RSL Soapbox recently posted an article looking at if the team was actually better when Devon Sandoval played compared to Alvaro Saborio. While the conclusions from that article were somewhat inconclusive, the argument can still be made that the team as a whole plays better when Sandoval is playing.
I thought I would take a second look at this. As many people know, I am a stats geek that really loves to dive into the numbers to see what nuggets of information I can pick out. One of my favorite stats to look at is what I call Minutes per Team Goal (MpTG). This looks at how many goals the team scored while a particular player was on the field. The thought behind this is that a player can affect the game in a positive way without showing up on stat sheet with a goal or an assist. In a general way, MpTG shows how well a team plays while a particular player is playing. By using this stat you can also look at the opposite side and see how the team plays when that particular player is not on the field as well. Looking at the MpTG between Saborio and Sandoval doesn't come up with the results that one would expect.
One thing that no one can argue is that Saborio scores goals. He scored 12 times in 16 MLS matches and 2 more times in his 3 US Open Cup matches. But how well did the team as a whole play with him in the match? In MLS matches Saborio played 1346 total minutes. In that time RSL scored a goal every 61.18 minutes (his MpTG). If you calculate USOC matches and playoff games into the equation his MpTG jumps slightly to 62.24. When Saborio did not play in MLS matches, the team scored a goal every 48.83 minutes. So even with all the goals that he scored, RSL had a better scoring rate when Saborio was not on the field.
Now lets take a look at Sandoval. Now granted, he did not score nearly as many as Saborio did. But how did the team play while he was in the game? In MLS matches he played 885 minutes. During that time RSL scored a goal every 52.06 minutes. Now if you calculate in USOC and playoff games his MpTG drops to an impressive 41.24 (which is best on the team). When Sandoval did not play in MLS matches, RSL scored at a rate of a goal every 59.60 minutes.
What do these stats tell us? The big thing is that even though Saborio scored a lot of goals, the team scored at a better rate when he was not on the field. In the time that he played, RSL had a better scoring rate when Sandoval was on the field than when he was not.
So we know that RSL scored more when Sandoval was playing but Sandoval was not the one scoring many of the goals. If he wasn't scoring them, who was? The answer to that question is the RSL midfielders.
This season RSL midfielders scored an impressive 25 goals in MLS play. That comes out to someone in the midfield scoring every 122 minutes. But out of those 25 goals, only 5 were scored when Saborio was on the field. When Saborio played, the midfield scored a goal every 269 minutes. When he did not play, that number dropped to every 85 minutes!
Again, lets look at how that compares to Sandoval. While Sandoval was on the field, the midfield scored 8 times or a goal every 110 minutes. That number increased to a goal every 128 minutes when he was not playing.
This leads us back to the original question. Is RSL a better team with Sandoval instead of Saborio? It is crazy to say yes. Saborio is just so good. But the evidence is mounting that it might be the case that the team is in fact better with Sandoval.