Baseball is a stats-driven game, where players are judged by their batting average, fielding percentage and on base percentage, and where pitchers are judged by their earned run average and WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). But several years ago, a new-school type of stat began to be applied to baseball players – WAR, or “wins above replacement” – that really attempted to judge the value of players by including all of their contributions in one statistic.
The WAR sabermetric leads us to a similar new-school style of analytics that is increasingly gaining momentum in hockey. These stats, which are commonly referred to as “fancy stats,” include the likes of Corsi, Fenwick Rating, Zone Start Percentage, QualComp and PDO to further shed light into how valuable the individuals on a hockey team are beyond goals, assists and plus/minus.
The earliest roots of these fancy stats go back between 2006 and 2008 when a fan website – the Irreverent Oiler – began compiling these metrics. While the Irreverent Oiler was considered to be the birthplace of these analytics, other websites began to gain traction as well. These include sites like Extraskater.com and newer endeavors like stats.hockeyanalysis.com and Progressive Hockey.
These advanced metrics really began to be embraced by NHL teams, with many pointing to the 2014 offseason as the critical period of adoption. Today, every NHL team has some sort of analytics department to blend this new-school style of thinking with the old-school style of thinking that often still – and rightfully – persists. Even NHL.com has jumped on the fancy stats train, as the league’s official website now includes Corsi and Fenwick Rating on its stats page, as well as an explanation of what they mean.
These so-called fancy stats aren’t going anywhere, and while some teams place more value on them than others, blending new-school with old-school has been embraced by most organizations as a means of better judging lineups. For instance, the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Darryl Metcalf to head its analytic department. Metcalf founded the aforementioned Extraskater website, the site that helped jumpstart this whole advanced metrics craze.
Including advanced metrics when judging a player isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however it shouldn’t mean that old school stats are disregarded. The general thinking of most organizations is that the more data you have to make lineup and roster decisions, the better – and that’s one big way that these advanced metrics are paying off, as they provide that little extra that may influence coaching and management decisions.
It’s worth noting, however, that stats – whether they be old-school or new-school – aren’t the only things that should be considered and debated by fans and executives. You can’t judge a player’s skating abilities, stick handling abilities or shooting abilities by looking at their stats. In this sense, while stats are helpful as supporting data, there’s a lot more that needs to be considered when fans, coaches and general managers judge hockey players.