Faceoff dominance: Does it help you win?

Over the last decade or so, a few players have stood out as excellent face-off men. Washington’s Bob Snider and his brother, Calgary’s Geoff Snider, are the cream of the crop right now, and in recent years Peter Jacobs, Jamie Hanford, and Jamison Koesterer have also made names for themselves in the circle. But does it really matter?

Logic says yes. When you win a face-off, you gain possession and in lacrosse, possession is everything. If you win 75-80% of your face-offs, as the Snider boys do with regularity, that’s 10-15 extra possessions per game for your team, and at least a few of those have to translate into goals, right? But do the stats bear that out? As we frequently do on this blog, let’s look at the numbers and see if they support something that “everybody knows”.

tl;dr

For those of you who don’t care to look at the actual numbers, here’s the “too long; didn’t read” version: Yes, but not by very much. Feel free to skip to the conclusion now.

The numbers

I only have sufficient stats for the 2012 season, so we’ll have to restrict the numbers to that season. There were 72 games played during the regular season, and therefore 72 winners. Three of the 72 games finished with a tie in faceoffs, so we won’t count those three. Of the 69 remaining games, the winning team led in faceoffs 39 times (56.5%). This means that in 30 of the games (43.5%), the winning team won fewer faceoffs than the losing team.

So it looks like winning the faceoff battle does give you a slight edge. But let’s look even further. If we look at games where one team really dominated the faceoffs, say winning 70% or more, we find the opposite. There were 28 such games last year, and the team that won the faceoff battle only won 13 (46%) of them. Of the 15 games where the losing team won 70% or more of the faceoffs, the teams break down like this: Washington 8, Philadelphia 3, Calgary 3, and Minnesota 1. The Stealth lost eight games (and won three) while winning 70+% of the faceoffs.

Of course, this is a strange case – the team with the best face-off man in the league and the worst record. This is also the record of one team over only 16 games. Calgary, for example, went 5-3 in games where they won 70+% of faceoffs. Even if we look at the season as a whole, that one team dominates so much that the numbers are too skewed to be meaningful. Not surprisingly, we can’t honestly say that winning 70% of the faceoffs means you’re less likely to win the game.

Conclusion

The conclusion to all of this is that during the 2012 season, teams won 56.5% of games in which they won more faceoffs than their opponents. I’ve done the calculations for the 2013 season as well (less than half over), and through 31 games (one game tied), everything is exactly 50-50 – winning teams have also led in faceoffs 50% of the time.

This tells me that winning the battle of the faceoffs does give your team a greater chance to win, but not by as much as you might think.

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