Elite Attacking Performances


So I was thinking about elite performances today. Those nights where an attacker is just in the zone and everything slows down; where it’s a woman competing against girls. This happen to tie in nicely with something Jimmy McCabe, our Illinois Men’s Club Volley president (a tiresome and thankless job), happen to touch upon: how well do teams with “go-to” hitters perform when compared with teams who distribute the offensive load more equally? I made the argument that the Big Ten isn’t necessarily the best league to look at this for; even Abbott at Northwestern who carries a huge load (37.3% of all attacks), still isn’t close to taking a majority of swings for a team like you might see in high school or other conferences.

This led me to the question: if you have a hitter who is statistically the top hitter on a perfect pass, should you set her every ball when you get a perfect pass? Or is she able to hit so well because you’re still distributing the ball to other hitters? To be honest, I didn’t address that question in the viz above. But I was intrigued as to the players who hit the best against specific teams. That’s what is shown above.

I’ve eliminated players who hit fewer than 20 of the specific sets in total (looking at both matches if they played their opponent twice in conference). I’ve also filtered out those who performances on the specific set fell below .400.

What you see is kind of interesting. A multitude of players go off for big numbers against the lower teams in conference. This is to be expected. But the question I found myself asking do certain teams give up big performances in specific zones? If you’re playing Illinois, you attack our OHs. They haven’t been great blockers during my time here and you see that all 3 of the big performances originate in zone 2. Nobody in the Illinois offices would be surprised by that fact.

Two-thirds of these big performances against Minnesota are also from right side attacking. And I chuckled when I saw Ohio State’s distribution. They’re sometimes referred to as the Chinese Fire Drill, where they seem to just be doing what they want, with no rhyme or reason. This unfortunately makes them infuriating to scout.

The progression of this theme is to look at how teams do when attacked from specific locations. This isn’t an uncommon idea. Most coaches are accustomed to looking at how their upcoming opponents handle whatever you happen to have in your arsenal. But could you break this down by rotation. Could you look at Eff Change rather than just hitting efficiency. Could you break this down by hard driven attacks and tips. Does the off blocker for Minnesota who is responsible for tip coverage do poorly in a specific rotation against a specific set or combination? Go-3-Red with a quick tip by the opposing rightside while the setter deals with the overload and then must chase down the tip?

As much as I love watching organic, creative volleyball unfold (think Saeid Marouf, Luciano De Cecco, Earvin N’Gapeth, or Sergio) – I am grounded by the notion that numbers never lie. If you understood the probabilities of winning the point in each situation you faced, why couldn’t you make the optimal choice each time. I was going to make a blackjack analogy but it wasn’t coming together for me with the whole playing the odds thing. It ended up being about how the local old-timers are the winners because they play by the book, but at the same time, they’re the 60 year olds who live at the casino; I call it a wash.

What might be a better parallel is the pronounced used of the 3 pointer in the NBA these days. Just by using some simple math, people quickly understood that hitting 3’s at 40% is worth the same as sinking 2’s at 60%. They’re both worth 1.2 points per shot.

If you cruise back to the Efficiency Change stuff, a concept closer to a “Value Added” type of stat, we can use these types of numbers to look at the optimal choice in each situation. Who adds the most value on a bad pass in your Ro2 when you’re hitting against Nebraska’s Ro5? Well how do you typically do in Ro2 on bad passes? And where does Nebraska struggle the most in Ro5? There’s an answer to this question.

And that’s the cool part. There’s an answer to this question – it doesn’t need to be based on feelings and emotions. You can play Moneyball in volleyball, no question.