Thursday, November 20, 2008

Apologies for another statheaded post ...

Every sport has its junk stats du jour, and the hockey guys have plus/minus in the crosshairs.

Gabe Desjardins ("Hockey's Bill James," April 4, 2007) has done some groundbreaking work at, specifically with metrics that compare a player's quality of competition and teammates.

The way the numbers are put together is a little mystifying to an English major (ahem*), but the concept is easily enough explained. Plus/minus, as many have said, made sense in the era before personal computers. The former Hockey Night in Canada announcer Dick Irvin recalled his father, as the Montreal Canadiens coach in the 1950s, deputizing him to write down which players were on the ice when goals were scored.

Since technology is only technology to those who were born after it was invented, it's kind of silly to hang on to a stat was born in a era of before personal calculators. It still has import, the way batting average and RBI do among baseball fans, but utility has simply been outpaced.

Gabe's stuff is probably going to gain greater currency -- it took Bill James 30 years to go from writing stuff during his slow hours in a factory job to getting an adulatory 60 Minutes feature.

Who knows how much working sportswriters really obsess over this. They're about what's within arm's reach,meaning until some PR flack starts including Corsi Ratings in in the press notes, most will probably continue to quote plus/minus. It will get absorbed over time, though, mark Gabe's words.

(* About 11 years ago, Mr. Desjardins -- and it was a treat to have him write a guest post when Phoenix Coyotes held a sweater retirement last year Winnipeg Jets great Dale Hawerchuk -- was a force to be reckoned with on the Queen's University College Bowl team.

The regulars consisted of Gabe, who was in electrical engineering, an engineering physics student, a law student with an engineering degree, someone who was taking degrees in commerce and sociology simultaneously. The alternate -- and yours truly is nothing but born filler-inner, was "an English and Politics student from Napanee, Ontario." It was humbling, in a good way.)

Why Plus/Minus Is A Rotten, Useless, Irrelevant and Misleading Stats For NHL Players (David Staples, Cult of Hockey)
Junking the plus-minus stat (

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