Stats Analysis: The Welsh Renaissance

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Stats Analysis: The Welsh Renaissance

Christopher Kempf, the statistical analyst of the PDC, looks at the resurgence in Welsh darts which has been spearheaded by Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton.

Welsh darts was at a nadir six years ago. The previous standard-bearers for Wales, Lakeside Champions Richie Burnett and Mark Webster, had faded from international prominence.

Webster reached his last televised quarter-final in 2016 and lost his Tour Card in 2019; Burnett has never returned to the top 64 in the world after initially losing his Tour Card in 2014.

Around the same time that these leading lights of Cymru were fading, two new Welshmen made their appearances on the PDC circuit - Price and Clayton - and while they did not meet with instant success, they now hold the two most recent televised PDC titles from the William Hill World Darts Championship and Ladbrokes Masters.

The pair also teamed up to lead Wales to a first World Cup of Darts title in November, while Price claimed two other individual televised titles in 2020 and was recently named as the Selco Player of the Year.

Clayton's first match against a 2016 Michael van Gerwen at the height of his powers seemed to indicate that, like many of the Dutchman's other opponents that year, he would be merely another lamb to the slaughter at the hands of the dominant Dutchman, who blanked Clayton 6-0 with a 110 average.

Jonny Clayton (Lawrence Lustig, PDC)

His 2017 run to the final of the Players Championship Finals resulted in another lopsided win for Van Gerwen, who took down the Welsh upstart by the score of 11-2.

Clayton, who averaged 94 for that tournament as he reached a first TV final, struggled all that year to finish legs, ending 2017 as the only top 32 player to have hit fewer than one third of his doubles, and having hit just one bullseye checkout for the year on 22 attempts.

On statistics like those, Clayton did not appear to have the ability to follow on from that success.

Compare that state of affairs to Clayton's position in February 2021: he eliminated Van Gerwen in both the 2020 and 2021 Masters, making him the only player to have done so in that tournament since 2013.

He has nearly tripled the rate at which he completes legs in 12 darts or fewer from 2017 to 2020, and massively exceeded even his own 2020 rate with one out of every 7.5 legs being won by the end of the fourth visit.

His outstanding Masters performance put him above a 96 average since the pandemic began - an increase of five points over 2017 - and crucially his doubles percentage has shot up by ten points over three years.

Jonny Clayton (Chris Dean, PDC)

In many respects - especially his 113 average in his four deciding legs during his run to the final at The Masters - it was the greatest TV performance of a player outside the top 16, and the former world number one, Van Gerwen, is now in retreat.

The most notorious player to have started his career slowly against Van Gerwen is undoubtedly Gerwyn Price, loser of his first 15 matches between the two before a 2019 Premier League draw ended the losing streak.

Much like Clayton, Price had a breakthrough performance in 2017 - his 160 finish to punish missed quarter-final match darts from Ian White in that year's UK Open remains one of the most thrilling moments in the tournament's history.

Gerwyn Price (Chris Dean, PDC)

But while he gained notoriety soon after leaving his professional rugby career for his flamboyant celebrations and heavy treble 20 scoring, his finishing, much like Clayton's, hindered his ability to compete against Van Gerwen, Phil Taylor or Gary Anderson.

No player is more dependent upon finishing with the double 20 segment, and in 2017 Price could only manage 36.8% of these.

When he missed below the double, moreover, he could only count on hitting double ten 34.9% of the time.

Price's strategy has not changed - in fact, double 20 represents an even larger percentage now of his finishing doubles hit.

But when this player hits tops 233 times on stage in a year, his accuracy on other segments matters very little - though it doesn't hurt that Price is now hitting the bullseye with greater accuracy than that which he brought to bear on normal doubles five years ago!

Price's probability of hitting double 20 is now almost 46%, and on double ten it is 43%. One can expect Price to check out in 15 darts or fewer in a majority of his legs now, where before (2016) he was managing to do so barely more than a quarter of the time.

Gerwyn Price (Chris Dean, PDC)

Against Joe Cullen and Adrian Lewis in The Masters, Price managed to hit a majority of his treble 20 targets as well, averaging 104 and 105 with no trouble - averages which Price had not achieved on television in long format until five years into his PDC career.

Price and Van Gerwen are now quite evenly-matched opponents; four of their last nine matches have gone to deciding legs, with Price winning three of the last six.

Price has also been at the forefront of increases in ton-plus checkouts in the PDC - when Gerwyn Price and Stephen Bunting struck a record 13 three-figure checkouts in their World Championship semi-final on January 2, it represented the culmination of a banner event for high finishes, with Price leading the way.

A total of 231 checkouts of 99 and 101-170 were completed over the 16 days of the 2020/21 World Championship, representing 12.7% of all legs played.

Fans of the World Championship are increasingly treated to scintillating finishing; 40% more legs are being won with high finishes than in 2007, the first World Championship for which we have complete records.

Price alone was responsible for 21 of those, representing a completion rate of 19% of all attempts and more high finishes than in every previous World Championship appearance of his career combined.

Considering that Price was only hitting 7% of his ton-plus finishes five years ago, new World Champion is now more than twice as likely to steal a leg from under the nose of an opponent with a last-minute high finish than he was in the early days of his career.

Gerwyn Price (Chris Dean, PDC)

The above is just an illustrative sample of the improvements Jonny Clayton and Gerwyn Price have brought about in their own games; indeed it is almost impossible to identify any elements of their game which have deteriorated over the past five years.

These two Welshmen have had success almost without parallel in the PDC from their other countrymen.

After the World Championship the percentage of all Order of Merit income held by Welshmen surpassed that held by Scotsmen for the first time in more than a decade.

With no darting juggernauts like the 2016 Michael van Gerwen or 2011 Phil Taylor to stand in their way, the personal glory of Price and Clayton has renewed the hopes of an entire nation of darts fans, who have much to hope for, and much to expect, in 2021.

Follow Christopher Kempf on Twitter through @Ochepedia.