paddy kennyAnyone who has been impressed by Liverpool’s progress this season and is wondering how they’ve managed to turn themselves into genuine title contenders after so many years as a Premier League also-ran should check out the film Moneyball.

The film is based on the story of the Oakland Athletics, an American baseball team in a similar position to that of most Premier League clubs insofar as, they can’t compete with the salaries and transfer fees the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea can throw at superstar footballers.

Instead, the Oakland Athletic’s adopted a purely statistical approach to player recruitment, forgoing the conventional wisdom of selecting players based on the subjective opinion of coaching staff and experts.

The Oakland A’s purely statistical approach took all available data, ran it through some complex algorithms created by mathematicians and recruited less glamorous players who the numbers told them could compete against the big boys.

Did it work? Well… yes. Hence the film. The Oakland A’s qualified for the play-offs with their collection of less glamorous, statistic-backed players with a wage bill that was only 1/3 of baseball powerhouse the New York Yankees.

This is exactly what the owners of Liverpool have attempted to replicate in English football. They have the advantage of being a big club who can afford high salaries already, but their recruitment policy now centres on the power of statistical evidence instead of subjective opinions, aiming to recruit undervalued players who can compete at the highest level.

I’m sure every football fan can name at least half a dozen players they feel are/were hugely underrated. Without the hype of the press and football experts comparing them to Lionel Messi every time you turn on the TV, their costs tend to remain a lot lower. Football is a game that rewards hype and effective self-promotion, no one demonstrated that better than David Beckham. Once someone has established themselves as a household name, their value tends to start increasing overnight.

So as Massimo Cellino prepares to takeover at Elland Road and revitalise an underfunded Thorp Arch academy, he too could benefit greatly from a more statistical driven approach.

With attention slowly turning back towards football for Leeds United, The Scratching Shed will be publishing a series of articles over the coming weeks which aim to analyse the performance of our existing squad, starting with the goalkeeper Paddy Kenny.

The reason I chose to start a statistical breakdown of team performance with Paddy Kenny is because he’s someone who I’ve often been disappointed with this season and I wanted to see if the statistics backed up my opinion that Leeds United would benefit from a new goalkeeper. Another reason I chose Kenny is because he’s been around a few years and would be considered a household name to many, he’s also one of the club’s highest earners and at a time when Leeds United are losing vast amounts of cash every month, the Moneyball approach really makes you think. 

The following infographic compares Kenny’s performance this season with the teams below and above us (ie. Huddersfield and Reading) in the Championship who share a similar defensive record to our own. The statistics I’ve looked at are the average amounts of saves made per game, the average amount of saves per goal conceded, distribution success (percentage of successfully completed passes, goalkicks and throws) and claim success.

So what do you think? Do Leeds United need a new goalkeeper? Is the Moneyball approach something we could benefit from? Take a look at the stats and let us know your thoughts at the bottom. 

Goalkeeper comparison