McCormick’s Craic: putting a value on Steven Fletcher

John McCormick: looking for points
John McCormick: looking for points

John McCormick loves his stats. After his theorising on the importance of goal difference in ensuring Premiership survival, he now turns his thoughts to the value that individual players make, particular our now crocked goalscoring centre forward. Not simply in terms of physical contribution either – he attempts to quantify this in hard cash. We’ll let John explain…….

Following the news that we will be without our top scorer for the rest of the season I’m rushing into print with something I’ve been developing for a while. (Less of a rush than intended but you can blame the editors for that – Dep Ed) My original premise arose from a question –

How much is Steven Fletcher worth to us?

I’d say it was an impossible question to answer, but I began to try anyway. My original premise was that he scores goals which generate draws or wins when we would otherwise lose or draw. These goals have therefore won us points which have moved us up the table. Moving up the table has a value.To estimate that value I began to track his performance in January.

I started by ignoring matches we lost and matches we won or drew without Fletcher scoring. For the remaining matches I tried to calculate how many points Fletcher’s goals generated. If he scored in a 1-0 win, for example, then that one goal will have generated an extra two points. If he scored in a 1-1 draw then he has saved the loss of a point and therefore generated a single point. Where he was one of a number of scorers I tried to divide the gain logically.

For example, in the home game against Fulham we were 2-0 down when Gardner and Sess scored so I’m crediting them with 0.5 of a point each. You could argue that as we finished with what we had at the start they didn’t gain us anything, but that doesn’t seem sensible. Here’s an example of a slightly more complicated situation. It’s easy to see that Fletcher’s goal at home to Wigan gained us two points. However, away to Wigan he scored twice and he alone equalled Wigan’s goals total for the game. Should that be one point for Fletcher, or does it qualify as generating two points? If we take the view that Fletcher’s brace gave us the win then he generated two points. If we take the view that we started with one point and Gardner and Fletcher between them made sure we came home with another two they generated one point each.

It’s obvious that this is a flawed method of calculating someone’s worth – and not just because the sums are a bit sloppy.  It also misses a lot. It doesn’t begin to put a value on Ming’s saves, for one thing, and they must be worth a fortune in themselves. It also has to be accepted that Fletcher’s goals are not always individual efforts and that I’m ignoring his and others’ contributions in defence, their effectiveness in bringing in other players, setting up goals, keeping opponents back, etc. So to continue the Wigan example from the previous paragraph, we could agree that Ming kept us in the game towards the end, that O’Shea and Bramble marshalled the defence and even Elmo managed to help in running the clock down in the few minutes he was on the pitch. However, we couldn’t begin to quantify this team effort in terms of points earned per individual. All I can do for my part is acknowledge that these crucial aspects of the game have made a significant contribution to our overall points total, meagre though it is, point out that we succumb without them and ask for them in every game.

But to go down this route is to miss the point. Fletch is a predator whose skill and out and out killer instinct translates into goals which others might not score and it is this which provided a basis for my calculations.

Our post-Bent goal machine, by Jake
Our post-Bent goal machine, by Jake

What did I find? Depending on how I looked at multi-goal games Fletcher’s goals had gained us a minimum of 9 points and possibly 12 by the end of January. He then had a drought and failed to score for two months (apart from QPR, where we got no points) before injury finished his season. By the end of January his added points meant the difference between 11th place and a relegation spot or, at about £3/4 million per place, potentially over £5 million by the end of the season.

Now it’s academic. We won’t know how many he would have scored in the remaining eight games. All we can do is hope someone or someones step into his shoes and generate enough points to ensure survival. Who might gain those points for us? I was able to do the same calculation for our other goalscorers, once again ignoring goals in games we lost,  and do a comparison:

Adam Johnson. 2-3 points: two points against Man City plus a goal against West Ham. This  had us earning a potential £1.5 million over the season.
McLean: 1-2 points for wins against Reading and West Ham, potentially £1 million
Gardner: Gained us a point with a penalty against Norwich, potentially gained us another with a penalty at Wigan and half a point with another against Fulham. That could be worth £2,000,000 and a lot more if we stay up by 1 point
Sess: Sess has scored some crackers, but too few and not always when it made a difference. He has only generated about an extra point, certainly not more than two, worth maybe £750,000 -£1,000,000.
Larsson and Cuellar: they have generated maybe half a point each so far – let’s say they each have gained the club half a million pounds.

Jalkes washes brightest
Jake’s washes brightest

Of course these sums are irrelevant if we do not stay up. We now need to ensure survival and the emphasis has shifted from money generated by players gaining points to the gaining of points in itself.

While Fletch was rapidly repaying his transfer fee this lot together were generating just about enough points to keep us out of the relegation zone, but not much more than that, and they are still not scoring enough to guarantee safety. Apart from our spot kicker – who has done the job well – Adam Johnson has been our next best performer in the points earned stakes and he has not set the world on fire. The conclusion has to be that points will be in short supply for the rest of the season.

But we knew that already, given that Fletch had been off the pace in recent games, so perhaps we now have the opportunity to look at this from another perspective. It is regrettable that our number one points earner will not be around for a while but really, he already has been missing for a while. Now our manager has no choice but to stir the mix. Danny Graham or Connor Wickham might just be what is needed to breathe life into our attack in the remaining games.

Let’s hope so.

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