The Value of Riding

Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

Riding is not a lost art.

I'm not sure that claims that riding is dead are totally accurate. While the average ride rate had steadily dropped in recent seasons . . .

  • 2013 Successful Ride Rate (National Average): 13.74%
  • 2012 Successful Ride Rate (National Average): 15.85%
  • 2011 Successful Ride Rate (National Average): 17.08%
  • 2010 Successful Ride Rate (National Average): 18.80%

. . . the aspect of the game still exists. There is value in riding, and it will likely remain a part of various teams strategies as long as people focus on possession-generating activities and how they impact possession margin. That's why the title to this recent piece from the U.S. Lacrosse blog (Pride in the Ride: A Guide to Generating Extra Possessions) is fairly captivating (even if the piece doesn't delve into the specifics of how riding can change a team's possession margin): Generating extra possessions through maniacal riding can impact a team's possession fortunes.

I pulled up the old lacrosse calculator to try and determine a few things: (1) Which teams were earning the highest percentage of offensive opportunities through successful rides; and (2) How aggressive riding percentages impacted the possession margins for these teams. Every team is different and there are thousands of ways to approach an execution strategy, but riding with success can change reality for some teams. Here are the details of the top 10 in percentage of offensive possessions earned through opponent failed clears in 2013:

Riding and Possession Margin: 110 Yards of Man-Work
TEAM % OFF. POSS. (OPP. F.CL) N'TL RANK RIDING RATE N'TL RANK POSS. MARGIN N'TL RANK
Providence 12.52% 1 20.36% 2 -2.30 48
Army 11.27% 2 18.75% 9 +1.36 22
Bucknell 11.03% 3 21.20% 1 +2.00 15
Brown 10.69% 4 18.12% 5 -2.88 51
Colgate 10.56% 5 18.09% 6 -0.46 32
Holy Cross 10.36% 6 17.62% 8 -4.27 57
High Point 10.29% 7 16.18% 14 -3.25 53
Manhattan 9.98% 8 16.22% 13 -7.20 62
Navy 9.98% 8 16.28% 12 -2.15 46
Towson 9.87% 10 17.79% 7 -3.42 55

So, what can we pull from this? It's a small subset of teams to look at (and only for one season), but there are some interesting things floating around in this mess. First: Bad possession margin teams are probably going to be bad possession margin teams regardless of whether they ride like animals or not (if you look at underlying possession-generating metrics for the teams ranked in the bottom third of the country in possession margin, they generally have problems with face-off play and clearing execution that mutes their ability to generate extra opportunities through the ride). Second: Decent possession margin teams do see a benefit from aggressive riding. Focusing on Providence, Bucknell, and Army, here are some brief thoughts to support that position:

  • Providence: The Friars were terrible at draws (47.41 percent, 40th nationally) but were strong on their clearing opportunities (88.37 percent, 18th nationally). What Providence's ride did was mitigate the team's face-off woes a bit: Had the Friars rode at the national average, the team would have finished 55th in the country in possession margin per 60 minutes of play (minus-3.67). At the rate to which the Friars were yielding goals last season, Providence's ride kept about half a goal a game off the board and gave the Friars about half a goal a game. That doesn't sound like much, but for a team that was in an efficiency margin deficit last year (meaning that the Friars were yielding about three more goals on a per possession basis than what they were scoring on a per possession basis), it matters.
  • Bucknell: The Bison were atrocious at the face-off dot last season (47.41 percent, 40th nationally), and the team's ride saved their goat: Had the team not led in the nation in riding rate and were instead nationally average at the effort, the team's possession margin ranking would drop from 15th in the country to just 26th nationally (plus-.069). That's a major swing of about two possessions per 60 minutes of play, exposing Bucknell's uneven goaltending play to greater exposure and providing fewer offensive opportunities to a solid offensive unit (the Bison ranked 16th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2013) forced to try and score against stout opposing defenses (Bucknell played a schedule ranked 12th in opposing defenses faced). That possession swing would theoretically take a goal off the board for Bucknell's offense and throw a half of a goal on the board for the Bison's opponents. That's fairly significant in totem.
  • Army: For Army, the extra offensive opportunities earned through its ride was important for a straightforward reason: The Black Knights weren't an especially efficient offensive team last season (Army ranked 36th in adjusted offensive efficiency last year) and struggled to effectively find twine (the team finished 11th in shots per offensive opportunity at 1.18 and were 52nd in raw offensive shooting rate at 25.00 percent). Taking an offensive possession away from the Cadets per 60 minutes of play would make Army's job even tougher despite the fact that the Black Knights were a decent face-off team (53.85 percent, 19th in the nation) and did an average job at clearing the bean (87.12 perce3nt, 28th nationally).
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