Today on twitter @DTMAboutHeart made a comment that Brandon Sutter is a below replacement level defensive player.
Every year since 2009 Brandon Sutter’s defense has rated below replacement level
— DTM About Heart (@DTMAboutHeart) July 15, 2016
Based on this comment I would like to propose this as a litmus test for whether you are doing hockey analytics correctly or not.
Before I get to that, let me put out a pretty simple claim. If you are a below replacement level defensive player it ought to manifest itself in a high goals against average, probably among the highest on your team. I don’t know how you can argue this point. The whole purpose of defensive play is to reduce goals against. If you are bad at it it ought to mean your team is giving up more goals when you are on the ice. So lets look at Sutter’s on-ice goals against stats in years that he has played more than 500 minutes of ice time compared to his teammates in those seasons.
Fourth of eleven, not too bad.
Best of the bunch, hmmm, maybe he isn’t replacement level.
In the top 3 neck and neck with his line mates.
Man, he’s terrible now having fallen almost, but not quite, to middle of the pack.
Oh, 2012-13 must have been a short season blip, he’s moved back to top of the pack.
Trails only Winnik but Winnik doesn’t really count because he played most of the season on a different team so yeah, tops on the Penguins yet again.
I don’t know about you but I have a really difficult time calling a player that is always, consistently every year, near the top of his team in lowest goals against average a below replacement level defensive player. I will add that during this time period of all forwards with at least 3000 minutes of ice time Brandon Sutter has the 39th highest opponent GF60 so you can’t even argue that he gets easy minutes. He in fact gets tough minutes. His most frequent opponents (forwards) during this time period are Alex Ovechkin, Martin St. Louis, John Tavares, and Steven Stamkos.
I am perfectly willing to debate whether Sutter is one of the best defensive players in the league during this period of time or merely above average. However, I am going to propose that claiming Brandon Sutter is a below replacement level defensive player be a litmus test for whether you are doing hockey analytics correctly or not.
Sorry @DTMAboutHeart, whatever rating system you are using doesn’t pass the test.