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Broken Twigs: Advanced Stats for Dummies, Ron Hextall Music and Your FGSB Mailbag

Jul 18, 2013, 1:25 PM EDT

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I am not a smart person. I am not a patient person. You put 3 capital letters and a symbol after them and I’m just about checked out. By the time my brain works out that TOI/G is not Time on Ice per Goals I’m already clicking through to Reddit without even knowing it. I do like knowing things, however. And where Advanced Stats had my curiosity, after reading this sentence below, they now have my attention.

From The Globe and Mail, September 2011:
“You can see that there are a lot of decisions made every year – Philadelphia getting [Ilya] Bryzgalov, for one – that pretty much any analytics department would, 100 per cent, advise you against,” Desjardins said, referencing the Flyers netminder’s $51-million contract as an example of inefficient spending.

So much has been written on this, locally by Broad Street Hockey who has an excellent grip on the subject matter, nationally by just about every blogger with a URL. And so much has been ignored. As a Moneyball fan who for whatever reason has not entirely ignored advanced statistics, but hasn’t really embraced them either, I thought I’d look into these there stats a little more closely. And even though the calculations might break your TI 83 (no relation to the rapper or band), the concepts are very, very basic for anyone who’s ever had to do anything in a group.

Really, the entire discipline was born from the idea that plus/minus isn’t actually very reflective of the measurement it attempts to capture. The reason it doesn’t show who is good defensively is simple – there’s too many gosh darn people on the ice when a goal is scored to just award them all the same prize or penalty. So you need to break the game down into smaller parts. Chunk it up. Chunky chicken. Chickity China, the Chinese Chicken.

I digress.

If you’re already about to stop reading, consider this – If you were a good player but on a really bad team you might end up -7 every game. You go to look up your league stats and you’re ranked 246th even though you know you’re better than that. Scouts won’t even look at you because you’re a defenseman who obviously can’t play defense. Now you’re going to West Chester instead of BU because of a measurement Benjamin Franklin came up with in the Stone Age.

So here are the basic components and measurements that comprise the discipline known as “Advanced Statistics.”

1. Who you’re playing with, against, and what zone do you start in?
You always hear Pierre McGuire spouting off about match-ups. Well that means that some people are consistently playing against the other team’s studs while others are always out against wobbly-ankled 4th liners. You agree there is a difference between the first and fourth line, right? They measure that difference using Quality of Competition. The flip side of this is Quality of Teammates. Remember that time Steve Hartnell scored 37 goals? You think he would have done that with Jim Dowd and Trent Klatt on his line? No, he would have scored 137 goals – all praise DowdenKlatt. And then you have to take into account that some guys start most of their shifts in the O-zone and other start in the D-zone. Is it fair to measure them on the same scale? That’s why people measure what percentage of shifts you start where. That’s 3 major components of the stats they call “advanced.”

2. What is actually happening out there?
This is the big one: Corsi. If you’re watching the Flyers and they’ve been pinned in their own end for 2 minutes, that’s bullshit, right? They suck cat nips Focker-style. But there might not be a goal against them that whole time. Shots are blocked. Shots ring off the post. Shots sail wide. There are some saves, some whiffed on one-timers. While watching the game you’ll be the proud father of a fresh turd in your pants until they clear the zone. But If you looked at that shift on paper after the game it would just be a part of “17:43 spent in defensive zone” even though it was pants-crappingly tense.

Now picture this – Giroux, Voracek and Hartnell spend the entire game buried in their own zone except for a shot that is blocked by Hartnell that Giroux passes to Voracek who left the zone early (say what?) for a breakaway goal. Flyers win 1-0. That line ends the game +1, all with points, but they spent 95% of the game on defense. Did they play well? Looks good in the W/L column. Looks decent in the personal stats too. Voracek is even second star and risen in the Japanese Automobile Cup Standings. Did the lone goal scorer and second star of the game really play well if he spent 15 minutes running around his own zone? Now if you want to get even more granular, you can analyze all these shot attempts and designate which were “true” scoring chances versus just regular old shots. You can even measure the distance of all these shots (goals and shot distance have a direct correlation, if you can believe it). And that’s pretty much it. Are you giving up a lot of shots attempts and are they quality shots – that is Corsi.

