Let me apologize for not posting in a while, I was on the Injury Reserve for a while with a bad cold. I’m pretty sure the sore throat graduated from “annoying” to “possibly fatal”. I’m back now though and ready to tackle the real issues. Today I’m serving up a piping Hot Take on the NHL and the problem with it’s analytics debate.
I’m going to delve into the swampy mess that it the analytics debate. This debate has become probably the ugliest, most nonsensical, pointless debate I think I’ve ever seen, naturally it’s right up my alley. If you’re like me and stats and math aren’t your favourite part of sports DownGoesBrown had a great post about the analytics debate that served me as a good starting point http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-fakers-guide-to-advanced-stats-in-the-nhl/.
I’ll sum up what I took from it (along with what I’ve surmised from various other readings about fancy stats). Corsi is a measure of shots taken vs shots allowed and serves as a proxy for “possession” while attempting to eliminate the bias of “luck”. That’s basically it, there’s a spectrum of fans who either: think advanced stats are the only “true” measure of a player’s performance and on the other you have fans who think only results matter, things like cups, points, wins etc. Then, in the middle you have normal people who think there’s probably a degree of both, you know watch the game but maybe look at stats to see if you missed anything, or vice-versa.It really shouldn’t be as big a deal as it’s been made out to be but it seems like you can’t read more than two articles without someone clamouring about how a guy’s Corsi proves he’s a bad player or that he’s not really bad he’s just unlucky (looking at you Dougie Hamilton).
I hopped on the stats bandwagon after the 2012-2013 Maple Leafs season specifically when I saw James Reimer gets tarred and feathered by management and fans despite dragging his team to the playoffs. Then in that playoff series vs Boston when Grabovski played amazing but just didn’t have the points to show for it (2A in 7 games) I was amazed at how many people said he was a bad player, it was like the concept of playing well but the puck just not going in was a completely foreign concept. The advanced stats guys all argued that he was playing well and ol’ Lady Luck had just left him and that basically followed what I saw. So I read more and more and again it kept aligning with what I was seeing : Kessel Good, Bozak bad, Grabovski good, Clarkson bad and so on and so forth.
Then I started seeing more…complex posts. Stuff life how Cody Franson was secretly the NHL’s best value defencemen, http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/playing-hardball-with-franson-will-cost-leafs/. Try reading that for more than 2 minutes, it’s unreadable. I’m sure Burtch is a smart guy but holy crap that looks like a Thesis Paper on the Hadron Collider. At a certain point if your entire argument relies on just advanced stats and the end results aren’t there you have to re-examine your philosophy. Cody Franson hasn’t emerged as Lidstrom 2.0 and never will, you can create all the stats you want but eventually it just becomes noise.
That’s my main issue with the advances states stuff, every writer says “We don’t just look at stats” and then literally the first thing they do is bring up charts and numbers. It happened with the Subban-Weber deal, the Larsson-Hall deal and even with this year’s Maple Leafs roster where people are picking apart the bottom defence pairing despite them anchoring one of the league’s best PK’s. I mean there’s literally a debate about if JONATHAN FUCKING TOEWS is over rated because his advanced stats have dropped off. This guy is universally known as one of best Two-Way players in the game, he captained a team to 3 stanley cups and has more gold than Midas. And stats guys will say “Oh well most of that was Kane or playing for Team Canada blah blah blah” and they’ll point to the numbers. I mean come on people, if you can’t look at a guy like Toews as proof that numbers aren’t everything I don’t know who you can look at.
This isn’t meant to be a “shame on you” to stats guys, I’ve had great interactions with a lot of them on twitter and for the most part they’ve been incredibly helpful and interesting to talk to. I’m sure part of the zealousness that seemseverywhere is the fact they have to deal with people like Glen Healy or Steve Simmons salivating over players like David Clarkson and then treating stats guys like idiots when they say “Mr. Simmons, David Clarkson isn’t really that good” and guys like Simmons sit there foaming at the mouth going “YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING, YOU NEVER PLAYED THE GAME BLAH BLAH” as if somehow bringing a different point of view means you’re saying Wayne Gretzky sucked.
That’s my rant for today, it’s a little rough on the stats guys and I don’t want to make it seem like they’re all zealous stats warriors anymore than non-stats guys knuckle dragging neanderthals. So let’s end things on this note, enjoy the game however you want and let people judge players however they want. Try to see if from the other side, maybe your eyes are deceiving you sometimes, maybe a guy with high Corsi but low goals isn’t just unlucky but actually doesn’t have the skill set to be a goal-scorer? I expect hockey people will look at this post and go “yeah duh, we all sorta recognise this” and non hockey fans will look at this and go, “Can you talk about your crappy dates again this is boring” And to them I say I’m sorry and yes absolutely I will.