Between The Sticks: Revisiting Adjusted Save Percentage and MLS goalkeepers 

After looking at Adjusted Save Percentage back in August, as we looked to see how good Max Crepeau had been for the Whitecaps, we revisit the concept, as MLS teams prepare to make moves this offseason. 

Back in August, we took a stab at trying to see how good Maxime Crepeau had been for the Vancouver Whitecaps up to that point in the season, by doing a bit of statistical analysis. Using the simple goalkeeping stats provided by MLS, on top of some of the excellent work done by American Soccer Analysis, we attempted to find a way to see how good/bad certain goalkeepers had performed relative to their peers. 

We ended up with a stat that we dubbed ‘Adjusted Save Percentage’, which took goalkeeper’s normal save percentage, combining it with ASA’s GA-xGA stat, giving the adjusted total. For those unfamiliar with the GA-xGA stat, it is a calculation of the goals a goalkeeper had conceded, subtracted by the number of goals that they had been expected to concede relative to the value of the shots taken.

It links to the main part of the work ASA does, as they do a lot of great calculations to determine MLS players XG (Expected Goals) and (Expected Assists), based on the quality of the chances generated. By combining the GA-xGA stat with save percentage, the idea was to take a simple counting stat such as save percentage, and attempt to adjust it to reflect how they should have been playing, giving a look at how players were impacting team performance. 

With the MLS season now over, we decided to update the stat, as teams now prepare to make some critical offseason moves. Here is the list of goalkeepers adjusted save percentages (min 8 apps) as of October 10th, which was a few days after the end of the MLS regular season (postseason stats are not included)

GKSASavesPCTGA-XGAAdjusted PCTGKSA SavesPCTGA-XGAAdjusted PCT
David Bingham (LAG)1951410.72-4.390.76Bill Hamid (DC)1681260.75-3.450.78
Max Crepeau (VAN)1591140.72-0.560.73Vito Mannone (MIN)1751290.741.490.73
Stefan Frei (SEA)1651160.70-0.160.70Tim Melia (SKC)1731110.64-0.880.65
Brian Rowe (ORL)1601100.69-0.980.70Daniel Vega (SJE)1641080.66-5.090.71
Luis Robles (NYRB)138880.64-0.360.64Brad Guzan (ATL)135910.67-1.900.69
Joe Willis (HOU)133880.660.680.65Jesse Gonzalez (DAL)128840.66-0.010.66
Tim Howard (COL)117730.62-0.480.62Evan Bush(MTL)144840.5810.260.48
Tyler Miller
(LAFC)
103720.70-3.210.73Spencer Richey (CIN)106610.583.700.54
Nick Rimando (RSL)113750.660.960.65Quentin Westberg (TFC)115750.651.720.63
Matt Turner (NER)116870.75-8.290.83Steve Clark (POR)109840.77-7.900.85
Sean Johnson (NYFC)116780.67-0.420.67Andre Blake (PHI)103590.578.490.49
Jeff Attinella (POR)64400.62-0.530.64Zack Steffen (CLB)56390.70-1.540.72
Kenneth Kronholm(CHI) 87580.663.040.63David Ousted(CHI)56340.610.060.61
Clint Irwin (COL)58420.72-0.730.73Zac MacMath (VAN)52370.71-1.510.73
Eloy Room (CLB)47330.70-0.690.71Przemyslaw Tyton (CIN)62320.525.460.46

*Minimum 8 apps required

Top 5 GKs (ADJ Save%):

  1. Steve Clark (0.85) ($140 000)
  2. Matt Turner (0.83) ($75 937)
  3. Bill Hamid (0.78) ($461 820)
  4. David Bingham (0.76) ($375 000)
  5. TIED with 4 others Max Crepeau (0.73) ($90 000)
  6. Tyler Miller (0.73) ($77 565)
  7. Vito Mannone (0.73) ($540 000)
  8. Zac MacMath (0.73) ($190 000)
  9. Clint Irwin (0.73) ($126 000)

Bottom 5:

