Which type of serve is best?

Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.

serve type.jpg

What you see above is the distribution of serving performances per player per match, broken down by type of serve. This chart is built using Big Ten and Pac 12 conference matches and serving performances with fewer than 5 serves in a match were excluded. 1st ball point score efficiency is the serving team’s wins minus losses when defending the reception + attack of their opponent. It’s basically FBSO eff from the standpoint of the serving team, which is why most of the efficiencies are negative, as the serving team is more likely to lose on that first attack after they serve.

You’ll see from the viz that the natural midpoint for all types of serves is around -.250. So the argument then becomes, well if you’re going to average about the same result regardless of what serve you hit, what does it matter? What matters here is the deviation from the mean. If you look at jump floats, it looks like the classic bell-shaped normal distribution graph and if you searched for specific players, you could see how their performances shake out relative to the average of the two leagues. If a player consistently fell below this average, maybe it’s time to develop a new serve or dive deeper into her poor performance.

Jump serving, as you might expect, definitely has a good percentage of players with performances above the mean. However, there’s also a wider distribution in general and because of this (likely due to increased service error when jump serving) many performance fall far short of league averages. The takeaway here is that while it can be beneficial, the larger standard deviation means you might only want to be jump serving if you need to take a chance against a stronger team.

Standing floats are interesting. Close and far just indicate where the server starts, relative to the endline. Molly Haggerty with Wisconsin hits a “far” standing float while Kathryn Plummer out of Stanford hits her standing float just inches from the endline. Not only is the average for standing floats farther from the endline a little higher (-.243) than standing floats from close to the endline (-.257) but as you can see from the chart, these far away floats are more narrowly distributed, indicating more consistent performance.

While jump floats have the highest average (-.229) and jump serves (-.264) may provide the appropriate risk-reward for some servers, it may actually be these standing float serves from long distance that provide a great alternative if you have a player lacking a nicely developed, above-average serve.

False. Black bear.