ASA SERIES ON CAPONOMICS, PART TWO: DEFENDERS / by Tom Worville

This is part two of a four-part series examining market inefficiency in Major League Soccer. The portions on midfielders and forwards will be published on the next two Fridays. Part One: Introduction And Goalkeeping Application, can be found here.

By Tom Worville (@worville)

Following from the previous Caponomics post, which gave an introduction to what this is and how it can be applied, this post is the second in the series where I look at defenders. Defenders are the second-most affordable group of players in the league, costing teams about $150,000 per season, and they have the highest average Whoscored rating out of the four player positions.

2014 Whoscored rating and salary by position
Position Average WS RatingMedian Salary
GK 6.75 $132,478.56
D 6.94 $152,419.91
M 6.75 $207,338.24
F 6.77 $221,506.11
Note: Median wages used due to the top wages for DP’s skewing the average significantly.

Lets begin by looking at the top 10 and bottom 10 defenders in MLS in 2014, according to Whoscored.

Top 10 defenders in 2014 according to Whoscored
Player 2014 Team WS Rating Salary
Kendall Waston VAN 7.8 201,242
Omar Gonzalez LA 7.59 1,250,000
Chad Marshall SEA 7.54 286,666
Norberto Paparat/to POR 7.44 100,000
Aurelien Collin KC 7.4 281,250
Matt Hedges DAL 7.35 120,000
Drew Moor COL 7.34 247,000
Alvas Powell POR 7.31 48,828
DaMarcus Beasley HOU 7.3 779,166
Clarence Goodson SJ 7.27 342,000
Bottom 10 defenders in 2014 according to Whoscored
Player 2014 Team WS Rating Salary
Kofi Sarkodie HOU 6.61 195,500
Corey Ashe HOU 6.57 174,705
Heath Pearce MTL 6.54 100,000
Krzysztof Król MTL 6.52 153,000
Dylan Remick SEA 6.49 36,500
Stephen Keel DAL 6.48 48,825
Richard Eckersle/y NY 6.46 373,333
Bradley Orr TOR 6.46 75,000
Thomas Piermayr COL 6.46 74,429
Maxim Tissot MTL 6.35 48,500

 Click here for the list of all qualifying defenders.

Last season, Kendall Waston of the Vancouver Whitecaps was the best defender in the league, at least by WS Rating. He averaged a WS Rating of 7.8 and only cost $50,000 more than the median defender ($201,242). Waston gave performances 14 percent better than the highest-paid MLS defender last year---Omar Gonzalez (7.59, 2nd best in the league)---but at an 84-percent discount on his salary. That these two played for two of the stingiest defenses in the league is no surprise. LA finished first and Vancouver third overall in expected goals allowed

Another extremely valuable player in the league is Alvas Powell. Though the Portland defense was poor on the whole in 2014, it vastly improved in the second half of the season, which coincided with Powell taking over the starting position on the right side of the defense. He was the eighth-best defender in the league last year with a WS Rating of 7.31 and the fifth-cheapest defender in the league, costing only $48,828. Versus the median league defender, Powell cost 68 percent less, while performing 25 percent better than average.

The Timbers also pulled off another solid defensive signing in the form of Norberto Paparatto. The 31-year-old Argentine had a salary of only $100,000, 34.4 percent below the median wage. Much like his teammate Powell, Paparatto performed exceptionally well last season, despite starting slow. After losing his starting role early in the season while the team struggled, he eventually earned it back and turned his performances around. Paparatto's overall Whoscored rating of 7.44 was the fourth-best in the league, performing 34.5 percent above average. That said, I very much doubt Nat Borchers, their new defensive signing from Real Salt Lake, will be able to match a similarly efficient season. With a wage last year of $236,968 (55 percent above median) and a Whoscored rating of 6.92 (a marginal 1.4 percent below average), Borchers was one of the least efficient defenders in the league. Defense was Portland's greatest weakness in 2014 (and 2012 and 2011), but a full season of Powell and Paparatto together may help them turn it around. How Borchers fits in remains to be seen.

