Who Ate All The Pi’s

What do the stats reveal about West Ham player performance? Or are they digitally challenged?

Football StatsWith a temporary hiatus in West Ham’s fixture commitment due to an early cup exit, and while other Premier League teams field second rate sides in the 4th round in deference to the imminent Match-week 23,  I have taken the opportunity to dust down my football statistics soapbox and take another look at how our heroes have performed this campaign as far as the soccer statisticians are concerned.

My position on statistics is that they are an interesting diversion and a perfect destination for the procrastinator but are ultimately meaningless as a means of analysing games, providing no further insight over and above what the eyes can tell the average supporter.  The ever expanding mass of football statistics are most frequently used by the desperate in  attempting to prove a point about their favourite player (why Noble is better than Kouyate or vice versa) or to pad out column inches in printed and online media (just like this one!)  In the last week or so my attention has been grabbed by a number of posts that inform readers exactly what the statistics reveal.  For example, they apparently ‘reveal’ that Liverpool are not very good defensively (no shit, Sherlock!) and, closer to home, that Pedro Obiang is the ‘best’ tackler in the Premier League.  Recently the Daily Star had a feature on the worst player at every club according to the statistics; the recipient of this accolade for West Ham being Ashley Fletcher who came out as the 5th worst player overall.

For the purposes of analysis I have once again referenced the excellent whoscored website.  Even though I pay little heed to the how football statistics are used the site provides a comprehensive and well presented resource that includes an intriguing real-time stat update during the course of the game if you are so inclined.  According to Whoscored over 200 raw statistics are fed into complex algorithms in order to derive both the team and player ratings.

Ratings are based on a unique, comprehensive statistical algorithm, calculated live during the game. There are over 200 raw statistics included in the calculation of a player’’s/team’’s rating, weighted according to their influence within the game. Every event of importance is taken into account, with a positive or negative effect on ratings weighted in relation to its area on the pitch and its outcome.

– Whoscored website

Looking at the team ratings the order of clubs is uncannily consistent with the current Premier League placings.  The top 7 clubs are all the same with the minor discrepancy that the order of the two Manchester clubs are reversed.  In Whoscored terms West Ham show up in 8th place overall rather than the actual 10th place of our league position. The lower reaches of the League also demonstrates a strong correlation between actual and statistical placings except that Palace appear several places higher (14th against 18th) from the perspective of statistical performance.  So what does all this prove?  Does it validate the statistics and the algorithms applied or is it simply the case that scoring goals and winning games carries the same weighted influence on position as do in the collection of league points?  My takeaway from West Ham’s higher position in the statistical table is that it must prove that we played well and lost on several occasions this season.  Convincing myself of such a conclusion might be stretch.

The top performing players in the league if the stats are to be believed are Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba.  The only Hammer to make the top 10 is Dimitri Payet (at number nine).  All of that top 10 are attacking players with the exception of Manchester City defensive stalwart Nicolas Otamendi, proving that City fans wanting him dropped are mistaken.

A point to note about the top 10 is that ratings are adjusted to account for appearances and should you look at the unadjusted ratings for West Ham you would find Andy Carroll performing better than Payet.  It is surprising to learn of the quality of Payet’s performances when the consensus of many observers is that he had been going through the motions and loafing about on the left wing.  Although I am not privy to the Whoscored algorithms I would guess that the factors driving his strong statistical performances (based on displayed data) are the number of assists (6) and man-of-the-match awards (5).

I do find the ‘assist’ a curious statistic in that a large part of earning one is dependent on someone else doing their job competently.  A player can embark on a wonderful run, go past three defenders and play a delightful pass through to a colleague who has an open goal, but if that player fluffs his lines then no assist ensues.  On the other hand make a simple routine pass to someone who rockets the ball into the net from 30 yards and you win yourself an assist.  With up to 30% of goals for some teams coming from set pieces the designated takers (Payet and Snodgrass) are always going to have an advantage with this although I fully appreciate that good delivery should not be an underestimated skill.

Ex-Arsenal boss Don Howe is credited with devising the definition of the assist when it was first created as a way of adding interest to newspaper fantasy league competitions.  From its humble beginnings it is now a mainstay of the commentator’s statistical armoury.

Looking at the individual player statistics, the top 6 high rating Hammers for the season are Carroll, Payet, Michail Antonio, Winston Reid, Arthur Masuako (yes!) and Darren Randolph.  New signing Robert Snodgrass (second in the ratings at Hull) would slot in at number 7 for West Ham just ahead of fellow midfielders Cheikhou Kouyate, Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini (with skipper Mark Noble floundering in a disappointing 16th place).  Defender Jose Fonte (11th in the Southampton ratings) has a performance rating very slightly higher than James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna, some way behind Reid.  Fonte’s former central defensive partner, Dick Van Djik, is comfortably on the topper most rung of Southampton performers.

For the record. my personal statistic free selections for top performing West Ham players for the season to date are Obiang, Reid and Antonio.  The top 3 could well be under threat if there is more of the recent same from Carroll over the remainder of the season.