STATurday 1: Finding a Goalie’s “Mendoza Line”
After a lengthy and much-needed break, we at Hooked on Hockey Magazine, have decided to continue providing you with weekly segments that serve to inform, amuse, and provide cannon fodder for the next time you need to completely demolish your buddy in a hockey argument (you’re welcome).
Nothing helps seal the deal for an argument better than cold, hard facts. While amazing saves, incredible snipe shows, and dirty dangles are all subjective, nothing speaks louder than numbers and statistics, which brings me to the pleasure of introducing you to our newest weekly segment, STATurday. Formerly a feature used to award nonexistent prizes to outstanding performance in specific categories, the new and revamped STATurday is now a segment to highlight unsung heroes toiling in the arena’s basement and to bring light to some statistical analysis.
As you may have seen from the Throwback Thursday articles, we somewhat have a thing for multi-sport enthusiasts. Today, you can be the multi-talented athlete, as we will be exploring the concept of the hilariously-named Mendoza Line, and its application to hockey.To the uninitiated, the Mendoza Line is not a forward line where all players are last named Mendoza. Its’ origins trace back to baseball; named after famed (or perhaps infamous?) baseball shortstop, Mario Mendoza. Mario originally attracted the attention of the Pittsburgh Pirates for his uncanny ability to snag grounders and turn double plays… However…
Mendoza was god-awful at batting; how god-awful you ask? To the tune of about .215 for a career average. To put that in hockey terms as a goalie’s save percentage, that’s akin to stopping approximately one in every five shots on net, give or take a few (blatant foreshadowing of where this is going). The historically awful batting average of Mario Mendoza gave rise to the “Mendoza Line,” which is now universally accepted to be any batting average below .200 in baseball circles.
So, dear reader, I posit to you the following question: does the NHL have a goalie’s equivalent of a Mendoza Line? Perhaps a DiPietro Diagonal? Let’s take a deep dive and find out.
It is no secret that in order to succeed in the NHL, goalies have to have two things: a favourable win percentage, and the ability to make a timely save. Now, both of these stats are tracked as a direct ratio of one variable to another (Goals Against Average need not apply… yet). Win percentage is simply wins over starts, rounded to the nearest 3rd decimal place. Save percentage is shots saved over shots faced, also rounded to the nearest 3rd decimal place. The ease at which these are calculated make it incredibly easy to make an analog comparison between baseball and hockey – and you thought the “coolest game on ice” and “America’s past-time” had nothing in common…
Now, seeing as how hockey has worked since ties were abolished, a goalie has to win, and a goalie has to lose every game; crunching the win percentage numbers would be an exercise in futility since the average will always be .500. This makes that statistic pretty useless for our Mendoza Line quest.
The lovely folks over at Hockey Reference have compiled a table with the average save percentages for all of the goalies for as long as these records have been kept (thanks for saving me a ton of work, guys!), with the trend staying pretty close to the .915 mark for the past 9 years. Keep in mind, this is the average save percentage. In theory, your run-of-the-mill goalie, on any given night, will stop approximately 9 out of 10 of the shots he faces (and with an average of about 30 shots per game, seems about right). Even Rick DiPietro.
Like in any sports, when it comes to statistics, we can expect a normal distribution, or what is called a bell-curve, where most of the goalies will fit somewhere in the middle, the truly outstanding will go to the right, and the truly awful will go to the left. Without all the boring math talk, you can essentially rank all the goalies who have ever played at the NHL level in a graph and they will fit into this bell.
Now, the mark of honour of the Mendoza Line has to be arbitrary and indicative of futility. Any goalie under this mark will simply not make it far in the NHL. The easiest way to determine this is to look at stats by goalies – last year, a total of 95 goalies faced at least one shot in the NHL. The median of the save percentages was Minnesota Wild’s Alex Stalock at .910. The average was .912. The player with the lowest save percentage and most games played was Vegas’ Maxime Lagace with a .867 save percentage.
Now, I am too lazy to punch in all of the stats in order to determine two standard deviations from the average. I can safely estimate that the goalie’s Mendoza Line should be nearing .775; a point in which no goalie can sustain a career, and by all means a rough night. Any unsung heroes willing to prove me wrong, please stand up.