Date: 9th August 2018 at 1:25pm
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WAR – but not the killing kind by BelgianSpur

The last few weeks on VS have been dominated by Transfer Window talk (some will say justifiably so, other can’t wait for it to end). But given that we are peripheral actors, at best, in this window, and that every opinion out there has already been expressed and defended a million times, I thought it might be a breath of fresh air to discuss a topic which is different, although related.

During the transfer window, there is always a lot of talk about player performance. Players already at the club, as well as any potential transfer targets, are put under the microscope and often hotly debated.

Despite what some may say, using fan opinion as a benchmark is about the worst indicator of what a player is actually worth. It’s unreliable, hugely volatile, and rarely objective. This is where stats come into play. Although stats on their own only tell part of the story, stats accompanied with a bit of context are usually a much better indicator than any subjective opinion alone would be.

Other sports, specifically American sports, often place great value on stats. Stats have taken over as the one objective way to evaluate talent, with NFL, MLB, and NBA teams spending millions every year on stats-based analysis. Teams have replaced old-school scouts by math-oriented Harvard graduates, because…it works (for certain sports – more on that below).

For those of you who have seen it, a few years ago, Hollywood made a movie about this revolution: Moneyball (featuring Brad Pitt). The film is based on a book written by Bill James, an American mathematician and sports enthusiast who set out to prove that stats could successfully predict the outcomes of baseball games. His so-called “sabermetrics” were a revolution in the sport.

Other sports then tried to replicate what James had done for baseball, to see if stats-based analysis could apply to them. 20 years on, they have because commonplace in most big American sports, and more to the point, they have been accepted by the general public/fans as reliable indicators.

James’ initial efforts are the precursor to newer, even more refined stats, based on complex statistical models and algorithms. The idea is that those stats are a living thing, and they are consistently being reworked to be even more accurate predictors of success.

The reference stat right now is WAR, or “Wins Above Replacement”. Simply put, the stat first takes a look at what the average performance is, across the league, for a specific position – that’s the benchmark. Every aspect is taken into consideration: offensive contribution, defensive contribution, discipline, appearances, positional importance (not all positions hold the same value, as some see the ball more often…).

Using that “average league performance” as a benchmark, the stat then looks at a specific player, and compares his contributions to the “league average” benchmark for the position.

That delta is then translated into the “wins above replacement” metric, ie what having that player on the field means for the team, and how that translates to winning. The WAR value can be positive, in which case having that player in your team increases your chances of winning games, or negative, in which case you’d be likely better off with another player in there.

Of course, WAR isn’t perfect. There is still a degree of subjectivity in it because people still decide how much weight is given to every input factored in the calculation (although this is refined over time and gets more and more accurate with time). Also, players are in and out of form, so it’s conceivable that the same player could have positive WAR one season, and negative WAR the next (in which case, looking at the average WAR over several seasons can be useful).

It would be interesting to see if concepts such as WAR could apply to football. At this stage, football’s maturity level with stats is still relatively low. Part of it is a refusal to change, and a desire to hang on to historic talent evaluation methods which may or may not be relevant anymore (American sports went through that period as well – it took decades for the change to become widespread).

Perhaps another, more tangible reason is that unlike baseball, basketball and American Football, which are essentially a collection of set plays, football is a free-flowing sport. That makes it harder to break down the game into “phases” with an “outcome”. This being said, certain parts of football, such as set pieces could be considered. Yet even for those plays, stats seem to be very seldomly used.

What is interesting is that WAR is now entering contract discussions. Concepts such as “$ per WAR value” are becoming a thing, essentially trying to define how much “value for money” a player contract represents.

Seeing how the situations of certain players were so hotly debated on VS, despite having very little tangible information one way or another, I can’t help but think that having a common basis for comparison in football would be more than welcome.

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61 Replies to “War – But Not The Killing Kind”

  • WAR or VAR, Philosophy or Project. Take your pick. Interpret it to suit an argument. I think I’ll head off to the RIOTS thread!

  • uncle Joe and his useless sidekick have done us up like a kipper all the season tickets sold out they have had our money for months now i hope all the cheese goes manky i will not be spending any more money at the new ground they can stick the cup tickets up their arse as we only field squad players why pay extra for that Poch has become Levys puppet another season and no silverware Billy Nick would never have put up with this

  • ‘Despite what some may say, using fan opinion as a benchmark is about the worst indicator of what a player is actually worth. It’s unreliable, hugely volatile, and rarely objective. ‘

    I can’t say I agree with that. Supporters who have been around long enough and have seen a player enough times to have an opinion about his monetary worth would probably be as accurate as any opinionated expert or pundit. Supporters would determine that ‘worth’ by considering his overall performance; his skill level, his attitude, his age, his ability to function as a team member, his work ethic, his importance to the team and, maybe, his re-sale value. Supporters are generally very knowledgeable about the sport, even if they disagree with each other.

