AP Hockey Story of the Day: October 31

Yesterday I discussed a great piece on Bill James written by Joe Posnanski, somebody I read consistently and try to emulate much of my more conceptual writing after. But Joe blogged today about the most discussed play of Wednesday’s Game 7 of the World Series and made a point that I vehemently disagree with. Here’s the story.

Here’s the relevant passage:

“But my point is this: You don’t get a second choice in real life. You choose once and that’s it. And the reveal — you chose poorly — becomes the reality. And so when you look back at something that didn’t work, you now know that anything else, even the stupidest possible choice, MIGHT have worked. The only thing we know for an absolute fact is that the choice made failed.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: October 30

It’s been a busy few days for great writing, and with midterms I didn’t get a chance to post anything yesterday, so this post is going to highlight multiple great reads with some thoughts.

1. Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star penned this interesting piece on the Toronto Raptors’ use of bioanalytics to prevent injuries. Bioanalytics isn’t something I’ve delved too far into since, simply put, it’s not my field of passion or expertise, but there is undoubtedly an opening for this type of work in hockey. The tough part when it comes to any kind of physical testing (this relates back to speed performance tracking as well) is differentiating the meaningful material from the noise. For example, the fact that x player averages y speed in a game one day could mean that he needs to get more sleep or that the training routine must be adjusted, but it could also just be a symptom of the fact that in certain situations it doesn’t make sense to go full-speed. It’s something teams will need to handle with care, but with the amount of money at stake, and the ruinous effect injuries can have, it’s something worth an investment.

2. Jacob Rosen of Sports Analytics blog wrote their (always solid) weekly analytics roundup and discussed why it’s so important for good public work to continue to prosper and be circulated. If you’re not following Sports Analytics Blog on Twitter, make sure to do so. You’ll miss far less great content from now on.

3. Friend of the blog Rob Vollman published a nice look at coaching changes over at ESPN Insider. The research seems overwhelming that in-season coaching changes in general don’t massively impact possession numbers, and generally it is the less sustainable shooting and save percentages that tend to regress, making new coaches look all the better. My question with regards to this would be: We know that something like a coaching change can motivate players to try just that little bit harder, to pay just a little bit more attention to detail maybe, at least for a few weeks. Is it possible that just because a high shooting or save percentage isn’t sustainable, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be influenced by such a kick in the pants? Whether one can find non-variance-based causal explanations for unsustainable performance is one of the great mysteries, at least to me, about sports. And it’s something that hopefully we can find a way to determine in the future.

4. On that note, last – but certainly not least – Joe Posnanski (possibly the greatest sportswriter on the planet) wrote an awesome feature on Bill James, somebody who I admire greatly, not just for what he did for analytics, but for his ability to recognize areas in which he failed early on, and how he has had to change his attitude upon further reflection.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Obviously Bill James didn’t coin the phrase but I will always associate it with him. How hard must it be for essentially the grandfather of modern baseball statistical usage to turn around and say that clutch hitting exists as a trait, despite what the numbers say on the subject. Going back to the Vollman piece, there is no evidence that shooting and save percentages can be heavily influenced by individuals in the short term, since they tends to not be able to persist. But I’m not sure I’m willing to close the book on that just yet.

AP Hockey Story of the Day: October 28

Sean Fitz-Gerald wrote a good piece in the National Post today on the buzz-word “compete level” that has followed a number of teams around, but in particular the Leafs, through their episode of “we are who they thought we were” review the last couple of years.

I haven’t watched more than a couple of Leafs games this year so I can’t comment on their performance, particularly, but I do think that most coaches defer to hard work as a cause of losing in times when talent level, variance, or poor coaching are possibly more apt explanations. It’s possible, however, for a team to simply not work hard enough. I’ve certainly been on teams like that, and sometimes it reflects badly on the coach; sometimes it just reflects badly on the players themselves.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: October 23

Craig Custance has a great (unfortunately insider only) piece on coaching salaries in the NHL, and Mike Babcock’s stand for his fellow coach. It’s a very interesting read.

The biggest reason why hockey is so in need of a catch-all stat isn’t for basic analysis, because combining different metrics isn’t so hard, but it’s so that there’s a baseline for salaries. Being able to say that Bryan Bickell adds 2.4 wins per season above replacement but Joel Quenneville adds 3 would be huge, and would affect salaries in a big way, equivalent to what has happened at the GM level in baseball.

AP Hockey Story of the Day: October 22

Considering that a large part of what I use twitter for is finding great things to read, and then to tweet them out to my followers, I’ve decided to streamline this process a little bit. Considering that some of my analytics work (but don’t worry, not all) will be transferring to Hockey Prospectus, I’ve decided to pick a piece of writing, every day (okay probably not every day) that I believe to be truly great. This could be a work of analytics, something conceptual, it doesn’t even necessarily have to relate to sports, although it most often will. Instead of posting said piece on twitter, I will post in hear under the headline “AP Hockey Story of the Day” and, time-willing, will offer some brief thoughts on the piece.

So long story short, if you like reading the types of articles I tend to tweet out, make sure you either visit the blog frequently, or at the very least keep tuned to my twitter account as I tweet out links to these pages each day.

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The Deployment Dilemma: How Fourth Lines Can Maximize Team Output

The season is finally here, which is great for most of us. But for some young up-and-coming players, it means getting cut from NHL rosters (whether now or following brief tryouts) while players who nobody would argue possess equal skill occupy the league’s fourth line spots. It’s an interesting dilemma, and one that until now nobody has to my knowledge managed to quantify. I’m only going to take the first step here, and speak in very broad generalities, but I hope that this piece will frame the debate over the use of the fourth line a little better, and present some evidence that maybe it’s time for change.

But first, a little perspective. Hockey wasn’t always about toughness or grit. In Canada, hockey’s roots lie in lacrosse, where early Canadians sought to find a winter alternative to their favored summer pastime. They implemented elements of rugby (like the no-forward pass), which certainly brought an element of ruggedness to the idea, but keeping the puck – or in the earliest days, ball – was basically as important as it’s seen to be by analytic types today. In Russia, meanwhile, hockey developed from soccer. Possession there was also critical, and simply speaking the best players played. There wasn’t much need for pests, or rats, or whatever you want to call them. It would have been out of character considering the sport’s origins.

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