Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Player Performance, part 3

A small confession; I love the idea of a whole battery of stats for competitive paintball and its players. The keeping of statistics is a hallmark of professionalism. (Which is a whole 'nother post but bear with me.) It's a foundational way we ("we" meaning people in general and people involved in sports) try to categorize & quantify player & team performance. And stats provide a shorthand, easy to grasp way of making comparisons and supporting the inevitable arguments for or against different players amongst the fans of whatever that sport may be. It's a way to share our common interests in ways everyone understands and makes the game and its players more accessible. At the same time it should be apparent that stats alone are insufficient for those in the business of competing.
One of my favorite stat-busters is evaluating potential pro quarterbacks by the numbers--or even, in some cases, by their experience and past accomplishments. (Although I always tend to favor results over numbers because winners tend to win. [How's that for a real cliche?]) Anyway, scouts are looking for height, arm strength, a higher than average score on the Wunderlich test, etc. (They are also looking for a variety of qualities that are harder to quantify like poise, command in the huddle, ability to read progressions and so on.) But historically the scales have always leaned toward the numbers and if a guy looks like a quarterback he must be a quarterback. As a consequence the results have been inconsistent to say the least. For every John Elway there's a Ryan Leaf. And that is from a sport that spends millions of dollars in the effort. What chance then do paintball teams, captains and coaches have to get it "right" when they're making roster decisions?

And now for something completely different; it's story time. (For those of you familiar with our team codes, no, not that kind of story time.) I want to tell you a story about a former pro player I know and once had the pleasure & privilege to coach. Toward the end of his active career as a pro player I noticed a rather marked drop in performance. And it puzzled me for a while because I could see he was making the effort. He was putting in the time and once I got to know him a bit better I could see his frustration. It got to the point where I was cutting back on his rotations and trying to manage even those in an attempt to help him succeed because both he and the team needed that success to win. I struggled with how to come to grips with whatever was wrong because it wasn't desire, effort or dedication. What it turned out to be in his case was motivation but not in the normal sense. His game depended on his passion for the game and when after years and many successes the fire didn't burn as bright or hot as it once had it affected his ability to compete at the level he once had.
The moral of the story is that if we're gonna get a real handle on player performance we need to delve well beyond the realm of stats and boldly advance into the world of the intangible.
The rest of the story is I recently spent some time with that player--who is playing again (at least for now)--with a new maturity and at least a good dose of that old fire. The game matters again, just I think, in a different way than it once did. It was good to see and in hindsight it was easy to see the difference it made and is making again.

Next time; the intangibles of player performance. And after that--separating what's important from what is essential.


Anonymous said...

I've got one for you. It's not exactly on par with this storyline but fun no less. Give a comprehensive analysis of these similar players, and which you prefer on your new team - as players, not as coaches, buddies, or party animals.

Ollie and Jrab
Paxson and Lemanski
Cuba and JR
Damien and Lasoya
B Wing and Yosh
Chuck and Lane
Youngblood and Bob Long
Ceranski and Bruno
BJ and LB Fow

Anonymous said...

you forgot:
Chicken and egg
Cart and Horse

Baca Loco said...

Anon #1
That would be fun -- for somebody other than me. I will say this though, I'm not feeling some of your pairings. Damien and Chria aren't similar at all and neither are Lane and Chuck. And there are significant differences between Ollie and Jrab as well that would keep me from considering them similar enough for your comparison.

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

Edited for clarity

even with intangibles, stats will be your bottom line. No matter how many good intangibles a player has, if he doesn't have the bottom line talent, then he still wont be good. The intangibles can lift a good player to great, but they'll never lift a bad player to good.

Baca Loco said...

I hear what you're saying and I sorta agree but you're changing qualifications on me in mid-stream. You go from bottom line stats to bottom line talent. From where I'm sitting talent and stats aren't synonymous.
However, if your point is that some standard of basic acheivement applies then I agree 100%. If you want to argue that standard is settled, a non-moving target then I guess it depends on how you define your standard. For example, what constitutes pro level gun skills? In my mind it's a standard many actual pros don't meet. See what I mean?

raehl said...

I disagree with Dan. In paintball, football, basketball, etc where one player's actions are extremely subject to the actions of their opponents and even own team, a player who may have very poor stats may still be a very good player if they make up for it in some area the stats are not measuring.

Baseball is the best pitchers vs. the best batters you can find, with maybe a little sauce thrown in for guys who steal bases or handle catching/first base well.

In paintball, a guy might have the crappiest gun skills on the field, but if he has magical field awareness and can move around with impunity, those gun skills may not matter. Especially if that player is playing on a team where the guy behind him has awesome gun skills.

Or, put another way, if Rich Telford is in the snake and Nicky Cuba is in back center, you're going to lose. Switch it up and suddenly things are going well, despite the talents and stats being identical. All you changed was position.

Dan said...

I'm a little late back here, Magical field awareness is irrelevant if he cant hit the broad side of a barn from 10 feet away... but what I mean is that If player A can snap shoot a 5" target 25 yards away 25% of the time, he is better than one who only does it 10%. While talent (skills) and stats aren't the same, one is usually (very) indicative of the other. I did make a mistake in using the word talent. I should have said skills. Skills are something that can be worked on and improved, talent is natural ability. Sometimes a natural talent can be turned into a great skill.

There may be a guy who has poor snap percent, or bad laning, or what have you. But if the person consistently (and inexplicably) wins despite the poor stats, that is an intangible, that can somewhat be quantified by points/ wins.

Raehl, By switching positions, you've changed the stats relevant to that position. I'm not going to ask that an all pro QB like Aaron Rodgers go play fullback.
That stats Must be relevant to the position you're evaluating.

raehl said...

By switching positions, I was trying to show that the attributes that lead to success on the field may not be the same attributes that your stats are measuring. Being less accurate at 50 yards may not be relevant if you have a front player who usually gets where he's going and thus only shoots at people 25 yards away.

steve davidson said...

Hey, we used to have reliable paintball stats for the NPPL. I know cause I prepared and gathered them and predicted three entire seasons of NPPL performance based on them - never failing to pick the four finalists (and more often than not finishing place) at every single event during those seasons.

The information even ran in PCRI as a feature - Head to Head - comparing performance between two teams that had never before competed against each other but were scheduled to at an upcoming event.

Stats 'can' help you identify issues and generate solutions. For example: back in the day, every team would have at least a couple of guns go down during the course of a game (at least temporarily). My team discovered that we were aveaging 1.1 down guns per game - which basically meant we were giving up a player every game. Once known, we looked for a more mechanically reliable gun that met our other performance requirements (found one in the Grey Ghost) and dropped that percentage to .3 - one down gun every third game or so. Which meant that performance wise, it was like having an extra player on the field two games out of three. It played out in other areas as well: have a good shooter but he get's eliminated early? Move his position from up front to backer. Got a fast guy who can't shoot worth crap? Use him in games where you need a last minute flag run. Facing an opponent that wins most of their games quickly? Slow them down - don't give them anything to shoot at.

Baca Loco said...

Thanks for a little history lesson, Steve. And I take your point but do you really need stats to make those sorts of judgments about players and team? I've got a number of quality snake players and I don't need numbers to identify their assorted strengths and weaknesses. Of course if I had a front office that disagreed with my assessments the numbers would be handy to support my case. :-)