One of the difficulties in trying to predict the winner of this Saturday’s Major League Ultimate Championship between the Vancouver Nighthawks and the DC Current is that neither the two teams nor any of their opponents have played each other this season as there is no cross-conference play in MLU.

But thanks to the statistics wizards working behind the scenes, we have plenty of numbers for each team and interesting ways to display them to help you make your own prediction as to who will win.

First, let’s look at the basic numbers covering both teams and their opponents across the 11 games each has played so far in 2014.

The first table compares the two teams’ own stats. (In all the tables, numbers which are significantly different between the two teams are bolded.)

PointsThrowsCompletionsCompletion %DropsDefensesPlayers with Points
22.624421989.34%5.811.518.1
23.425623591.76%3.413.520.0

The second table compares the Nighthawks’ opponents with the Current’s opponents.

PointsThrowsCompletionsCompletion %DropsDefensesPlayers with Points
Opponents19.528525789.87%4.211.215.7
Opponents19.128526091.19%3.79.916.3

It is remarkable how similar these two tables look. Both teams score about the same number of goals, make a similar number of throws, and give up about the same number of goals and throws. The Nighthawks and their opponents have more drops and a lower completion percentage than the Current and their opponents, but that is almost entirely the result of Vancouver having played two games in gale force winds in San Francisco this season. (Let’s call this the SF Effect for short.) Taking those out of the equation, the only real difference is that the Current get a few more Ds per game.

Next, we’re going to zero in the last five games played by each team, consisting of the last four regular season games plus the conference playoffs. This is when, after a rocky start to the season, the Nighthawks really got rolling, so our sample compares two teams winning their last five games.

As with the first two tables, we’ll first check out the numbers put up by the Nighthawks and the Current in those five games, and then the numbers put up by their opponents.

PointsThrowsCompletionsCompletion %DropsDefensesPlayers with Points
21.423020890.42%4.49.616.6
20.622720691.09%2.812.219.6

And now their opponents’ numbers.

PointsThrowsCompletionsCompletion %DropsDefensesPlayers with Points
Opponents16.427725090.38%3.89.014.2
Opponents16.626424091.13%3.69.615.2

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the numbers are now almost identical; these are two good teams on top of their game. Once again the Nighthawks have more drops, but over half of those drops were in a windy game in San Francisco; in the other four games they averaged only 2.5 drops per game. Taking that into account, the only real difference is that the Current tally several more Ds per game.

One thing you will notice in the last two tables is that both Vancouver and DC take fewer throws per game than their opponents, indicating they use a more direct O-line strategy, trying to complete cutter-to-cutter passes rather than just relying on short dumps and swings between their handlers.

Now let’s dig in to how concentrated each team’s offence is using data and figures compiled and created by the Nighthawks’ statistician Jennifer Bryan.

First, here’s the distribution of goal-scoring. (Note: all charts pop out in larger form if you click on them.)

barchart_share_of_goals

You can see how the Nighthawks’ goal scoring is concentrated in the hands of four O-line cutters, particularly Brendan Wong, who of course smashed the MLU single season scoring record this year. Meanwhile, DC spreads the goal scoring around among a core of eight players which includes O-line cutters and handlers and even a D-line handler.

The situation is reversed when we look at the distribution of assists.

barchart_share_of_assists

DC relies primarily on two handlers to complete passes into the end zone. With Alan Kolick out this weekend, this will place an extra burden on their other handlers. The Nighthawks spread this role around much more, with three O-line handlers at the top of the list with D-line handler Morgan Hibbert and two O-line cutters also making significant contributions.

Who handles the disc for each team? Here’s a chart of completion percentage vs. number of throws per game. (This takes into account that some players missed games during the season.) The further the name of the player is to the right (and the darker their name), the more throws they attempted per game; the further up they appear, the better their completion percentage.

scatterplot_comp_perc_vs_throws2

See how Kolick’s name is sitting all by itself on DC’s half of the chart? This again underlines how much he’ll be missed by the Current’s offence, as he takes many more throws than any of his teammates, with a good completion percentage. As expected, the four main O-line handlers attempt the most passes for the Nighthawks, with veteran handlers Kirk Savage and Kevin Underhill in a similar position to Kolick, with young handlers Keane Knapp, very reliable, and John Norris, more high risk, next in line, followed in importance by various O-line cutters and Hibbert.

