AP Hockey Story of the Day: December 1 – “We can’t get much worse”

DC’s own Tony Kornheiser, of Pardon The Interruption fame, came out yesterday and said that he feels the best next step for the dysfunctional Washington Redskins is to embrace analytics, to try and do to football what Billy Beane did for baseball. His reasoning is one which I think should be used to convince front office personnel more often, even if it’s a risky approach: “How much worse could it get?”

If you’re a team, and this applies to any sport, that hasn’t made the playoffs in a number of years, that doesn’t exactly look poised to take the world by storm, isn’t it worth doing something unconventional to turn the tide (non-McDavid year category)?

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: November 18 – On the Defensive Shell

Garik16 from Hockey Graphs, Lighthouse Hockey, and Islander Analytics wrote a good piece today on the defensive shell (a topic that’s been on my list to address for a while), following up on David Johnson’s initial look into the subject a couple of years ago. I highly encourage you to read both stories, but the general conclusion from today was that the shell doesn’t actually help a team because the opponent’s scoring rate – what you’re trying to minimize – actually increases. I had a couple of thoughts on the issue, because while the material is interesting, I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: November 13 – Building An Analytics Team

This piece from Trey Causey is absolutely spot on. If you’re involved in an organization in any sport, you need to give this to your President/GM/Owner. This is how analytics will help your team win, and luckily, you have a major first mover advantage – especially in something like hockey – because while teams are now using analytics, nobody is using it quite like this yet.

One point I’ll expand on quickly when it comes to hockey is the idea of time horizons. Coaches tend to worry more about immediate payoffs than GMs, because their jobs are more likely to be in immediate jeopardy if the wins don’t come. But that isn’t the way it should be. Coaches need to understand and employ analytics, but they also need to be given assurances that they will be judged based on process, rather than results. At least in the near term. All parts of the organization need to be moving in the same direction, and only then can output be optimized. If a GM isn’t willing to take that approach with a certain coach, then hire a coach with whom you’re comfortable enough to do so.

AP Hockey Story of the Day: November 5 – On Skill Development as an Inefficiency

There’s a fascinating look at skill development here that reminds me of an interesting anecdote I read in Sports Illustrated a while back. When people think of sports inefficiencies these days they think of analytics, numbers, Moneyball, etc. But those are just the most the most prominent modern manifestations. Back in the late 19th century, Baltimore Orioles manager Ned Hanlon began bringing his team down south prior to the season to work on their skills and ability to execute plays like the squeeze bunt and the hit and run. He had players field grounders and fly balls for hours every day, and his teams, more ready for the season than ever before, won three straight National League pennants, leading other managers to copy his practice and develop what has become known as Spring Training. Hanlon actually developed baseball’s first true inefficiency: fundamentals.

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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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