Not advanced statistics - The argument against renaming "Corsi"

Cam Charron
July 16 2013 10:31AM

Regardless of what you call them, there are going to be a lot of people that simply don't want to adopt certain statistics. There's a small push to rename the stats we have now—Corsi, PDO, Fenwick, whatever—to more user-friendly acronyms that explain better what the statistic details.

I don't think that's a particularly wise thing to do. There are already thousands of people that read #fancystats articles and don't keep up with the day-to-day backroom arguing between hockey's online group of statistical analysts, that mostly play out on Twitter. I think "Corsi" will be more intuitive the more it's used and the first time that a smart network host or personality decides to make use of it on-air.

What else would you rename Corsi? Many people have tried. SAD for Shot-Attempt Differential? That just spells "sad". What about On-ice shot attempt differential, or OISAD? Well, now it reads, "oh, I sad" and looks a hell of a lot more foreign than "Corsi" does. At least you can say "Corsi" out loud.

A lot of people I've come across that reject that Corsi matters at all like to spell it out CORSI, as if it were some acronym. It's not like making it an acronym makes it any less difficult to get. Corsi is the addition of all on-ice shot attempts fired at the opposition's net with a player on the ice, subtracted by all the on-ice shot attempts fired at his own net. That includes not just goals, but also saved shots, missed shots and blocked shots.

I think it's a simple concept to understand once you've read that above sentence five or six times, but there are some people that suggest "Corsi" as a name is foreign because it's named for the Buffalo Sabres' goaltending coach that began using the statistic and not something simpler.

It's not like baseball's glossary of statistics is any easier on late-adopters. Exhibit A is Mitch Albom, writing about Mike Trout's MVP candidacy last fall, using "do you actually watch the games?" logic to attempt to disprove what the Wins Above Replacement statistic suggested about Trout:

"There is no end to the appetite for categories — from OBP to OPS to WAR. I mean, OMG!"

OBP stands for "on-base percentage". OPS stands for "On-base Plus Slugging". WAR stands for "Wins Above Replacement". Those are three simple-enough categories that have been used for more than two decades with the exception of WAR. Actually, I'll admit my baseball statistickery is a little prehistoric. I comprehend the basics, know what the statistics mean, but I'm not plugged into the history as much as I am with hockey stats.

But it's not just OBP and OPS. Those are the easy ones that sometimes make their way onto broadcasts. You also have wOBA and WPA and wRAA and ISO. These are all categories that stand for something, but it doesn't make them more intuitive:

That one tagged onto the end, wRC+, stands for "weighted runs created adjusted for park effects". The '+' is an easy way to signify that a category is adjusted. Jonah Keri linked today to a Denver Post article extolling the virtues of wRC+. In the intro, the writer Benjamin Hochman takes aim at the relentless, confusing acronyms you can find on Fangraphs or Baseball Reference:

Guys are [gauged] by a gumbo of mumbo-jumbo, confusing stats that, only when cooked together, lead us to unequivocal evaluations such as "He's pretty good," or "He's, like, really good."

I don't think that the path to mainstream acceptance of statistics lies in re-naming them, which simply confuses loyal readers that don't have the time to Google everything we write. Mainstream acceptance of statistics will come when everybody commits to writing rational things, being patient with commenters and critics, and ditching the phrase "advanced statistics" once and for all.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.