Is it just me, or does it seem like sports trend of using and studying more statistics (especially newly tracked numbers) to improve your team not really affecting hockey all that much. There’s been a trend toward Finnish goaltenders who are great at not giving up rebounds and forcing the puck to the corner, but I don’t think that was due to any study of the actual numbers, just people realizing that the goaltenders coming from Finland are awesome.
Something else I’ve never understood is the whole dump and chase style of play. It just looks like a way of giving up the puck to the other team. And the people behind the delightfully nerdy named NHLNumbers.com are tracking this data on their own and coming to the obvious conclusion:
Carrying the puck in is way better than dumping it in, more than twice as good — and it’s not because of odd-man rushes or player skill or any other external factor; it’s just because having the puck in the opponent’s zone headed towards the goal is a lot better than trying to outrace the opponent to try to get the puck in the corner.
Most people don’t recognize just how big the difference is, and the data suggests that teams should be trying harder than they are to carry the puck in. If coaches are telling their third line to dump the puck, they are probably giving away scoring chances. If coaches are telling the players to dump the puck in borderline situations where they think carrying it might lead to a turnover, they are probably giving away scoring chances. Even regrouping and trying again might be better than dumping the puck in, especially when the team has their top line on the ice.
Of course this all needs to be taken with a grain of skepticism, as the dataset is very small and who knows what a larger amount of data will say about these preliminary conclusions.
This past weekend at MIT was what Mark Cuban calls “Geekapollooza,” but what everyone else calls the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. It’s nice to see that the professional nerds on sports have their own conference. The description from their site states:
The conference goal is to provide a forum for industry professionals (executives and leading researchers) and students to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the sports industry. MIT Sloan is dedicated to fostering growth in this arena, and the conference enriches opportunities for learning about the sports business world. The conference is open to anyone interested in sports.
Though the real description is that a bunch of (usually highly educated) nerds come together with the people in sports management and discuss their idea and breakthroughs in statistics and analytics. The ESPN Numbers Never Lie team made a little video that explains the conference well:
As far as I can tell from what I saw/read/heard about coming out of SSAC these are the important stories:
- Every sport was covered. Of course there were panels for baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey and football, but there were also panels discussing tennis equipment, like the new babolat pure strike Tennis Racquet as well as a tennis training aid.
- Bill James is a god among nerds. He was a special guest on panels, podcasts, and ESPN interviews. I think everyone is trying to make up for the Baseball Abstracts days.
- There was a panel dedicated to sports gambling, because it turns out that degenerates who gamble on sports have paved and are paving new roads in predictive sports analytics.
- TicketMaster started talking about their new PriceMaster stab at dynamic ticket pricing. Probably means more expensive tickets, but maybe there’ll be a last-minute cheap-o (like myself) option.
- EPSN was all over this thing: They has sponsorship ads in place. They had people on half the panels. They had their own panels. They were even broadcasting live.
To end this, I’ll leave you with a video of Kevin McHale, who, though not as hating as Joe Morgan, has never been a fan of all the advanced statistical analysis until (as you’ll see at about 2/3s into the video the video) he realizes that his GM (Daryl Morey) is a big fan of this stuff. So much so that he’s a co-chair at Sloan.