January 27, 2011

Soccer stats

Big money soccer clubs have been trying to emulate the success of baseball statistical analysts for a number of years now, but it's hard to tell if they are making any progress, according to Brian Phillips in Slate

Sample sizes for, say, goals and assists are tiny. The game is very complicated. There are relatively few easy-to-measure objective measures, so various for profit consultancies are offering big clubs evaluations of play on a confidential basis, so it's hard to tell if anybody actually has figured out anything yet.

That reminds me of the current emphasis on using test scores to improve education. Yet, it took a quarter of a century for the Bill James Revolution in baseball to have much of an impact. Is education more like baseball or soccer?

Moreover, the prestige names in the Ed School racket, such as Linda Darling-Hammond, tend to be innumerate.


Anonymous said...

The flip side of the lack of objective measures in soccer is that the subjective assessments of commentators (and so-called analysts) on TV can make or break a young player's career. Sadly, such awesome powers are often in the hands of burned out hacks. (The MSM problem writ small).
Gilbert Pinfold

SFG said...

I wonder how much of it is innumeracy and how much is willfully avoiding the truth.

Mr Lomez said...

How about neither.

In soccer or baseball or any sport, each action is performed with the same goal in mind -- to win, to score more points than the opponent. You can therefore quantify--at least in theory--the degree to which each action contributes or detracts from this goal.

But what is the goal of high-school education? What is education's equivalent to winning? To prepare a student for college? To prepare a student for non-school related work? To give a student a broad base of knowledge? To give a student a broad base of cognitive skills? To keep a student from becoming a criminal? Etc.

And don't these goals vary from one student to another, from one school to another, from one school district to another?

No amount of testing can ever accurately measure the "success" of high-school education until we pin down some mutually agreed upon definition of success.

Anonymous said...

ditto Mr Lomez, great comment

JHB said...

Steve, good, concise post.

While I concur with you that many of the key players in Education Science may be somewhat innumerate, I believe that the refusal to consider the importance of IQ and HBD issues might be a bigger issue.

It does, however, occur to me that a study could be done on critical metrics such as SAT scores by primary-school teacher. I've never heard of this being done, perhaps because the necessary time lag in years makes it challenging to use such data as a current performance metric for either teachers or administrators. I'd bet that statistically significant differences would emerge in schools where groups of tenured teachers taught several cohorts of youngsters, though, and I wonder if those differences might be surprisingly large.

Anonymous said...


Article about Voros McCracken who came up with theory of fielding-independent pitching statistics. He's now working for a soccer team in Europe.

Geoff Matthews said...

Baseball had the advantage of an open-source development. People were sharing information with the understanding that they would get credit, so information moved around freely.
Apparently, this is not the case with soccer, so progress will be much slower (even more so, since baseball had an abundance of stats, soccer less so).
However, education doesn't have this excuse. Information is readily shared, and there is a lot of information out there.
So, Steve does have it right. It is willful ignorance, a closed mind, more so than any young-earth creationist.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, OT: "Illinois' highest court put Rahm Emanuel back in the race for Chicago mayor Thursday"

Yep, as predicted.

Anonymous said...

Baseball had the advantage of an open-source development. People were sharing information with the understanding that they would get credit, so information moved around freely.
Apparently, this is not the case with soccer, so progress will be much slower (even more so, since baseball had an abundance of stats, soccer less so).

The lack of such stats in soccer is due to the fact that it and baseball are two completely different games. Baseball is all about specialization, while soccer is more of a game for generalists.

Look at left-handed vs right-handed relief pitchers. No such degree of specialization exists in soccer. Defenders can and do score goals while attacking players can and do play good defense.

Anonymous said...

Baseball has a wealth of stats that actually mean something; individual players perform a series of highly regimented actions over and over again with minimal (relatively speaking, compared to soccer) variation and limited (relatively speaking, compared to soccer) interactions with other players. Even on a bad baseball team, a good player can still work on improving his career stats.

