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June 8, 2014

StatsBomb Mythbusting: Is Javier Hernandez Any Good?

By Ted Knutson

Somehow, when the world wasn’t really looking, Javier Hernandez turned 26.

The Little Pea grew up into a full pea pod, but no one really noticed because he was stuck on the end of the Manchester United bench. With only two years left on his contract, Chicarito and Manchester United both have some decisions to make.

First, for United, is it time to move Hernandez along and give their perennial super sub role to someone else? Next, for teams that are interested in buying him, how good is Hernandez compared to all the other players on the market?

Is Chicarito’s primary value exclusively in the sub role, or does he deserve more time and attention wherever his new destination may be?

First things first…

Is Javier Hernandez Any Good?
Here’s his 4-season scoring trend while at United.

chich_scoring_trend

[Note: NPG90 = Non-penalty Goals per 90 minutes. NPG+A90 adds assists to that stat and is commonly known as Scoring Contribution when we have more space to type.]

Two of those seasons are outstanding (2011, 2013) while the other two are merely quite good. His goal scoring rate in the four seasons he has been at United has ranked 3rd, 10th, 1st (edging out… wait for it… Daniel Sturridge in 2012-13), and 24th. I don’t know if you can blame this past season on the short-lived David Moyes era at Manchester United, but given his previous ratings and the fact that he’s probably in the middle of his prime as a forward, I’d lean that way.

So the short answer to that question is an unequivocal YES, Javier Hernandez is an exceptional goal scorer. But…

One of the most important pieces of knowledge stats guys have learned in the last year is that sub effects exist, and they can have a dramatic effect on scoring rate for players.  (For more on this topic, please read Colin Trainor’s piece as well as this one from Daniel Altman.) Javier Hernandez is known primarily as a sub, so we’re going to have to dig a bit deeper.

Sub vs Starter role
We’ve got his 4-year trend above, but because the numbers get small quickly when looking at playing time as a sub, I’ve chosen to condense all four years of numbers into just Starter stats vs. Sub stats

chich_sub_v_starter

Whoa. That is a huge boost simply from being played as a sub. And yet… those starter numbers are still good. A forward who scores .54 goals per 90 is really quite valuable. In most EPL seasons that would put you right around 10th in the league in scoring rate. But that sub boost is absolutely insane. It takes Javier Hernandez and turns him into Lionel Messi.

Here’s the thing though… this effect isn’t just true for Javier Hernandez, it’s true for every good forward I’ve had a chance to look at. Here are a few other guys I looked into that have had a number of sub appearances over the last 4-5 seasons.

Other_Sub_Forward_Splits

Welbeck’s scoring contribution gets the boost, while his goalscoring stays even. Lukaku, Aguero, and Dzeko all get monster boosts to their production when playing as subs.

It’s hard to understate how massive and important this effect is, but it’s barely been talked about outside of the two articles linked above. The implications here are big enough that it should change how managers make subs, and how they rotate players.  It suddenly makes a lot of sense to regularly have star forwards coming off the bench at the 45 or 50 minute mark as part of a rotation scheme to keep them fresh and boost their potential production. And even when you don’t have a star to rotate on, realizing that even an average guy can become quite good as a sub again makes for some interesting variations in strategy.

Football isn’t a science, and you can’t reduce man management to mathematics, but there are physiological reasons why this is happening, and smart managers need to take advantage of them. At some point in the near future, we will see the development of “forward platoons” where good managers are subbing attackers earlier with regularity to boost overall team goalscoring returns.

Back to Chicharito…
So we’ve got the sub vs starter splits now, and we’ve looked at his overall scoring trend as well as where those numbers have ranked in the league since Hernandez has been in England. When you compare his baseline goal rate as a starter, it looks great. He’s right there with Lukaku and Dzeko, and a small bit behind Aguero. The same is true when you look at Hernandez’s numbers as a sub as well. You again see a huge boost in production, and that goalscoring rate compares favourably with even the best players in the Premier League.

Javier Hernandez is really good, both as a starter and a sub. He deserves to play quite a bit more than the 9.5 and 10.3 90s he has in the last two seasons. Unless you think David Moyes broke him for good, he looks like an outstanding player, and has for quite some time.

If you are looking for a guy who can score you goals, he’s actually one of the better ones you will find, but the fact that there’s this hidden bias against him because a lot of his goals seem to come as a sub means that he might be undervalued. It’s also pretty clear that he’s ready to play more and wants a bigger role either at United (unlikely) or somewhere that’s smart enough to buy him. £15M would actually be a worthwhile price for him, but even £20-25M wouldn’t be too high given his age (he just turned 26) and where he compares to other Premier League players over the last four years.

Here’s his combined radar from the last Fergie year + this past season, so that we even out that one year under Moyes with something that looks to be closer to his true potential.

Javier_Hernandez_2012_14

Article by Ted Knutson