Beer and Tacos: How (Interested) Fans Should Watch Games in the Era of Possession Stats

Photo Credits: Mark Buckner/Getty Images)

Several years ago I was listening to Bernie Miklasz interview Joe Sheehan of the Baseball Prospectus.  Joe said something that stuck with me (paraphrased): “Statistical analysis versus scouting is a beer and tacos argument.  You are asking me to choose between beer and tacos when both are delicious”

This article will not explore Corsi or Possession stats, I’d be 5 years too late.  It’s the equivalent of giving yet another eye roll inducing “Millennials are Lazy and Entitled” hot take.  But, for disclosure’s sake:  I believe there’s something to good possession numbers correlating to a team’s success.  But the possession analysis needs lots of refinement, especially if NHL teams start to incentivize shot attempt numbers.

Premise

Moneyball is a great read.  One of the central ideas is that everyone (management and fans) have an imperfect understanding of baseball.  That’s the motivation behind #fancystats!  Gain a better understanding of what you’re seeing.  Instead of blindly embracing or dismissing Nerd Stats, watch the game with them in mind.  Beer and Tacos.



Case Study #1: Alexander Steen

Steener has slipped the last couple of years, but for a 5-year stretch, he was a possession monster.  And you watch his game and you might become confused as to why.  With the eyeball test, my read is he is a good but not great player.  He’s a good but not great passer, is a good but not great skater, has a good but not great shot, etc etc.  Why is Corsi lying to me?

Board Battles.  Alexander Steen routinely won the majority of board battles he was involved in.  In Hitchcock’s 2-1-2 forecheck system, Steen was usually the high forward, because it was his responsibility to pair with the defenseman to spring the trap along the boards.   It’s also why Hitch played Steen at the point.  Because a ‘hard around’ clear wasn’t getting by him, and the Blues maintained possession in the attacking zone.

Case Study #2:  Ryan Reaves

Reaves is another enigma.  He skates well, he’s a solid positional player, he even possesses an adequate shot.  Why are his possession numbers low?

Puck Handing.  Once I started watching with a critical eye, I noticed that he couldn’t handle the most routine break out passes.  He couldn’t carry the puck, or pass the puck well either.  He’s a skating turnover. If you want to keep puck possession you’re down to 4 passing options with him on the ice.



Slow your roll Reaves fans

His last season here, his puck handling game did improve.  He was no longer a disaster, merely marginal.   That’s beside the point.  He averaged about 8 minutes of ice time here.  8 minutes of Ryan Reaves turnovers likely didn’t cost the Blues too much.  Just don’t try and sell me on 8 minutes of shoving guys after the whistle blew helped the cause.

As I was saying…

It’s objectively possible to like beer and tacos simultaneously.   Possession numbers have changed how I watch the game.   Sometimes it helps your understanding of what you’re seeing to have a frame of reference.

 

 

 

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