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Razor With an Edge: The National Mathematics League

by Daryl "Razor" Reaugh / Dallas Stars

Get ready for an onslaught of numerical algorithms and trends.

Computer geeks and calculus wiz’s have been the pop-hires this summer. All of a sudden every team has to have one, and there seems to be great fanfare from social media whenever another obscure number-cruncher is added to a hockey staff.

It’s ‘Revenge of the Nerds’, 200 by 85.

Over the past couple of seasons we’ve all been introduced to Corsi and Fenwick, at least the names Corsi and Fenwick if not what they actually mean. I’ll admit to only having a cursory knowledge of the statistical info they provide, and I’m fine with that.

Don’t get me wrong; stats have a place.

At their best they are illuminating and validating, but they have to be deployed in that manner - they have to enhance, not lead.

I don’t think anybody wants to tune into a hockey game and be barraged with one stat after another. As the great line goes, ‘Statistics are like bikinis, they show a lot but they don’t show everything’. So in keeping with that line of thinking, those who bow at the feet of Corsi and Fenwick and all that fall under the umbrella of “Advanced Stats” are, well, a nudist colony I guess. To many of them, ‘statistics’ is the sport in its birthday suit. Hubba-hubba!

Football has its own, relatively new, ‘silver-bullet stat system’. It’s called PFF (Pro Football Focus), the 2007 brainchild of Neil Hornsby, a British business consultant. The following is an excerpt from a Men’s Journal article on him and PFF.

There's been a lot of people who've wanted to be the Bill James of football — that's what everybody seems to aspire to do, to bring Moneyball-type ideas to football. I just don't think that's possible, because the statistical sample sizes are too small. What we do is performance-based scouting. In the NFL they will send out these guys who have been steeped in football for many, many years, almost since birth, to go and look at college players and tell them whether they're going to make it in the league or if they're NFL players, whether they'll make it on their teams. What they won't do, necessarily, is look at every single player on every single play. They will not tend to do that. In fact, they don't do that.

What they do is say things like, "This guy's a knee-bender. He's sideline-to-sideline." But they don't try and catch that in terms that are necessarily quantifiable. What we try and do is give that information in quantifiable terms. So we try and say that, over the course of a season, having watched all 1,000 players and offensive linemen and all 450 blocking players, that this guy typically makes a lot fewer mistakes than that guy. So what we do is we look at every single player and we try to grade that player on what we believe it to be.

Most of the AS revolution in hockey is simple mapping of puck possession and the general payoff seems to be this: Teams that have the puck a lot win more, and individual players who have the puck a lot, produce more. I agree this borders on ‘well duh’. Again, it’s more validation of the eyeball test than it is paradigm-shifting epiphany.

And one position in the sport of hockey tends to mess with the math. Goaltending.

Great goaltending masks god-awful Corsi numbers just as god-awful goaltending can undermine a statistically really good team. “Goaltending is 90% of the game of hockey unless its bad goaltending, then its 100%”.

My hope is that these new numerical spreadsheets force the official league statistics package to up its game. Currently it’s about as insightful as a Kardashian episode, and as flawed as those self-absorbed hags on Real Housewives. Charlie Rose should be the target. (Yes, I’ve watched a lot of TV this summer).

Give me ‘winger wins on faceoffs’.

Give me ‘time in zone’ breakdowns.

Give me ‘pass completions’.

Give me ‘turnovers by zone’.

Give me anything other than the current plus/minus stat.

And give me ‘area of net’ for goals scored.

Make us smarter. (Which is a tall task, indeed.)

I guess the bottom line should be this; Advanced Stats seem to be here to stay, which in the long run is likely a good thing, but they are probably a much better tool for managers, coaches and agents than they are for us in the sports entertainment department.

We are Apple. ‘They’ are Microsoft.

Together: Nerdvana on Ice?






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