Thursday, November 15, 2012

Make the Right Crew Move, Or Not

With player exit interviews supposedly complete and the last day of club organized 2012 training over it's time take these passing nods and winks coming out of the Columbus Crew press mill and write about it, like any blogger should. "Read the tea leaves," as they say. Fair enough, perhaps I should. Or... how about we take the tea leaves and brew 'em into a poisonous concoction.

Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Defensive Mid-Fielder Cole Grossman's "Future With Crew Uncertain".

Cole Grossman out performed every other Defensive Mid-Fielder on the Columbus Crew in 2012.

1. % of Total Possible Pts Earned as Starter

73% : Cole Grossman
56% : Danny O'Rourke
53% : Chris Birchall
46% : Eric Gehrig
44% : Milovan Mirosevic
38% : Tony Tchani
33% : Kevan George

2. Goal Difference per Start

+1.00 : Cole Grossman
+0.17 : Danny O'Rourke
+0.00 : Chris Birchall
-0.04 : Milovan Mirosevic
-0.14 : Tony Tchani
-0.25 : Kevan George
-0.38 : Eric Gehrig

3. Avg Opponent Rank

5.8 : Cole Grossman
8.9 : Chris Birchall
9.6 : Tony Tchani
10.0 : Kevan George
10.8 : Danny O'Rourke
11.2 : Milovan Mirosevic
11.3 : Eric Gehrig

Some of these players jumped around between the backline and DM, but including them anyway. All have over 5 starts. Enough.

Grossman clearly leads all the 'executive summary' type metrics. Not only did he play the best teams, he did the best. And for the least amount of salary. That said, something not on the summary but one of the other things I track here is "True Value". It's the difference between what a player makes (listed salary in US $) and their contribution to their club's overall record in a given season based on my own rating model. Here is how that looks for 2012:

+$37,879.91 : Eric Gehrig
+$26,519.07 : Chris Birchall
+$19,250.67 : Kevan George
+$16,450.77 : Cole Grossman

-$11,517.74 : Danny O'Rourke
-$35,752.07 : Milovan Mirosevic
-$83,913.39 : Tony Tchani

(Positive is good, negative is bad. This is the estimated amount the player contributed to the 2012 regular MLS season above or below salary. Observation: The Crew tend to stick to playing players as they pay them, regardless of individual form. Example: highly paid get time, lower less - regardless of results. More on this some other time, perhaps. Good job Eric Gehrig.)


After toying around it as [the "Crew's"] secondary formation early in the year, Robert Warzycha and the rest of the band decided that 4-2-3-1 was their thing. How does that formation work? Let us take a look...

Hold six back, let three choose their own adventure and hang one up top.

Keep in mind that this only became the primary formation after Warzycha's "narrow diamond mid-field" 4-1-3-2 fell apart - due, in part, to the injuries mounting at the wing backs and holding defensive mid spots. Also, key injury of target man; Tommy Heinemann and the (arguable) misfire signing of Olman Vargas. It was expected that their pairing with speedy and capable poachers like Renteria and Arrieta would keep the the 4-1-3-2 alive.

The move to a 4-2-3-1 saw the Crew became dependent on two competent "Defensive Mid-Fielders" instead of just one. Look back at 2011 you see players like Danny O'Rourke, Dejan Rusmir, Kevin Burns, Emmanuel Ekpo, or Rich Balchan filling that single CDM spot and now in 2012 it's the folks I list above filling two.


We live in a data rich society where winners and losers will be determined by who understand how to best use it and those that don't. It's not about looking at any small group of numbers like passing % or possession in a single regular season game... it's not even pitting 'data nerds' v. 'old school feel'.

In sports; it's about success. Results. Winning and Surviving within the parameters set before you. Data reliant or not. Results are dependent on extrapolating the important and reliable from what is just noise.

What is important?

For every Nate Silver prediction model - I'd like to think I can provide a Ben Olsen desire to win. Give me a Billy Beane's top 9 and I'll put them up against my seasoned scout's (middling away in North Texas or the Dominican) top 9. How about an Ivan Drago v. Rocky Balboa? It's an extreme, but America lives and breathes in extremes and is undeniably prosperous (historically... and wow, I open up a can of worms in my head).

I'll give into heart and leadership if it is truly earned. I honestly believe in the power of Great Leadership and the power of one to move the many. However, that is rare and it exists not here on the 2012 Columbus Crew. I wish it did, but it does not. Therefore, priority should be placed on results and the numbers behind them.

Always trust the numbers.

This time of year I find myself trying to look past the forced smiles and words from Brian Bliss, Cody Sharrett, Ashleigh Ignelzi and Mark McCullers. It is disappointing that in 2012 moves are still being made without data to support them and logic is cast aside for the dream of the next best thing that will most certainly never be.

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