A similarly valuable player was Karl Ouimette, who was the fourth-cheapest defender in the league last year and was the 15th-best defender, despite playing for the porous Montreal defense. Once again comparing Ouimette to the average/median defender, he cost 68 percent less and produced performances that were 15 percent better. A very cheap and useful option for any side, and a talent that may be overlooked playing for a team that allowed nearly two goals against per game.

In the previous Caponomics release I mentioned a couple of Orlando City’s signings: Donovan Ricketts and Tally Hall, who both were among the worst and most expensive 'keepers in the league last year. In defense the new MLS franchise has done better, signing Aurelien Collin and Amobi Okugo. Okugo cost $101,994 last season at the Philadelphia Union - 33% below average - and produced performances 7.6% below average (6.83 Whoscored rating). At only 23 years old, he’s young and still learning his craft. Being paired with the veteran Collin seems a wise choice by the management. Collin was the 5th best defender in the league (7.4 Whoscored rating), costing $281,250 - 84.5% above average. Despite reservations about the goalkeeping situation in Orlando, they've done well with their defensive additions.

Considering there are two new expansion teams joining the league this year, I feel that it is only fair that I look at the defensive additions at New York City FC. George John and Kwame Watson-Siriboe didn't play enough minutes last season to be considered in this analysis, although Jason Hernandez, Chris Wingert and Josh Williams all did. Hernandez was the most expensive player of the three, costing $213,333 (40% above average). Wingert cost $170,590 (12% above average) and Williams $125,000 (18% below average). Their Whoscored rating’s followed in the same order also - 6.86 for Hernandez, 6.8 for Wingert and 6.65 for Williams - all three being below average defender performance in MLS. It seems Orlando have outdone their fellow league-newcomers defensively, both in cost and talent. Cheaper and performance wise Okugo  is nearly better than all three.

By grouping players who have the same Whoscored rating together, it is easy to identify those that have performed at the same level as others but at a lower salary. For example, there is a group that contains the players who have a Whoscored rating of 7.15 (14% greater than the average performance). This contains Jamison Olave, Fabinho, Johnny Leveron and Nick Hagglund. The most expensive of these is Olave, costing $290,000. The cheapest of these was Hagglund, costing just $48,500. The reasons for this are obvious - age and experience. Hagglund was only drafted at the start of the 2014 season and Olave is 33 and has six years experience in MLS. The real value in these four comes from Fabinho and Johnny Leveron, who cost $100,500 and $91,187 respectively. The recent move by RSL to take Olave back to Salt Lake from New York looks like an expensive one, considering they could have had both Leveron and Fabinho for the same money. Leveron and Fabinho are both also a lot younger than Olave (24 and 29 respectively) meaning they probably have more fruitful careers ahead of them - and more performances.

Richard Eckersley on the other hand provides very poor value for money. Costing 145% more than the average ($373,333) and with performances 70% less than the average defender (6.46 WS rating). If I were the GM for the Red Bulls I would cut Eckersley straight away. He represents a large portion of the Red Bulls salary cap, and for a player who performs very poorly for his side, that money could be used more sensibly in other positions.

Another poor performer last year was a newcomer to the league. Bradley Orr moved to Toronto FC on loan from Blackburn Rovers and cost the club $75,000. A relatively low wage which was 51% below the average for a defender. Sadly for Toronto, Orr only produced a Whoscored rating of 6.46 - the same as Richard Eckersley. The reason that I have pointed out this move is because it was made by Toronto FC - a club in which GM Tim Bezbatchenko has previously been referred to as a ‘Capologist’.

For me the ideologies behind Caponomics (or being a ‘Capologist’) is to make the rules of the salary cap in place work for you and your team: get maximum value out of the cap and, where possible, incurring minimum loss or risk. This move for Orr could be seen as good cap management compared to Eckersley - paying 20% of the cost and getting the same level of performance. Alternatively there are plenty of players who cost less than Orr but produced performances a lot better than he did. I’ll mention Bezbatchenko in the next article about Midfielders, but I feel this was a poor move from the Toronto FC GM and this is one of several.

Check back in next Friday (1/23) when I cover Midfielders.