Having a look at Julien Sprunger’s production

This is a follow-up to my last post where I had a look at goal-scoring years by Swiss forwards that were built on high shooting percentage and are hardly repeatable. The main focus was on Marc Wieser’s out-of-the-norm-season. What’s interesting, there was a huge outcry of some Fribourg fans because I said that Julien Sprunger is an inconsistent goal scorer. The main arguments for his fluctuating shooting percentage (S% or Sh%) were:

  • his S% drops because Bykov got injured
  • his S% drops because Bykov had a down-year
  • since the Backes hit, Sprunger doesn’t get to the dirty areas and therefore has a lower Sh%
  • when his Sh% is down, his assist per game go up
  • his points-per-game is between 0.8 and 1.0; so he’s consistent

Here’s Sprunger’s chart I used in the last post:SprungerJulienAfter going through those comments, I was interested in finding out, if any of this actually did impact Sprunger’s Sh% or if it was his own-doing and he basically just is an unpredictable and inconsistent goal-scorer – or if both was partially true and we’re more talking about luck and bounces.
In order to do that, I had a look at every regular season game played by Fribourg from 2008-09 to 2015-16. That’s 8 seasons and 400 games played. This should give us a large enough sample size to draw some conclusions. Let’s get it started.

Note: This post actually got bigger then I initially planned and is really heavy on charts and graphs that should help to better understand the raw numbers; You might need to read it 2 or 3 times in order to fully get everything. But I hope it’s worth your time.

 

His S% drops because Bykov got injured

If this hypothesis were true, it would mean that without Bykov, Sprunger’s overall production should sink and his contribution is lower than with Bykov. You can ask 100 NLA fans and I’m pretty sure that at least 95 percent would say that Bykov and Sprunger are dependent on one another and they would expect both to be less productive without their most frequent running mate.

As I said above, I looked at 400 regular season games and tried to find out, how one of those guys fared without the other. With all data collected I was able to create a WOWY chart (with or without you). I have to say though that it is not a 100% accurate. Swiss Ice Hockey does not track ice time so basically my chart covers games in which those guys were in the line-up or out of it (due to sickness, injuries, suspensions). Here’s the data I collected shown in a chart:

sprunger_bykov_WOWY_2008-2016

What can we see here? In fact, Sprunger’s Sh% is lower without Bykov in the line-up. So are his goals per game and shots per game. Interestingly though, his assists per game rise as well as his points per game. If we take a 50 game-season, Sprunger would put 157 shots on net and bury 22 of them with Bykov (44 total points). Without Bykov we have 147 shots, 18 goals and 45 points. So, there’s a difference but it’s not as drastic as Fribourg fans would like to believe. On 100 shots taken, the difference is 2 goals. And if you check my piece on Jonas Hiller, you can see that it’s actually not even worth 1 point towards the standings.

We can say, that this hypothesis is wrong and Sprunger’s production does not depend on Bykov. The difference in Sh% is minimal without Bykov in the line-up.

His S% drops because Bykov had a down-year

This one is related to the one above: If Sprunger and Bykov were relying on one another, obviously, Sprunger’s production should plummet when Bykov is off his game.

sprunger_bykov_productionThis chart is showing their stats per games played. We can see here that Bykov is a 0.600 assist/game player. He had two very strong years (2011-12 / 2012-13) in which he totally overachieved. Those years might be the reason why we perceive Bykov to be an elite set-up man and we always hope that he’ll one day be again a .800 assists/game player. What’s also clear is that Sprunger was the beneficiary of those two career-years as he posted Sh% of 18.37 and 15.57. So yeah, it might be true that Sprunger’s Sh% jumps because of Bykov. But then again, we have to look at 2008-09 and 2015-16 where Bykov was his normal self and Sprunger had seasons of 15.24% and 20.83%. And to provide more context, I had a closer look at the 2011-12 season, in which Sprunger had to play 14 of his 49 games without Bykov. If this hypothesis were true, Sprunger’s production would drop without Bykov (I couldn’t do that chart for 2012-13 because Sprunger didn’t play any games without Bykov). Once again, I created a WOWY chart (again: this is the best I can do with the data Swiss Ice Hockey provides):

sprunger_bykov_WOWY_2011-2012What can be drawn from this? Sprunger actually had a productive year himself, was firing on all cylinders and Bykov did have little impact on it. We can even trend towards saying that Bykov’s career-year was a product of Sprunger.
The drop in Sh% without Bykov is about a goal for an entire 50-game-season.

Answer to this hypothesis? Not true. As shown in the charts, Sprunger did have efficient years where Bykov played on a normal level. Furthermore, in the games without Bykov, Sprunger’s production didn’t drop.

Since the Backes hit, Sprunger doesn’t get to the dirty areas and therefore has a lower Sh%

As you might remember, Sprunger was pushed into the boards pretty badly by David Backes at the 2009 World Championship. If you don’t remember, here’s the hit again:

Sprunger missed the first 21 games of the 2009-10 season afterwards. He was then coming off two very productive seasons, one of which was a year where he had a 15.24 Sh%.
The hypothesis says that Sprunger’s Sh% dropped because he feared going to the net (dirty areas) and preferred to stay on the periphery where he didn’t get so many high quality scoring chances (HQSC).

