Thursday, October 17, 2013

Advanced Stats Confirm: Brandon Sutter is Not Very Good

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

We've had a brief but colorful history with Corsis, the recently invented hockey statistic that measures shot attempts.  A Corsi is a shot attempt -- on net, missed, or blocked.  If you're on the ice for a goal, a miss wide, and a shot attempt that's blocked, that's a Corsi For of +3 because that's 3 shot attempts.  Conversely, if you're on the ice for 3 attempted shots against but no shots for, your Corsi is -3.

From a team perspective, Corsi is an affirmation of common sense (having the puck = good; not having the puck = bad).  From an individual perspective, even if you fall squarely in the camp (like we do) that it's a flawed individual statistic because throwing pucks indiscriminately at the net is not always a positive thing, the Corsis can at least be a measure of activity -- that is, when you are on the ice, is good stuff happening (shots for), is bad stuff happening (shots against), or are you just floating around killing time?

"I'll take 'floating around killing time' for $100, Alex"
No one has harped on Brandon Sutter as early and as consistently as we have.  We had high expectations for him, and he's been mediocre at best, irrelevant at worst.  He scored 11 goals in 48 games last year, but as we outlined in our season preview, this was the result of a couple good moments during a season that was otherwise filled with idle blandness, mostly spent losing puck battles on the boards or wandering around the neutral zone while Crosby and Malkin caught their breath.

I've gotten kind of bored complaining about him solely based on what I've watched, so I decided to go somewhere I hadn't gone before -- the Corsis -- to see if it supports what we're seeing (or not seeing) on a nightly basis from Sutter.  And boy, does it ever. (All numbers from, so if they're wrong, I don't know what to tell you).  Let's dive in.

Brandon Sutter was horrible at the 5-on-5 Corsis last year

One key measure of Corsis is to compare how many Good Corsis happen when you're on the ice versus how many Bad Corsis happen.  This is measured by "Corsi For %."  What this means is that if you make 4 Good Corsis, but let up 6 Bad Corsis, your CF% is 40% (because 40% of all the Corsis that happen when you are on the ice are Good Corsis).

Per, out of 179 players listed at Center who played in 24 or more of the 48 games last season, Brandon Sutter was 163rd in Corsi For % at 5-on-5.  If this were the SATs, he'd be in the 9th percentile.  His CF% was 42.4%, which means that if Brandon Sutter was on the ice for an entire game during which a combined total of 50 shots were attempted, Brandon Sutter's team would attempt 21 shots and the opponents team would attempt 29 shots.  We're basically at the point where when Sutter gets a shot on goal, we cheer him on like a proud father whose son made his first bowel movement in the toilet: "Yayyyy, you made a Corsi!!!"

Sutter slotted in just behind All-Stars like Max Talbot, Jay Beagle, Mark Letestu, James Wright, and David Steckel.  (In Sutter's defense, he did beat out legends like Joe Vitale, Zac Rinaldo, Zenon Konopka, and the immortal Jay McClement, who, in the Hypothetical Corsi Game described above, would get out Corsi'd by a margin of roughly 32-18).

For comparison's stake, and presented without comment, Jordan Staal is 37th on the same list, with a CF% of 53.6% (meaning he wins the Hypothetical Corsi Game 27-23).

Much more after the jump...

Brandon Sutter was a huge drag on the Pens' Corsis last season

A stat called "CF% rel." measures is how well a particular player is doing at Corsis compared to how the team does when he isn't on the ice.  When skating 5-on-5, Brandon Sutter was 25th out of 27 Penguins at Corsis, ahead of only Brendan Morrow and Joe Vitale.

Of the same 179 centers mentioned above, Brandon Sutter was ranked 171st at 5-on-5 Corsis relative to his team (the 4th percentile on the SATs).  This means that there were only 8 centers in the entire league who were bigger drags on their team's Corsis than Sutter.  Let's list them for fun:

Zac Rinaldo
Jordan Nolan
Joe Vitale
Jay McClement
Dave Bolland
Andrew Ebbett
Maxim Lapierre
Darroll Powe

When we talk about how we're worried about the Pens' bottom 6, this is what we're talking about.  With Crosby and/or Malkin on the ice at 5-on-5, the Pens were around a 56% Corsi team, meaning that they win the Hypothetical Corsi Game 28-22.  When Sutter (and/or Vitale) is on the ice, the Pens lose the Hypothetical Corsi Game 29-21.  That's an enormous drop off.

But he's good at faceoffs!

Last year he won 50% of his faceoffs ... and still got crushed in the Corsis.

This year he's winning 58% of his faceoffs .. and is still getting crushed in Corsis.  His current Corsi For % at 5-on-5 through 6 games is 43.3%, meaning he loses the Hypothetical Corsi Game 28-22.  This is remarkable because it means that Brandon Sutter wins the faceoff, then promptly loses the puck and does nothing for the next 45 seconds.

But he had an assist in each of the first three games!  Isn't he playing better this year?

No.  He's arguably worse, at least when it comes to the Corsis.  He's currently tied with Tanner Glass for worst Corsi % at 5-on-5, and he's the biggest drag on the team's overall Corsi through 6 games (an even bigger drag than he was last year).

