Inside the Numbers: Which Goalie is the Best Distributor in MLS?

USA TODAY Sports

A look at how MLS goalies distribute the ball and how successful they are at it.

Is pass completion % an intuitive starting point? Not necessarily, because while such a proxy might work with outfield players, goalies are a bit unique in that the majority of their passes are of a binary nature: long hopeful balls (either from the run of play or goal kicks) or short passes to a usually-unmarked defender. Across MLS, the average goalie's pass completion % on long balls is 35% while their average pass completion % on short passes is 85%.

Because of this disparity the composition of pass type (long/short) is very important. For example, nearly 40% of Jimmy Nielsen's passes were short while only 15% of Joe Bendik's passes were. Is it any surprise then that Nielsen's overall pass completion % was 60% compared to Bendik's 40%? As such, any analysis needs to account for pass type variation. Below is a table illustrating the different passing style and completion % for each MLS goalie. They are ranked by how much they over or under-performed their expected pass completion %, adjusted for type of pass. Colorado Rapid's rookie Clint Irwin performs quite well, as does the Sounder's Michael Gspurning. Any thoughts on this analysis? Perhaps some factors not being accounted for?

Completion Rate Pass Type
Name Team Total Passes Per 90 min Long Ball Succ.% Short Pass Succ.% Long Ball % Short Pass% Predicted Overall Pass % Actual Pass % Residual
Clinton Irwin COL 14.5 48.5% 94.4% 84.5% 15.5% 44.3% 55.6% 11.3%
Carlo Cudicini LAG 15.9 45.0% 86.4% 63.2% 36.8% 54.9% 60.3% 5.4%
Jimmy Nielsen SKC 18.2 41.0% 91.7% 60.8% 39.2% 56.0% 60.8% 4.8%
Jon Busch SJ 19.6 41.8% 88.6% 80.1% 19.9% 46.5% 51.1% 4.7%
Michael Gspurning SEA 17.4 38.8% 91.7% 65.6% 34.4% 53.7% 57.0% 3.3%
Bobby Shuttleworth NER 17.9 35.9% 90.1% 67.7% 32.3% 52.6% 53.4% 0.8%
Bill Hamid DCU 17.1 33.5% 94.2% 71.1% 28.9% 50.9% 51.0% 0.1%
Nick Rimando RSL 19.9 29.8% 95.0% 58.4% 41.6% 57.2% 56.9% -0.3%
Tally Hall HOU 19.9 34.7% 90.9% 77.3% 22.7% 47.9% 47.5% -0.4%
Andy Gruenebaum CLB 18.1 35.0% 91.3% 84.1% 15.9% 44.5% 43.9% -0.5%
Donovan Ricketts POR 11.4 37.1% 83.1% 67.8% 32.2% 52.6% 51.9% -0.7%
Troy Perkins MTL 16.3 32.3% 89.5% 64.8% 35.2% 54.1% 52.5% -1.6%
Dan Kennedy CHV 23.5 31.8% 91.2% 67.9% 32.1% 52.5% 50.9% -1.7%
Raúl Fernández FCD 18.9 33.3% 83.8% 73.9% 26.1% 49.5% 46.5% -3.1%
Joe Bendik TOR 16.8 31.4% 92.5% 85.1% 14.9% 44.0% 40.5% -3.5%
Sean Johnson CHI 12.9 33.1% 82.1% 78.5% 21.5% 47.3% 43.6% -3.6%
Luis Robles NYRB 16.3 29.3% 86.4% 65.0% 35.0% 54.0% 49.3% -4.7%
Joe Cannon VAN 12.1 28.4% 90.9% 72.7% 27.3% 50.1% 45.5% -4.7%
Zac MacMath PHI 18.4 31.8% 78.1% 76.6% 23.4% 48.2% 42.6% -5.6%
Total 35.5% 89.3% 71.8% 28.2% 50.7%

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