Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Carryover Minutes Strike Again

It's the ops manager in me. When I first started digging into MLS stats to get a quick understanding of the league I made a beeline to player minutes. What I believed (and still believe) is that a stable roster is representative of a stable organization.

I've been on both sides of the turnover scenario. Even in the simplest situations, when you are starting something new you have heavy turnover. Same goes for when you make the wrong staffing decision or leadership change. More often than not, though, burning through resources (staff, money, materials, etc) is an unhealthy sign.

Conversely, maintaining a stable group (from the front office on down to the players) is a sign of a healthy organization.

Rules and regulations in Major League Soccer work against stability. Budgeting (salary cap) each team is just one mechanism the league uses, but it has the greatest impact. You see it most when a player improves (which is what we all want right?). A good year means a lot of players are playing at a higher level and want more money. This is expensive and a team's budget does not increase enough to keep up with it. What ends up happening is teams letting go of players they would rather not or making sacrifices down-roster with younger players.

It's a reality of MLS, but managing it has clear rewards.

Here's a look at how teams fared in returning minutes from the previous two seasons, on the combined table of 2014 to 2015...

1.72 - Top 5 (58 pts)
1.64 - Top Half (56)
1.23 - Bottom Half (42)
1.41 - Bottom 5 (48)

The difference between the top and bottom half is where to look, here. The jump you see in the bottom five belongs to both Sporting KC and the NY Red Bulls. It suggests instability in their organizations, though. If you are familiar with those two teams it sort of proves true. The Red Bulls are riding a sort of high post-Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill group and Sporting has cleared (significant way) for both Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. Looking at this way suggests that NYRB might be in for a bad 2016. Write it down.

Three of the remaining four teams in the MLS Cup playoffs finished close to 70% in regards to bringing guys back from the previous year and fall in the top half when looking at the last two years.

58% - FC Dallas (7th)
57% - Portland Timbers (8th)
55% - Columbus Crew SC (9th)
35% - NY Red Bulls (last)

Again, NY is the oddball here. I asked Justin Bell about them during this site's last podcast because I'm really at a loss as to why / how they had such a Supporters' Sheild winning year. I really like their team this year, but perhaps it is entirely possible that, be it this postseason or next year, midnight is quickly approaching on their special season.

The further back I go with "carryover minutes" the clearer the end of the road is for some of the better teams. Success isn't sustainable in the league's current format.

Much has been made about the final four in the MLS playoffs this year in regards to budget. The way I see it though, success this year means the Grim Reaper awaits in the next as player wages increase at a rate greater than the salary cap.

Congrats to the final four. Best of luck navigating that salary cap next year. More importantly, my best goes to the players whose careers are derailed by it.

No comments: