Link to interesting sports economics blog... and its relevance to soccer

Freakonomics Blog: Ball hogs and long meetings

Although this post in the Freakonomics Blog by Dave Berri focuses on “ball hogs” in professional basketball, I thought its message that we often place too much emphasis on scoring when evaluating athletes was relevant in soccer as well. Berri argues that in the NBA we tend to look too much at scoring without focusing on the number of shots it takes a player to score those points. When an NBA “ball hog” takes a shot he is also taking one away from his teammates. If his teammates were more likely to make their shot than the ball hog is to make his, then the ball hog's shot actually hurts the team. Berri looks specifically at New York Knicks player Carmelo Anthony who has consistently led his teams in scoring in his career but only twice has been in the top 5 on his team in “true field goal percentage” (a parameter that measures shooting efficiency in three pointers, field goals, and free throws). With Anthony in the lineup this season the Knicks are 10-12, without him they have not lost.

What does this have to do with soccer? Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge immediately came to mind when I read this article. Sturridge is tied with Frank Lampard as Chelsea’s leading scorer with 9 league goals. But throughout the season his tendency to take on defenders and shoot, often from ridiculous angles, rather than finding teammates in better positions to score has crushed a number of Chelsea goal-scoring chances. Like the Anthony NBA example, Sturridge’s shots often mean taking a better opportunity to score away from a teammate. Perhaps a future post from Soccermetrica will look at the shooting percentages (an individual player’s goals scored divided by his total shots taken) of the Premier League’s top scorers. It’s important to note that this statistic is not a perfect one in judging a player’s efficiency in front of goal however. Midfielders and defenders may tend to take their shots further from goal on average than a forward. We’d expect this variable to result in lower shooting percentages for midfielders and defenders. Shooting percentage fails to capture where shots were taken on the pitch. However, it also seems likely that midfielders and defenders are more selective about the shots they take since their performance isn’t judged on goals to the extent a forwards is. Based on this variable, we’d expect midfielders and defenders to actually have higher shooting percentages. It’s difficult to judge which of these variables would dominate without looking at the data.