Awesome or Insult? The New MLS Castrol Index

As Bob Bradley’s most insightful and prolific scouts of Gringo talent in MLS (OK, other words to describe our role would be “unacknowledged” and “unpaid”) we at FFG have long been wishing for access to more extensive statistics on MLS player performances. We also happen to be stat-junkies in general and believe the hidden and not so hidden numbers that emerge from a game tell an important part of the story.

We relish, for example, the rich set of data available to us when we analyze English Premier League games thanks to our friends at the Guardian and their wonderful chalkboards. Regular readers of our series “An American Midfielder in England” will be familiar with these detailed maps that show the distribution of player touches around the pitch that we include in most posts. We were so eager for something similar stateside that we contacted MLS in hopes of a collaboration. Although the MLS officials we got in touch with weren’t rude or dismissive, they weren’t exactly forthcoming either, and we got the feeling there was already something in the works.

And indeed there was. In April, MLS announced the release of the Castrol Index, which is, in their words: “the Official Performance Index of Major League Soccer [which] uses the latest technology to objectively analyze player performance to help you see soccer from a completely different perspective.” Here are the top ten MLS performers according to the most recent release of this new measure:

FFG is more than pleased with the move toward a data-driven performance index. Bravo! The problem is, the Castrol Index leaves no room for intelligent football fans to draw their OWN conclusions based on the data. In fact, there is something altogether off-putting about the reference to some kind of “secret technology” which tracks “nearly every move” a player makes while on the pitch. We’d love to take it more seriously and rely on it as a key source of valuable information in our analysis. The problem is, the “black box” approach to dealing with MLS fans is patronizing at best, gimmicky at worst. OK, and there is also something a little Orwelian about it.

Sure, there is certainly some kind of complicated proprietary formula behind the numbers. The Castrol Index website only alludes to things like taking into consideration the part of the pitch where an action occurs, for example, or weighing credit on goals based on whether the keeper should have/could have stopped it or not. But is there something wrong when stats get so complicated you can’t even explain them to an average fan? Imagine a baseball fan not having access to basics like “hits,” “at bats,” and “walks” and instead of a simple batting average having to rely on a contrived MLB Player Performance Index to track her favorites? It’s not that every Joe or Sally wants to sit and work out batting averages on their smart phones, but they do know HOW they are calculated, and that statistic has become part of the language of the game, a universally understood and trusted number. And if they wanted to access the raw data–the hits, at bats and so on–they certainly could. Not so with the Castrol Index. We aren’t privy to the numbers which fuel it.

So while we do applaud the concept and implementation of a statistics-based index, we would like to make a call for more transparency. Why not give us all access to the raw data being collected and let us process it as well? No need to reveal your super secret formula. In fact, we are just fine if you roll it up and stick it…

…in the safe with Colonel Sander’s formula.

Gringos, have you had a chance to check this out yet? How useful will it be?

3 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    Ben, I couldn’t agree more. This is a silly, silly thing.

    Where are my stats, MLS? Bah

  2. robinoz0 says:

    wow. seeing their giving players a number of course makes me wish i knew how they got those numbers!

    maybe this is a calculated ploy to get fans more interested in the stats by waiting to see how many fans bother them about it? that’s wishful thinking, of course.

  3. Dave says:

    Four Words: garbage in – garbage out. With no independent means of testing validity, the index is just another marketing gimmick.

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