Is there an equivalent of a "Moneyball" for the NHL?
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04-23-2009, 09:11 PM
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: TealTown, USA
I agree with some others that I don't believe hockey is a sport that can be easily subjected to statistical modeling.
Baseball is pretty easy because, as Moneyball and Sabremetrics point out, it's a game of individual battles that occur 50-100 times per game, in every game, 162 times per year. The individual strengths of each batter/pitcher combination, fielders, stadium dimensions, etc. can vary, but over the course of a season (or multiple seasons), they tend to balance each other out. There are minor differences, but every at-bat is pretty much the same. Every shift in hockey is different.
Look at a guy like Jonathan Cheechoo. His goal totals went: 9, 28, 56, 37, 23, 12. You just don't see those kind of massive swings in home runs or batting average in baseball unless a guy misses half the season. Cheech has been relatively banged up, but he's played in no less than 80% of the games in each season. Granted most NHL players don't have swings that massive either, but they seem far more common than in baseball.
Each at-bat in baseball seems to have a (relatively) very narrow set of outcomes. A very narrow set of variables (0-3 runners on base, 0-2 outs, etc.). Hockey has so many variables, so many outcomes, it would really seem just too many to calculate. And the variables which have such a seemingly minor influence in baseball (a good pitcher will deflate a good hitters stats, but he will deflate ALL the hitters stats about the same on average), have a far greater impact in a hockey game.
One other thing to consider, too....
As Billy Beane said (and was pointed out in an earlier post), the playoffs are basically a crap shoot. You can predict the outcome of players over the course of an entire season where all the variables tend to even out, but in a short playoff series, the variables have too much influence to the point where success becomes impossible to predict.
That's not too a big deal for a baseball team. You play 162 games, and then the best 8 teams out of 30 (roughly speaking) get into the playoffs. The goal of a GM is to be one of those top 8 teams. From there, you need to win 11 games over 3 series. But in the NHL, the playoffs expand to 16 teams and 4 sets of best-of-7. Being the best team in the division/conference/league becomes almost irrelevant. In most seasons, just having a .500 record is enough to get your foot in the door and a chance at the Cup, and from there the game of chance takes over.
In the NHL, being the absolute best regular season team only nets you a Cup like 30% of the time. That's a pretty low percentage. Even if there was some magical formula you could implement that GUARANTEED that you would ice the best team in the league each and every year.....that would only be good for a championship 3 out of every 10 seasons. Statistically speaking.
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