Monday, October 31, 2016

Breaking News: Plus-Minus Is Actually Good

We need to talk about something minor that happened this weekend. Yes, the Flyers lost (and then won) and the Eagles blew their game against the Cowboys. But there a million and a half people who are more qualified to break down either and/or both of those games.

I want to talk about Sam Carchidi's article from Friday. It was a defense of plus-minus as an NHL statistic.
Once you get past the "old man yells at cloud" tone of the article, it's an important discussion to have in the hockey world.

Before we get past that though, let's watch the old man yell:
Sorry, analytic heads, but Giroux pays close attention to his plus-minus numbers each game. 
Like Giroux, Hakstol believes there is merit to plus-minus stats, and he says he pays attention to those numbers. 
Provorov, a 19-year-old rookie defenseman, said he respected the plus-minus stat. 
Well, there you have it, folks. Plus-minus is actually a good statistic. Tyler Toffoli was the best player in the NHL last season. Jeff Schultz was the league's best player in 2009-10. Paul Ysebaert was actually better than Mario Lemieux and Mark Messier (and Ray Bourque, and Scott Stevens, and Brett Hull, and Wayne Fucking Gretzky) in 1991-92. 

Now, to be fair, Sam did include a qualifier that leads me to believe he understands that plus-minus has its downsides. From a statistical analysis standpoint, there are a thousand ways to more accurately evaluate play. 

The real moral of his post is this closing line:
Plus-minus isn't the end-all stat, but the fact it unites the five players on the ice toward a common goal - earning a "plus" when they are on a shift together - makes it a part of hockey's culture, whether analytics people like it or not. 
I hate when Twitter Eggs say things like "put down your spreadsheet and watch the game, nerds" because there's room for both cultures to exist. The nerds are going to use their spreadsheets to judge players and teams as accurately as they possibly can. The players on the ice, though, need to be concerned about the stat that most directly impacts the scoreboard on a per-game basis, plus-minus.

So yeah, Sam, I'm glad you broke the news that hockey players are worried about scoring and giving up goals. That's really fucking groundbreaking. It's also a horrible measure of how good individual players are (and how good they will be in the future), which is why Corsi and Fenwick and Expected Goals were created.

Because otherwise you might think that RJ Umberger (-31 as a Flyer) and Zac Rinaldo (-30) were better than Sami Kapanen (-34), and that'd be sacrilegious.

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