Stats Analysis: Match Dart Madness

Stats Analysis: Match Dart Madness

Christopher Kempf, the statistical analyst of the PDC, takes a look at how players fare when attempting match-winning doubles.

Put even the most talented and experienced player in a closely-fought contest and there is no guarantee, despite all of that talent and experience, that the player will be assured of hitting the match-winning double.

Last Sunday at the International Darts Open, five players in five different matches attempted match darts only to squander the opportunity and lose.

The dismay of coming so close to a win - and the prize money and ranking position that it represents - to come up just a few millimetres short represents one of the great psychological torments of the game of darts.

Through the first 12 of 13 European Tour events, players have successfully hit a match-winning double about 37% of the time, with more than 1,200 attempts.

This is slightly below the PDC average doubles percentage, and indicative of the fact that, in general, match darts are harder to throw than any other.

Remarkably, match-winning doubles are hit with greater inaccuracy in the semi-finals than in any other European Tour round.

The unranked qualifiers hit 37.5% of their match darts on Friday in the first round, so why do the quarter-finalists hit a meagre 29.1% of their doubles on an average Sunday evening?

The schedule may affect players' performance, or possibly the anticipation of facing a more challenging opponent in the semi-finals or finals - it isn't clear.

As the size of a player's lead over his opponent decreases when throwing match darts, the likelihood of missing more doubles increases.

Players in last-leg deciders hit just 34.7% of doubles on the European Tour in 2018, and with a lead of one leg only 34.2%.

However, with a one break-of-throw advantage, that percentage increases to 36.0% and then to 40.7% with a lead of three legs.

The doubles are far more kind to players attempting to throw for a whitewash, who hit nearly 50% of their doubles.

Pressure has a measurable effect on players' performance in general, but while more darts tend to go astray when the margin for error in the match is very low, some players have a mental disposition which enables them to thrive and become more accurate under pressure.

Mensur Suljovic, winner of the Danish Darts Open, is foremost among them - he has been the most reliable in hitting match-winning doubles out of all 2018 European Tour players who have attempted at least 25 match darts.

Of the 37 match darts that the Austrian has thrown on the European Tour, 19 - a majority - found their target.

Under pressure, 'The Gentle' excels to an even more remarkable degree; in five deciding leg situations, Suljovic found the match-winning double with his first dart, resulting in an overall 83% checkout rate.

Give Mensur at least one dart at double to win the match and the odds are extremely good (19 checkouts in 27 attempts, 70.4%) that his opponent will not return to the board. Consider also Ian White's magnificent track record; while he has not attempted as many match darts (24) as Suljovic (38), he has only needed one dart to win a match in nine out of 15 games.

Rob Cross comes second on the list of match dart masters despite failing to win a European Tour event this year, or indeed reach a final.

For Cross, the number of match darts attempted is actually more revealing than his percentage accuracy.

Despite contesting nine events and reaching five quarter-finals, the total number of match darts attempted by Cross in the Sunday evening sessions is one.

To be able to hit 46.7% of match darts on the European Tour, a figure well exceeding his overall doubles percentage, is no mean feat but players who miss handfuls of match darts often win more matches, as they are also those who threw more trebles in the first place and won the right to throw as many match darts as they like without worrying about an opponent stealing the leg.  

No player has attempted more match darts on the European Tour than Michael van Gerwen, and no one has won more matches than 'The Green Machine'.

If his match-dart doubles percentage of 43.7% seems low, it is merely due to the fact that MvG attempts more match darts than anyone else when he is miles ahead of his opponent and can afford to surrender a few legs while trying to go out in style.

Recall Van Gerwen's German Championship final against James Wilson, in which the world number one missed six match darts at the end of the match, allowing his English opponent to cut a 7-3 lead to 7-6.

This proved irrelevant, however, as MvG fired off an 11-darter to break throw in the 14th leg, putting an unceremonious end to Wilson's comeback.

Despite MvG's often impulsive, erratic style, he has continued his track record of hitting the match winning doubles when it counts.

Unbeaten in last-leg deciders on the European Tour since 2014, Van Gerwen, having lost three matches in 2018 by fairly wide margins, has hit ten match-winning doubles with 14 darts this year while tied with his opponent or while leading him by one leg.

That consistency on stage makes his six match darts missed in the World Championship semifinal all the more baffling.

At the other end of the table, Gerwyn Price's 25.9% doubles accuracy is the lowest among frequent European Tour competitors.

That figure includes several painful losses for the Welshman, including six match darts missed in the 11th leg of a Gibraltar Darts Trophy quarter-final, which he eventually lost to Paul Nicholson, and three missed to avoid elimination on the first day of the Dutch Darts Championship.

But despite surviving four match darts en route to the final, Price improved his match dart percentage to 40% and won his first European Tour title.

While players with high (Cross) or low (Price) match dart doubles percentages are not necessarily indicative of their overall skill, their statistics do reveal other tendencies in their games, like the mismatch between Price's finishing prowess and his power scoring, or Cross' struggles in European Tour quarter-finals.

Match darts are the most important darts that a player can throw, even if the doubles percentage measures them imperfectly.

There's nothing that compares to the pressure of throwing match darts in front of an audience, and its gravitas can't truly be simulated in practice.

2018 Euro Tour match dart accuracy % for players attempting 20+ match darts:

Ian White 62.50%
Mensur Suljovic 51.35%
Rob Cross 46.67%
Michael van Gerwen 43.68%
Stephen Bunting 40.91%
Danny Noppert 40.74%
James Wade 39.13%
Michael Smith 38.71%
Simon Whitlock 36.36%
Peter Wright 35.42%
Adrian Lewis 33.33%
Ron Meulenkamp 33.33%
Cristo Reyes 32.00%
Daryl Gurney 31.82%
Joe Cullen 31.75%
Max Hopp 30.43%
Jermaine Wattimena 30.00%
Mervyn King 30.00%
Steve West 29.41%
Darren Webster 27.78%
Jonny Clayton 27.03%
Gerwyn Price 25.86%
Darius Labanauskas 23.81%
Ritchie Edhouse 19.05%

Follow Christopher Kempf on Twitter through @Ochepedia