Hassli vs Koevermans. A moneyball comparison.

The Koef, the Koef, the Koef was on fire. then he got injured sadly. Can Hassli effectively replace him?

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful province of British Columbia. Thanks to both the distance of the flight and the forward thinkers at Air Canada, I had the opportunity to watch "Moneyball" from start to finish.

For those not familiar with the story behind "Moneyball" the essential premise is that through the use of statistics, you can effectively build championship teams and alter the way that those within the game think about building rosters. As an example, in baseball you aren't buying players. The focus is on buying wins and to buy wins you need to buy runs. Therefore, you seek players that will statistically contribute to increasing your odds to score runs.

I thought it was an interesting concept and I wondered how it would work with respect to Toronto FC. In previous blogs, I mused about the concept of the Koevermans-Frings "Importance Theory." This theory essentially suggests that those two designated players have had a very measureable impact on the success of the team. When both are healthy, the team can compete. When not healthy, as a result of the lack of depth created by a focus on local players and a lack of scouting, the team suffers. The stats tended to back that up with Winter's Reds posting an improved record in all matches in 2011 after the two players arrived. The relative health and fitness of those players was an issue to start the 2012 season and the results were clearly not there. In May though, with a return to form for both, Winter's Reds went 3-2-2 in all matches and showed signs of improvement, which carried over to the initial success under Paul Mariner.

In thinking about the loss of Danny Koevermans due to injury, I wondered if we could play a little "Moneyball" with respect to his replacement, Eric Hassli. In short, with Koevermans, the team wasn't buying a designated player. They were buying someone who could accurately hit the target and convert a good percentage of those attempts into goals. Goals thus feed wins and draws. TFC was therefore not buying a marquee player, they were buying goals which would contribute to results.

If there is something to this, the stats should suggest that Koevermans' contributions were key in making the team competitive. What do they say?

Objectively speaking, if we look at just the MLS matches, the team was 8-18-11 since his arrival. Not overly impressive. However, in games in which he started or was subbed on the team went 7-11-8. This includes his summer 2011 games and early 2012 games in which match fitness was a known issue. This means that games in which Koevermans was injured or unavailable the team struggled to a 1-7-3 record.

To further illustrate his importance to the team, in MLS games in which he was able to convert shots into goals, the team went 4-3-8.

Now, that's still by no means championship form, however it does clearly highlight that when he plays and can convert, they are better. His ability to convert shots to shots on goal and in turn goals, contributes to points. With his importance established, let's explore his conversion rates.

In 1922 minutes played in the MLS over the last two seasons, Koevermans took 69 total shots. He put 41 of those shots on goal and converted 17 of them into goals.

This was important under Winter's system but it is extremely important under Mariner's tactics. Mariner's team rarely outshoots or out-possesses its opponent. Therefore, converting the few opportunities that they do get into shots on goal and ensuring those are converted into goals is key to picking up points.

In light of the injury, Mariner opted to replace Koevermans with Eric Hassli. An exciting, marquee player with some terrific strikes to his name. However, using the concept of Moneyball, this is a situation that is doomed to failure. Mariner didn't need an exciting, marquee name designated player, he needed to replace Koeverman's ability to hit the target and to convert those attempts into goals. As good as Hassli is, he is no Danny Koevermans when it comes to conversion rates.

Hassli has played 2993 minutes of MLS action in 2011 and 12. He has taken 107 shots, 38 of which have been on goal and scored 13. To compare the two would yield the following:

Goals

Shots

SoG

% of Shots Converted to Shots on Goal

% of Shots on Goal Converted to Goals

Hassli

13

107

38

36%

34%

Koevermans

17

69

41

59%

41%

Is it any wonder that the team is now 0-3-1 since Koevermans injury?

There is a blog waiting to be written around the danger inherent in building a team around a single player's ability to convert limited shots on goal. However, given the team we have, converting the few shots we do have is extremely key to the goal of winning games. The Reds simply don't generate enough shots on goal to miss the few opportunities they do generate.

For Hassli to contribute more goals, he will need to have more shots on goal. To score goals at the same rate that Koevermans did (or better) it will require more shots as Hassli is simply not as accurate as Koevermans was. Playing a 4-4-2, forward first system which de-emphasizes possession will simply not give Hassli the number of shots he needs to contribute to the extent that Koevermans did. If he can't generate goals, the Reds will not generate points and the glimmer of optimism that we had will fade as the Reds fade back in the standings.

At least, so says Moneyball.

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