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Tim Howard and Andre Blake shouldn't win Goalkeeper of the Year

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With the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year nominees announced, we look into the stats to figure out if these nominations were fair or not.

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

As the MLS season ends, replaced with the playoffs for the MLS Cup, Award season is upon us once again. Much has been made about who was nominated versus who wasn't, particularly regarding the Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award, which snubbed Sebastian Giovinco in lieu of having three New York based players on the list.

Head-scratching inclusions and exclusions have long plagued these postseason awards. We could sit here and talk about the merits of Giovinco versus Bradley Wright-Phillips, whether it's fair to have two players for the same team amongst the three finalists, or how Frank Lampard's nomination for Comeback Player of the Year elicits the question of "coming back from what, exactly?"

Instead I'm going to talk about the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Award. This year's nominees are Tim Howard of the Colorado Rapids, Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union, and reigning award winner Luis Robles of the New York Red Bulls.

Small waves were made last year when Robles won the award: his save percentage was in the bottom half of the league, he was tied for fourth in shutouts, but his team won the Supporters' Shield. People claimed bias. People claimed that Robles, who makes incredible saves sometimes, is only forced into those spectacular saves due to poor positioning. Yet he still won, much to the consternation of a number of MLS fans.

This season, the nominations are baffling.

Tim Howard started exactly 17 games for Colorado. He replaced Zac MacMath who also started 17 games for Colorado. The Rapids had 1.90 PPG with MacMath compared to 1.50 PPG with Howard. MacMath had a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 0.76 while Howard had 1.12. Instead of these, however, the statistic that people are hanging their hats on most for this embarrassing nomination is that he only played 17 games, compared to the 30+ that eleven other goalkeepers played.

Andre Blake, the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, gave up 50 goals in 32 games. Only four goalies allowed more goals, but being in the Top 5 for goals allowed isn't the most prestigious distinction. Compared to goalkeepers who played at least half their teams' games (a cutoff deemed viable by the nomination committee), Blake ranked 15th out of 21 players in Save Percentage, and when taking away Penalty Goals scored against, Blake had the 18th best GAA. I cannot rationalize why Blake was nominated.

People will say, "he played for a horrible defense, you can't fault him for that." Six goalies faced more shots; Eight goalies had more saves. Through 33 games of the season (I don't have the numbers for the final Decision Day games), Blake had the absolute worst GA-xGA of any goalie who played. His xGA (or expected Goals Against) was 42.13, which means he should have only had that many goals scored against him. Anything lower than that would mean he's making low-percentage saves. Instead, through 33 games, his GA was 48. This was a goalie who gave up 6 more goals than he should have, and he didn't even have a single Penalty Goal scored against him. This nomination is bizarre.

Luis Robles, when compared to Blake, makes a lot more sense. He was 6th in Save Percentage, 1st in Shutouts (though if we do a Shutout Percentage, the amount of shutouts divided by the number of games started, he was 4th in that category), and had a Goals Against Average (minus PKs) that was 10th best in the league. His nomination is far more defensible than Blake's, but it's still a misplaced nomination. His nomination is a direct result of people looking only at cursory numbers: His team had the highest Goal Differential in the league and he had the most shutouts, ergo he must be the best.

Wrong.

All of this is wrong.

Listen, I'm not going to sit here and say I have better nominations (though I do), instead all I'm trying to say is that these nominations are wrong.

So, knowing this, knowing that these three players shouldn't have been nominated, who then should be? I know, since you're reading this on a Seattle Sounders blog, you're expecting I'm going to say Stefan Frei, but I'm interested in what the numbers have to show.

In order to answer this question, I calculated stats for all goalkeepers in MLS this season who played at least half of their team's games. That table is below.

