Specialists or Generalists?


effbyskill3Yes. I know this looks like some tutti-frutti clown vomit. Thanks.

A college buddy of mine, Teddy Niemira, posed a question revolving around developing players’ all around game or merely enhancing strengths as a better use of a coach’s time. Do you want someone who is pretty good at everything or elite at one thing? I didn’t take this in exactly the direction Teddy wanted, but that’s ok, it’s my blog.

What you see above is a breakdown of the top 50 players as defined by their Efficiency Change per contact. Players with fewer than 500 touches have been removed and for context, Carlini had the most at 3411 and names that fell under 500 were the likes of: Mahlke, Goehner, Brashear, Stackhouse, Halm, and Wenz.

On the left, you see the how each player does on a per-skill basis in terms of Eff Change. Naturally, setters aren’t great at serve receive, Cuttino isn’t a good setter, and so on. This column is only how well players do on all skills – regardless of how often they actually use these skills.

In the middle, you see the percentage of each skill as a portion of all the player’s touches. Keep in mind the responsible blocker post for earlier, meaning that even attacks that are not touched by the blocker register as an Eff Change for the responsible blocker in the situation – and this these numbers are not perfect for individuals who don’t block in their “traditional” locations (middles blocking right, etc – looking at you Mr. McCutcheon).

On the right is a combination of the two. The column takes into account how much value the player adds per contact, multiplied by the frequency at which they make these contacts (the middle column).

Personally, I think it’s easy to get lost in this viz and forget the question. So while there’s a lot of cool info in there, I’ll try address what I’m supposed to be addressing: would we rather have specialists or generalists?

To answer this, I want to start with the Touch% per skill. I want to know if the role the athlete is playing is by it’s nature, a specialist role or a generalist role. If you direct your attention to #3 on the list, Faye Adelaja, you’ll see that Attacking and Blocking make up 92% of her responsibilities – and Atkinson, just below her, is called upon in the same fashion. That may be no surprise if you watched Purdue this season. They are a team composed primarily of specialists. Their front row is there to hit and block balls. Their backrow is there to pass and defend.

Outside hitters on the other hand, tend to have a multitude of skills with decently even usage percentages – same with liberos. Take a look at Foecke, JWO, and Wilhite. These players have their hand in just about all the skills, and with that in mind, we would want them to good at each of the skills, which they mostly are. Players like Detering with Penn State, we want to be elite at the skills they focus on. As we see from Detering’s breakdown, she adds a ton of value per set, her most common skill by far. This is what we’d want from a specialist. Generalists like Foecke, JWO, and Wilhite add value per skill in multiple areas, though not necessarily to the same degree to specialists like Washington.

My initial takeaway here is that for Middles, Setters, and Rightsides – be elite at the skills you’re supposed to be elite at: attack/block for the hitters, setting for setters. For position players with their fingers in everything, be ok with adding less value per contact, but add value for all skills. I’d like to break down these graphics by position to see how outsides lineup against middles skill-wise. Or how teams in general do with all these skills and how that relates to their finish in the Big Ten – or nationally. And down the rabbit hole we go…