The NRL has statistical analysis but it could do so much better
Advanced metrics (or sabermetrics) isn’t a new phenomenon. ‘Moneyball’ has given the movement recent publicity but it has been around for some time in one shape or another. British sport and sport in other Commonwealth countries (including Australia and New Zealand) has always featured statistical analysis but never to the degree experienced in the U.S. That doesn’t make American sport more interesting but it sure makes analysing U.S sport more fun. It also gives teeth to those subjective conversations people like to have about who is better than who.
Analysis generally falls into two categories (this is an oversimplification), qualitative and quantitative. Put simply qualitative deals with descriptions while quantitative deals with numbers.
In the NRL only basic statistics are made publicly available (the emphasis is on publicly here). Common statistics include tries, goals, tackles, line breaks and tackle busts. This is a step up from what used to be offered. I noticed this year that try saving tackles are also being tracked. The NRL sometimes publishes more diverse statistics like ineffective tackles (a tackle while not missed still not resulting in a play the ball) and effective possessions (which are an indication of how many times the offence’s possession of the ball is turned into points).
Most analysis tends to be of the qualitative kind (cue Phil Gould). For instance, the current statistical offering for players such as Robbie Farah and Nathan Friend could tell us that they made a lot of tackles and a low percentage of missed and ineffective tackles, however, this will only tell part of the story. We would have to rely on qualitative analysis to decide whether these players were sound defensively. For instance, how could we tell whether either of them are too slow to make a covering tackle or frequently found out of position in the defensive line.
When it comes to quantitative analysis, the U.S has cornered the market, especially in terms of what is publicly available. For instance, in Basketball the classical statistics are easy to locate (minutes played, points, average points, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks). However, there is an absolute plethora of advanced metrics made publicly available. These can assist to quantify a player’s value to a team.
Now it is trite to say that Andrew Bogut is a huge defensive presence for the Dubs (Golden State Warriors) in the NBA. The game tape reveals this but advanced metrics even more so. For instance, Bogut currently ranks 11th in rebounds but 3rd in rebounds per 48 minutes. He ranks 7th in blocks but 6th in blocks per 48 minutes. Perhaps most stunningly though in Defensive Rating (estimates how many points an individual player allows per 100 team possessions) Bogut ranks 1st in the NBA. Defensive Rating isn’t the only advanced defensive statistic either. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Bogut’s basic box score doesn’t look stunning each night but in terms of shots altered, defensive domination in the paint and help defence he has an impact that is difficult to measure…until now. He is the anchor of the Warrior’s defence. Advanced metrics certainly help to quantify what the eye already tells us. When it comes to defence, Andrew Bogut is the bomb.
Rugby League needs to come to the party. Statistics are not everybody’s cup of tea, but for those of us who watch the NRL and U.S sport, the disparity in statistical analysis is cavernous. Reading the popular press on the issue it seems that the raw data is being collected but the analysis hasn’t been publicly released for us to enjoy. I think the following are some statistics I would like to see. They would certainly add to the entertainment value of the sport.
Metres After Contact – Who bends the line and by how far. We all know that playmakers in the game can dominate off the back of a great forward pack. We already have Run Metres and Hit Ups but this stat would tell us more.
Defensive Pressures – This would be a measure of the impact a defensive player can have on an attacking player. It could include errors forced or plays that break down as a result of the defensive pressure.
Forced Fumbles – This would be a similar statistic to the one used in American Football.
Defensive Lapses – This would be a similar statistic to an error in Baseball. It would be where a player has missed a defensive assignment and would include missed tackles.
Red Zone Efficiency – This would be calculated by dividing red zone possessions to points scored from the red zone.
Crunch Time Statistics – Certain statistics generated for the last five minutes of a game. It would indicate who performs at the most crucial times.
Percentage of Solo Tackles – Delineating between involvement in a solo tackle as opposed to involvement in a group tackle.
Plus/Minus – This is a straight steal from Basketball which measures the points differential for an individual player when they are on the court. Obviously this wouldn’t indicate impact as much as in Basketball when you are one of only 5 on the court but it would be interesting none-the-less.
The bottom line is that numbers aren’t everything but I would say they sure make things more interesting.
What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?
- The dominance of Sam and George Burgess in the middle vs the Roosters.
- Chris McQueen. He was a force on the left edge and faster than I thought. He was a bolter for SOO last year. He has put his hand up already this year.
- Adam Reynolds and Dylan Walker. They were steady in the halves for the Rabbitohs. Augers well for the long season ahead.
- The Broncos were a surprise. Will need to see a larger sample size to determine whether they are for real this year.
- Ditto Parramatta. I still don’t think they will make the finals. It will be good for RL if they do.
- Loved the zero tackle restart rule after kicks that went dead. I think that will work.
- Titans were a pleasant surprise. Away from home too.
What wasn’t so great?
- The defence of the Tigers. There were some soft tries and I don’t think St George will be the best attacking team they face this year either.
- Injuries to the Knights. They were starting without Jarrod Mullen but lost Darius Boyd, Kurt Gidley and Tyrone Roberts over the course of the game as well.
- The Warriors. Need I say more.
- ANZ was super disappointing as a venue again. Even though the crowds in general were disappointing on the weekend (less than 10,000 at Remondis Stadium was a low light for a season opener) ANZ made them seem even smaller. I think the increased financial pressure families are under is continuing to show. Interesting article in the SMH about the game day experience as well.
- Did not like the third tackler in rule. Agree with the intent of the rule to cut down on ‘cannonball tackles’ but don’t know if this is the way to do it. It will take a while for players to work out their techniques but it just looked awkward.
- Loved the NRL Digital Pass ‘Straight in your eyes’ promotion. Anything that promotes 80s glam rock and the NRL at the same time has my vote.
Bill James Award
Jason Taumalolo – Run metres – 226m, Line Breaks – 2, Tackle Breaks – 7, Tackles – 23, Missed Tackles – 1, Errors – 0, Tries – 0 and Attitude – 100%.
Tips for Round 2
Home teams first
Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs – Rabbitohs (the Bunnies played well last week and Manly were pipped at the post so I’m nervous about this one)
Broncos v Cowboys – Cowboys (I think the Cowboys will have too much for the Broncos this week but always have a close look at home underdogs)
Warriors v Dragons – Warriors (should bounce back but have a poor record against the Dragons and at Eden Park so this will be closer than the bookies think)
Storm v Panthers – Storm (always back the Storm at home)
Roosters v Eels – Roosters (betting on this being another false dawn for the Eels)
Titans v Tigers – Titans (shouldn’t even be close)
Knights v Raiders – Knights (Knights under siege but Wayne Bennett will have them bounce back plus last week’s loss was a bit deceptive until you look at the injuries and when they happened)
Bulldogs v Sharks – Bulldogs (Sharks will struggle without Gallen and Fifita)
Season so far – 4/8
Question for you
What advanced metrics would you like to see in the NRL or any other sport for that matter?
Each of these is interesting but If you read anything at least read the first one. It would be a game changer in the NRL.
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 20 March 2014 titled ‘Are the Hunters Good or Bad for Rugby League in PNG?’