Yo. Mailbag time, ya’ll. You guys ask the questions, I answer. I’m short on time this week though, so no lengthy stories or rants or screeds. Unlike every other mailbag, I aim to keep this one tight.

Here we go!

tactics

Whu…? Let me see that.

Ah, I see what happened. You want Spielverlagerung, not Statsbomb. They are a few doors back up the S block.

Buncha German and Austrian lookin’ dudes, you can’t miss ’em.

*waves*

xg_xA players

Nope. There should be, but thus far we have absolutely nothing. Nada. Bupkiss.

It’s time for the Premier League, the data companies, and the websites who pay to publish this stuff to sort it out and be more fan friendly, because interest is higher than it’s ever been and continues to grow.

Whether that will actually happen any time soon… not my department.

burke_ze_RB

Burke looks like a huge talent. Red Bull as an organization are exceptional at developing talent, and have one of the best youth pipelines in world football. I think it’s a great move and look forward to seeing how he does in the future.

post_match_graphics

Menace at the moment. I know people are trying to increase their follower count and graphical work is one of the best ways to do this, but we’ve crossed a bombardment threshold this season. It would be better if specific Twitter accounts were setup to host the bulk of the graphics and people just highlight the really interesting stuff on their own accounts, where they add the insight I started following them for in the first place.

And yes, I say this as someone with a noisy Twitter account already who is fully aware that I probably drive some people away when I tweet too much. In a related note, you’ll see a new StatsBomb account in the coming months strictly to host radar images.

Pot, kettle, STFU.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion. YMMV.

altidore

Reading between the lines, someone has been less than impressed with Vincent Janssen’s Premier League start. Give him a season and see how he does. Since it was Daniel Levy doing the negotiating, Janssen should actually be easy to shift somewhere else at the end of the season if he doesn’t work out.

Remember though, Janssen just turned 22 in June, meaning he still has a couple of years of development time before he hits his peak and now has to adjust to a much tougher defensive league. Spurs didn’t buy a finished product here and it’s a bit harsh to expect him to perform like that right from the start.

zaha

He is a legitimately great dribbler. So was Bolasie. Neither of them managed to translate that particular attribute into much scoring while at Crystal Palace. Whether that is the fault of Pardew’s system or some hole in their games, I do not know. We’ll find out more from watching how Bolasie does at Everton.

I thought Zaha’s move to Manchester United would be good for him, as it would give him a great teacher to add the final polish to his game in Alex Ferguson. That never happened and I honestly think Zaha’s development has suffered for it.

Wilfried Zaha 2015-16

elite_managers

This is practically a follow-up question on Zaha’s development. The first part of it, I don’t know the answer to, but we know for certain that elite managers have huge influence on player stats and development.

Picture it like this. Clone a smart person. Now send one of your clones to Oxford and the other to local community college. Which one do you think is going to have the better development trajectory?

The same thing happens with footballers. If you listen to what they say, time and again you hear how incredible it is to work with top coaches because they teach you so much.

Important realization: Most of football is community college at best.

I keep reading articles by allegedly smart people saying the impact of top coaches will shrink in the Premier League. In reality, it is THE EXACT OPPOSITE. As talent levels equalize, the marginal impact of top coaches increases dramatically.

However, it’s all relative to the level of talent inside of a league. If everyone has a great coach, then you might barely notice. But if half the league has top coaching talent and the other half does not, the bad coaches and their team performance will stick out like sore thumbs.

Coach influence actually looks like this:

coaching_influence_curve

Most of the population exists in the center of the curve, so it’s hard to notice what they do. If you change out one average coach with another average coach, you end up with similar performance. However, as you move along to either side of the curve, you get massive effects.

Particularly bad coaches will send good players and teams spiraling into awful performance, while top coaches can turn average players into league winners. (‘Sup Claudio.)

Systems matter.
Styles of play matter.
Communication matters.
Attention to detail matters.

The problem with most statistical analysis is that it tends to view outliers in populations as something to be discarded, whereas in elite sports you really really care about outliers as long as you can explain why they are outliers in the first place.

difficult_position_to_scout

Center backs and goalkeepers.

asensio

A tremendous young creative player who is already very good in the world’s toughest league.. He’s actually one of the first guys I flagged up at Brentford when I got access to Segunda data as a top young player we should be interested in. A week later Real Madrid bought him for 4M euros. A season and a half later, and he doesn’t look out of place around Bale and Ronaldo, which tells you exactly how good he is already at age 20.