This hypothesis might be true. Because shot location is not tracked, we don’t know if he really didn’t crash the net as often as he did before. But I have to point to those 2011-12 / 2012-13 / 2015-16 seasons again where he had a Sh% of more than 15.00. And his overall play in 2009-10 didn’t suffer, either, as he still posted a .929 point-per-game season which is in line with his normal production.

What’s interesting about that 2009-10 season: He posted his worst Sh% and best assists/game-ratio and you might be inclined to think that he was playing with fear and more often looking for passing options instead of a shot. But he had by far the most SOG/game of his career. My assumption: He was probably playing with fear and was always looking to get the puck away from his stick as quick as possible and therefore had more shots but not really quality-shots.
But overall, I don’t buy that Backes-destroyed-him-forever-talk. He rebounded and put up the same numbers as always.

When his Sh% is down, his assist per game go up

This was mentioned that he had a Sh% that dropped because his teammates benefited from tip-ins and rebounds and Sprunger didn’t get the goal. So, naturally, his assists/game-ratio increased while his Sh% dropped.
A quick look at his per-game-stats shows that Sprunger posts consistently around .45 assists per game. We have two outliers in 2009-10 (.607 see above) and 2015-16 (.256).
I will agree that in those two specific seasons there might be some correlation between his Sh% and A/game. But for different reasons. I really believe that in 2015-16 he definitely had more luck with shots going in than usual (therefore, this season is not repeatable) and as a consequence had less assists (no generated rebounds). As for 2009-10, as stated in the last paragraph above, I think he played with too much fear and definitely generated more rebounds than normally.

But in those six other seasons, there is no explanation on why his Sh% wasn’t consistent.

His points-per-game is between 0.8 and 1.0; so he’s consistent

Can’t argue with that. 2013-14 was a down year (.673 points per game). Other than that, his worst was .800 and his best 1.041.
But what I said was that he is an inconsistent goal scorer. Over time, you should stabilize somewhere within – let’s say – a 2% variance. A player with the skill level of Sprunger shouldn’t see his goal production go hot and cold from a year-to-year basis. Let’s be honest: What’s better? A 0.8 to 1.0 pts/game production or a .95 to 1.05 pts/game production? Because that’s where he would be if he would hit his targets more reliably.

Other findings

During my research, I found a lot of other interesting stuff. Of those 348 games that Sprunger played, he didn’t register a point in 133 of them (38.2%). This number seems rather big but needs to be compared to other points-per-game-players in order to really classify it. He posted more than 1 point in 21% of his games.

When I was looking for other opinions on how to value consistency, Thomas Roost mentioned something on Twitter:

Looking at Sprunger’s year-to-year data, he consistently puts around 3 shots per game on net. There are two seasons in which he is clearly above this average (2009-10 with 4.00 and 2012-13 with 3.813). Other than that, he has around 150 shots per full season. To further investigate this, I wanted to know if Sprunger’s production comes in bunches or if does that consistently. To do that, I put a graph over all data. To even out some peaks and valleys, I used 10-game-stretches. So every data point equals the total of ten games played. This allows us to get a look into his consistency from a game-to-game basis:

Sprunger_10game_moving_2008-2016This chart might be a bit much at first sight, so take a good look at it. The yellow line is his shot-total per 10 games. When I said that he averages 3 shots per game, the yellow line in this graph should hover around 30, which it does between games 91 and 181 as well as after game 291. In between,you can see that his shots on goal fluctuate a lot.

Looking at the dark blue line (Sh%) we can see that Sprunger scores his goals in bunches (see also the light blue line) and then cools off again. His career average is 13.64% but he rarely stays on that level. He should be around 4 goals per 10 games (career-average) scored here and we can see that he is minimally below that around 3 games and pushes his career-average with those hot stretches.

Points per 10-games is really consistent but takes an interesting drop between game 281 and 291. That’s between November 29 2014 and January 3 2015 when he scored 2 goals, no assists in 11 games. He closed the season by scoring 2 assists in 8 games.

Conclusion

I’ve found out a lot of interesting stuff that I didn’t think of before. However, I still stand by my word, that it’s really weird that Sprunger’s Sh% fluctuates that much and does not level off at some point. We can definitely rule out that Bykov has anything to do with it. I also doubt that Backes has anything to do with his Sh% over the length of Sprunger’s career. What we can say is that on a yearly-basis, Sprunger gives you the same amount of shots and is a consistent shot-producer. There are stretches where he isn’t as much a factor and he is a bit streaky when it comes to goal-scoring. But then again, goal-scoring is always a bit streaky and depends on bounces, so this is tolerable. What’s difficult to predict is his output: It can be between 10 and 25 goals over a full-season and this makes it really hard to set your expectations. Is Sprunger the 15% guy or more like the 10% guy? The difference is 7.5 goals/season or 3.5 points in the standings.

Did you like this and are interested in more? Follow me on Twitter @mikey_1986