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MLS 2013 Season Wrap Up - Rate ALL the Players! -or- Don't Rate the Player, Rate the Game

Wading into player statistics and doing some simple math to come up with player rankings for almost everyone; with some obvious conclusions and a few surprises.

Angie Walton-USA TODAY Sports

So it's about that time of year again. Actually, it was about that time of year again a long time ago, I just didn't really get around to it because, you know, this is the longest our season has gone since I've been in Kansas City.

And, by that time of year again, I mean player stats and spreadsheets and ratings and all that good stuff.

For background, I like to pull out the MLS fantasy stat points and take a crack at trying to use them to come up with player ratings for everyone in MLS. I've been tweaking it a little over the years, but the methodology is more or less the same. Essentially, I take each player, look at their fantasy score, find out what their "contribution per minute" is, and then come up with two ratings, one "raw" rating that is strictly their value per minute played, and then one "time adjusted" rating, that is their value per minute played by scaled by a factor of their playing time over the season vs. the average player playing time over the season. This prevents guys who only played 1 minute from 1 game but scored the game winning goal from rocketing to the top of the list. In order to balance the two, I use the average of the two ratings.

The ratings themselves are essentially just a modified version of the Z score. That is, each players value has the average player value subtracted and is then divided by the overall player value standard deviation to find out how far the player is from "average" in terms of standard deviations. In order to come up with an "aesthetically pleasing" number, I add 5 to this value and then multiple the total by 10. So an "average" player has a value of 50. I've also scaled the Z score by a factor of two, only so the ratings run roughly from 0 to 100. It's actually possible to go above 100 this way, or below 0 (and two players accomplished this feat!), but ultimately it worked out real nice.

A word of caution, I won't go ahead and claim that this represents true player "quality", given then injuries, callups, etc. impacted many players playing time, and, as such, their value, since you can't add "value" without playing games. These rankings more represent "contribution". In that sense, a decent player who played in every game can come up with a higher rating than an amazing player who only played in a handfull of games, or only came off the bench, and such.

I also did wind up culling out some outliers. I'll like to that version so you can see who those guys are. Some players notched enough minutes to register a lot of value, but the sample size was small enough that their ratings were skewed very high. I didn't feel it was appropriate to leave these folks in here, but felt it was harsh to expunge them from the record entirely.

So, all that said, here's the top 25 rated players in MLS.

Player Team Pos Rating
Robbie Keane LA FWD 97
Javier Morales RSL MID 97
Aurélien Collin KC DEF 96
Mike Magee CHI MID 95
Graham Zusi KC MID 95
Camilo Sanvezzo VAN FWD 93
Rodney Wallace POR DEF 92
Federico Higuaín CLB FWD 92
Landon Donovan LA MID 91
Diego Valeri POR MID 89
Will Johnson POR MID 83
Tim Cahill NY MID 83
Ike Opara KC DEF 82
Brad Davis HOU MID 81
Omar Gonzalez LA DEF 81
Thierry Henry NY FWD 80
Jose Goncalves NE DEF 80
Sebastien le Toux PHI MID 80
Jamison Olave NY DEF 79
Tally Hall HOU GKP 78
Mauro Rosales SEA MID 77
Michel Garbini Pereira DAL DEF 76
Sean Franklin LA DEF 76
Darlington Nagbe POR MID 76
Boniek Garcia HOU MID 75

That's a really solid list I think, and, at least in my (obviously biased ) mind, sort of validates that this method works. The one big !?!?!?!!?!??!@# addition there is Ike Opara. This really surprised me as well, but guess what... the numbers actually shake out for him. Allow me to explain.

Collin, for all his criticism (most of it valid) and detractors, really has had an outstanding season. What's striking though, is that, from a purely numerical basis, Ike Opara's numbers are actually BETTER than Collins...

· Ike Opara has a better strike rate than Aurelien Collin (1 goal every 471 minutes, vs 1 goal every 512 minutes) .

· Ike Opara has a better Clean Sheet rate than Aurelien Collin (SKC records 1 CS for every 201 minutes Opara plays, vs every 256 minutes Collin plays).

· Opponents have a strike rate of 1 goal every 141 minutes while Opara is playing, vs 1 goal every 99 minutes when Collin is on the field.

· Aurelien Collin received a yellow card every 205 minutes. Opara, every 471 minutes...

Now, of course stats aren't everything, but my spreadsheet isn't taking any sort of intangible or non-measured stuff into account. It surprised me to, but got me thinking that Opara is maybe one of the most underrated defenders in the League, and, at a third of Collin's salary, probably one of the best values as well. Should the rumors that Collin is going to leave for Europe come true, I'm not sure I'm all that worried any more.

So, with those numbers, what would an MLS Best XI look like? Pretty darn good, actually.


Now, you can argue Magee should be a forward, there's actually 3 CBs out there, guys are out of position, etc. but this was just a quick look, and those are some quality players. If you want to get rid of Opara (and we maybe do, though see argument above), the next defender would be Jose Goncalves, who is certainly deserving. If we want to go 4-4-2, swap out Higuain for Landon Donovan. Not much heartburn about that...

Anyway, overall, I was quite happy with how it turned out. As I promised, here's links to the full ratings tables.

All Players - Outliers Removed

All Players - Outliers Included and Highlighted

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Omissions? Threats? Let's have 'em.