What is this ‘advanced stats’ thing I have occasionally been talking about? It’s really not that complicated as a concept! Basically many (but not all) of the statistics we use to understand the performance of hockey players and teams are ‘counting stats,’ or statistics that evaluate by counting how many times they’ve done things, such as score goals or been on the ice for goals. These stats absolutely have a use. But an advanced stat generally uses some kind of formula or algorithm to combine a number of different factors and show us the actual value of a player in more precise terms. It can do this in terms of that player’s efficiency while on the ice, and/or in terms of that player’s value when compared against the average player in a given league.
Here’s why, as a fan of the game, you should be checking Women’s Hockey Stats, the first advanced stat page for our game. You should also be ignoring those who whine about the growth of these types of numbers. People who reflexively oppose their use are like those who, when told that an electron scanning microscope can see the molecules in an apple, say they can see the apple just fine with their own eyes and the microscope is an obfuscating gimmick. Not that an advanced-stat denier probably knows the word obfuscating. The microscope can see the apple differently, and in certain ways more accurately. It can tell us things that we cannot know by just looking, and while these things may sometimes be counter to our ‘common sense’ intuitions, plenty of truths are. The other thing to remember is that conventional stats ARE statistics.* They’re a way of understanding the game through numbers. They just happen to be numbers that don’t always explain a whole lot. The quintessential example of this being RBI in baseball, which measure how well the person in front of me gets on base, not how well I hit. If I happen to bat behind someone who never reaches first, I have low RBI totals even if I get lots of hits.
*I did not come up with this idea; it has been explained many times by other writers.
Some things that advanced stats can tell us that conventional stats cannot:
- How good a goalie is independent of the defense in front of her
- The actual productivity of a player’s time on the ice
- Evaluating how a defender matches up against given lines (think about how imprecise raw +/- is)
- How much a player contributes, in a quantifiable way, to her team’s wins
- Normalization of stats across eras with different styles of play and average scoring
In terms of productivity, here’s a solid example: we were all told that Amanda Kessel blew away the competition for the Kazmeier. Certainly she destroyed the WCHA in Wins Created, garnering over 11 wins for Wisconsin. You can’t really argue with that if you see the Kaz as a Most Valuable Player to her team award. She also totaled up 32.92 VORP. However using this metric defender Megan Bozek (33.64) was marginally more effective, and Monique Lamoureux (32.54) was basically as good. Pure counting stats, especially given how they are tilted toward offensive production, can obscure other ways of contributing. Notice that I talked about blog favorite Alev Kelter having something of an off-season last year. That was basically the eyeball test, and it failed. Her VORP was good for ninth in the WCHA. She was 13th in Wins Created. In other words she was doing her best, dammit. Which is good to know in retrospect. Advanced stats can do more to bring players to our attention relative to team performance that may be somewhat under par.
This week in great hockey names, Shiann Darkangelo has 14 goals for Quinnipiac which puts her one off the national lead. And you know what? In the interest of both the quantitative and the qualitative, here are some of the top 25 players in Offensive Point Shares through early last month in the CHA: Thea Imbrogno, Kourtney Kunichika, Maeve Garvey, Jenna Dingeldein, Shannon Yoxheimer, Christie Cicero, Margot Scharfe, Kolbee McCrea, Kaleigh Chippy, Maggie Rothgery, Celeste Brown. I’m going to stop now because I could just go forever.
Finally, this thought for the holidays: if you are putting on your skates for the first time in over a decade, be prepared for them to look kind of dorky. Hockey technology has apparently moved on since 2002.