Why The Average Fan is Naïve and Ignorant

Two Peas in a Pod

If you talk about advanced hockey analytics, you’re inevitably going to be told to “just watch the games” instead of looking at “useless” numbers. Although I think those people are foolish, I’ll be the first to admit that advanced analytics do have their issues. The problem is that most people who hate on advanced hockey analytics believe that simply watching the games is a flawless way to evaluate hockey players. They’re wrong. If your goal is to evaluate teams and players as best and efficiently as possible, it is idiotic to throw either of these tools of evaluation out the window. Both watching the games and analyzing statistics are absolutely essential, as they make up for what the other cannot do.


Giving Yourself Too Much Credit

As I’m sure you know, hockey is a fast-paced game and it’s fundamentally impossible to see everything that happens and also store it in your memory. After any given game, would you be able to say how many scoring chances each player had? Which player had the most shots or takeaways? Certainly not. This leads you to judge players based on what you think you saw and what you can remember. There is so much going on at any given moment and processing it all is far from possible. If you think that you can efficiently watch, absorb, process and then store everything that goes on during a game you’re giving yourself way to much credit.

It is very unlikely that you’re as insightful as you think you are if all you do is watch the games without looking at the advanced statistics. It would be like attending a semester full of lectures without reviewing your notes and then wondering why you failed the final. Your memory alone cant’t cut it. Do your homework.


Your Inevitable Bias

When hockey fans were asked if their team makes back-up goalies look like Vezina winners, 80% of fans said that that is the case for their team. The use of statistics quickly disproves this opinion. Funny enough, this is also a running joke for Habs fans on Twitter.

Your eyes and memory aren’t efficient at objectively remembering exactly what takes place every game. If you dislike a player, you will remember their blunders more than their successes. If your favourite player scores, you’re more likely to store that in your memory than when he lost his team the game with a costly turnover. Try it. I’m sure you can remember many goals from your favourite player but you forget most, if not all of his mistakes. Selective memory is unavoidable. Furthermore, fans are constantly affected by the bias of commentators during games.

Your eyes deceive you and make you remember what you want to believe as opposed to what really happened. It isn’t a coincidence that most fans believe that their team is constantly hitting more posts and getting worse calls from the refs than their opposition.

Unfortunately, our constant subconscious biases make it impossible to objectively judge a player based off of watching alone. If you think you’re unbiased and watching with a neutral eye, you’re once again giving yourself way too much credit.


The Objective Truth

Stats are objective, verifiable and falsifiable. Player A does B better than player C does. Stats don’t care about your biases; they tell it as it is. If your thoughts on a player contradict the statistics, which one is more reasonable to follow? Are you going to trust your biased and inadequate eye-watching strategy or will you go with the testable and objective results? Logically speaking, statistics do a superior and more informed job than our eyes can possibly do.


Advanced Stats Aren’t Perfect

It may seem that I’m preaching that watching hockey is useless. It would be ridiculous to say that is the case. Stats can’t measure the intangibles of hockey. They can’t measure the heart, character, work ethic, “clutchness” and grit of players. We all know hockey is a game that will never be able to be fully represented on paper.

Despite some of the statistics having their flaws (they are still young – remember that), understanding zone starts, quality of competition, PDO and possession numbers are completely relevant and essential statistics to track. It isn’t a coincidence that only 3 teams that didn’t finish in the top 5 in possession have won the cup since 1993.


Finding the Ideal Mixture

If you want to maximize your knowledge and be able to evaluate players as best as you can, my advice would be to watch the games and research statistics. Watch the games for the intangibles and to form your own opinions to see if they are backed up by statistics. It’s up to you to think critically about which of the available information is relevant and important.

As long as you remember that both your eyes and statistics can deceive you and will be mistaken, you are already much less likely to become fooled than the average fan. I sincerely believe that if you are using one method without the other, you are severely limiting your knowledge. Watching the games is not enough. Researching statistics is not enough. Watch and research. Become informed.


Want to talk about the article? Follow me on Twitter: @HabsNewsAndTalk

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