Name Team Starts Minutes SOG SOG/Minute Saves Save % Shutouts GA GAA xGA GA-xGA GA-xGA/90 PK G/A GA-PK GAA-PK
David Bingham SJ 34 3015 146 0.0484 106 72.60% 8 39 1.15 40.45 -1.45 -0.0433 4/4 35 1.03
Luis Robles NYRB 34 3060 143 0.0467 100 69.93% 11 44 1.29 42.41 1.59 0.0468 3/4 41 1.21
Joe Bendik ORL 34 3060 178 0.0582 114 64.04% 5 60 1.76 55.52 4.48 0.1318 4/7 56 1.65
Stefan Frei SEA 33 2970 137 0.0461 91 66.42% 8 41 1.24 41.83 -0.83 -0.0252 6/8 35 1.06
Evan Bush MTL 33 2931 155 0.0529 101 65.16% 6 50 1.52 49.15 0.85 0.0261 4/5 46 1.39
David Ousted VAN 33 2970 166 0.0559 110 66.27% 6 52 1.58 49.73 2.27 0.0688 6/8 46 1.39
Josh Saunders NYCFC 33 2970 158 0.0532 98 62.03% 8 56 1.70 48.88 7.12 0.2158 5/6 51 1.55
Steve Clark CLB 32 2880 161 0.0559 112 69.57% 8 51 1.59 50.07 0.93 0.0291 4/5 47 1.47
Andre Blake PHI 32 2880 150 0.0521 99 66.00% 6 50 1.56 42.13 7.87 0.2459 0/1 50 1.56
Nick Rimando RSL 30 2700 137 0.0507 91 66.42% 6 40 1.33 38.37 1.63 0.0543 3/5 37 1.23
Brian Rowe LA 30 2765 148 0.0535 113 76.35% 9 33 1.10 33.26 -0.26 -0.0085 2/3 31 1.03
Chris Seitz DAL 28 2520 95 0.0377 63 66.32% 10 29 1.04 29.28 -0.28 -0.0100 3/4 26 0.93
Jake Gleeson POR 27 2470 160 0.0648 118 73.75% 6 40 1.48 38.02 1.98 0.0721 6/6 34 1.26
Tim Melia SKC 27 2430 95 0.0391 66 69.47% 8 30 1.11 27.36 2.64 0.0978 3/4 27 1.00
Joe Willis HOU 24 2275 129 0.0567 89 68.99% 5 39 1.63 35.63 3.37 0.1333 5/6 34 1.42
Sean Johnson CHI 22 1980 106 0.0535 68 64.15% 5 37 1.68 30.28 6.72 0.3055 1/1 36 1.64
Bill Hamid DC 20 1800 93 0.0517 68 73.15% 5 25 1.25 26.04 -1.04 -0.0520 3/3 22 1.10
Bobby Shuttleworth NER 20 1814 89 0.0491 50 56.18% 5 38 1.90 31.65 6.35 0.3150 4/6 34 1.70
Clint Irwin TOR 19 1690 76 0.0450 50 65.79% 6 23 1.21 18.11 4.89 0.2604 2/2 21 1.11
Tim Howard COL 17 1530 73 0.0477 54 73.97% 7 19 1.12 20.95 -1.95 -0.1147 4/7 15 0.88
Zac MacMath COL 17 1530 57 0.0373 39 68.42% 6 13 0.76 12.01 0.99 0.0582 0/1 13 0.76

* Name; Team; Starts; Minutes; Shots on Goal; Shots on Goal per Minute; Saves; Save Percentage; Shutouts; Goals Against; Goals Against Average; Expected Goals Against; Goals Against minus Expected Goals Against; Goals Against minus Expected Goals Against per 90 Minutes; Penalty Kick Goals versus Attempts; Goals Against minus Penalty Kick Goals Against; Goals Against Average without Penalty Goals included

That's a lot of data. It's hard just looking at that list of information and sorting out which three players were the best throughout the season. To mitigate this, I went through five categories and assigned points. I used Minutes Played, Save Percentage, Shutouts per Game Percentage, GA-xGA/90, and Goals Against Average without including Penalty Goals Scored. I ranked players 1-21, with the best player getting a 1 and the worst getting a 21. After ranking each player, they'll have a total cumulative score. The best player will have the lowest score, and conversely, the worst player will have the highest score.

Again, this table includes all goalies who started at least 50% of their team's available games.

