If you’re a Celtics fans, you probably don’t know Zarren. The team wants it that way. The less that is known about Zarren and his methods the better. Go on the team’s website and there is no biography for him, even though he carries the title of assistant general manager. The Celtics guard his advanced statistical analysis like it’s the security code to owner Wyc Grousbeck’s house. Ask the Green’s stats guru why the Celtics have been up and down this season and he all but pops a cyanide pill. Zarren, who joined the team in 2003 as an intern, is Ainge’s database-devising aide de camp, dealing with new-age basketball stats such as Pace factor (average possessions a team uses per 48 minutes) and true shooting percentage (a team’s weighted shooting efficiency adjusted for 3-pointers and free throws). Zarren was also one of the stars of the sixth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which invaded the Hynes Convention Center yesterday and runs through today.
The book and Academy Award-nominated movie “Moneyball’’ have not only turned analytics mainstream, but made a meme of viewing sports through the prism of advanced math. Twenty-seven NBA teams had a representative at yesterday’s conference. During the baseball panel, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, and former Browns coach Eric Mangini were all listening intently. The Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox, and Patriots were all represented.
He pointed out major companies such as General Electric have been using advanced analysis for years. It’s just that nobody follows GE production efficiency or product flow like they do the Red Sox’ run production. “It’s not hocus-pocus,’’ said Zarren. “Some of the things I do, teams have been doing since 1946. It’s not magic. There happens to be scientific techniques that people have developed to look at data sets. We have some data sets, so why not look at them?’’ Hard to envision Red Auerbach parsing data sets. Zarren met Red once. How did he explain to the Patriarch of the Parquet exactly what he does for the Celtics? “Danny just said, ‘He works for me,’ ’’ Zarren said with a grin.