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or One For The Pope, One For My Paddy, and One for the Rhodes

I was looking through the league tables this morning (Guiseley are poised, aren’t they?) and noticed that the Times includes top scorers in each division. Hurrah for David McGoldrick, I say. We’re getting to that time of the season where bookies are beginning to pay out on the things that are ‘settled’ already (the dust at the top of the Premier League, for instance) so we can see who has made an impact in 12/13 and, as I did this time last year I thought it might behove me to have a look at the reliance of teams on their leading scorers. Where would Manchester Utd be without Robin van Persie?

Disclaimer; those familiar with sabermetrics will be familiar with the concept of VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) which compares player performance against that of the league average player for each position. Particularly useful to see who is over and under performing. It is a little different in football, of course, because it isn’t such a direct battle of players, so much as a shift of a group of them against another. In removing, then, Tom Pope’s 25 goals, it is impossible to tell how a ‘replacement player’ would behave in his stead, so the numbers here will reflect that. It is more VONP (Value Over No Player) than anything.

Disclaimer II; much as I praised David McGoldrick,
statistically, it irked me a little that he’s done his stuff over two different divisions. It just makes things a little less tidy. So he’s not included, though he is joint highest League One scorer with Paddy Madden. Right, here we go.

With his winning goal at Coventry, Paddy Madden became joint top League One goalscorer of 2012/13. He’s come up that table fast; eight in five games is positively Rhodesian at that level; his previous eight took fifteen appearances. Having so much effect has dragged Yeovil Town up the table and they now sit seventh, with Preston visiting Huish Park on Tuesday. The season looks rosy for the Glovers. Is it all Paddy Madden’s doing, though? That’s the question I’ve been thinking about. How important are the leading scorers to their teams’ point-gaining capabilities. I looked a little bit at Tom Pope recently, and he’s not quite as pivotal to Port Vale as you might think (though he’ll be hoping to end a season-long 3 game drought next time out).

What of the other leading scorers? I’ve taken five top scorers and looked at their numbers. From Manchester United, in the North-West of England, I have Robin van Persie, a Dutch player who joined in the summer. From Crystal Palace, in South Norwood, I have Glenn Murray. From Yeovil Town, all the way west, we have the aforementioned Paddy Madden. From Port Vale, we have Tom Pope and finally, for Old Times’ Sake, I have Jordan Rhodes, who is banging them in for Blackburn Rovers. Let’s see how these titans of net-busting measure up to one another – all figures are for league only and include spells at different clubs where appropriate (Rhodes at Huddersfield and Blackburn, for example)

Pure Goal Scoring Genius

Here is a graph ranking top scorers by numbers of goals (big bars) and minutes per goal (little floating bars). There’s nothing particularly controversial to draw from that; Glenn Murray tends to get his goals in braces (only 3 single goals) which is why he doesn’t seem to be scoring every week; the fact that he isn’t. Impressive for Jordan Rhodes to maintain such a strike rate, too, having changed both divisions and teams since last season – he’s scored in his last seven games on the spin and all of Blackburn’s goals in their last six league games. I think, from that graph, we’d have to claim Tom Pope as the most effective. To have scored that many goals already is phenomenal, even though he hasn’t scored in his last three.


What Do Points Make?

The reason for all this goal scoring is simple. To win points for the team. Here’s a very simple bar graph showing how many points the goals of each player have earned (so, if Robin van Persie scored the only goal in a 1-0 win, he earns 2 points; it would have been 1 without his goal, but it is 3).


It’s a simple rubric, but useful. I think its fair to say, on balance, that Van Persie’s bar being so high puts him to the top of this ranking – the fact he’s earned more points than he’s scored goals is astonishing in and of itself, I would say, too. That Tom Pope is so long in this chart is testament to Port Vale not relying too much on his goals. He’s only one of many threats for Vale. We can do a little bit more, too.

The Balance of Power

Taking the previous graph into account, there’s another spin to put on it. If Van Persie has earned 22 points for Manchester Utd, that’s all well and good, but they’ve got 65 points. Blackburn only have 43 points, so that’s got to be taken into account, doesn’t it? Don’t panic, I say. Here’s that same graph as above but represented as percentages of points gained in games that the strikers played; immediately, we can see the winners and losers here.


The winners? Jordan Rhodes (18/40) and Port Vale (who have gained 49/63 points by other methods than Tom Pope). Paddy Madden is different here. He’s played far less than the other four and his goals have really come to the fore recently. I suspect by the end of the season, he’ll either be surpassed by another striker (Clayton Donaldson? Lewis Grabban?) or – I think we’d all prefer this option – his goals will fire Yeovil to more points and a higher league position.

At the end of the day, having a top scoring striker is always a benefit, but the best teams are those that don’t have to rely on their goals too often – I would say between 20 and 25% is probably an optimal figure for that. Much higher, and the player would be too difficult to replace, much lower, and there’d be no point being there.