3. “Game” means different things to different people…
Ok. You played a full season for the Flyers. Congratulations, I never thought you’d make the team because you’re very out of shape and not good at hockey. But somehow you made it. Hell, you even scored some. Your agent goes into Ron Hextall’s office (summer 2014) and sits down and says “my client deserves Claude Giroux money” and Hexy chokes on a Chilli’s Baby Back Rib  and almost dies laughing. After he collects himself Hexy’s all like “@randomdude only had 12 points last year in 82 games!” Doesn’t sound like you deserve Giroux money, does it? Claude had 100 points in 82 games and you’re just some random plug. But hold up. Why are you even measuring your points as a function of games? I’ll tell you why – because back when they used to print the scoring table in the newspaper some guy put games/goals/assists/points in it. You only played 2 minutes a game, 160 minutes all year. Claude Giroux played 20 minutes a game, 1,600 minutes all year. Who’s to say if you didn’t play that much you wouldn’t have scored 120 points (10x as many points with 10x the ice time)? You could get into it even further and break down PP time, PK time, use Quality of Competition and Teammates, etc… But the point is your agent has a leg to stand on in this discussion, and you’re going to get more money than a 12 point 82 game scrub who got mad ice time.

This has been written approximately Ilya Bryzgalov Free Money times but, you have to admit that there is something in these basic, basic measurements. Something that could at least add some color to the traditional Statistics tab on every team’s website. What’s great about the NHL is that so many teams have seen these stats (and much more complicated ones) as a competitive advantage as opposed to a threat to their institutional knowledge.

Flyers, call me up. I got a whole catalog of sexy stats that no one’s ever even heard about. I call them Advanced Advanced Stats. Let’s make some nickel alloy.

Damn that got serious for a minute. Let’s talk about farts! Mailbag time, boooooooyyyyyy!

@davegissac  First time, long time. Could Sheamus Weber help this team? I’ll hang up and listen.
Shea Weber is basically like adding a Bruno Gervais to your team. Weber gets a lot of media play because he’s in big market Nashville but he’s actually not that good. He was included on the Canadian Olympic roster because Steve Yzerman deleted the wrong row on his worksheet. Steve Eminger is NOT happy about that.

@vile_mennis  a/s/l?
Oh so glad you asked. For those of you that don’t know, we are two people:
Fran is 30/s made a 4 month old girl/NYC
Ryan is 31/s made an 8 month old boy/Boston
We both used to be from Philly and had OUR OWN blog where we were allowed to do things OUR WAY back when. We write this weekly segment as part of Fran’s probation for being a sergeant in the Barksdale crew during the early 2000’s.

@bo_knows  Dennis Wide man is neither wide, nor the man. Discuss.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves when listening to a post-game scrum. A reporter’s singular responsibility is to ask questions, right? But most of the time they just say something that happened and then tell the player to comment on it. “Mason’s game, talk about that.” Just ask the question for Pete Peter’s sake! “How do you think Steve Mason’s fitting in with the club?” “Do you think Steve Mason’s play tonight put you in a position to win?” “Do you think Steve Mason’s watermelon-like balls are a hindrance in net, or do they make up for restricting his mobility by blocking their fair share of shots?”

