Monday, February 23, 2009

Crosby hate or How I learned to stop worrying and love the stats (Morning cycle)

  • Watching the Washington Capitals crush the Pittsburgh Penguins was no surprise to well-informed observers and no one expects Washington fans to treat Sidney Crosby with anything less than disdain. Crosby urinal cakes and "Crosby is a douche" T-shirts? Par for the course.

But c'mon guys, the Crosby hate is starting to be excessive. Look, we all understand that Sid the Kid gets media coverage that is not quite proportionate to his standing in the league. That doesn't mean he's not one of the best forwards, just that he's not the only fish in the sea. Here's the analogy that makes the most sense to me:

Consider NHL marketing a pizza. There's eight slices and four dudes who want that stuffed crust. Let's say we have Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla/whichever fourth forward strikes your fancy at the dinner table. It's not unreasonable to give each guy two slices, but really, Crosby gets about 5 slices and the rest are lucky to even get one.

It would be like Lebron James receving all the attention unless Kobe Bryant found a way to score 30 points blindfolded. I get that.

Still, let's not forget how lucky we are as NHL fans. The under-30 talent in this league is almost obscene. Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin are joined by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Ilya Kovalchuk, Ales Hemsky, Anze Kopitar and the list goes on and on.

It's fine to dislike Crosby, but there may come a time when you regret frowning every time he touches the puck.

  • For the longest time, it seemed, stats filled my head with a rage only matched by Rush Limbaugh's anger after a Donovan McNabb touchdown pass.

Perhaps, though, my deep hatred was for the statistics highlighted by ESPN and other networks when they cover sports rather than stats themselves. How many times per year do you roll your eyes at an obscure contextual statistic ... one that really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of anything?

After spending the last year getting more deeply involved in the hockey blogosphere than expected, my viewpoint of Moneyball/Bill James inspired statistics changed profoundly. It is painfully obvious that judging a player by studying superficial stats like plus/minus simply cannot cut it any longer.

Last week featured some fantastic examples of the best in stat-crunching and the last month shows my rapidly increased interest in "looker deeper." You can find some great examples of good stat use in a footnote at the bottom of this post.* (And for not as great examples, there are a few I wrote in that footnote too.)

  • Here's an open challenge: find a way to convince me that the Minnesota Wild can actually make the playoffs. Before you scream "they're the eight (blanking) seed!" take a look at their positively homicidal schedule.

After they host the Kings tomorrow, they must go through this road trip: Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, San Jose, LA Kings and Anaheim. That's a six game run against borderline to ironclad playoff teams. And to be honest, their schedule isn't much easier from there.

  • And, finally, from the Be Careful What You Wish For department: in this high tech era in which people can take a photo of you with a phone, is it finally time to admit that being a public figure might just suck? At least a little bit?

Obviously, the Montreal Canadiens might not be the wisest decision makers when it comes to public intoxication, but this stuff keeps happening in sports and beyond. Sure, it would be great to sleep with gorgeous women, play a child's sport for a living and rake in millions of dollars. No doubt about it, if I was a pro hockey player no one would be allowed to bring electronics into my home or parties and everything - banana peels, veal cutlets, everything - that goes into my trash would be shredded. Perhaps there are advantages to anonymity.

(Seriously, whoever snapped that photo of Michael Phelps might get the Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux "skip the grace period" treatment. Just rush that douche into the Piece of Shit Hall of Fame.)

* - It's non-hockey, but Moneyball author Michael Lewis took a fascinating look into the way the Houston Rockets measure Shane Battier's under-the-radar contributions.

Matt from Battle of Alberta's breakdown of Alex Kovalev's struggles will leave you snickering at the surface-level "body language" type commentaries of talking heads.

Our pal Earl Sleek found some stark examples of how the Ducks currently handle tie game situations versus better time's for the Quack attack.

Your fearful author also published some stories that crunch stats in the last month. Most recently, there was my team-by-team breakdown of goaltending tandems. Also, while moonlighting at Battle of California I took a look at the Western Conference: (bubble bursting part I, part II and part III).


jamestobrien said...

That Ovechkin photo KILLS me. I found that at Hockey Dump, btw, so give him credit by checking out his blog.


Chris Kontos said...

Cameraphones are quickly becoming the #1 downfall to the perks of being a professional athlete. Can you imagine the shit that Mickey Mantle or Joe Namath would have got caught doing if cell phones had been around???

Also, not only does Minnesota have a crazy schedule, they also have to figure out what they are going to do with Niklas Backstrom. It seems that every Western Conference team can be a buyer AND seller this year.

jamestobrien said...

Backstrom seems like he's going to be the rare big extension from the Wild, but I wonder if that's the right move. The Wild were doing the goalie tandem thing before it was in style.

Chris Kontos said...

And now Brunette and Owen Nolan are injured. No good for the Wild.