Behind the Numbers: Scientific Progress and Diminishing Returns in Hockey Statistics

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Every once-in-a-while I will rant on the concepts and ideas behind what numbers suggest in a series called Behind the Numbers, as a tip of the hat to the website that brought me into hockey analytics: Behind the Net.

As the hockey analytics community pushes for validation of current metrics and their value, I think it is sometimes lost that we do understand these statistics have their weaknesses. We do wish and try to improve upon these weaknesses.

I also think an often underlooked fact is that each incremental improvement diminishes the potential value from every subsequent improvement.

Let’s take a look at what I mean…

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Behind the Numbers: The issues with binning, QoC, and scoring chances

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Every once-in-a-while I will rant on the concepts and ideas behind what numbers suggest in a series called Behind the Numbers, as a tip of the hat to the website that brought me into hockey analytics: Behind the Net.

Almost weekly, you will see a “quant” or “math” type complain about some of the binning going on (usually with Quality of Competition or scoring chances).

But the reason may not seem intuitive, so I’ll use scoring chances as an example and explain the issues with binning continuous data.

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Behind the Numbers: Scoring first and conditional probability

Every once-in-a-while I will rant on the concepts and ideas behind what numbers suggest in a series called Behind the Numbers, as a tip of the hat to the website that brought me into hockey analytics: Behind the Net.

Not long ago Jason Gregor tweeted about the value of scoring first.

It may be a bit controversial and difficult to get right away, but the value of scoring first is not special. Long ago, Mr. Eric Tulsky, now of the Carolina Hurricanes, showed that the value of scoring first equals the value of any other goal.

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Behind the Numbers: Why Plus/Minus is the worst statistic in hockey and should be abolished

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Every once-in-a-while I will rant on the concepts and ideas behind what numbers suggest in a series called Behind the Numbers, as a tip of the hat to the website that brought me into hockey analytics: Behind the Net.

Hockey’s plus/minus may be the worst statistic in hockey, although there is some debate with goalie statistics not based off of save percentage (like GAA or Win% that just adds a team component to a goalie’s save percentage). It could even be in contention for just the worst statistic in sport.

Now, some people may read that and think I’m simply saying this because I value shot metrics over goal metrics in player evaluations. While I do feel that way, it is only one of a few reasons that that plus/minus fails in being useful.

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Behind The Numbers: On the World Cup and Team Canada’s domination

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Team Canada won the cup. Team Canada went undefeated. They were the favourites going in, and they came out the winner. Not only did they win, but they went about it in dominant fashion. They rarely trailed and they controlled nearly every facet of the game.

It wouldn’t be surprising for many to hear that the team also dominated in the shots column… but they were not the most effective team in every aspect, which raises some interesting questions.

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Behind the Numbers: Why statistic-folks are sometimes assholes, UNjustifiably

Every once-in-a-while I will rant on the concepts and ideas behind what numbers suggest in a series called Behind the Numbers, as a tip of the hat to the website that brought me into hockey analytics: Behind the Net.

Here we go. Here is part two, to what really should have been part one in hindsight prior to this piece, which would have saved me some of the backlash on Twitter, as the point was frequently misunderstood. (And while we’re dealing with hindsight, the title was part of the misunderstanding as well.)

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Behind the Numbers: Why statistic-folks are sometimes assholes, justifiably

Every once-in-a-while I will rant on the concepts and ideas behind what numbers suggest in a series called Behind the Numbers, as a tip of the hat to the website that brought me into hockey analytics: Behind the Net.

It does not take long for Hockey Twitter to complete one full rotation on its typical life-cycle of subjects. The same debates come up on shot quality, grit and leadership, eye-test versus numbers, and how statistics should be used in player evaluation again and again.

These debates often come to an impasse. Sometimes they even deviate into ad hominem and red herrings. There are parties guilty on both sides, as one would (and should) expect there to be “assholes” in every demographic.

But why is the prerogative for being nice always on the “stats guys”? Why are the “analytics guys” the only ones needing to change their ways to make things better? Why is it that only one side is discussed to be less cordial than the other?

Why does this hypocrisy exist?

I have a theory on this.

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Behind the Numbers: Results matter in the end

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Every once-in-a-while I will rant on the concepts and ideas behind what numbers suggest in a series called Behind the Numbers, as a tip of the hat to the website that brought me into hockey analytics: Behind the Net.

Player tracking, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Okay, that’s a lie. A catchy lie though, especially if you are into late-60s / early-70s soul. It would also be pretty disingenuous of myself, since helping run the technical side of a tracking company is my day job.

However, whether you call it individual player tracking, microstatistics, or whatever, there seems to be some misunderstanding to some on what the numbers being measured represent and what they should do with this information.

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