Stats and narratives…narratives and stats. Which is the chicken and which is the egg?
It sort of depends on who you ask, naturally. Part of what we stats folk try to do is to look at the ‘facts’ or the numbers to try to sort out what’s really going on from what the broadcasters and the media guys create as the cover the teams for those grueling months. A lot of narratives can be debunked with stats, and there is often tension between numbers people and non-numbers people for this reason. But a lot of media people are good at using underlying numbers as well, so the last thing I mean to do is create a false dichotomy. However, as with many things in life–not just in sports–it all depends on your perspective, and looking at things from different angles can yield different stories. Case in point: the Minnesota Wild’s playoff chances.
As a follow-up to this week’s podcast, I wanted to shed a little more light on the journey this club has gone through in the first half or so of the season. Check out this chart of the Western Conference teams and their playoff odds, Wild in bold red (I know it’s a small image and probably hard to see–couldn’t easily export the chart from sportsclubstats.com so check out the link here):
My key takeaway here is that the Wild had as high as 86.6% chance and as low as 3.5% chance to make the playoffs this season. No other team in the Conference (and I strongly suspect, the League) has had that large of a swing. I did the math at work but forgot to send through all the team’s numbers–other teams swung as much as 65% or 75%, but no team has gone what the Wild have gone through, with a margin of 83.1% from high to low. Now, compare these numbers to the crazy 2011-12 season (see the chart here) and this year doesn’t stack up to that year, when the club was at an astounding 97% before plummeting to their doom. But this team and that team are constructed very differently.
As of today, the Wild have just shy of a 40% chance to make it in, though that number will go up after tonight’s victory against the hapless Oilers. So, which narrative do we want to use? That the team was among the best in the league before getting hammered by injuries and taking a nose dive in December? Or that for all their troubles, and on the brink of completely crashing and burning, they found a way to survive the storm and pull through. Obviously, we won’t know what happens until later on in the year, and a sort of sneaky narrative is that the Coyotes have several games in hand over the Wild, so the team could play decently well down the stretch and still miss out. Mike Yeo’s job certainly hangs in the balance–if the team doesn’t make the post-season this year it’s hard to imagine him getting a contract extension.
With such a young team, the streakiness they have shown isn’t altogether unsurprising, but in two of the last three years, Minnesota has twice been about as high and as low as you can get. As the young skaters mature and the Heatley Albatross contract comes off the books, more than anything the front office (and certainly the fans as well) will just be looking for some kind of stability.