Playing Moneyball with the New England Revolution

Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Trying to figure out how valuable an MLS player is can be a regular exercise in futility for concerned fans and paid team employees alike. In the spirit of Billy Beane and Moneyball, many soccer analysts are increasingly looking to statistics to try and make value judgments on player performance and worth. Here's a formula that reveals the highest-impact Revolution players, and provides a window into why Benny Feilhaber can be such a divisive figure.

Basically, I am the Billy Beane of MLS. Except I don't actually work for MLS or a team. Last year, upon seeing the movie Moneyball - which, by the way, I found to be a film as dull as baseball itself - I thought that something like Moneyball (the philosophy, not the movie) would be interesting when applied to the meager finances of MLS.

MLS salaries are incredibly low (the league's minimum is somewhere around $33,756), so it is important that teams spend wisely. If you are paying a player big money, it is essential that they produce. Yet, unlike baseball, soccer statistics are imperfect. John Henry, who used statistical analysis exceedingly well with the Red Sox, is attempting to use stats to revitalize Liverpool, and so far it has been hit or miss. I have gone on record as saying soccer stats are limited, at best. However, when trying to formulate a player's value/impact, you have to use what you have. Statistics, after all, are the only non-discriminatory and anti-biased way to judge a soccer match; hence, they are the only non-discriminatory and anti-biased way to judge a player.

Using the Opta Chalkboards found at MLSSoccer.com, I accounted for what I considered impactful statistics for Revolution players on the season (keep in mind this is not an end all be all scientific formula). Then I plugged them into a formula. These are considered, for me, to be a player's Impact Points.

The Impact Point Formula:

(goals scored * 3) + (assists * 1.5) + (saves) + (tackle won + defender block + interception + clearance + blocked cross + recovery) + (successful passes completed * .67) + (minutes played/90).

This measures an impact for an individual player. This current list only contains members of the New England Revolution who are currently with the team. There is no Shalrie Joseph, no John Lozano, and no Jose Moreno. It also only includes players who have played, at a minimum, 450 minutes for the Revs, which is the equivalent of five full games. So there is no Dimitry Imbongo, no Juan Toja, no Alec Purdie, and no Sainey Nyassi. After a bit of debate, I have also removed Bobby Shuttleworth and Matt Reis from the equation as 'keepers will not typically have the same sort of statistical impact that a field player may have.

Most Impactful Players: Chris Tierney, 2008.1, Kevin Alston, 1619.2, A.J. Soares, 1618.5, Benny Feilhaber, 1575.9, Clyde Simms, 1514.4

The biggest surprise among the bunch is probably Kevin Alston and Chris Tierney. Seeing as the only real width that the Revs have has come from these two players, it is easy to see that their passing numbers have weighted them more heavily. It also does not hurt Tierney that he is tied as the third leading goal scorer and for first in assists as well.

Most Impactful Player per 90 Minutes: Chris Teirney, 79.8, Benny Feilhaber, 69.0, Kevin Alston, 65.0, Clyde Simms, 64.2, A.J. Soares, 59.9

Again, this is unscientific, and based on my own criteria. However, and maybe it is due to the unscientific nature of it, the players at the top sort of match up with what I would have expected based on watching the game, with the exception of Alston. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, just behind A.J. Soares is Fernando Cardenas. Cardenas has always seemed to be flash and flare with little substance. His overall impact would disagree with that assessment. Tierney, unsurprisingly, is again in the top spot for the Revolution.

Astoundingly, despite my personal feelings about the type of player that I thought Benny Feilhaber has been for New England this season, he is the second-most impactful player per 90 minutes played. This begs the question: are my personal feelings about Benny getting in the way of seeing the type of player he actually is?

Best Values: Lee Nguyen, $33.42, Chris Tierney, $37.24, Ryan Guy, $50.66, Clyde Simms, $51.73, Stephen McCarthy, $59.96

For this number I looked at Total Compensation/Impact Points. Really no surprises here. It should be noted that even if Nguyen received double his current salary as reported by the Players Union, he would still be in the top 5 best values for New England. So, seriously, get this guy a raise!

Worst Values: Jerry Bengtson, $630.11, Benny Feilhaber, $283.01, Diego Fagundez, $263.49, Kelyn Rowe, $207.18,

The problem with actually calling these guys the worst value - with the exception of Bengtson, who I'll get to in a second - is that their salaries are much higher.

If you are making a good chunk of change, as Feilhaber is, people expect more. There is a direct ratio of salary to expectations. Benny, who based on Impact Points is not having as poor a season as we thought, is not providing enough bang for the buck. This goes back to the repeated saying about Benny's chances-created stat. If those had ended as assists as opposed to successful passes, he would probably be more valuable. On the other hand, if Benny Feilhaber were earning money closer to the Total Compensation that the Houston Dynamo's Brad Davis earns ($312,062.50) he would represent a much better value.

Kelyn Rowe is on Generation Adidas money, so that still does not count. Meanwhile, Shuttleworth and Fagundez are, perhaps, a bit overpaid.

Then there is Jerry. Jerry makes a fair salary, but he has not come close to producing the impact for the Revs that everyone thought he would. Saer Sene, who earns a little more than Jerry and a lot less than Benny, ended up with a value per Impact Point of $168.40. That is more than $100 cheaper than Benny and nearly four times less than Jerry. Either Jerry needs to seriously step it up next year or something has to change.

Price per Point

The last statistic to look at is the most important statistic for any soccer team: total points on the season. For this, let's look at San Jose (the most likely Supporter's Shield winner), Sporting Kansas City (the most likely Eastern Conference Champion), New England (our team), and Chivas USA (a team that has the same points as New England).

The Total Compensation for New England is $2,639,981.42, with 29 points on the season, they are spending approximately $91,033.84 per point. Chivas USA's Total Compensation is $3,572,341.63 for a grand total of $123,184.19 per point. Both of those numbers rank among the worst in the league.

Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City ($3,223,599.37) and the San Jose Earthquakes ($3,257,894.53) are spending in the same range. It could be coaching, or it could be player selection, but Sporting pays only $54,637.28 per point and the Earthquakes pay $50,904.60 per victory. (In case you were wondering, LA Galaxy spends $254,310.81 per victory. So while their salary is more than four times that of Chivas, they only spend double of what they spend per victory).

What it All Means

Possibly this means absolutely nothing as it is unscientific. However, something that definitely should be taken away, at least based on price per points, New England needs to spend wiser. Perhaps an additional million dollars on the team's Total Compensation will lead to better results on the pitch due to a deeper squad. Maybe someone like Lee Nguyen deserves more while Benny Feilhaber, despite his Impact Points, deserves a bit less. Nevertheless, until MLS's salary cap is raised drastically, looking at output, Impact, and cost on underpaid - as well as overpaid - players will always be part of the game.

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