Name Team Minutes Save % Shutout % GA-xGA/90 GAA-PK Score
Tim Howard COL 20.5 2 1 1 2 27
David Bingham SJ 3 5 13 2 6 29
Brian Rowe LA 11 1 7 6 4.5 30
Luis Robles NYRB 1.5 6 4 10 10 32
Chris Seitz DAL 12 13 2 5 3 35
Stefan Frei SEA 5 11.5 11.5 4 7 39
Bill Hamid DC 18 4 9 3 8 42
Zac MacMath COL 20.5 10 3 9 1 44
Tim Melia SKC 14 8 6 14 4.5 47
Steve Clark CLB 8.5 7 9 8 16 49
Jake Gleeson POR 13 3 15 12 12 55
Nick Rimando RSL 10 11.5 17 11 11 61
Evan Bush MTL 7 17 19.5 7 13.5 64
David Ousted VAN 5 14 19.5 13 13.5 65
Clint Irwin TOR 19 16 5 17 9 66
Joe Willis HOU 15 9 16 15 15 70
Josh Saunders NYCFC 5 20 11.5 20 17 74
Joe Bendik ORL 1.5 19 21 16 20 78
Andre Blake PHI 8.5 15 18 21 18 81
Sean Johnson CHI 16 18 14 19 19 86
Bobby Shuttleworth NER 17 21 9 18 21 86

* Name; Team; Minutes; Save Percentage; Shutouts Percentage; Goals Against minus Expected Goals Against per 90; Goals Against Average without Penalty Goals included; Score

Maybe the inclusion of Tim Howard doesn't seem so random now, having counted his minutes against him. When he played, he was the best goalkeeper in the league, but what this comes down to is whether or not he should even be considered. If the cutoff was 2/3rds of a team's games instead of half, then he wouldn't even appear on that list. It's a fundamental question that needs to be addressed. This does, however, clear up the MacMath vs Howard debate.

If we move beyond Howard, that's when we start to see the injustice, the overlooked. Based on these numbers, San Jose Earthquakes keeper David Bingham and LA Galaxy keeper Brian Rowe were two of the best, most consistent goalkeepers this season. Coming in 4th on the list is Luis Robles, so maybe his inclusion isn't so criminal now that we've looked a bit deeper.

But Blake? Way down there in 19 out of 21 qualified goalkeepers? There is no justification.

For those of you who still have arms raised in outrage over a goalie who only played half a season being ranked #1, let's then address only those keepers who started at least two-thirds of the games, which would put it at 24 games started.

Name Team Minutes Save % Shutout % GA-xGA/90 GAA-PK Score
David Bingham SJ 3 3 8 1 4 19
Luis Robles NYRB 1.5 4 2 7 6 21
Brian Rowe LA 11 1 4 4 2.5 23
Chris Seitz DAL 12 10 1 3 1 27
Stefan Frei SEA 5 8.5 6.5 2 5 27
Tim Melia SKC 14 6 3 11 2.5 37
Steve Clark CLB 8.5 5 5 6 12 37
Jake Gleeson POR 13 2 9 9 8 41
Nick Rimando RSL 10 8.5 11 8 7 45
Evan Bush MTL 7 13 13.5 5 9.5 48
David Ousted VAN 5 11 13.5 10 9.5 49
Josh Saunders NYCFC 5 15 6.5 14 13 54
Joe Willis HOU 15 7 10 12 11 55
Joe Bendik ORL 1.5 14 15 13 15 59
Andre Blake PHI 8.5 12 12 15 14 62

* Name; Team; Minutes; Save Percentage; Shutouts Percentage; Goals Against minus Expected Goals Against per 90; Goals Against Average without Penalty Goals included; Score

When taking out their smaller sample sized brethren, there is a shakeup in the top 3. Luis Robles makes a comeback, leapfrogging Brian Rowe. Again though, David Bingham shines, followed by Robles, Rowe, FC Dallas keeper Chris Seitz, then Stefan Frei.

If we want to take away points earned from minutes, for one reason or another, our top five would be 1) Rowe, 2) Seitz, 3) Bingham, 4) Robles, and 5) Frei. So it's the same five players, just in a different order.

When we look deeper at the numbers, it becomes pretty obvious that, despite playing only half a season, Tim Howard was elite, Luis Robles at least deserves to be in the conversation, David Bingham deserves nomination, and Brian Rowe at least requires careful consideration as well.

Andre Blake however? Depending on how you want to qualify your potential nominees, he was either the 19th best goalkeeper out of 21, or the worst out of 15. He has no business being considered for the award, especially over more deserving players.