Marco Asensio 2015-16_pre

champ_talent_in_pl

From a personal perspective, I would love to see both Yoann Barbet and Maxime Colin from Brentford play in the Premier League. Colin was the best right back in that league last year and ready right now. Barbet is still developing, but has pace, is left-footed and might be the best passing center back in the Championship.

mustafi_arsenal_strikers

I think the quality striker list went: Morata, Lacazette, Draxler, … Perez. We got to Perez because Vardy chose not to move, Morata was never really available and Lacazette and Drax both look like they will cost over £60M each. That’s just not Wenger’s style.

Maybe Asano is amazing, we’ll see a lot of that at Stuttgart this season. The market for center forwards turned completely stupid this season and it might stay that way forever, which means undervalued guys will be few and far between.

My view is that Wenger has misread the transfer market for years now. First he was wrong about FFP. Then he was wrong about player price inflation, meaning assets bought one or two years ago even at what he thought were inflated prices were actually tremendous value because all the new PL TV deal money had not been pumped into a system with an extremely limited supply of elite forwards.

On the other hand, we know Wenger is stubborn enough to just keep at it and eventually – JUST MAYBE – he’ll end up being right in his contrarian stance. At that point he’ll sit back, give you that coy smile, and wait for everyone to acknowledge that he’s always been a genius. Meanwhile, a decade will have passed since Arsenal actually had an elite center forward in the lineup, and fans will still feel like they live in perpetual Arsenal groundhog day.

[Edit: People are taking this a bit more literally than I meant. Assume RVP was the last one and Wenger remains unwilling to ever stump up enough to buy a top CF.]

Or more likely, he’ll retire, having continued to read the market wrong, and also having missed his window where the league was soft enough to win if he would have JUST

Mustafi I like, but don’t love. Solid passer, good game reader, and very good in the air. Last year at Valencia was one of his worst seasons and he was still decent, but Valencia were a bit of a catastrophe overall. I’m not sure he’s a better outright defender than Gabriel Paulista, but he’s far more likely to be able to start play from center back, which eases the burden on Xhaka and Cazorla in bigger games.

Speaking of Arsenal players, I watched a lot of Alex Iwobi last year. Like a lot a lot, including a ton of academy games for [reasons]. I liked what I saw, but even I did not think he would be quite this good at his age.

Alex Iwobi 2015-16_pen

what_are_you_reading

Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader stuff (SO GOOD)
Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Recently Finished
Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Brubaker’s Velvet (really good)
Brian K. Vaughan’s Paper Girls (really weird)
Rat Queens (also really good)
Rick Rememder’s Deadly Class (both weird and good)

Next to Start
The Inner Game of Tennis

eriksen

Dusan Tadic would have been fairly high on the list. I’m not sure either guy fully fits with Pochettino’s philosophy though, nor am I sure Spurs actually get the most out of Eriksen.

Abdel Barrada looked really interesting statistically at Marseille last year. He somehow ended up at Al-Nasr this summer for a pittance. After that, maybe Alexandru Maxim?

The short answer is that elite creative passers are hard to find, and that goes doubly for those who know how to press and are willing to work as hard as Poch wants.

cb_overpay

Does this center back have a good injury history? If yes, then I overpay. If not, things get awkward.

atsu

He was decent at Malaga, decent at Vitesse, and couldn’t get on the pitch at Everton. Somewhere along the way his development seems to have stalled. Should still be pretty good against Championship opposition, but no longer has the profile of a guy who is good enough for the Champions League.

GPB

For those of you who have never seen GPB, stop reading this right now and go watch the movie. It is in my top 10 favorite movies of all time, and your life is worse for not having seen the movie.

Strangely, it is also one of the most underrated comedies of all time. I don’t know if that’s because the concept of a comedy centered around an aging assassin who heads back to his home town for his high school reunion is difficult for people to engage with or what.

