Statistics in Football

If you follow baseball at all, you may have heard today that Rob Neyer has left ESPN to join our fair blog network. [link] This is obviously a coup as Neyer is a big name that gives SBN credibility.  I'm particularly excited because Neyer is considered one of the godfathers of advanced statistics, and has certainly been instrumental in bringing awareness of them to the masses, even as those in the mainstream media openly mocked them (and still do).  Neyer (along with many others) has given credibility to the idea that evaluation of players can involve more than an accumulation of counting stats or an eye test.

So what does this have to do with footy?  Well, not much of anything, and that's the problem.  Baseball, more than any other team sport, lends itself to quantification.  We could go into the reasons why, but that's not really the point here.  The point is, football is on the other end of the spectrum.  Scoring a goal (and preventing one) takes the cooperation of eleven people.  It is, as many say, the ultimate team sport, so any efforts to quantify individual effort has been met with extreme resistance.  I come across message boards everyday where people dismiss out of hand the value of any statistic in football.

I get that.  I really do.  I would counter with two points:

1.) Individuals matter. 

Why were you so upset when Andy Carroll left?  Why were Chelsea fans so happy about landing Fernando Torres?  Why do the big clubs with money to spend always end up at the top of the table?  Because individuals matter.  Molding these individuals into a cohesive unit is essential, but ultimately, the teams with the better players win.

2.) Current statistics are inadequate, and we can do better.

The people who believe that statistics are inadequate to evaluate players are right.  That's because the statistics we use are crap.  Player X has 15 goals in 23 appearances, while Player Y has 13 goals in 20 appearances.  Which one is better?  More to the point, which one is a better fit for the club you support?  The goal statistic here is absolutely useless.  We all know that all goals are not created equal (compare Wayne Rooney's second goal today, a tap-in set up by a marvelous cross, to your favorite wonder goal that you watch over and over on YouTube when you're in a bad mood), so why do we treat them all the same?  There's got to be a better way to evaluate the players; shots on target percentage, chance conversion rate, and passing percentage are just three metrics that come to mind immediately, and if we're being honest that's not really even thinking outside the box.

The problem is, you can't find these kinds of stats anywhere.  Following a short conversation we had on this site the other day about Jonas Gutierrez's success rate in completing crosses, I went searching for a place where I could find that kind of info.  I searched for a few hours.  Nothing.  I went to message board after message board, ultimately stopping at one I frequent to ask one question, "Where's a good place on the internet to find football stats?"  I got several answers, with a few people swearing by one site or another.  None of the sites offered anything deeper than goals and assists.

So I'm asking you: Have you been able to find a source for stats beyond the standard fare?  Or do you think I'm way out of line by even asking?

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