A Different Take on the Devil's Slump

I'm sure everyone who would ever be reading this knows that the Devils are three points out of a playoff spot with one game in hand to the Islanders.

The Devils are in the midst of a half-season-long slump supposedly driven by and often cited on ILWT are the low shooting percentages and high Corsi/Fenwick ratings. We have been called unlucky in several comments and articles. A common misconception is that high Corsi/Fenwick = Goals/Goals To Come, and a low shooting percentage is almost always a product of luck. I believe that there is a misunderstanding of advanced statistics and their use in predicting future success.

In order to present part of my hypothesis, I will make an analogy to a commonly used advanced metric in baseball called BABIP. BABIP measures the percentage of balls hit into play that yield a hit. (For the uninformed, a hit occurs when a batter safely reaches base without the occurrence of a fielding error or out). So if Derek Jeter bats four times, gets two strikeouts, a hit and hits a fly ball that is caught for an out, he then has an average (AVG) of .250 and a BABIP of .500. BABIP against measures the same for a pitcher. The higher the BABIP for a hitter, the better and the lower for a pitcher the better.

People use BABIP in baseball analysis analogously to how shooting percentage is used in hockey. BABIP usually regresses or progresses to a mean based upon the history of any given player. Derek Jeter has a lifetime BABIP of around .350, so if he at a given point in a season had a BABIP of .320 we could expect it to rise and his performance with it and the opposite applies as well.

The issue is when people blindly look at such a statistic and forget to analyze what causes it to approach a mean. It is often said that BABIP and Shooting Percentage alike are driven by luck. This is partially true, but many forget other factors causing it and often attribute far too much of the cause of say, a low team shooting percentage over 20 games, to bad luck.

To analyze what drives these specific type of statistics, we'll look at an example in baseball: Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum was the best pitcher in baseball just 3 years ago, but just last season he was the worst pitcher in all of baseball. Analysts, blogs, and fans alike would cite his career high BABIP of .330 (his mean at the time was around .280) as evidence that he was merely getting incredibly unlucky. However, this was not the case; Lincecum was losing accuracy in his fastball, hitters were adapting to his change-up, and he was making predictable decisions.

Lincecum's BABIP was not high because he was getting unlucky. It was high because he was making poor pitches. The reason why BABIP works the way it does and is supposed to regress to a mean, is because history has shown that a pitcher with his evidence of athletic ability will be able to adapt his mechanics to make his fastball more accurate again, and change his approach to be able to fool the batters who have adapted to his offspeed pitches. If Lincecum did not adapt, then his BABIP would not go down (he didn't much, and it hasn't much). It had far less to do with luck than it is and was commonly conceived.

The same thought process could be applied to Alex Ovechkin's shooting percentage. If you watched the whole first half of the season that Ovechkin struggled, it didn't look like he was getting unlucky or was inches off with his shot or robbed by goalies. Watching his struggles, the first thing you'd notice was that his positioning was poor and defenders had adapted to his goal-scoring techniques and dekes from seasons past. He became predictable and easy to defend. His shooting percentage regressed as a result of this. Though many analysts predicted he might not be as dominant as years ago, it made no sense that he would stay so bad. Sure enough, Ovechkin has broken out in the second half. He was moved over to right wing by Adam Oates, and though I haven't really watched many Caps games since February, I would bet my car that Ovechkin has adapted his game from 2 months ago.

The Devil's team shot percentage is not "unlucky." It is a product of teams adapting to the style the Devils employed last year and in the playoffs. Our team's style is dependent upon cycling the puck around the boards and wrestling other players for the puck only to prolifically produce shots from the point and wide angles. This produced a steady stream of trash goals, as most teams had never seen a style like this and were clueless as to how they should defend against it. Recently, I believe that teams have figured that they should be tighter around the net to not allow us to get quality rebounds and limit our deflections from the point and wide angles. In my opinion, this has been the cause of our low shooting percentage. Our high Corsi means nothing if our shots are impotent.

Any other team would have adapted their style and strategy by now to the new defensive strategies that have been employed against us. Pete DeBoer on the other hand has maintained that we are holding steady and that we just "need the bounces." They have not adapted, nor are they showing inclination to. It is for this reason, that I do not believe our shooting percentage will rise to the mean until coaching and management have made it clear that something must change. Whether that is a stronger focus on practicing quality plays, or forcing their way up front to the net, someone at some point has to realize that something must change.

Disclaimer: This is all just my weak opinion/hypothesis. I haven't done much hard research to back it all up, but if anyone wants to that would be awesome lol.

All FanPosts and FanShots are the respective work of the author and not representative of the writers or other users of In Lou We Trust.

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