At the midway point of this MLS season the Rapids are still looking down at the rest of the league with 32 points from sixteen games. While tides can obviously shift between now and the MLS playoffs, the halfway mark is a good time to take a look at performance throughout the league, especially if your favorite team is atop the Supporter's Shield standings.
Along those lines, a buddy of mine recently asked me who I would say was the Colorado Rapids MVP so far this season. My gut told me to say Marco Pappa, but the recency bias quickly subsided. There is inherent value in actually playing during the course of a season. The Rapids are sixteen games into the season and Pappa has yet to crack 500 minutes of playing time. So, trying to remain objective, I sat down to figure out the best way I could assess a player's value so far this season.
I thought I would check WhoScored.com and see who they had as the highest rated Rapids player, just in case they had already figured it out for me. Their algorithm came up with Dennis Castillo, and while I like the youngster, I don't think he's the Rapids midseason MVP. Next was Jermaine Jones, but again, he was unavailable due to suspension to start the season, and has missed time due to his international team duties. Shkelzen Gashi, Mekeil Williams, and Pappa rounded out the top five. All have missed relatively significant chunks of time with the Rapids during the first half of the season.
Perhaps I didn't look hard enough, but I bounced around the internet and I couldn't find a single soccer statistic that rated player production over the course of the season, as well as the player's ability to stay on the field and produce. If anyone can point me in the right direction, please do let me know. In the meantime, I had a question to answer, so I created my own formula in an attempt to quantify a player's on-field production and account for their ability to actually log minutes on the field, all while adjusting for position.
Full disclosure, I've had a whole two days to work on this, so I'm going to refrain from releasing the entire formula for right now. I can tell you it accounts for many traditional box score statistics, each weighted differently depending on the player's most common role. These variables include goals and assists, shot rates, pass completion, tackles, interceptions, and many others. It works best with large sample sizes, as with most statistics, and it won't tell you much with only two or three games worth of data. But at the halfway point in the season and onward, I think it can be useful. I'm calling it PCR, or Player Contribution Rating, and will refer to it as PCR from here on out.
As I said before, I set out on this mission to give my friend an answer I could feel good about, and he wanted to know who I thought was the Rapids midseason Most Valuable Player. As I also said before, there is inherent value in being able to play soccer when the Rapids have a game scheduled. That being said twice now, PCR is weighted to account for playing time. Additionally, in my opinion, Kevin Doyle's contributions shouldn't be measured by how many tackles he records, the same as Axel Sjoberg's shouldn't be assessed based on his goal scoring tally. PCR accounts for that as well. The lowest theoretical PCR is zero which means the player has not logged any playing time, or has and failed to record any sort of measurable statistic. PCR increases with production over time. In a 34 game MLS regular season, I theorized that the highest PCR we would reasonably see should be around 100. I've only had time to look at this year and some of last year's data, but Sebastian Giovinco recorded a 94.27 PCR last season, definitely the highest I've seen so far. Last thing to keep in mind, an average starter on an average MLS team over a 34 game season should expect to record a PCR of around 30-35.
Back to my friend's wonderful question, and the more pertinent soccer team. After spending several hours pecking away at a calculator, here's how the Rapids shape up at the halfway point through the season. I only did players who have recorded more than 600 minutes this year.
Player Contribution Rating (PCR)
A few things struck me at first with this list. For one, Cronin is a great choice for midseason team MVP. He has handled the captaincy with grace, and the formula rewards his responsible passing and defensive proficiencies. Not to mention, he has played every single minute of every single game so far this year. PCR is meant to quantify a player's value over a given period of time, not their efficiency. Producing consistently in an important role week after week screams value. Neck and neck with Cronin is Micheal Azira for very similar reasons, as well as Sjoberg who just so happens to lead the best defense in the league on the best team in the league. Any of the three would be fine choices for midseason MVP, but I elected to give Sam Cronin the Marty McGowan Midseason MVP Award. Congrats on the MMMMVP Sam, well-deserved.
A top five of defensive minded players had me questioning my positional adjustments. However, a few things make me want to give my current adjustments a bit more time to play out. First, the top three PCRs I've recorded so far from the 2015 MLS regular season consists entirely of attacking minded players, with Kei Kamara and Bradley Wright-Phillips coming in behind Giovinco. Also, the Rapids do not have an above average offense this year statistically, so there is no real reason our forwards and wide midfielders are entitled to any of the top spots, especially with the defense playing as well as it has. Gashi's PCR was still a bit surprising to me, until I remembered he's only played 826 minutes. Same with Jones, who has only recorded 613 so far.
As some players return from injury and international duty their PCRs will go up. Those that lose playing time when those same players return will see their PCRs decline. However, the midseason MVP award cares not about the second half of the season, small sample sizes be damned!
What do you think? Is Sam Cronin a worthy midseason MVP? What do you think constitutes true player value? Do you agree or disagree with Player Contribution Rating's attempts at quantifying true player value? Let me know in the comments below.