Sometimes you have to laugh. Take, for example, the never ending failures of the Stats crowd to try and bring “Advanced Statistics” to the main stream.
Let’s Be Up Front About This
Now before I go any further I have to make an admission. I am not part of the Stats crowd, but I am not “Anti-Stat”. Not at all, actually. I find them completely useful and very interesting in the right circumstances. That said, I think the Stats crowd is off their collective rocker most of the time when it comes to how they present their material.
We Have More In Common Than You Think
If you are reading this and rolling your eyes at the Stats freaks who have flooded your twitter timelines with defenses of Grabovski, Horcoff, or any other traditionally underperforming player as of late then close your eyes for a second and imagine something with me.
Imagine someone whose passion about hockey is so great that it fueled a desire to know more than what we’ve been spoon fed our whole lives about the game. Someone who will spend hours staring at game sheets and charting untold points of data just to squeeze an extra drop of truth from the game. Imagine someone who is ready to challenge all of the ideas we have in our heads about what is important and what isnt.
Sometimes when you’ve seen the 13th tweet about why Grabovski being bought out is an idiotic move by Nonis you have to remind yourself that these guys are just fans. Fans that care so much that they dedicate a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the game the best way they can without the benefit of playing professionally.
Here’s the thing about the Stats crowd, they want you to accept them. They want their ideas to be circulated and become part of the Mainstream. Nobody spends hours upon hours plotting data and refining ideas and then publishing results thinking “I sure hope only 100 people in the world ever read this!” The problem is the delivery.
What’s In A Name?
Let’s start with the term that is used to describe all these non-traditional statistics that have cropped up over the last 10 years (from the perspective of the uninitiated): “Advanced Statistics“.
It sounds like a class I accidentally stumbled into looking for my Arts friendly “Introduction to History” class but was too embarrassed to leave until the lecture was over because I was afraid everyone would know I was an idiot.
Well it isnt. In fact, most of these statistics arent all that “Advanced” at all. They just have fancy sounding names that should probably be dropped to something that actually makes sense to the common man. Why is “Corsi” named as it is instead of simply calling it “Shot Differential”? I’m sure Jim Corsi was a cool guy and deserves credit but I’m also sure that the person who first recorded the names of the last 2 teammates who touched the puck immediately before the goal scorer wasnt named John Q. Assist.
People understand “Shot Differential”, there is absolutely no need to take something so basic and present it in such an abstract manner. Secret code was cool when we were 9 years old and we didnt care how unbearably nerdy we were. Now we’re grown up and dont have time to learn Klingon to impress our lame friends.
And what is advanced about adding up all the attempts on net for and subtracting all the attempts against?
Nothing, but nobody was telling us the information before. Now we have access to it.
By framing new ideas and information as “Advanced” right off the hop they have lost the attention of the majority of potential consumers for that information. People dont WANT advanced lessons in statistics. It sounds boring, difficult, and reminiscent of past struggles in school. People, fans, just want to know more about their teams.
The good news here is that non-traditional stats are perfect for telling us more about our teams than we could ever know without them. We (Fans) all watch the games. Even the Stats junkies who defend the Dustin Penners of the world and crap all over the latest Free Agent signings watch the games (despite being told on a continual basis to put down the calculator and watch the game). The problem is that Hockey is so damned fast that you cant catch everything that is happening on the ice at the same time.
I prefer to think of “Advanced Stats” as “Contextual Statistics”. These non-traditional stats are providing context for the Traditional Stats that we are so used to seeing.
Nazem Kadri looked like he finally “got” what it meant to be an NHL player and was living up to potential. He was confident and making offense look easy. How exciting for Leafs fans that their prospect came in and put up 44 points in 48 games. Exciting indeed but an “Advanced Stat” like PDO tells us that Kadri played in EXTREMELY good luck last year.
Again, PDO is nothing advanced, it is on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage added together. The number should be 1000 when combined. Below that the player had bad luck, above it the player had good luck. Kadri had a PDO of 1063. The wretched Grabovski? 988.
Kadri shot the lights out at a completely unsustainable rate. And when it drops the people who didnt have the context for his success will be searching for answers to why Kadri is struggling.
Stop Making It So Damn Complicated
People want the information that the Stats crowd has to offer. The Stats crowd has the desire to be accepted and read by the people. Just fix the barriers. Frame your brilliant ideas in a way that makes people want to consume them.
These “Advanced Stats” are making their way into mainstream conversations despite the best efforts of their main proponents. They are being made accessible because of quality writers who can both understand their value and can present them to a wide audience without alienating anyone.
We would have been talking about shot differentials and zone starts a long time ago if someone had dropped the abstract names and shitty charts from the beginning. It seems like all the time someone is coming up with great ideas about how to get more context for the game, all they need to do is present it in a way that anyone other than an über fan would actually read.