Understanding Middle Blockers – More Plus Liga Stats

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Statistics should be able to help us understand the game better so they we can make valid judgements about the value of particular skills and players. Most of the statistics we are familiar with don’t really help us to tell the story of the game in any meaningful way. We tend to measure things that are easy to see, or use scales that date back to the 70s and don’t have any real meaning. I want to understand that better, so I have been experimenting with different statistics. Here I will talk about middle blockers, using the statistics from the current Plus Liga season as examples. Included are matches up to 9th October 2020. Names mentioned are the top 4 in each statistic with some other notable names included.

Block Percentage – Kochanowski 6.5%, Smith 5.8%, Flavio 5.6%, Josifow 5.5%
**Crer 7th, Wiśniewski 16th, Mordyl 20th
The most obvious and widely quoted statistic for blocking is the number of blocks, or almost as bad, blocks per set. It is the ultimate lazy statistic, we can count it, so it must mean something. It misses so many different parts of the game, not least that a block point is essentially an accident that happens on only around 10% of attacks. Like in serving, if we do need to measure blocks, let’s at least make it a percentage. This figure is percentage of blocks made by middle blockers of all the attacks when they are in the front row. A middle blocker has the opportunity (theoretically at least) to block every ball, so that seems like a good place to start.

Block Involvement Percentage – Kochanowski 12.3%, Smith 11%, Crer 10.6%, Wiśniewski 9.7%
**Mordyl 5th, Flavio 6th, Josifow 7th,
It could be that individuals make block points for the themselves, but those blocks don’t lead to value for the team (I have had a player who fell into this category). It could also be that a blocker is a really good team blocker, or so good that opponent attackers avoid spiking in their direction. So what if we include all block points made while that middle is in the front row. Suddenly Wiśniewski and Mordyl’s value seems very different.

Opponent Attack Percentage – Smith 40.1%, Kochanowski 42.3%, Gladyr 43.3%, Mordyl 44.4%
**Teryomenko 5th, Wiśniewski 6th, Flavio 9th, Josifow, Crer not top 10
However we decide to measure block points, it still only accounts for about 10% of total attacks. We need to find a way to account for all the other ways that middle blockers can affect the opponent. Counting touches is one way that could be used, but the definition of a positive touch is not consistent. The opponent attack percentage is a pretty good starting point for looking more broadly at the effect of middle blockers. It is really interesting to note here how different the list is to our first list of block percentage. It seems like it is possible to have a big impact on the game with making a lot of points and vice versa.

Opponent Adjusted Attack Percentage – Smith 39.8%, Kochanowski 42.5%, Gladyr 43.3%, Teryomenko 46.5%
**Mordyl 5th, Wiśniewski 6th, Flavio 9th, Josifow, Crer not top 10
One possible weakness of the opponent attack percentage is that it doesn’t account for the quality of the servers. What would happen if we adjusted the attack percentage for the quality of the first contact, i.e. removing the effect of the serve? Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that there is effectively no difference. Over time, all middles ‘face’ about the same different kinds of attacks.

If we want to understand middle blockers, some measure of block points tells a different story than a measure that tries to look at the game more broadly. My feeling is that we overvalue individual block points, possibly by quite a lot. We have to reconsider how we look at and judge middle blockers. Another step could be to adjust for the quality of the defence although I suspect that block and defence are too closely related to be able to separate them effectively. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

First Tempo Kill Rate – Concepcion 77.4%, Mordyl 77.4%, Lemanski 71.4% Crer 69.8%
**Kochanowski 5th, Josifow 10th
Finally, just for fun let’s look at attack for a moment. Taking out all the other various attacks that happen, and looking only at first tempo attack we see some names that haven’t popped up elsewhere. Blocking and attacking are two separate parts of the role of the middle blocker and naturally some players can be better at one thing. However, there are two players who come up in the top 5 for attack AND block (opponent attack percentage). I’ll leave you with that thought.

Tagged Volleyball AnalyticsVolleyball StatisticsPlus LigaScience UntangledBlocking Statistics


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