Monday, August 23, 2010

Hockey sabermetrics in the mass media

Today's Ottawa Citizen (and probably its sister papers) features an article by David Staples on the new hockey sabermetrics (unfortunately headlined "Stats geeks rejoice"). Allan Mitchell, Tyler Dellow, Vic Ferrari, Derek Zona, and Gabriel Desjardins are all mentioned, but there's a limited amount of actual information on what these guys have contributed to the field.

" ... players are rated on all kinds of advanced stats. They have exotic names such as Qualcomp, Qualteam, WOWY, ZoneShift, ZoneStart, Fenwick and Corsi plus/minus, NHLe (equivalencies) ... all of them trying to improve on the current basic scoring stats, called "boxcar" numbers, which are rightly dismissed byt he stats guys as being imprecise, misleading, and lacking context."

What I found interesting was Don Cherry's reaction to the "Corsi plus/minus" stat -- which the article focuses on, but doesn't describe at all despite the fact that it's so easy to explain (just like regular plus/minus, but based on shots instead of goals):

On a broadcast last March ... host Ron MacLean explained to Cherry how the stat worked, then told Cherry, that, by this measure, Chicago's Marian Hossa was the NHL's best player and Vancouver's Ryan Johnson the worst.

"This shows how stupid the Corsi thing is," Cherry fired back. "This is how stupid guys come up with, trying to earn a living, they come up with dumb (stats) ... I'll tell you one thing, Vancouver loves this guy (Johnson), he is unbelievable, and that dumb-dumb system you're talking about, I would love to have Ryan Johnson on my team and every coach would have him on, too."

I'm a bit surprised here, because, while I don't believe Don Cherry is a deep analytical thinker, I've always thought that he knows hockey as well as anyone, and his talent evaluations were as good as anyone's.

Since, contrary to what MacLean may have said to Cherry, the player with the lowest Corsi stat is not necessarily the "worst" player in the league, perhaps Cherry was reacting to that. My guess is that, while Cherry is wrong about Corsi being a "dumb-dumb system," he might be right that Ryan Johnson is a better player than Corsi alone would suggest.

Of course, I could be wrong, and my faith in Cherry's scouting abilities misplaced.



At Wednesday, August 25, 2010 12:04:00 AM, Anonymous Frank said...

You're probably right about Cherry and Johnson - - Colby Cosh had a good post about this back in March on his Macleans blog:

At Wednesday, August 25, 2010 12:13:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Awesome link ... thanks very much, Frank!

Cosh's explanation, that Johnson's rating is due to taking lots of faceoffs in his own zone, makes a lot of sense.


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