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Sounder Data: Chad Marshall is having an incredible season

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Sounders defender is quietly putting up the best stats of any player in years.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Sporting KC Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings Sounders at Heart,

With the nation reeling from a shameful international break, we turn back to our club teams for some soccer solace. This is Sounder Data, and being a data and analytics series, I bring you that solace in the form of cold, hard, yet beautiful numbers. In past articles, I’ve analyzed the performance, strengths and weaknesses of the team as a whole. Today is all about the marvelous 2017 season of one man: Chad Marshall.

You may be surprised that I choose to focus on Chad among all players, given the star-studded, praise-worthy and otherwise headline-grabbing story lines elsewhere on the roster. But none of them, in fact nobody in recent MLS history, has accomplished what Chad Marshall is on pace to do right now.

That’s because Marshall has put together a season with greater than 90% passing completion and greater than 90% defensive success rate. This is an outlandish level of consistency. Don’t believe me? Look at the data for the Sounders 2017 season to-date:

This graph shows the 2017 passing percentage of each Sounders player on the y-axis and defensive action success percentage (the proportion of attempted tackles, blocks and interceptions that Opta counts as successful) on the x-axis. I’ve also drawn the averages in vertical and horizontal lines to show who falls into each quadrant, and scaled each player’s point to show how much they’ve played, based on their total passes this year.

That guy waaaay up in the upper-right corner (good at both passing and defense)? That’s Chad Marshall. Chad so far has 91% pass completion and 92% defensive success, with two games left in the season. Compare that to the rest of the league:

2017 Passing Leaders

Player Team Pass % Number of Passes Defense % Number of Defensive Actions
Player Team Pass % Number of Passes Defense % Number of Defensive Actions
Darlington Nagbe Portland 91.8% 1239 72.9% 70
Chad Marshall Seattle 90.9% 928 92.1% 114
Osvaldo Alonso Seattle 90.9% 1686 76.5% 132
Anibal Godoy San Jose 90.6% 1335 75.4% 118
Carlos Carmona Atlanta United 89.6% 1548 63.3% 147
Joao Meira Chicago 89.4% 1345 80.0% 105
Wil Trapp Columbus 88.9% 2162 71.9% 153
Mohammed Abu Columbus 88.6% 954 63.6% 66
Diego Chara Portland 88.5% 1255 69.9% 173
Samuel Piette Montreal 88.4% 448 62.5% 56

This table shows the 2017 passing leaders, by completion percentage. Nagbe leads the pack, completing 91.8% of his 1,239 passes, followed by Chad Marshall (90.9%, 928 passes) and Ozzie Alonso (90.9%, 1,686 passes). To be sure, it’s very impressive that these players all complete such a high proportion, and just complete that many passes.

But what’s incredible about Marshall is that he matches his passing percentage with defensive numbers. Among the league’s top 10 passers, only one (Joao Meira) even breaks 80% defensive success. The rest are very average: in the 60s and 70s. Marshall? 92.1% of 114 attempted tackles, blocks, and interceptions! That’s good for the top defensive percentage in the league, topping Toronto’s Nick Hagglund (91.7%, 60 actions) and Columbus’ Harrison Afful (90%, 70 actions). And it should be noted that the other two players with better than 90% defensive success have way fewer defensive actions than Marshall. He puts up big numbers and high percentages. Both of these tables, by the way, exclude players with less than 250 passes or 50 defensive actions, just to avoid small numbers problems:

2017 Defensive Leaders

Player Team Defense % Number of Defensive Actions Pass % Number of Passes
Player Team Defense % Number of Defensive Actions Pass % Number of Passes
Chad Marshall Seattle 92.1% 114 90.9% 928
Nick Hagglund Toronto 91.7% 60 79.1% 646
Harrison Afful Columbus 90.0% 70 78.8% 1187
Daniel Steres L.A. Galaxy 89.4% 85 84.8% 1018
Jonathan Spector Orlando City 87.4% 103 81.4% 819
Jordan Harvey Vancouver 87.2% 117 75.2% 1005
Alexander Callens New York City FC 87.1% 155 85.6% 1863
Jonathan Mensah Columbus 86.7% 83 86.2% 1083
Maxime Chanot New York City FC 86.7% 83 86.5% 1063
Oguchi Onyewu Philadelphia 85.7% 112 79.7% 777

Similar to the fact that the other passing leaders are not especially good defenders, the other defensive leaders are not particularly good passers. Here’s the same graph as above, but comparing the top defenders and/or passers of 2017, instead of Sounders players:

Again, note the one outlier. Chad is destroying the competition. This graph even has the super-lenient criteria of only 10 total defensive actions and 50 total passes.

He’s so good that it’s actually kind of historic. I only have three years of data, but the short story is that he’s the only player in recent history to do 90-90. What I’m showing in the next table is each player’s “distance” from 90-90 (90% passing, 90% defense). This is just the geometric distance (think back to high school math), i.e. the square root of the sum of the squared differences. In other words, it’s how far away each player is/was from achieving this 90-90 mark:

Overall Ranking, Last 3 Seasons

Rank Player Team Year Defense % Pass % Number of Defensive Actions Number of Passes Distance from 90-90
Rank Player Team Year Defense % Pass % Number of Defensive Actions Number of Passes Distance from 90-90
1 Chad Marshall Seattle 2017 92.1% 90.9% 114 928 0.0%
2 Kwame Watson-Siriboe New York City FC 2015 90.2% 88.2% 82 262 1.8%
3 Michael Lahoud Philadelphia 2015 91.0% 86.3% 78 564 3.7%
4 Drew Moor Toronto 2016 89.5% 85.8% 152 1460 4.2%
5 Michael Parkhurst Columbus 2015 90.4% 85.6% 187 1644 4.4%
6 Maxime Chanot New York City FC 2017 86.7% 86.5% 83 1063 4.7%
7 Ronald Zubar New York 2015 89.7% 85.2% 58 345 4.8%
8 Jonathan Mensah Columbus 2017 86.7% 86.2% 83 1083 5.0%
9 Nigel de Jong L.A. Galaxy 2016 85.9% 87.0% 85 1266 5.1%
10 Daniel Steres L.A. Galaxy 2017 89.4% 84.8% 85 1018 5.3%

The closest player to breaking 90-90 in the last three years was New York City’s Kwame Watson-Siriboe in 2015, who had greater than 90% defense and 88% passing (though take note of the magnitude difference in total number of attempts). A few others have come close in recent years, but nobody has actually broken this imaginary line of completing 9/10 passes and 9/10 tackles, blocks, and interceptions. Again, it’s most powerful as a graph:

This figure includes more than just the top 10, and in fact, if you look closely you’ll see 2016 Chad Marshall in the rankings as well. Last year our guy had 88% defense and 85% passing. The year before was 93% defense and 84% passing. Needless to say, he led the Sounders all three years. Actually, he was third in the league last year and 10th in 2015.

If you haven’t already guessed where I’m going with this, I’ll just come right out and say it. In my humble (but well-informed!) opinion, Chad Marshall should, without question, be Defensive Player of the Year (let alone be on the national team, have a statue outside CenturyLink Field, and his name tattooed on all of our hearts). And if you’re not convinced of that fact by now, I’d like to see your case for somebody better.