This simply is not the case with association football (soccer). It is a team sport to a much higher degree than baseball is. A star striker with amazing skills, who is playing for a team with mediocre players, is also going to look mediocre without skilled midfielders servicing him. Also, a good player can be on a team filled with other good players, but be totally unsuited for the system that the team plays. A player, especially a striker or attacking midfielder, who simply doesn't fit in with a team's system will look lazy and "disappear" from a match and be effectively invisible. Put him on a different team with a different system that suits his talents, and suddenly he looks like a superstar and starts scoring goals and assists.

Trying to create a meaningful statistical analysis of individual soccer players that takes into account these factors of team dynamics and differing systems of play and differing strategies employed, is not easy. Maybe it can be done, but my money is on "football management" remaining a black art for a long time to come. This is a sport which rewards intuition, gut instinct, flexibility, artistic improvisation, and team cooperation based on familiarity with each other rather than based on memorization of play books and signals. It isn't friendly to mere number crunchers.

Anonymous said...

Linda Darling-Hammond is one of the biggest opponents of the trendy ed school reforms. The worst innumeracy is found in the ramparts of the status quo.

The proponents of the trendy ed-school reforms include many economists, for example Eric Hanushek (just across campus from Darling-Hammond), who cannot be accused of innumeracy.

Anonymous said...

World Series championships (or pennants, for that matter) won by Billy Beane's Oakland A's: 0

World Series championships won by the "sabermetrically-inclined" Boston Red $ox with a payroll less than twice the major league average: 0

I know you're a quant at heart, Steve, but the old "lies, damn lies and statistics" proverb applies here.


JHB said...

World Series championships won by the "sabermetrically-inclined" Boston Red $ox with a payroll less than twice the major league average: 0

World Series championships won by the "sabermetrically-inclined" Boston Red Sox with a payroll at least $45 million less than another team in their very same division: 2

MLB has a very lopsided schedule. It's essentially six different leagues with limited interleague play. Half of the schedule is against your own division. If your division is weak, it's easy to rack up wins and seize Wild Card opportunities. Conversely, it's tough to play in the AL East.

How tough? Baseball Prospectus ranks teams by third-order wins, a stat that balances luck as well as strength of opposition. Most savvy MLB fans know that, regardless of how the playoffs came out, the three best teams in the AL were all in the AL East: the Yankees, the Rays, and the Red Sox. What fans might not realize is that those teams were also the three best teams in all of MLB, and that the Blue Jays, with a mere 85 wins, were the fourth-best team in the AL and the sixth-best team in MLB once luck and strength of schedule were considered.

Getting an extra win in MLB usually takes the addition of about five million dollars to the payroll. Boston's two World Championship teams of last decade were at least $45 million - at least nine wins' worth of salaries - behind the Yankees on Opening Day in each winning season. Overcoming such an obstacle requires excellent management, as well as a bit of luck and a whole lot of effort on the field. Having the second-highest payroll in MLB matters little if you don't have anything near the top payroll in your own division.

Edward said...

In American football IQ on a WordSum test correlates to how close the player is to the ball (Steve's done a post on this).

I wanted to know which soccer players were closest to the ball, so that if the American football IQ rule applied to soccer I'd know which players would, on average, be the smartest.

I took Fifa's possession statistics from 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa and got this (no, it's not exactly surprising).

In order of proximity to the soccer ball:

Central Midfield
Central Defence
Side Midfield (Left, then Right)
Central Attack
Side Defence
Wing Attack

James said...

"Is education more like baseball or soccer?"

- I'd say its more like "Calvinball":


-You make up whatever rules are convenient as you go along.

-Scores are irrelevant.

-Everyone wears a mask.

-Its obvious that someone with the mind of a child came up with it....

football stats said...

The statistics are just that statistic. Only helps to indicate the trend on something, but it is not 100% sure;-)