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The Nuance of Individual Statistics

The worst passer, with the most minutes (2880) this past year was... Donovan Ricketts! Surprised? Maybe not - maybe so?

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The second worst passer, with the most minutes (2721) was... Diego Valeri!  Surprised?  Maybe not - maybe so?

Obviously those individual statistics really have no meaning what-so-ever.

If anybody watched any Timbers soccer this past year, it's pretty clear that the most valuable player on this team was Diego Valeri.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that when it comes to passing the goal keeper will usually be the worst, given all the long balls they offer.

So what about Defenders and Passing Accuracy?

Portland averaged 19 crosses with 22% being completed. For the most part it's the fullbacks who offer crosses (Rodney offered a few for sure) - so is it any surprise that players like Alvas Powell (68%), Michael Harrington (78%) and Jorge Villafana (79%) were lower on the totem pole when it came to passing accuracy than guys like Will Johnson (86%), Darlington Nagbe (87%) Diego Chara (86%) or Ben Zemanski (85%)?

Portland averaged 60 long balls per game last year. How that is distributed between players I have no idea - but the best passing centerbacks last year were Futty Danso (82%), Danny O'Rourke (85%), and Rauwshan McKenzie (82%).

The worst passing Centerbacks last year were Liam Rdigewell (75%), Pa Madou Kah (78%), and Norberto Paparatto (75%).

Which three Centerbacks would you prefer to see playing on a regular basis? And is it more likely, given the individual skills (speed) of those defenders, that the first three were probably not asked to offer up long balls - but to simply help push the ball forward to the next level?

Individual Defensive Statistics - (Headers and Clearances, etc...)

Many people offer that players with a high volume of individual defensive statistics means they are really good defenders.

Perhaps so - but what gets lost sometimes is asking the question, "why does that player end up getting a high volume of individual statistics?"

A good example - a center-back, on a regular basis gets 10 clearances a game.

Good numbers for some, but what happens if that team loses 1 nil and the 10 clearances they get credit for don't also account for the other 20 clearance chances they had, but didn't get, with one of those being the 'non-clearance' that led to the goal scored?

Another thing missed is this - as a Head Coach it is likely, to win the game, that you will look to penetrate and possess the ball down the weaker side of the opponent - or your stronger side in attack.

This means that the percentage of play (activities, passes, throw-ins, crosses, etc...) will have a greater volume on one side as opposed to another side.

With that increase in volume it is likely the defenders, in the high volume passing/activity area WILL get more defensive statistics? I think so..

The same applies for tackles or interceptions - the more likely an opponent is to take the ball in one direction the more likely defenders in that area will get more 'individual defensive statistics'.

In speaking with Ben Knapper, the Chief (Head) of Statistics at Arsenal FC this summer, we and some others at PROZONE talked at length about this issue.

It's what doesn't get measured (the pass that doesn't happen, or the dribble drive that doesn't happen) that has more value for how effective a defender is than the individual statistics that are collected now.

To date I'm not aware of any open domain statistics sites that track non-activity...

Even in the private sector - I'm aware of only two data agencies that might collect this type of data (at high cost to the client). StatDNA (out of Seattle) and PROZONE (home office in Manchester, England I believe). Others who know if OPTA or Match Analysis do this please chime in.

In Closing:

My intent isn't to dig into others who work with individual statistics - like shots taken, shots on goal, and goals scored (and goals saved for keepers) they all add good context if not taken on face value...

A good example was that game earlier this year where Diego Chara had like eight recoveries in the first half - that was pretty cool to see him get all those recoveries but at the same time - it also wasn't that cool because it meant that the opponent was finding time and space to use.

What prevented BIG damage were those recoveries by Diego Chara - but better defending and better passing accuracy in the attack beforehand probably doesn't lead to a quick turnover where the superman instincts of Diego Chara are needed.

In other words, a better defended game is one where Diego Chara doesn't need to make those heroic recoveries.

In regards to team statistics, the same holds true - taken at face value they can be misinterpreted.

As a new, regular writer on Stumptown Footy, I will do my best to ensure the statistics offered have relevance.

If you wish to read my other articles offered up on the rest of Major League Soccer, the English Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, or the UEFA Champions League follow me at www.possessionwithpurpose.com.

Are there some individual or teams statistics out there you may be interested in - or think are over-used / misinterpreted?

Best, Chris