  1. Przemyslaw Tyton (0.46) ($231 750)
  2. Evan Bush (0.48) ($232 000)
  3. Andre Blake (0.49) ($500 000)
  4. Spencer Richey (0.54) ($71 666)
  5. David Ousted (0.61) ($268 181)

Top 5 GK Salaries:

  1. Tim Howard (0.62) ($2 000 000)
  2. Brad Guzan (0.69) ($680 000)
  3. Vito Mannone (0.73) ($540 000)
  4. Andre Blake (0.49) ($500 000)
  5. Luis Robles (0.64) ($490 000)

Top 5 Bargains:

  1. Matt Turner (0.83) ($75 937)
  2. Tyler Miller (0.73) ($77 565)
  3. Max Crepeau (0.73) ($90 000)
  4. Steve Clark (0.85) ($140 000)
  5. Brian Rowe (0.70) ($95 000)

Takeaways:

Bargains rule the day: 

One thing stands out by looking at the top 5 adjusted save% list, which are the low salaries of many of the goalkeepers.  Goalkeeping is often the position that gets paid the least, and given that list of stats, it’s easy to see why. When looking at the list of top 5 earning goalkeepers, they are mostly performing at an average rate, with some players trending higher (Vito Mannone) and others trending lower (Andre Blake).

When you see some players like Max Crepeau, Tyler Miller and Matt Turner all performing better on way cheaper tickets, you can see why most people have said investing in high-priced goalkeeping is so risky in MLS. Given the strict roster restrictions, why spend on a lot on a goalkeeper when you can just use that money to upgrade in other positions? It’s a formula that the Whitecaps quickly figured out, shuttling out Stefan Marinovic last year for the cheaper Crepeau, who improved the Caps at a much cheaper price than his predecessor. 

Playoff surprises:

Watching the Philadelphia Union get affected massively in the playoffs by the performance of Andre Blake was a huge surprise for many, who still see the Jamaican International as a top goalkeeper. Maybe he still can be, because 28 is a relatively young age for shot-stoppers, but his playoff performance left a sour taste in the mouths of many. 

Given our article from late August, however, we weren’t overly surprised by his implosion, as he was one of the worst goalkeepers in adjusted save percentage at the time, and by the looks of this updated list, not much changed in the last few games. While he doesn’t occupy an international roster spot anymore, his borderline DP tag of $500 000 is quite hefty, and given how much he held back a high-flying Union squad this year, they might be best served to move on, especially if they think that he won’t bounce back to his 2017 form. 

On the other end of the playoff spectrum, the LA Galaxy imploded, losing 5-3 to LAFC in a heated El Trafico showdown. It wasn’t overly surprising, as the Galaxy have probably one of the worst defences in MLS, really only held together by the play of David Bingham. It’s seen by his adjusted save percentage of 0.78, as he held a whopping -4.39 GA-xGA mark, as he constantly bailed out the run and gun Galaxy. 

His form slowly dipped towards the end of the season, and understandably so, given his workload, so it wasn’t overly surprising to see him unable to keep up with the chances his backline gave up. With the season he had in his back pocket, the Galaxy would be best served to keep him, as his $375 000 tag shouldn’t hinder their ability to recruit decent defenders. 

Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF gifted some decent shot-stopping:

As the pair of MLS Expansion cousins get set to each pick 5 players this week, with their participation in the Expansion Draft looming, a couple of goalkeeping options prove enticing. There are a couple of veteran names to look at, such as Evan Bush, Przemyslaw Tyton and David Ousted, who would look good for new teams, but they would be best served avoiding them after some of the seasons they just had. 

Instead, they two options we are intrigued by is the availability of LAFC’s Tyler Miller and Portland’s Jeff Attinella. Miller is an obvious candidate, given his cheap salary ($77 k!) and his solid season for LAFC. While he is reportedly due a new deal this offseason, one that might see him fit closer to his deserved pay grade, it’s hard to imagine it being overly burdening on a teams pay structure.

