Philadelphia’s roster, in aggregate, is subject to the least turnover of any team in the Eastern Conference:
In all basic counting categories with the exception of drops, they are losing less than 34 percent of their production from 2014.
While the changes seem to disproportionately affect their defense (losing 33.65 percent of their defensive points played compared to 24.95 percent of their offensive points played), we can learn more by looking at the types of players they’re losing.
The first is the group of young players who were unable to play for the Spinners until Week 8 of the season due to commitments to the University of Pittsburgh’s men’s team: Marcus Ranii-Dropcho, Patrick Earles, Trent Dillon, Max Thorne and Jonah Wisch. Of that group, Ranii-Dropcho and Thorne played offense, Wisch and Dillon played defense and Earles played both ways. These players, as a group, brought a type of aggressive and dynamic play to the field that the Spinners had sorely lacked. While it wasn’t their work alone that buoyed the team at the end of the season, they were a major component. Specifically of note, Dillon’s value as both a smothering defender and a tireless threat after the turn will be missed as will Ranii-Dropcho’s offensive versatility.
The Spinners will also be losing a strong offensive handler in David Brandolph, who was a tough matchup in the classic Philly offense as it showcased his skillset just about perfectly. This is a tough loss, although not an irreplaceable one.
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Now we come to the most significant roster turnover for this team in the trio of Arthur Shull, Frederik Brasz and Alex Peters. To start, Brasz (127) and Shull (152) were the two team leaders in defensive points played and were third and second, respectively, in total points played (behind the indefatigable Matt Esser).
In losing Peters and Brasz, the Spinners are losing the top two assist totals from players who played primarily defense as each threw 13 assists (which ties with Esser amongst D-dominant players). The left-handed Brasz was consistently catching marks off-guard and steadying the offense during break opportunities while the right-handed Peters added a strong creative throwing element to the team’s offensive style. With Shull’s 12 goals, they are losing the only D-dominant player to score more than 8 goals – again, aside from Esser who scored 22 and was both the league’s premier two-way player and the only person to play over 200 points (215). More than this, Shull is the sort of player who provides a strong example for his teammates through his on-field play by working as hard as possible as often as possible, which has long been the calling card of Philly ultimate at all levels of play.
In many ways, this team has largely chosen to stand pat. This is the third year for their head coach, Billy Maroon, and the Spinners have the longest-running core of players:
Players continuously on the team since 2012:
That they have decided to stick with what has gotten them this far is a statement: Heading into their fourth season, the team clearly believes in what it is building. A hasty organization could easily have changed horses midstream rather than believing in the process.
Instead, the Spinners are bringing back the same players who registered the third-best in almost every category on defense and offense last season:
|O Poss Conv.||47.40%||3rd|
|D Poss Conv.||39.41||3rd|
The big question for the Philadelphia Spinners is the same it has been since Major League Ultimate began: Can this style of play win in this league?
When the Spinners play, their spacing on the field is different than the other teams in the conference. So is the progression of offensive looks. Their play has been handler-dominated in a style which frequently sends handlers on long cross-field give-go runs. These runs are hard to cover – particularly when handlers are as adept at the necessary footwork and disc skills as the Spinners handlers (D. Baer and Hirannet are exemplars) are – but there are a few issues. For one, the cuts are slow-developing. For another, if a handler is cutting across the field and looking backwards for the disc, his ability to read the field is compromised.
When this preferred option is covered, the Spinners tend toward second-option resets comprised of short throws to the top of a vertical stack or to a player running toward the thrower. It suggests a misunderstanding of how to release pressure applied to an offense. If the thrower is in such poor position that he can’t rid himself of a disc quickly and cleanly, why would a team choose to keep the disc in the same area after a mid-to-late stall completion? There’s no lack of space on the MLU field, nor are the marks so oppressive that throwers find themselves unable to choose from a variety of throwing options even late in the stall count.
So why would an offense decide to shrink the field for their throwers? Do they have suboptimal throwers? Do they want to pull the defense in only to break out in a different direction? Are they assuming (as many ultimate players erroneously do) that the closer the receiver, the easier the pass? Regardless of the answers, the numbers speak for themselves:
|Team||O Throws||D Throws||Total Throws||Goals||Throws/Goal|
In a sense, the throws that Philadelphia throws are the least effective in the conference. If we take a very basic comparative stat (Throws/Goal) across the teams in the conference, the only team which averaged more throws per goal was the New York Rumble. Which is a special case as the league mandated that a stone wall and a moat filled with alligators surrounded the end zone New York was attacking. This is the clear explanation for scoring FORTY fewer goals. Hopefully in 2015, the league will no longer employ such tactics.
In a very basic way, every throw is an opportunity for a turnover. If every team had thrown an incompletion on 5 percent of their passes in 2014, the Spinners would lead the league in turnovers by 20:
|Team||Throws||5% TO||120 TO|
Now, no team completed 95 percent of their passes, but to use this as a starting point illustrates Philly’s significant handicap in terms of ambient turnovers. Further, if each team set their season limit at 120 turnovers, the Spinners would have needed to complete passes at an inhuman 99.58 percent. This can certainly be overcome by selectivity and excellence, but it remains a hurdle which must be cleared.
There is a lot of room for improvement for the Spinners, as the gap between their play and that of Boston and D.C. was much larger in than the gap between the Spinners and the bottom-feeding New York Rumble. This season will be a pivotal one for the organization: If they continue on the same path in the same style with the same players and fail to advance to the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the changes for 2016 could be far more comprehensive in style or personnel or both.
However, if this team perfects their style and raises their level of play in their fourth year, the sky is the limit. The 2014 team, for all of its faults and failures, played like a team that believed it could win every single game. Their effort was never the issue, but rather their efficacy. If they continue to believe and begin to execute at a higher level, this team will make a run to the top of the conference.