Wins Above Replacement: Replacement Level, Decisions, Results, and Final Remarks (Part 3)

In part 1 of this series we covered the history of WAR, discussed our philosophy, and laid out the goals of our WAR model. In part 2 we explained our entire modeling process. In part 3, we’re going to cover the theory of replacement level and the win conversion calculation and discuss decisions we made while constructing the model. Finally, we’ll explore some of the results and cover potential additions/improvements.

Wins Above Replacement: The Process (Part 2)

In part 1, we covered WAR in hockey and baseball, discussed each field’s prior philosophies, and cemented the goals for our own WAR model. This part will be devoted to the process – how we assign value to players over multiple components to sum to a total value for any given player. We’ll cover the two main modeling aspects and how we adjust for overall team performance. Given our affinity for baseball’s philosophy and the overall influence it’s had on us, let’s first go back to baseball and look at how they do it, briefly.

Wins Above Replacement: History, Philosophy, and Objectives (Part 1)

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a metric created and developed by the sabermetric community in baseball over the last 30 years – there’s even room to date it back as far as 1982 where a system that resembled the method first appeared in Bill James’ Abstract from that year (per Baseball Prospectus and Tom Tango). The four major public models/systems in baseball define WAR as such:

• “Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.” FanGraphs
• “Wins Above Replacement Player [WARP] is Prospectus’ attempt at capturing a players’ total value.” Baseball Prospectus
• ”The idea behind the WAR framework is that we want to know how much better a player is than a player that would typically be available to replace that player.” Baseball-Reference
• “Wins Above Replacement (WAR) … aggregates the contributions of a player in each facet of the game: hitting, pitching, baserunning, and fielding.” openWAR

Penalty Goals: An Expanded Approach to Measuring Penalties in the NHL

Intro

Penalty differential figures are a rather ambiguous concept in hockey. It seems only recently that the majority of analysts and fans have stopped touting a player’s total penalty minutes as a positive aspect of a player’s game. Let’s get one thing clear: taking penalties is a bad thing and drawing penalties is a good thing. When a penalty is taken or drawn, the change in strength state (5v5 to 5v4 for instance) directly impacts the rate of goal scoring for a given player’s team (goals for and goals against). We can measure this change by determining league average scoring rates at each strength state and can then determine the net goals that are lost/gained from a penalty that was taken/drawn. This was first shown in the penalty component of the WAR model from WAR-On-Ice (WOI) here. A.C. Thomas explains it:

The Hockey Graphs Podcast Episode 7: Wins Above Replacement

Dawson Sprigings, better known as DTM About Heart, joined Adam Stringham to discuss his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat, it’s utility and why there is so much resistance to catch-all stats. You can read Dawson’s write-up on WAR here on Hockey Graphs (part 5 contains links to all other parts).

Please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes!

A Defense of WAR from a WAR-Skeptic

Embed from Getty Images

Note: This was originally intended to be a tweet-thread which grew far too long and unmanageable, so you’re getting a poorly-written post instead. Apologies in advance.

Recently, David Johnson, owner of the awesome puckalytics.com has been on a bit of a warpath (pun intended) against the use of WAR/GAR. Most of David’s arguments can be found here and here, but there are some other comments in this thread.

I consider myself a bit of a WAR skeptic. I think Dawson’s work is great, but I think there are limitations/issues with it. A good summary of some of my concerns can be found in another ill-advised and long tweet thread.

With that being said though, I still think it’s extremely useful as a first pass to start discussion. WAR can be broken down into 5 useful components to see where a players impact derives from.

A New Look at Aging Curves for NHL Skaters (part 1)

How do NHL players age? When do they peak? How quickly do they decline? Questions about player aging in the NHL have been debated for years, and an incredible amount of research has already been done trying to answer these questions. Within the past 3 years, however, it seems a general consensus has been reached. Rob Vollman summarizes this quite well in his book Stat Shot: The Ultimate Guide to Hockey Analytics: “Most players hit their peak age by age 24 or 25 then decline gradually until age 30, at which point their performance can begin to tumble more noticeably with the risk of absolute collapse by age 34 or 35.”

The vast majority of this work has been done looking at points, goals, shot attempts, special teams, etc., but the release of Dawson Sprigings’ WAR (Wins Above Replacement) model gives us a new statistic from which we can derive value and, possibly, a new way to look at how NHL skaters age. It seems only natural that we’d revisit the NHL player aging question using this new model. If you’re unfamiliar with his WAR model, you can read all about it here.

Strong and Weak Links: Talent Distribution within Teams

In the salary cap world, hockey is a game of resource allocation. Each team is given a set amount of money to acquire players. Consequently, hockey inevitably becomes about tradeoffs. When building a team, every dollar spent on one player is a dollar that can’t be used for another. There are certainly times when you can get a bargain, but you will always have to make decisions about spending priorities.

One frequent prioritization question is high-end quality vs. depth. How much should a team focus on the very top of its lineup vs. ensuring it has adequate depth? Should a team maximize its strengths or minimize its weaknesses?

This question is relevant to many front office decisions. The Bruins traded Tyler Seguin for several assets, and some argued that the Penguins should do the same with Evgeni Malkin to improve their depth. As Steven Stamkos approached free agency, many teams were deciding just how much they would be willing to pay him while knowing that signing him would inevitably come at a cost lower down the roster.

We can think through these tradeoffs by studying talent distribution within a team. If you hold total talent constant, is it better to have a team where everyone is equally talented, or one where a few elite players are trying to shelter a few terrible ones? We know from current Florida Panthers consultant Moneypuck that contending teams have at least one elite player, but to my knowledge, very little work has been done on the broader question of total team structure. This article mirrors my presentation at the Vancouver Hockey Analytics Conference 2017, at which I dug into talent inequality within teams to demonstrate:

• Hockey is a strong link game, i.e., the team with the best player usually wins
• Therefore, teams should prioritize acquiring the very best elite talent, even at the cost of having weaker depth than opponents
• This is important for roster construction now and has the potential to become even more important as teams get better at assessing talent and market inefficiencies become less common