After a blistering start for LAFC this season, he did tail off later into the year, but part of that came due to a month-long break without action as he represented the US as their third-string goalkeeper at the Gold Cup. Unable to shake off the rust of being out of action all summer, he fell off, and wasn’t overly spectacular in LAFC’s two matches in the playoffs.

Despite that, he still only 26, and given the start he had this year, Miami or Nashville would be well-served to pick him up and sign him to a decent-sized deal. Given the struggles of Cincinnati this year, which were in no part aided by the struggles of Spencer Richey and Tyton, it would be a good coup to land the LA man. 

Attinella presents a more interesting conundrum, as despite leading Portland to the MLS Cup final in 2018, he suffered a season-ending injury halfway through 2019. With the emergence of Steve Clark, who carried Portland to the playoffs with an absurd 0.85 adjusted save percentage, and who has a similar experience after playing in the 2015 MLS Cup final with Columbus, it made Attinella expendable. 

While there will be concerns about the recovery from injury, he is still only 31, not that old in goalkeeper years. He had a 0.64 adjusted save percentage, which isn’t terrible, especially considering that he had a -0.61 GA-xGA. With Portland starting the first 2 months on the road, and with their backline being as porous as it was all year, Attinella’s numbers weren’t all that bad considering. On a ticket of around $175k, he would be a good fit to come in and buoy an expansion franchise in their first foray into MLS. 

Zac MacMath, trade chip?

Zac MacMath walks off the pitch after a tough match against Seattle this year (Keveren Guillou)

It’s been something we’ve been floating around for a little while, and considering his numbers, it could be a deal that benefits the Whitecaps and a potential trade partner. Brought to Vancouver to be the starter this year, before Crepeau quickly grabbed the reins, he was still good in the games he did play, as the stats indicate. 

While most Caps fans will be quick to dismiss that thought, as some of the horrorshow memories of him attempting to play with his feet will be hard to dismiss from their consciences, but he was still good. He is a bit like David Ousted when he was with the Caps, a good shot-stopper who would benefit from a more defensive system, one where he can just focus on punting the ball long and stick to concentrating mostly on the goalkeeping side of the game. 

On only $190 000 a year, he could free the Caps from paying for 2 starters, getting a chance to get a decent piece in return. Looking at possible teams, Cincinnati, Chicago and RSL come to mind, as they all look to bounce back from horrendous seasons. 

Another landing spot to monitor? Inter Miami. MacMath’s from Florida, and while the Whitecaps are exempt from the draft after losing Kei Kamara last year, they could do a trade with Miami involving MacMath and someone selected. After the Caps kicked tires on a player like Kelyn Rowe last year, it would benefit both sides to make a selection-and-trade move such as that one. 

Either way, expect MacMath to be on the move, as the Caps look to free him up, mostly for his sake. He’s a good goalkeeper, but has been super misfortunate in his career, having been stuck behind Andre Blake, Tim Howard and now Max Crepeau in his 3 MLS stops. 

Looking Forward:

As we said when we concluded the process last time, there is still a lot left to be desired in how goalkeeper stats are tracked, with things still being so incomplete. While factoring in things such as XG make a big difference, it would be nice to compare a goalkeeper who faces lots of shots in the box with defenders in front of him versus a goalkeeper that faces similar XG but off breakaways, for example. 

Either way, it does give a decent idea of who led the way for goalkeepers in MLS last year, and who lagged behind. Vito Mannone did have an excellent season for Minnesota, and was a worthy inclusion as the goalkeeper on MLS’s team of the year, but a lot of other names like Crepeau, Clark, Turner and Hamid did put in excellent shouts to be included in over him. 

Heading into a busy MLS offseason, it opens up a lot of questions. Goalkeepers should be paid better, but in MLS, there hasn’t shown to be much of a correlation from price to stats. As long as the spending rules continue to be tight, don’t expect that to change, with teams looking to remain competitive while being as cost-effective as possible. 

Given what we saw with this list of players, some team might end up sneaking into a bargain next year, as the hunt for quality keeping continues around MLS.

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