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.
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#1 leafnerd
July 16 2013, 11:11AM
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I disagree about eliminated advanced statistics. Advanced Stats lingo is also used in basketball to talk about the newer and improved stats developed over the last decade. And I will say that advanced stats in basketball are much more accepted then in hockey. That said, some of their advanced stats (ORT-DRT) provide upwards of 90% correlation which are useful and reliable for predicting player and team talent.

In hockey world the best we have is 35% correlation (Fenwick Close) and observing how that lines up with different hockey players details why these advanced stats are not catching on in hockey as readily. That is, they are not very good.

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#2 David Johnson
July 16 2013, 10:55AM
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Just to be clear, you are saying we shouldn't refer to the *difference* between *shot attempts* directed at the opposition net and *shot attempts* directed at one's own net as Shot Attempt Differential because the acronym spells SAD which is too close to an English word that already exists even though we can clearly differentiate it by using capitals to identify it as an acronym and not a word but instead we should name it Corsi after a goalie coach hardly anyone has heard of so people can mistakenly write it as CORSI thinking it is an acronym for something more complex than it really is?

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#3 JOE
July 16 2013, 06:12PM
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David Johnson wrote:

Just to be clear, you are saying we shouldn't refer to the *difference* between *shot attempts* directed at the opposition net and *shot attempts* directed at one's own net as Shot Attempt Differential because the acronym spells SAD which is too close to an English word that already exists even though we can clearly differentiate it by using capitals to identify it as an acronym and not a word but instead we should name it Corsi after a goalie coach hardly anyone has heard of so people can mistakenly write it as CORSI thinking it is an acronym for something more complex than it really is?

Punctuation is a beautiful thing my friend.

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#4 David Johnson
July 16 2013, 09:06PM
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JOE wrote:

Punctuation is a beautiful thing my friend.

The lack of punctuation was deliberate to help highlight the absurdity of the argument.

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#5 Kent Wilson
July 17 2013, 10:56AM
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@David Johnson

Having written about and with "advanced stats" for awhile and being one of the long time disseminators of them, I can say through experience that acronyms are generally no more accessible than "weird names" like corsi. Mostly because in common usage inserting a term like SAD in the middle of a sentence is no more intuitive to the lay person than corsi. In either case, the author has to actually explain what the statistic is referring too (and, after that, what its significance is).

From the other side of the table: in the very early years, guys on Battle of Alberta and Oilers blogs kept referring to something called ESP/60 in articles and comments. I had no idea what they were talking about.

Eventually someone spelled it out completely for me (even strength points per sixty minutes of ice), but the descriptive acronym was voodoo to me in its naked form.

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#6 Lemming
July 17 2013, 09:12PM
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I agree, no name changes needed.

In linguistic terms, you're talking about the referer vs. the referent. Essentially it's just changing the drapes.

For example, "dog" (English) and "chien" (French) both refer to the same referent, something we'd know as a four-legged creature that runs around and slobbers on things. They are two different referers used to point to a single referent.

Once you know what these words refer to, it's easy to converse. But if you only understand one of these words, and someone had the brilliant idea to never say "dog" again and use the word "chien" whenever he wanted to refer to a dog, the listener is likely to end up confused.

In the same vein, if you take "corsi" and decide to substitute it with a whole new word or expression such as "SAD", the listeners/readers are likely to end up confused rather than understanding what they're reading. Even though the referent is the same, it will be essentially forcing everyone into confusing in order to learn new terminology.

This happens a lot in academics, but unless you're writing a paper for some sports statistical conference or something, I don't think changing the widely understand lingo at this point.

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#7 Grant Jenkins
July 18 2013, 05:38AM
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1- I would suggest calling them "metrics" since they are performance measures. Baseball has "sabrmetrics". We can have "HockeyMetrics".

2- Corsi and Fenwick are fine, but for God's sake fix the category names. FOR=GOOD and GOOD =FOR. The naming convention for Blocks makes no sense. Call everything "Shots Attempted For" and "Shots Attempted Against". Goals, Saved, Missed, Blocked. SAFG, SAFS, SAFM, and SAFB are all positive Corsi events. SAAG, SAAS, SAAM, and SAAB are all negative.

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