If you have followed baseball at all in the past 5 years, chances are you’ve most likely heard about things such as WAR, FIP and possibly wRC+ and other insightful metrics that measure as well as help provide value and insight.

You may have also heard the name Tom Tango. His work in baseball statistics quiet simply amazing and his work in ‘The Book’ changed the way I view baseball and I strong encourage you to read it, if you like baseball and like numbers in general.

He also has a website. Here is a little snippet from the brilliant mind weighing in on the popularly disputed hockey statistic, plus/minus;

While I like plus/minus in hockey, I love it in basketball.  There’s not enough scoring in hockey to get good samples, which is why we look for anything, like shots for and against.  In basketball, there’s scoring a-plenty.

Anyway, this is the actual fact: we are recording who was on the ice/court/field when a run/goal/point is scored.  We are also recording this when you are NOT on the field of play.  This is actually at the heart of WOWY (with or without you).  And, as we’ve seen, it’s fantastic.

Another thought…

So, that’s what we have: we have a signal, and we have the noise.  We make our adjustments to reduce the noise so that that signal can come through.

And then the summation

If you don’t like plus/minus, fine, whatever.  But calling it bad means you’ve come to a conclusion.  And that conclusion won’t hold.


Okay there is a lot here to really discuss from a soccer perspective. But the biggest thing to think about is that people use statistics to come to a conclusion. The whole point of statistics is get to a better understanding of a concept. I think too often people in soccer circles dismiss things because there is “too much” noise. But the thing is that if we can get SOME signal while we acknowledge that there is noise it can at least trend us in a better directions than chosing to remain completely ignorant.

I feel like people take stats and they try to turn it into a “this is what you think you saw, but really what you saw was this..” argument. The fact is that you can’t watch the picture and you can’t catch everything. Statistics there to be a compliment to what we see as well as catch things that we fail to notice.

The key to all of this is finding the signal to latch on to and follow.

One last thing is Tango mentions shots for and against. This has been associated with most good basic analysis for team soccer the last year or so. While simple, it can still provide some rough ideas to measuring and possibly projecting a teams performance.


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  • 12thMan_Rising

    The problem with +/- in Soccer is that there’s even less scoring than in Hockey. This decreases the signal to noise ratio even further with causes a significant problem if we’re actually trying to get meaningful information from the data.

    We could fix that slightly by using shots instead of goals. it increases the sample size by enough to eliminate some of the noise, but it also add an additional variable in the quality of the shot, or the likelihood of the shot becoming a goal based on where it’s taken from, GK alignment, etc. It’s something to think about though, since generally more shots eventually leads to more goals.

    Another problem is the general lack of substitutions in any game. This means that it’ll take a very large sample of games before strength of opponent variable becomes controlled enough for the data to be useful. I mean, if a player plays against Chivas, and then doesn’t play against the Galaxy, a positive +/- for that player over those 2 games isn’t exactly meaningful.

    • Harrison_Crow

      Yeah, I wasn’t talking about goals as +/- but rather shots. As you mentioned. a shot is a shot, quality is important but not absolute.

      The problem that I have with shot quality is that not all quality shots go in and not all non-quality shots are useless. There are plenty of deflections and the point of a shot isn’t necessarily that your making a serious attempt on goal, so much as your just trying to make things happen.

      I guess an argument could be made that certain shots are much more possible to go in, but then you have to consider skill, goal position, defender position.

      It’s too much to attempt to manage without the tools to do it.

      And speaking to sample size I’d try to keep it to guys with 2,000 minutes–as a rough estimate– that pretty much means they started around 10 games and came off the bench in some key moments. Just a thought.

      Going back to quality of shots, how would you go about defining it and mining that information?

      • 12thMan_Rising

        I honestly don’t have any idea of a way to account for all those variables. I think an easier way would be to account for shot location, and then use the probability that a shot from that area goes in, Assuming this data already exists.

        The idea would be take a shot, lets say a header just outside the 6 yard box. What the probability that a shot like that goes in? 12%, 8%? I don’t know, but whatever it is. a shot like that would count as .12 goals (or .08, or whatever) whether it goes in or not.

        Similarly, a shot from 30 yards out might only count as .015 goals, because of a 1.5% chance of it finding the back of the net.

        If the data exists to make those calculations, It would definitely remove a good deal of the randomness that occurs when discussing goals. If it doesn’t, well, then I just wrote 4 paragraphs of meaningless nonsense.

        • Harrison_Crow

          You can get the shot location from ESPN. And it also details where the location of the shot was made on the goal. But it’s kind of hit or miss on when they actually put that information up there. Inconsistent.

          Basically we’re talking about the idea of developing a soccer version of pitch f/x only… you know, shot f/x.

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