Sunday, November 7, 2010

STATS 101: Attack Percentage By Position

One week from today the season will be over and attention will be turned - at least partially - to things not concerning volleyball. For a while, at least. There will be a lot of words spoken, written, and pondered about all that went wrong for Ladyjack Volleyball during 2010. In some ways, it will be a cold winter and a long spring. I'll have time to break down the season in posts to come, but one of the more telling statistics of this years' disappointment can be found in these numbers:

From 2004 to 2009, here are SFA's ranks among Southland Conference schools in opponent's hitting percentages: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd, and 1st. For years, opposing teams could not find the floor against us. But, now, the cold reality:

In 2010, SFA ranks 10th out of 12 schools in opponent's hitting percentage. Fall. From. Grace.

It is also true that SFA historically has ranked high in attack percentage on offense and this year they are down offensively, too. But, to go from tops in the league in opponent's hitting percentage five out of the last six years and then finish 10th - three spots from the bottom? That says a lot.

The average hitting percentage for teams in this conference is generally between .185 and .190. Last year, the conference hit .190. Right now, the conference as a whole has a hitting percentage of .186.

Bigger conferences tend to hit slightly higher. Conference USA is hitting .210 as a conference. The Big 12 is hitting .216 and the SEC is over .220. These aren't just one year trends, I've checked this sort of thing for several years now. I think - in part - the bigger conferences' attack percentages are slightly higher than ours due to the overall tendency for them to play teams slightly below them in talent before their conference play starts.

At any rate, the average SLC team hits between .185 and .190. But, how does this change across position? Most folks who study the game would guess - and guess correctly - that a team's middle blocker is more likely to hit for a higher percentage than their primary outside hitter. But...would you guess that a team's secondary outside hitter would tend to hit for a higher percentage that the team's primary outside hitter? It's true.

But, what are the differences and how does that average of .185 to .190 distribute itself across positions? That is what this post answers - at least for Southland players.

What I have done is look at each teams primary middle blocker, primary outside hitter and secondary outside hitter and compare hitting percentages across the league. Here are my definitions in use for this analysis:

Primary Middle Blocker: The player who regularly plays MB and who has the most blocks on the team. (this is typically the M1)

Primary Outside Hitter: A player who regularly plays OH or RS who leads the team in attacks. (This is typically the L1 - the primary left side hitter)

Secondary Outside Hitter: A player who regularly plays OH or RS who is second on the team in attacks or has the second most attacks as an outside. No middle blocker is considered here. (This is typically the team's RS hitter or in a few cases a left-side hitter who has racked up a ton of attacks. This player is no less than 3rd on the team is total attacks since the two other players above would be the only players with more)

Now, due to a few specialized offensive strategies and usages of players, I have occasionally bent these definitions slightly as I saw fit. For instance, UCA has spread its attacks among its two middles almost evenly, so that both are included in my analysis. Second, Texas State is so deep that the player who ranks as the secondary outside hitter isn't currently getting as much playing time. There will always be little caveat's like this, but I don't believe they change the main message that the data convey. (In fact, scratch work not included here verifies this belief)

Just so that everything is out in the open here, the players that are included in this analysis are:

Primary Middle Blockers: Bottles, Alverson, Nagy, Hammonds, Bazile, Huckabay, Addicks, Spann, Black, Donald, Calhoun, Shearin, Mason

Primary Outside Hitters: Owens, Ridley, Hays, McCollum, Massengale, Brandt, Adams, Kolbe, Jones, Watlington, Aguilera, Rowland.

Secondary Outside Hitters: Daron, Arciadiacono, Smith, McStravick, Bustamento, Yezak, Deering, Stewart, Krohn, Alexander, Frantz, Walls.

Team Order of Above listings: SFA, TAMUCC, UCA, Lamar, McNeese, Nicholls, NWLA, SHSU, SELA, Texas State, UTA and UTSA.


The average primary middle blocker hits .269

The average primary outside hitter hits .166

The average secondary outside hitter hits .180

Everybody else averages .169

Roughly, the sample sizes for this year will be:

Primary Middle Blockers: Around 7000 total attacks
Primary Outside Hitters: Around 11,000 total attacks
Secondary Outside Hitters: Around 8000 total attacks

That should give you some sense of the distribution. Primary middles attack about 2 times for every 3 attacks by a primary outside and the secondary outside hitters attack at just a slightly more frequent clip that the primary middles.

I have data from 2009 which shows the same basic thing as the data above does. Of course, anyone can scour the internet and get the data - it is all on the conferences' web page, in fact.

I find it interesting that primary middles hit on average 100 points higher than the primary outsides. I knew their percentages would come out higher - but the 100 point spread surprised me a little. Also, I would not have guessed that a teams' secondary hitter would tend to hit for a slightly higher average than their primary attacker.

I have made all sorts of hypotheses as to why the numbers came out this way, but I think I will just stop short and let the reader form their own conjectures. I just wanted to calculate and present the results so that you know what the norms are as you compare players. Any way you explain the numbers, I find this an interesting exercise.

So, before you criticize that L1 for only hitting .175 or lauding that middle for hitting .250, think on these numbers.