April 11, 2012
If nobody realised by now, we like a stat or two.
For me, analysis, when used correctly, can keep managers and coaches ahead of the game. They can show exactly the sort of patterns and tendencies that unfold over the course of a match and indeed a season and they can allow people to make reliably informed decisions.
Trying to find value for money, based solely on player statistics, doesn’t work. The difference between football and something like Baseball or American Football is that it is an open, continuous game with so many varying factors. In Baseball, you have a pitcher, a batter, and a catcher. The game is about getting to base or preventing this and it’s as simple as that. Every move has a clear beginning and end. In the NFL, every player bar one is simply running, catching, or blocking. Once the ball hits the ground, the game stops and the team attempt to find another set play to toss the ball across a line.
The simplistic nature of these games make statistics so vital. The fastest person has a place, the most solid blocker, the consistent catcher. But, take Theo Walcott for example. How often have we heard that speed is worth damn all in football if you have nothing else? It is worth a hell of a lot in other sports and, because of that, judging athletes on fundamental statistics has its merited place.
But the saying, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, applies to football because the moves have no set patterns, times, avenues. Scoring a goal can come from so many different places and spawn in so many different forms that using basic statistics to assemble your team is slightly flawed.
A central midfielder can be the absolute heartbeat of a team and can unlock defences without contributing a direct assist or goal. They can break up play without it being counted as a block or a tackle but if he came in last in a 30m sprint test, if he wasn’t as strong, as fit, as aerially dominant as others, would he be overlooked? He probably would be based on the moneyball theory.
Take this season’s stats. Stephen Warnock would make the moneyball team because he has completed the league’s most interceptions this year. Stephen Warnock. Anyone who has watched Villa this year (apologies if you have) will know that the left back is about four years past his sell-by date. He’s saved from being booed off every week purely because there is an ever-so-slightly more hazardous player on the other flank in the form of Alan fuckin’ Hutton.
Wolves’ Wayne Hennessey has completed the most saves but we shouldn’t be queuing up to sign him simply because he has had ten times the amount of shots anyone else has had directed at them. Victor Moses recorded the most dribbles and runs out of everyone but what use is this if he has no end product, if he is running down blind alleys, or if he is isolated from the team’s system?
John W Henry loved the moneyball philosophy so much that he took the reigns at the Boston Red Socks and adopted it successfully. However, with so much money to burn, I don’t think he abides by its principles strictly enough. The idea is to get the most out of the budget which you do have but Henry overspends.
People argue that Andy Carroll’s performances for Newcastle were befitting of the moneyball ideals and considering how many goals and assists he was contributing at the time, he would’ve had something to offer a team using statistics to find value because they couldn’t compete with the big-spenders. But, at £35m, Liverpool themselves were the big-spenders and, splashing one of the highest transfer fees ever, they could’ve bought almost anyone they pleased and not worried about being out-hustled. Besides, Carroll was a Premier League player for just five months so to judge his statistics over this period doesn’t exactly paint a clear picture.
Stewart Downing is an example of why the idea doesn’t really apply to this sport. I would’ve been one of Downing’s biggest advocates and could definitely see why Liverpool signed him. But assists and goals didn’t translate to a different team because it isn’t all that straightforward in this sport. In fact, in the 2010/11 season, the moneyball theory would have rated Downing higher than Young but Ashley is the better player, he is about to become a league champion, and he was bought for less.
Unless the statistics search was widened in that it took into account more facets of the game, then the philosophy has no place yet in football. Different systems, different climates, and different opposition all affect the performances of players and there is much more to be looking at outside the norms of what we are currently bombarded with.
Maybe someone will get it right soon, but it probably won’t be a baseball man. It will have to be a football man.This entry was posted in Issues. Bookmark the permalink. ← Derry City v UCD: Kevin Deery Analysis England-Belgium Analysis →