Optimal Choices – Serve pt.2


Had a thought while glancing over what I posted the other day. It makes sense to look at both the start and end zones for the serve, but also who you’re serving. You can serve into zone 5 but if the middle back passer takes it, that’s a different efficiency (and a different angle) than if the left back passer takes it.

So here’s my improved cheat sheet for Minnesota. The numbers you see are the FBSO efficiency for Minnesota in serve receive. The start zone is where the server starts, the end zone is where the passer passes from. I’ve filtered out any combinations where a passer received fewer than 7 serves – so we don’t have crazy large efficiencies built on 2 or 3 serves.

As you can see, lower efficiencies are in red – and there’s at least one good option per rotation. Granted, these are only for Minnesota’s FBSO, but here’s what this cheat sheet would suggest.

Ro 1: Serve Goehner from 5 to 6

Ro2: Serve Hart down the line from 1 to 7

Ro3: Serve Wilhite crosscourt from 5 to 7

Ro4: Serve Rosado from 5 to 6

Ro5: Serve Wilhite deep down the line from 1 to 5

Ro6: Serve Wilhite down the line from 1 to 7

A valid complaint here is that these efficiencies may be biased by the team Minnesota was playing against. If Nebraska went at Wilhite in Ro5 from 1 to 5, that FBSO eff is likely to be lower than if Rutgers happened to serve Wilhite that way. Because we’re looking at the unique combination of start and end zone…on a per rotation basis, our sample sizes do drop quickly. We could readjust the minimum attempts required to qualify to something higher than 7, but I don’t know where that threshold should be – so that’s a question for another day.

Interesting in the data here is that pinning Minnesota’s outsides along the sideline when they are the pass-hitter seems to be the best strategy in many rotations. The secondary issue you could argue here is that because I’m only looking at player-specific receptions, I’m ignoring service errors made while attempting to serve into these zones. Serving from 1 to 5 isn’t easy. To tag the OH’s left shoulder deep in the corner is a high risk proposition. As is going from 5 to 7, (7 being the zone between 5 and 4). That’s a small window to hit as well.

But as a general observation, if you can get the ball in play, these are the objectively optimal players you want to serve – and these are the specific angles from which you want to attack them.

So now instead of looking at a player’s passer rating overall, we’re at the point where we know to look at FBSO eff – as well as the specific rotation, start, and end zones we’d like to incorporate into our serving strategy. My argument is that this is how you make optimal choices from the service line.