The Secret Statistic

March 30, 2018

What do sport teams look for when selecting players? In baseball, general managers

and coaches rely on endless statistics in categories such as batting, base running,

and fielding. Altogether, Major League Baseball teams measure the performance of

players in 119 separate statistics (42 for hitting alone). Now, this might be pushing

it a bit when selecting which professional to play with the coming polo season.

Of course, the nature of baseball (or cricket for that matter), where players

have separate field positions and tasks, makes performance easier to measure. The

flow of polo with players bunched up and often performing multiple tasks

simultaneously — such as riding-off while also playing the ball — makes measuring

performance hard, if not impossible. Hence, the only official indication of players’

individual skill is their HPA-handicap.

 

In the high- and mid-goal, with well-mounted and fewer professionals,

players with the same handicap are evenly matched (with the exception of Adolfo

Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres, who play well above their 10-goals). So, let’s

concentrate on the low-goal — good for 95 percent of polo played in the UK. With

more players in each handicap category— 2, 3 or 4-goals — there simply is bound to

be a bigger difference between those with the same handicap. So, apart from a

professional being “good for his/her handicap” and bringing the best possible

horses, what else do we look for in selecting a professional? What is that secret

statistic?

 

There is only one factor that can make a professional — who already is

having the best day and best horses — play even better: team play. It is called

playing a positive-sum game: does that pro, by adding his skills to the team, make

teammates play at the top of their handicap or above, too? Which means: constantly

engaging and leading them in plays, passing or even leaving the ball and riding off

the opposition when a teammate has a better opportunity — no matter that he or

she has a lower handicap. Or is the pro playing alone (zero-sum)? Perhaps, by doing

so, even having a negative effect on the team’s performance (minus-sum)?

Statistically, this is impractical if not impossible to quantify. However, ask

people who played with a professional not only if they won but if they actually liked

playing with him. Likeability is a very good indicator for effective team-play when

selecting a professional who can help your team win.

 

 

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