Tony Khan, the owner’s son and statistical head honcho for the Jacksonville Jaguars, crashed into my world this evening via Twitter.
Well. Given our current status we’re probably going to have to find players from leagues below our own, so that’s hard, because there’s not much data on League One. Never mind, I thought, let’s see what we can do.
You will by now be aware of the general perception that football is about goals for and against (I’ve prattled on about goal difference being a good indicator for years, yes?) but also worth noting that shots, and particularly shots on target, tend to be even better. And obviously there are two sides to this coin, those shots you take and those you allow. So:
Hehe. So, what we’re looking at here is how the teams in League One do at scoring, not conceding, shooting, not allowing shots, getting good shots, not allowing good shots. We then compare the teams to the rest of the league and highlight situations where a team is an outlier. As an example of this, teams only get one shot on target for every three shots they take against Preston, which is sensational and suggests that it’s almost impossible to get off a clean shot against them. This could be because of their defence or their midfield, but in any case, it’s what we’ll call a lead. Below we explore some leads.
Bristol C better (outstanding) F/A than indicators suggest = v strong midfield? Hard to know though, seem to be excellent everywhere so not clear who to spotlight.
Crewe half of their shots are on target, much better than rest of division. Suggests creating v good opportunities and/or good forward play. So:
Nicky Ajose 23F Didn’t make it at United, but Ferguson sold to his son Darren at Peterborough suggesting Fergie saw something. On emergency loan from Leeds.
Anthony Grant 27M Chelsea youngster, made first team squad in 2005-06, no appearances. England U16,U17,U19. Last year made available for loan by manager owing to attitude issues.
Jamie Ness (above) 24M – young Rangers prospect who had injury issues and who left when the club went into administration. Signed for Stoke but didn’t break through. Been loaned out to Orient and now Crewe.
What I’m doing here is scouring the team’s stats for players who play regularly in the positions we’re interested in and who are under 27 years of age. They might be rubbish but you have to start all this somewhere, right? I’m delighted with my first three stabs, all three players having significant pedigree in the game.
Fleetwood – their opponents need a lot of chances to get one on target. Fleetwood concede many more shots than they take, but similar end up with similar numbers on target. e.g. they are much more efficient. Suggests perhaps a good counter-attacking team? Not sure. In any case, they have two young full-backs who seem interesting:
Josh Morris (above) 23M young left back on loan from Blackburn, where he was well thought of.
Conor McLaughlin 23D young NI international
Antoni Sarcevic 23M Man City youth from 7 to 15, fell away, played non-league, now working his way back up.
Preston have outstanding defence. Almost 3 Standard Deviationss above average for how hard it is to get a shot on target, which is nuts.
Paul Huntington (below) 27D centre-back, former Newcastle player. I’m going out on a limb here: a centre-back, aged 27, came through with Newcastle, now anchoring one of the toughest defences in League One: I reckon Huntington’s got something going for him.
Tom Clarke 27D defender or midfielder, former England youth
Joe Garner (below) 26F – the thing here is that Preston have these insane defensive stats but Garner’s only gone and scored 20 in 29 games. Prolific all his career but hasn’t really stuck. Often a victim of numbers, e.g. signed for Forest for £1m but stuck behind a number of decent options. Worth a punt.
Look, I’m not an idiot. I know that you can’t just pluck names out of thin air, copy a paragraph from wikipedia and proclaim yourself the Billy Beane of football, but there’s method to the madness.
1) we’re finding teams who are outstanding at a particular facet of their game. This is important: it gives us some assurance that we’re finding players who can do a job. We’re not being blinded by perceptions, we’re finding defenders who are part of teams who are great at defending, for instance. We can’t know from here why the teams are so good at defending, but by looking at the defenders who have played most often, not been a sub, etc, we can have a fair guess. It is only a guess, but an educated one.
2) we seem to have stumbled upon a number of players with a decent pedigree. This is suggestive of talent, which is a big deal. It’s very easy for footballers to get lost in senior football, there’s so much luck involved in who makes it and who doesn’t (I really believe that). So there’s little doubt in my mind that there are gems to be found down the leagues (or how do you explain Bournemouth or Brentford?). I think this is one way to find them.3) clearly the next step would be to get some qualitative feedback. That’s exactly what I’ll try to do next.
But I wouldn’t be that surprised if taking this kind of iterative approach to building shortlists might not be the way forward. As I’ve discussed too many times to mention, our eyes are notoriously poor judges of anything, and if players could be effectively judged this way all managers would agree who the best players are and nobody would make mistakes in the transfer market. This doesn’t happen. When you break things down to actual achievement then you’re not letting prejudices blind you; you’re finding defenders who have had success defending. Which is what you want. Then of course you have to untangle the information you get, but it’s a start, right?