If you look at Fenwick, which is the same as Corsis but does not count blocked shots, Sutter is the worst on the team so far, and by a big margin.

But he plays against tougher competition.  He's our "shut down center!"

Not really.  There's another advanced stat that measures the quality of your opponents, and weights it by how much time you spend on the ice against particular players.  The math behind it is uninteresting, but the results are easy to understand:  Sutter's quality of competition was middle of the pack for the Pens (ranked 10th out of 19 players who played 24+ games last season).

Fine.  But it's because he has bad linemates.  They must suck at the Corsis, too.

Not really, but if they did, it was probably because they were skating with Sutter, and not vice versa.  There's a stat that may or may not be meaningful but, like quality of competition, it shows that Sutter was in the middle of the pack on the Pens with respect to quality of linemates.

According to the numbers, his most frequent linemates were Cooke, Kennedy, and Dupuis.  All of them had better Corsis than Sutter, which means they did better at the Corsis when they were NOT on the ice with Sutter.  Cooke's overall Corsis were pretty bad, but it is interesting to point out that he's off to a hot Corsi start this season in Minnesota.  Kennedy's Corsis were much higher than Sutter's and he was actually a positive influence on the team's average Corsi (albeit by a small amount).  This means that when Kennedy was on the ice without Sutter, he was the Corsi-monster.  He's also off to a red-hot Corsi start in San Jose.

"All the Corsis are just, like, so much more laid back on the west coast."
Does any of this mean anything?  I don't really know, and even if it does, it's still way too early in Sutter's career (and his time in Pittsburgh) to make definitive judgments about him as a player.  But it isn't too soon to evaluate how he has performed so far in Pittsburgh.  And we're getting close to the point where the question isn't whether he's lived up to expectations, but whether he is actually hurting the team.

The bottom line is this: if the advanced stats are telling you that you aren't good, and the people who make fun of the advanced stats are telling you that you aren't good, you probably aren't good.


  1. I swear I read an article last year that argued for Sutter's worth based on some of the advanced stats; I feel like I even linked it here. But I can't find it quickly, and quite frankly, am not going to get worked up about making an argument either way. He feels to me an average third-line center, and it is early in the year.

    More interesting? Frightening?: Derek Engelland at wing? WTF.

    Granted - Jeffrey has looked pretty bad (if we want to talk about guys who seem to be on the ice accomplishing nothing) - but he's fallen so far he - or someone from WBS - isn't a better choice than Derek freaking Engelland? I've spend the last 2 games yelling at my TV as he (and whatever poor partner he's with) spends their entire shift unable to get the puck out of the defensive zone. (He must have the worst Corsis on the team? Right?) I've begged for Bob - pleaded for Bylsma to get over whatever mancrush he has on Engo because he a "good guy." I cringe every time I see him on the ice.

    And now he's going to play frigging wing! I can't handle it.

    1. I think I know what you're talking about regarding Sutter because I googled stuff about him just to see what other people were saying. It wouldn't surprise me if there are advanced stats trending in his favor --- part of the reason we joke about the advanced stats is that you can slice them up so many ways that they can support whatever argument you want to make. So, obviously, this post isn't the definitive analysis of Sutter. Just thought it was kind of funny -- and telling -- that even the advanced stats (at least these ones) show that he has been rather underwhelming. To me, it's not his numbers in a vacuum that bother me, it's that he really doesn't compare well to guys who are supposed to be his peers. As you said, he's an average third-line center. Unfortunately that might be his ceiling. We'll see.

      As for Engelland on the wing, it doesn't make much sense at all. The Pens bottom 6 tonight -- Glass, Sutter, Adams, Vitale, Harry Z, and Engelland -- is really bad. To be fair to Engelland, I actually thought he was OK in the last two games of the Boston series. But yeah, he shouldn't be getting ice time on a good team. Especially at wing. Kind of illuminates the complete dearth of forwards in the Pens' system.

    2. Here's one about him in Carolina

      And here's one about him right before he came to PGH.

      Best part of the Faceoff-Factor one:

      "Sutter is a puck hound. He exhibits a very tenacious forecheck with a consistent nightly work ethic. In the offensive pressure sense, the addition of Sutter certainly suits what Dan Bylsma is asking, and makes the transition out of the Jordan Staal era a bit easier."

  2. If shots that go wide are a positive Corsi, wouldn't TK be the league leader??? Another reason the stat is flawed...

  3. I've been watching him weigh down the Pens for the past couple seasons, wondering if I was just being overly judgmental on him. Your article pretty much echoed my thoughts (minus all the fancy math) that he's just not good compared to the Crosby or Malkin top 6, but he's not good period. I read your article and then watched the game vs. Vancouver today, with interest of watching Sutter a little closer.

    He was terrible.
    God bless the kid, he tries, but he really has a tough time around the puck. And the penalty shot...yea, even Steigerwald said that Loungo made it look way too easy to stop him. I think Blysma would have even had a better chance to score, in his suit and Jos. A Bank dress shoes. He's painful to watch. When his line is playing, I count down the seconds until the 4th line comes on and shows effort.

    He's an average time filler at best.