjar: So, I mean, how can you not get fired up when you hear that?

Craig Musheno: Got it. And so, last one in the rapid fire round. In the off season, when you have some time, what are your hobbies?

Gabe Skrinjar: What off season, right?

Craig Musheno: Yeah.

Gabe Skrinjar: But ...

Craig Musheno: It's what you mentioned earlier, yeah.

Gabe Skrinjar: Exactly. No, well, I enjoy as ... I'll bring it back to you earlier, you know, going to watch the baseball games and keeping stats back for teams, that's what we used to do growing up. So, I still enjoy going to baseball games, watching that in the summer. And just being with friends and family, and just trying to just stay relaxed.

Craig Musheno: Yeah, that is a good motto. Nice. Well, yeah, coach, really appreciate this. Matt, anything to say before we wrap up?

Matt Michaux: Good luck this season, coach

Gabe Skrinjar: Appreciate it. Thank you guys for having me.