The underlying numbers behind the van Gerwen revival.
Five ranking titles in two months is the kind of output we used to anticipate from Michael van Gerwen. The lion’s share of proceedings that he has helped himself to since March is reminiscent of when The Green Machine was the all conquering force of darts. By contrast, the last two relatively barren years have been sprinkled with false dawns of a return to the summit – patches of magic that seemingly only he can muster, followed by winless streaks and a passing of the baton back to rivals like Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton.
Questions have resurfaced about whether MvG is back to his brilliant best and/or whether he can dominate again. The Darts Orakel team dug into some of the statistics underlying recent results and performances to form a view of just how close (or how far) he potentially is from being the monster that put the fear of God into his opponents for so long.
Van Gerwen’s ranking title drought started in 2020 and ended in March 2022. Arguably the most noticeable difference in his game during that period was a dearth of 180s. His 180 hitting was in fact in continuous decline from 2016 to 2021. In 2016 he had the highest rate of 180s per leg on the Tour (0.38), a rate that regressed year-on-year to a low of 0.22 in 2021. This finally appears to be on the rebound – in 2022 he is back on terms with 2019 – the last year that he was crowned World Champion. Furthermore, if we take this measure only from 13th March 2022 (the date upon which he won the first of those five titles) it is higher still, at 0.28.
MvG 180s per leg history
It is known that van Gerwen has become more of a switcher from the 20 in recent times, but his drop off in 180s was not replaced with an equivalent number of scores between 171 and 177. Taking all scores over 171 as a single ‘maximums’ metric, the pattern is the same – a decreasing trend followed by an upturn in 2022.
MvG 171+ per leg history
In the seven calendar years in question, van Gerwen has been the most accurate player on Tour on the T20 segment in six of those years*. The outlier here is 2021, in which he was the second most accurate, so his proficiency on T20 has always been the best of the best – the gap has merely been closing. He is beginning to pull away from his peers once more though, moving back towards pre-2020 levels (since March his accuracy on T20 is in fact higher than it was for the duration of 2019, although still somewhat lower than 2016, 2017 and 2018).
One part of the game where van Gerwen always seemed head and shoulders above everybody else was in making big outshots. His success percentage on 3-dart finishes was predictably the highest in the sport in 2016 (16% of all attempts), 2017 (14%) and 2018 (16%). He bottomed out at 11% in 2020 and is back up at 13% in 2022 – slightly higher than 2019 and slightly lower than 2017.
|Year||% of attempts finished||#Position on Tour|
This turnaround could be a pivotal one, and was also evident in 2021 . At his peak, van Gerwen’s likelihood of taking out a 100+ shot surely cranked up the pressure on opponents. Depending on the timing of those shots, they can be an energy-sapper of game changing proportions.
The Question Marks
Despite the success in winning tournaments, the van Gerwen average for the calendar year to date is the lowest in any of the last seven. At 98.93 for 2022, it sits marginally below 2021 and 2020, a whole point below 2019 and between three and four points below the period 2016 to 2018. Averages don’t win matches but they have a correlation with matches won of more than 0.8 – in other words 80%+ of the time, the player with the higher average wins. Interestingly, van Gerwen averaged higher in both calendar years that spanned his ranking title drought. Taking his average from March this year, it increases to 99.16 but this is still below each of the previous six years.
Like most other metrics, post-2018 figures make for worse reading than the period up to and including 2018, although whereas some of the others have begun to recover through 2022, the outer ring remains a point of comparative weakness. Van Gerwen is 19th on Tour in 2022 having hit 40.57% of darts at double – the lowest of any year and surprisingly, since his Players Championship win on 13th March after which he has claimed four more titles, it is even lower at 39.83%. At Darts Orakel we also track ‘functional’ double percentages – discounting missed darts when the player still finishes on that turn (the missed darts being immaterial to the outcome of a leg). Even functional doubles are trending fractionally in the wrong direction through 2022, suggesting van Gerwen’s resurgent power scoring is the source of his buoyancy, affording him more chances and putting his opponents under the cosh, meaning he has still been able to consistently win with a sub-40 checkout percentage. What is also intriguing is that in 2021, his leanest year in title-winning terms, his double percentage was at its highest since 2018. Clearly that wasn’t enough to claim the big prizes.
MvG double % history
From the underlying data on key metrics we can conclude that van Gerwen’s performance levels are now similar to those of 2019, a year in which he won 15 tournaments including the World Championship, Masters, World Grand Prix, Premier League, and Players Championship Finals. It is noteworthy that 2019 was also the year that Gary Anderson, his greatest rival at that time, sat out because of injury. Would van Gerwen have had the same success had Anderson been around? It is impossible to say, but Anderson himself scooped seven wins in the previous year including the UK Open, World Matchplay and Champions League of Darts, and this was a year in which van Gerwen’s statistics convey that he was a much harder nut to crack. It is a justifiable assumption on the numbers alone that Anderson’s presence would have diluted the van Gerwen dominance in 2019, which is insightful in the context of what his current form might yield for the remainder of 2022 and beyond.
In the last couple of years, strength in depth on the Tour has certainly increased. The overall standard of Q School (again, measured on averages) has risen year on year and is inevitably filtering through to the professional ranks: in 2016 only 10 tour card holders averaged over 95 for the year, compared to 21 in 2021 and 20 in 2022 so far. If we take a notional yardstick of a van Gerwen ‘off-day’ as being an average of 95 or below and using the same 80% probability of the higher average winning any given match, all other things being equal he is about twice as likely to be despatched as he was seven years ago, and 40% more likely than in 2019.
No. of PDC tour card holders averaging >95
Van Gerwen’s run of tournament wins has also come at a time when the World Numbers 1 and 2 have been out of form. Gerwyn Price is averaging below 95 since the beginning of March and Peter Wright is averaging below 97 – both are considerably under their 2021 averages of 99.08 and 97.58 respectively. Price, of course, has been carrying an injury. The other player worthy of ‘rival’ status is Jonny Clayton, who has repeatedly thwarted van Gerwen in the Premier League and will surely come good in more of the other events, such has been his consistency in the past 18 months.
If Wright and Price continue their slump and van Gerwen maintains the standard he is currently operating at, his supremacy could extend. Expect him to still fall short of his 2019 return though, with a new threat coming from Clayton and a lot more early exits than in 2019 at the hands of an ever-improving and hungry batch of fellow professionals. The ‘if’ relating to Wright and Price is a very large one – Price has been an example of dependability and battling through adversity in the last five years and should recover to his normal self sooner rather than later. Likewise, Wright is World Number 1 for good reason and seasonal dips are par for the course for Snakebite as he utilises the full range of the contents of his darts cabinet. Van Gerwen needs to stay on an upward curve if he is going to see off those threats, and that curve has to climb more sharply still if he is to get anywhere close to 2018 and pre-2018 levels of success. For now, he is the FDI Number 1 and deserves to be but another chapter of sustained dominance anything like the ones we have seen in the past looks improbable.
*T20 accuracy in floor tournaments is based on an estimation formula