The Olympics are over and I have some random disjointed thoughts.
The events themselves had the character we were expecting. The women’s event could have gone a number of different ways and a team with four losses ended up beating another team with four losses in the gold medal game. On the other hand, the men’s event felt like Sweden or Great Britain were always going to win. Although I’d push back on the idea that Canada was a disappointment.
Of Canada’s five losses, three were to Sweden or Great Britain and another was to Switzerland, who themselves disappointed to some extent but are still ranked #6 in the world here even after the event. Now, none of those games were particularly close, but Canada was pretty clearly the third-best team in this event just based on its play in Beijing.
Both the Canadian men and women really struggled with the draw shot challenge. That obviously hurt the women, who lost out on a playoff spot due to its DSC, which was the worst in the field. But also, they won hammer just three times in nine games, and even lost two of the games they won hammer in. It seems like a near-miracle they were able to have a playoff chance in their final game.
The Canadian men won hammer in just four games and had a total of eight steals in the entire event, yet still managed to win six of their 11 games.
The (lack of) value of hammer
Kevin Martin mentioned on the latest Inside Curling podcast it’s worth considering a rule change to split a curling game into two halves, where each team gets to start with hammer in one of the halves. I’d have to think about how this would impact strategy, especially at the end of the first half, but the idea is to minimize the advantage of starting with hammer which is noble.
The thing is, I’m not sure the hammer advantage is that big of an issue. In the women’s event, where the distribution of talent among the teams was small, the team that started with hammer went a mere 25-24 (51%). In the men’s event, the hammer team went 30-19 (61.2%). The distribution of talent was greater on the men’s side, so it’s not surprising that the hammer team won more. But it’s not necessarily because they had hammer. It’s because the better team wins hammer more often than not, and in more cases on the men’s side, the better team is obviously the better team.
For example, Denmark did not win hammer against Sweden, Great Britain, Canada, and Switzerland and lost all of those games. But clearly losing hammer was not the reason they lost.
The American center guard strategy
The most unique strategy debuting in this event was the American men’s use of center guards when playing with hammer and facing a large deficit (at least 3 points). Team Shuster used it late in both games against Canada. In both cases, it didn’t really work out. Shuster was forced in the 8th end of the round-robin game and gave up a steal of two in the 9th end of the bronze medal game.
I assume the logic is that when using a corner guard strategy, a good team is going to throw two in the house and guard it while you’re throwing up a couple corner guards and drawing to the side. Rarely, does that stone behind the corner guard end up counting as the hammer team has to work to remove the opponents stone near the middle of the house. So just cut to the chase, throw the center guards yourself and get a bunch of stones in play early, even if the scoring area is crowded initially.
The first time I saw this strategy was at the U.S. nationals when Korey Dropkin tried it against Shuster himself in the third game of their three-game series down 5-1 in the ninth. Dropkin was able to score two out of it though that obviously wasn’t enough to make a difference. Anyway, this seems to be a uniquely American strategy for now. We’ll see if it spreads. With the imminent arrival of a no-tick rule which will only regulate center guards, this might catch on.
In general I felt the ratings here held up better than the world curling team rankings. Canada’s women never looked like a favorite to me. Switzerland led the round robin portion before losing twice in the playoffs.
On the men’s side, Edin overachieved the ratings on the world stage yet again and it’s worth considering whether that trend might merit some sort of special adjustment for international events for certain teams. But the other nine teams performed close enough to expectations, so this would just be the “Edin exception”. And a one-team adjustment isn’t really worth it.
But despite capturing the big picture of each event fairly well, the results of my hypothetical wagers were disappointing. Of my nine picks, I prevailed on just one, Canada’s men to medal. In the end, I put up 2.8M and won 1.4M.
The curling world is not taking a breather after the Olympics, partly because some events scheduled in January were rescheduled for upcoming weeks. The Swiss championships conclude this weekend and for some reason jet-lagged Tirinzoni and De Cruz are obligated to participate. Notably, it’s a no-tick rule event.
Then it’s the Brier in a couple weeks and then a watered-down women’s and men’s worlds after that before we play the final two slams in April and May. There will be shot data from all those events, so I’m excited, although there’s obviously going to be a bit of a post-Olympic let down as we await an offseason of team changes.
Bruce is still king
Speaking of which, I’ve made a little progress on cataloguing shot data. You can now select games from each team’s schedule to see shot data where it’s available. From there you can see player stats for each shot or shot stats for all players. It’s progress. I’ll get back to it during the Brier and world’s.
For now, it’s interesting to me that Bruce Mouat threw far more guards (18) than any skip on the men’s side. He was also better at run-backs than any other skip, with a ridiculous accuracy of 87%. (The rest of the field shot 58% on runbacks.) Congrats to Team Edin on a well-deserved gold, but Bruce is still king and I predict Team Mouat will be the top-ranked team on this site for quite a while.
Doesn’t the Mouat guard stat just prove that he has a great team? I would think that if a fourth is throwing guards, it’s usually because they are very well positioned in the house.
No doubt! The runback accuracy is influenced by that to some degree as well. He has the best sweepers and probably had simpler runbacks as well. (But also he’s awesome at runbacks.)