@rmiriam  Who will be the first scapegoat of the Flyers season?
This is a dangerous year to be a Flyer. Even though they weren’t all involved the Philly media became a little story after the Bryz buyout. They won’t like that. And that’s no good for anyone. Time and time again, especially in sports journalism, we are reminded that the pen is mightier than the sword. If you start dicking around with reporters they will bend you over the inkwell. There will be stories about your character in the DN, the Inq, on Comcast, in the blogs…and for some reason a majority of fans will whole-heartedly repeat this crap enough times until it becomes true, and then there’s picture of you doing ONE LINE of blow before a game and everyone hates you for no reason. That being said, last time they swallowed a goalie it didn’t digest properly, and neither Mason nor Emry makes enough to draw the MSM media’s ire. They love Vinny and Scoot is probably training 3 times a day specifically to avoid becoming a target after last year. So I think it’s gotta be a defenseman. If they trade one of Mesz, Coburn, or Grossmann the spotlight will be on the ones that stayed. If they don’t trade any of them, mark my words, the Philly media will gang up on one of them and dude’ll be gone by Thanksgiving.
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@TVMWW  wuddaya think of the blue line this year
It’ll probably be the same as last year – 12 inches wide and royal bl….ahahaahah Rodney Dangerfield would have loved that! I assume you’re asking about the Flyers defense. I always look at them on paper and am like “damn this is a good crew!” (except last year…that was bad going in) and then they get one injury and fold like an origami seagull. So I’m cautiously optimistic. In other words, I’m from Philly.

@HBAdventure  why is it so hard to get a one inch puck into a 6×4 net?
When I was a kid watching the Eagles it used to BLOW MY MIND that kick returners couldn’t just run every kick back for a touchdown. I’m not kidding. I’d watch them run up the field about 5 yards straight, give it a 45 degree cut, and then run right into the cover team’s arms. I was shocked that they would do this. Didn’t they know if they just ran away from the other guys they could get a touchdown? Like, you just run where the guys aren’t, you know?

I often still wonder this about hockey. Voracek is coming down on a breakaway (same game as above) and he just rips a wrister wide and I’m like WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??? Why didn’t he just shoot it in the net? It’s a close game! We could have used that goal! But still players just let the goalie save it or whatever. I don’t get it.

You ever watch a soccer game? The whole arena is basically a net and those guys are all like “oh watch me dance around the ball, I have a foot fetish!” And that’s the lowest scoring sport there is besides human hunting. All these guys get off on being withholding. “Look at me getting off” they say. They know we want to see goals and they won’t score them because they want us to watch them get off.

@zoowithroy Hi I have a question for your mailbag: What’s your favorite Elliott Smith HOCKEY song?
It’s gotta be Between the Bars, which is obviously about Darren McCarty scoring on Ron Hextall in the ’97 Finals.
“Drink up with me now / and forget all about / the pressure of days / Do what I say / and I’ll make you okay / and drive them away / the images stuck in your head.”
The problem is no one who’s ever seen Ron Hextall splayed out at the blue line like a Dexter victim while McCarty slips a dagger into the empty net will ever be able to get that image out of his head. Hextall sure wasn’t Between the Bars then! Probably why Smith, a huge Flyers fan, stabbed himself in the chest.

Yinztweet Breakdown of the Week

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@ASKLUZ_18 has me a little confused. I don’t know if he thinks this is the best picture so far…of like ever? Or since he started adding tear drops to pictures? Or since he got out of prison? Either way, calling the Flyers the Cryers is just cringe-tastic. Yes it rhymes, but that doesn’t mean it works. It sounds like a George Costanza comeback from like 3rd grade, that he would say and then cry himself. If I ever heard an adult use it live I’d puke all over myself. It’s just…gross. But I do like rivalries and I do like clever put downs. So here are some alternatives that I hope the Pittsburgh community will adopt:
1. The Philadelphia Priors
2. The Philadelphia Phormer teachers who were fired for having kiddy porn on their computers
3. The Philadelphia Phantoms
4. The Philly Pharts
5. The Philadelphia Buyers (of Depends)
6. The Philadelphia Phinalists for the award annually given to the city that cries the most
7. The Philadelphia Phatties
8. The Philly Phucks
9. The Philly Phetuses
10. The Philadelphia Phigure Skaters

  1. Kunk - Jul 18, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Here lies the world’s saddest commenter. RIP me.

    Reply
  2. Flyers797 - Jul 19, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    Who is Steve Hartnell? Get a clue.

    Reply
    • vile_mennis - Jul 19, 2013 at 10:49 AM

      boooooo this man

      Reply
  3. Jason R. - Jul 19, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    Candy bar? No, I’m withholding it.

    Reply
  4. MaxPower - Jul 19, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    Sweet “The Wire” reference.

    Reply

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