Speaking of Hibbert, let’s take a look at who is counted on by each team to provide Ds.

barchart_share_of_ds

As you would expect for the winner of the Western Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Hibbert dominates this display. One noticeable aspect is the appearance of two O-line players, Calvin Oung and Peter Prial, in the top four on the Current side. This is a theme on a team that gets a lot of Ds; their offence is the best in the league at recovering the disc if they have turned it over.

Now that we’ve had a look at who the most important players are for each team, let’s get into how each team operates.

First up, here’s a chart of the number of passes in each possession, broken up by how the possession ends. (The few possessions that end due to time running out in a period are excluded.)

barchart_passes_per_possession

G = goal
off – = offense gives it up = throwaway + drop + travel + stall + offensive foul
def + = defense directly forces turn = knock down D + interception + hand block + foot block

As you can see, the DC Current are more efficient in possession of the disc; they convert a higher proportion of their possessions into goals, and commit fewer mistakes that lead to turnovers. Part of the discrepancy is due to the SF Effect mentioned above, so it seems reasonable to assume that the absence of Kolick will absorb the rest of the difference, making this just about a toss-up.

One other thing to note in this chart is that, reflecting their more direct offensive strategy, no matter how a possession ends the Nighthawks throw the disc less often per possession.

The next chart extra how possessions end without reference to the number of passes, to set up the following charts.

fp_barchart_how_possessions_end_coarse_by_poss_team

The next chart breaks out how possessions end in more detail.

fp_barchart_how_possessions_end_detailed_by_poss_team

G = goal
D = knock down D + interception + hand block + foot block
TA = throwaway, i.e. turnover that is neither a drop nor a clear D
TD = drop
VTT = violation travel turnover
VST = violation stall
off F = offensive foul

You can see that the reason the Current score on more of their possessions is that the Nighthawks commit more travels and drops, but also keep in mind that many of those drops occurred early in the season when the whole team had the dropsies or on a windy day in San Francisco.

Now let’s break it out by O-line vs. D-line for each team.

fp_barchart_how_possessions_end_coarse_by_line_and_poss_team

You can see how the D-line numbers are fairly even, though Vancouver’s D-line has a few more San Francisco-induced errors, but the Current O-line has a distinct advantage over Vancouver’s.

And finally, let’s look at more detail about exactly how possessions end.

fp_barchart_how_possessions_end_detailed_by_line_and_poss_team

G = goal
D = knock down D + interception + hand block + foot block
TA = throwaway, i.e. turnover that is neither a drop nor a clear D
TD = drop
VTT = violation travel turnover
VST = violation stall
off F = offensive foul

Now we can see that it is mostly those wind-induced drops by the Vancouver O-line that makes the difference between the teams. Given that over their five-game winning streak leading to the Championship game, the Nighthawks committed only 2.5 drops per game in the four games that weren’t in San Francisco, this does not look like it will be a differentiating factor between the teams.

If Kolick was playing, a perusal of the data would give DC Current a slight edge over the Nighthawks, but in his absence the game looks like a toss-up, or even a slight edge to the Nighthawks. But as the cliche goes, this is just one game, and with the two teams so finely balanced, it will all come down to who executes better on the biggest stage in Major League Ultimate.

To learn more about the game day festivities and to purchase tickets to the Championship Game at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., click here.

For fans that will be in Vancouver on game day, come out to Mahony & Sons in downtown Vancouver to watch the game at Nighthawks Live! Even if you can’t travel to Philadelphia or make it out to Mahony & Sons, you’ll still be able to watch a live stream of the game on MLU Live.

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3 Responses

  1. Richard Messerly

    Very insightful and well articulated. This article is a great example of why I love following the MLU, always putting the fans first. As your third graph displays, Kolick is the reliable handler that allows Shofner to take so many chances. The two compliment each other so well. I will be interested to see if Shofner decides to harness his hucks a little bit more tonight to compensate for Kolick’s absence. But it’s always risky to ask a player to change his natural mentality, especially at this juncture.

    Reply
  2. Scott Lewis

    Richard, the other factor is that DC hasn’t had to contend with someone like Morgan Hibbert patrolling the downfield area. His speed, size, and disc reading makes it dangerous to try the 50/50 huck.

    Reply
  3. Jersene

    Thanks Jennifer Bryan for these great stat charts!
    Goohooo Nighthawks!!!!

    Reply

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