    But in the current ‘Transfer’ climate it is impossible to put a price on any player accurately as the market is so unpredictable. A few ‘Money’ clubs can afford to buy the player they want without much thought to the cost. The market becomes inflated. If it was just a matter of a player having a defined ‘for sale’ value, any club that wanted him could join the queue. As it’s all about supply and demand, and the financial differences between clubs are the significant game-changer, how can the ‘worth’ of any player be predicted? A look at European transfers over the last five years shows how crazy the market is …. and most crazy things lack predictability.

  • Its a ugly sport now with the transfer market and so valuation of a player however its done is useless. It about what a club is prepared to play regardless of the player stats. Grealish for example, half good season 25m not enough. That’s another problem, a player has one good season and thinks they have mare it and deserve more and more. Some haven’t even made the first team and think they have made it, Edwards, griffiths. I honestly think spurs are jot being drawn in to stupid prices and fans hate it, because most fans are part of a society that wants more and more and more and never satisfied, and want instant gratification, its all ugly. May be such a stat system is needed to bring down transfer fees. Personally I’m sick of football especially transfer windows and the stupid moneyninvolvdd, sick tk death, and death of football needs to happen imo. All the starving children,,people in the world, all the homeless, all the diseases that no cure because jo money for research, its pathetic, we living jn an ugly, greedy, world and football is part of it, its no longer a sport.

    • Loz….I agree with your post, though I believe written angrily, calm down mate, it just ain’t worth it. COYS

  • Levy must go, he has made the club a shambles he has no desire for success only profit #LEVYOUT

  • In just less than 29 hours from now, the new PL season kicks off. 16 hours later, Spurs kick-off v Newcastle.

    The only stat that I am now and then will be concerned with, come 2pm on Saturday is; Have THFC won, drawn or lost…

    Come On You Spurs!

  • Well said Loz…great post!

    The “just fucking sign someone” fans of whom there seem many, should take a long hard look at themselves. It`s not just the greed / money factor that`s depressing…so called fans think it acceptable to post that Levy is a “bald tight ugly cunt” the same fans last season telling OUR OWN players “fuck off out of our club, you`re not fit to wear the shirt”

    Get a grip people!

  • Someone needs to do a ‘match thread’ to get us through the next week. By that, I mean, someone else!!

    HT …. AS you know, with nobody in and nobody out, we’ve got a great defence and a great attack for this season. can’t be bad.

  • Geof;

    I genuinely have no idea what folks are so deeply concerned about…

    It’s as though the TW is a competition in itself…

    And, besides which but, still quite crucial… As far as I know, Harry can still score goals and Hugo is still a great shot stopper… Blah blah.

  • HT …. We did well last season without Winks, Moura, and Toby for most of it. Imagine if we’d bought those three during this TW …. most supporters would be over the moon. And now they are back in the team. I expect the whole squad is feeling pretty good and pretty optimistic as the season starts. I know you and I are.

  • Just spotted that Llorente is up for sale for £7 million. Robbery. Who will waste their money on him?

  • Geofspur….don’t forget me, I am optimistic and always have been, even in the dark days haha!

    After the game on Saturday we will have witnessed a first, “Our Arry” scoring in August for VIvien Jane, maybe even a hattrick, congrats on the new baby daughter. COYS

  • Only about 40mins to go and the Trade War is over, thank god, then we can start debating how brilliant or crap Spurs are. COYS

  • Of all the #LEVY/ENIC OUT posts I have read (and there have been many!)

    ……not one has actually said what they want to happen if Levy wasn`t in charge or ENIC didn`t own the club, do they think we are going to get a magical benefactor coming in with unlimited money, and the glory glory days with marquee signings are just around the corner?

    It`s like fucking Brexit all over again….let`s vote for something, but with no clue or plan how it`s actually going to happen!!!

  • Geof- you have hot the nail on the head. Listening to fan opinion, you’d get widely varying opinions on the same player. Who do you believe? You say “some fans” would have a valid opinion, but how do you tell the difference? That’s the first issue. At what point are you credible?

    The second issue is that if you ask a fan why he rates or doesn’t rate a player, most of the time you fail to get a gpod answer out of them. Why is Eriksen a good player? Either you base that assessment on a quality (ie his vision), but that alone isn’t enough if it doesn’t translate into a tangible output. On a single stat such as assists? That only tells part of the story.

    Then you have “Marmite” players wo divide opinion (Raheem Sterling at the WC – a headless chicken who cannot finidh or a tireless, selfless worker?).

    Very few fans can match the depth of assessment of stats like WAR.

  • peter- point taken. But being in a shit situation and doing nothing about it is arguably even worse…

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