Is it Cusack’s best movie? Man, that’s hard. He’s had an awesome career, studded with medium and low profile gems (Better Off Dead, The Grifters, Eight Men Out, Say Anything, Bullets Over Broadway, Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, etc). It’s almost certainly Minnie Driver’s best role, and she’s basically perfect here. It also deserves noting that she was Debi Newberry before she was Skylar in Good Will Hunting (also released in 1997), and she stole my heart here before I ever knew she was born with a fancy English accent.

ANYWAY…

I guess it never had a sequel because they couldn’t figure out a good way to continue the story, and John Cusack has definitely aged past the point where he’s a believable 30-something. Or maybe Cusack simply felt it was a perfectly self-contained movie (it is) that didn’t need a continuance. Plus main screenwriter Tom Jankiewicz died in 2013, which is just sad.

While on this topic, Con Air is another Cusack movie (also from 1997, oddly enough) that absolutely, positively should have had a sequel, and certainly would have if it had been made in this decade.

newcastle_summer_recruitment

Gayle, Yedlin, and Isaac Hayden I liked. Everything else… bleh. Rafa was a lot better when he was plucking underpriced Spanish gems out of La Liga than this motley collection of Championship retreads. He’s still a good enough coach to easily get them up, but their recruitment is probably a C at best, especially given the wages a lot of these guys are going to be on.

And with that, I am out of time. Check for a podcast from James and myself on Friday. Until then, I hope your transfer window is filled with players that fit your team’s needs.

  • NinJa

    You say: “The problem with most statistical analysis is that it tends to
    view outliers in populations as something to be discarded, whereas in
    elite sports you really really care about outliers as long as you can explain why they are outliers in the first place.” This is a very good line and I agree with you.

    So, why then were most of the Stats guys so dismissive of Leicester last year as they continued to progress towards a title? Why do they continue to minimize their prospects this year?

    • Ron IsNotMyRealName

      Because they couldn’t explain it.

      • NinJa

        That is my suspicion as well. What they cannot explain they generally attribute to luck.

        • Ron IsNotMyRealName

          Well some unexplained variation is tantamount to luck. But to win the league going away like that, there has to be more in it than that. Well there doesn’t have to be, but it’s almost certain there is.

          I have a couple of ideas on what they missed, but I’m not going to put it in a comment thread lol.

        • Tuiuan Veloso

          Well, most of the time it is either luck of something so singular that has no possibility of being replicated, so we shouldn’t care. Although I have to admit I have no data on this, lol.

  • Ron IsNotMyRealName

    A lot here that makes the brain thingy activate.

    First of all, most fans don’t care about xG and xA. The niche market for this is a lot different than the mass market. At most, fans want more information about what actually happened, not what should have happened. Even in more stat-nerdy sports like baseball, there’s not a lot of appetite for should have beens. The market opportunity for stat companies in football is better data on what happened and why, not on what “should have” happened by some metric that it’s far from certain has even been figured out properly.

    Oliver Burke is proof that these clubs and fans that whine about not being able to compete with the Chelsea, Man City and Man U of the world are full of it. If you can’t compete on money, you compete on something else. Does anyone think Red Bull offered more money than anyone else could have? Note to Liverpool fans when someone feeds you the line that they just don’t have the money to compete with the top clubs after your positive net spend window and having absolutely no defensive cover.

    The Eredivisie is a minefield at best for strikers. Janssen just the latest example. I’d rather go to a lower league for a lower price. Did no one wonder why he was only worth 350k last year? Perfect example of why no matter how much people poo-poo the idea of it being significantly important, baseball is light years ahead of football in analytics, and Billy Beane schooled Spurs.

    I know I won’t get an answer, but I’d love to know how Ted got access to Segunda data. I wasn’t under the impression that any advanced data for them even existed.

    I don’t think of Perez the same way. I think he’s a striker that can also link play very well, come deeper, and should mean good opportunities for players like Sanchez and Walcott. It’s also funny seeing people rip on Wenger after they were the best non-Leicester team in the league, and as such should be a favorite to win the league this year. I thought it was common knowledge that Wenger was operating with one hand tied behind his back when the stadium was being built as well.

