Friday, April 24, 2009

Football, Hockey, and Player Development

Football Outsiders' Mike Tanier wrote an excellent article on drafting vs. player development (scroll down past the mock draft satirizing to get to the real meat of the post). He echoes my thoughts on the topic by pointing out that there are many post-draft variables that sculpt a player's future career success.

If that's true for 22 year old men with college degrees, then it is pretty likely to be even more true for 18 year old high school kids aspiring to play pro hockey.

And while we are comparing football to hockey, I thought of an interesting comparison: Brett Favre and Martin Brodeur. If career wins and shutouts trump all in the greatest of all-time debate, then doesn't holding the career wins and passing yards records make Brett Favre the greatest QB of all time?

Favre and Brodeur have more in common than holding their respective sports' career wins record. Both are distinguised first and foremost by durability, and have reputations for consistency. Neither has had any individual seasons that rank among the few greatest seasons ever - according to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, Favre doesn't have a single season in the top 50 QB seasons ever, and he has just one in the top 80. Brodeur also has only a couple of seasons that rank among the best in save percentage compared to league average.

Despite this both of them have won some major awards, with 3 MVPs for Favre and 4 Vezinas for Brodeur. They also have experienced team success, with 3 Stanley Cup rings and 1 Super Bowl ring between them.

As the groundswell of support for Brodeur as a best-ever candidate continues to grow, it might be wise to keep in mind how Brett Favre is ranked. A collaborative ESPN effort to rank the all-time top 10 QBs from a year ago ranked Favre 8th, and even after his retirement there is still debate about whether Favre is a top-5 guy.

It should be said that your individual evaluative criteria come into play when evaluating athletes who were distinguished more by durability and longevity than by peak play, like Brodeur and Favre were. However, it's just something to think about before automatically declaring the goalie with the most wins and shutouts to be the greatest ever.

5 comments:

Christopher said...

Great analogy. Never thought of the Favre comparison, but it makes perfect sense. How come NFL analysts can see what NHL analysts can't???

Bruce said...

Interesting comp. Obviously the comparison between Wins and Wins is legit. While I share your underlying objection that only One player is credited with such in a team game, be he QB, goalie or pitcher, I still think it's useful information, especially given that in each sport the most pivotal position has been chosen for that honour. If it merely identifies the most durable and consistent, well, those are pretty nice attributes to have.

The comp between shutouts and passing yards doesn't hold much water. Nor does the implication that somehow Save Percentage over league average is a proxy for "top QB seasons ever" which almost assuredly is based on a basket of stats, not just One.

overpass said...

Love the cross-sport comparisons. Quarterback is a similar position to goalie in that both are given the most credit for team wins.

I do think that quarterbacks are judged more on individual performance than goaltenders are, and that's probably because goaltenders have no stats comparable to passing yards and touchdown passes. Wins and shutouts are the only counting stats, and people love counting stats.

Ironically, I think that individual quarterback stats are certainly more team-dependent than SV% is for goaltenders. Offensive line, coaching, scheme, and receivers have a huge effect on quarterback stats and success, and in ways that can't be adjusted for by looking at shots against or backup stats. You'd have a hard time adjusting for team strength at "Brady is a Fraud".

Bruce - it's true that quarterbacks are judged on a variety of stats, but a quarterback's job is far more complex than a goaltender's. The quarterback initiates the play and there is a wide range of outcomes. For the most part, a goaltender reacts to the play, and there are two possible outcomes - a save or a goal. Puckhandling, poke checking, etc. can also add value, but most of the plays a goaltender makes are the same - stop the shot. Assuming there aren't large disparities in team strength (and therefore shot difficulty), save percentage should capture most of the goaltender's value.

In this sense, the goaltender and quarterback are not similar at all. The quarterback's job is far more complex and difficult to evaluate.

Bruce said...

In this sense, the goaltender and quarterback are not similar at all. The quarterback's job is far more complex and difficult to evaluate.Just win, baby.

:D

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

"Nor does the implication that somehow Save Percentage over league average is a proxy for "top QB seasons ever" which almost assuredly is based on a basket of stats, not just One."

Actually, it was only based on one stat, Football Outsiders' DVOA measure (Defence-adjusted Value Over Average). They break down the result of each play compared to league average and then adjust for opponents, which makes it something like the NFL equivalent of shot quality neutral save percentage.

"Offensive line, coaching, scheme, and receivers have a huge effect on quarterback stats and success, and in ways that can't be adjusted for by looking at shots against or backup stats. You'd have a hard time adjusting for team strength at "Brady is a Fraud"."

I certainly agree with your overall points that QB play is both more complex and more team-dependent than goaltending, but in Tom Brady's particular case we do have at least some idea of New England's QB environment thanks to Bernard Pollard. We'll probably know even more once we see how well Matt Cassell manages in Kansas City.

I hate to say it, but season-ending injuries really are helpful for the statistical analyst.