    • NinJa

      Agree partly with your statement that most fans don’t care about xG and xA. But the crucial challenge is still to predict the outcome of future games. For this xG may be useful if it sheds light on the true ability of a team. The problem seems to be that xG does not correlate very well with the “eye test”, i.e., with the quality of chances created. For example, in the recent Burnley-Liverpool game, the xG score was 0.4 – 1.2 (according to Michael Caley) in contrast with the 2-0 scoreline. In watching the game, it appeared that Burnley had two solid chances and took them both. Liverpool simply did not create any “good” chances. So the xG score seems to fail the eye test for this game.

      • Ron IsNotMyRealName

        This is what I mean about how I don’t think xG is anywhere near solved. How do you get a .4 for Burnley in that? Gray’s goal you’d have at least given 1:1 odds on scoring. 1 v 1 with the keeper. Once he beasted Klavan it was pretty much a coin flip whether or not they’d score (and once Mignolet showed him where to shoot, better than that).

        But he was talking about there being a lot of fan interest in xG and there’s just not and not going to be. It’ll always be a niche and insider metric at best. Fans talk broadly and generally not incorrectly about shot quality, but they’re not going to go to this level. A lot of football fans actually actively dislike this sort of thing.

        Baseball went beyond its base stats by giving more detail on what actually happened, like OBP and Slugging giving more detail on batting average. They don’t verge into “well this is the expected number of bases on that hanging curveball that Ramirez just popped up.” And basketball — a shooting sport predicated on moving the ball until you get an opening that gives you the best chance (or at least a good chance) to score — doesn’t do it either. A very few NFL guys are trying to improve possession based decision making (do you go for it on 4th down, punt, try field goal) based on expected points from where the ball lies on the field, but that’s nowhere near mainstream either.

        There’s not going to be support from the mass fan base on that anytime soon.

        • NinJa

          You should have your own blog!

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            I should. I don’t really have time for one right now. i really don’t need more reasons to do sports things that are not what I really shoul dbe doing with my time right now haha.

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            I will say that I think Sporting, Sevilla and Dortmund had the three best transfer windows in Europe (obviously relative to club size). Imagine Monchi at a PL club…mmmm. Unless it’s one I don’t like, then just stab me in the heart. I like what Palace, Middlesborough and West Ham did in the PL.

    • Ville Sillanpää

      I think that people who play fantasy football would be interested in seeing xG and xA, since that game is mostly about trying to predict individual player outcomes.

      Sure, most of the people there don’t really care about what should have happened. But the reason to care still exists. Especially if your chasing a colleague in a mini league. 😀

      • Ron IsNotMyRealName

        good point, if you think that a simple regression to the mean is in order, or vice versa (if you’re selling). But I’m not sure that it’s that simple.

  • kidmugsy

    How do you apply statistical analysis to people who hardly ever play e.g. Mr Wilshere?

    (P.S. that appeared first time as “satirical analysis”.)

    • Ron IsNotMyRealName

      I’ve found myself wondering if — and this is a huge if — Wilshere plays if they have a better midfield than Liverpool (or maybe Liverpool without Emre Can, which has been much of the time lately).

      Non-jerk answer: I think you have to analyze them as if they’re going to be fit going forward, and then decide what kind of risk you’re willing to take on that he’s not. Van Persie was a crock for years, then got healthy and was a hugely important player. If a guy is injured, you get to put another guy out there, so it’s not like you’re playing 11 on 10 for all the games he’s hurt. So having a great player for 20 games might be worth it if you have enough depth.

      For Bournemouth, absolutely no reason not to take a chance on Wilshere.

      • kidmugsy

        Van Persie’s case was certainly an odd one. In a team game you can’t really say the he won ManU the title, but it wasn’t too much of an exaggeration. Then he returned to being feeble the next season.

        • Ron IsNotMyRealName

          You can almost certainly say they don’t win it without him.

    • Ville Sillanpää

      Generally in statistics if you don’t have a lot of data, you construct a hierarchial model. The idea in hierarchical model is to make inferences based on the few data points you have + a population of other data generating processes. For player analysis this would mean looking at Wilshere’s data + datasets from players who are somehow equivalent to Wilshere and blending the information together.

      The details are a bit messy and require knowledge of Bayesian modeling principles. Also choosing the equivalent populations (and a host of other assumptions) is also really sketchy and usually requires a lot of trial-and-error. See the wikipedia article for further reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayesian_hierarchical_modeling

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