Analyzing SPFL forwards so far i.e. mas amor por Morelos, & why Killie & Hearts need to be worried

written by – Rangers Report   photo courtesy of – Getty Images

Analyzing football data after four matches is a recipe for “bad takes”.  Making conclusions after one month of football is borderline foolish….but I do think teams are constantly evaluating the performance of their team as a collective & as individuals.

Even though we shouldn’t be making conclusions after four games, it is imperative that teams are assessing trends in their play over four to five match intervals.  There are a little over seven ‘blocks of five games’ over the course of a league season.  If teams group their assessment into these five match groupings they can compartmentalize trends in their play over the course of the season.

Yes, it’s only been four games but we have time on our side with the international window… so, I figured it would be a good time to assess the play of forwards in the Scottish Premiership so far to see what teams should be happy with current trends, which teams should be wary so far, & what teams may need to hit the panic button.

Here is a list of each of the forwards in the SPFL (as labeled by Transfermarkt), who have played at least 150 minutes this season, ranked by their goals per 90 minutes rates.  This rate does not include penalties.

If you haven’t embraced relying on per 90 minutes rates when looking at goal scoring & other stats…where have you been??  If you want a quick refresher of why – read Ben Pugsley’s post on this from 2013.

The thing is most fans are very familiar/comfortable with talking about the total number of goals & identifying what’s a good season & what’s a great season.  Scoring ten goals is a pretty decent number, while scoring 15 is a sign of a pretty good season.  20+ goals?  Now we’re talking.


But what’s that baseline goals per 90 rate that should make us take notice?

Over the past three seasons, the average goals per 90 rate for any forward who:  scored at least one goal & played at least 400 minutes in a season is 0.342 goals per 90.  That’s average…anything above is “above average” & below…well – I think you get it.

Now obviously,  your top teams in the league are going to want their forwards to be producing at an ‘above average’ rate. But how about those bottom six clubs?  If they’re forward is averaging 0.29 goals per 90 minutes that’s below average…but is that an acceptable rate if your team struggles to score anyways?

Back in June, I introduced using Goals Above Average (GAA) & Goals Above Replacement (GAR) as an attempt to give some context to Alfredo Morelos’ goal scoring rates in Finland.

The concept of being above average is pretty easy to understand.  But what about Goals Above Replacement (GAR)?  A replacement level player is one that would easily be replaced by a lower end player in that league (or even from the reserves).

From a statistical point of view, a replacement level player is outproduced by 80% of forwards in that league.  Basically, you could slot in any forward from the reserves or even from a lower league & expect him to produce at this level.

Dawson Sprigings, who writes about hockey analytics under the handle of @DTMAboutHeartexplained why he prefers using the replacement level in his player analysis.  “I chose to baseline my statistic to ‘above replacement’ instead of ‘above average’ because it provides a quick way to decipher if a player is fit for an NHL roster spot.”  If a forward is barely scoring above a replacement level player – do you really want him in the lineup?  Last season, Martyn Waghorn output was that of a replacement level player.

Hmmm…that last part resonates when assessing forwards in these five game intervals.  The ‘replacement level’ scoring rate over the past three seasons in the Premiership is 0.185 goals per 90 minutes.  Meaning, 80% of the forwards who played at least 400 minutes in a season & scored at least one goal – scored at a higher rate then this.  If your forward is scoring near a replacement level…should they be replaced?

courtesy of News Group Newspapers Ltd

Craig Curran, Kris Boyd, Kyle Lafferty, & Simon Murray have all scored this season…but their Goals Per 90 are currently below average & barely above the Goals Above Replacement floor of 0.19.

Should their teams be worried?  What about those forwards like Kenny Miller, Alex Fisher, & Faissal El Bakhtaoui who have yet to find the back of the net?  It’s only been four matches – how patient should their managers be?

I’ve decided to pull some stats from the database of SPFL stats that I’ve collected this season to try & answer those questions.

GAR is Goals above Replacement, GAA is Goals Above Average, Sh/90 is Shots per 90, G-xGper 90 is how many more goals they are scoring per 90 minutes then their Expected Goals, FenAdjShAcc means Fenwick Adjusted Shot Accuracy which is the percent of unblocked shots that are on target, Sh% measures what percent of the shots on target that are goals, ScCh/90 is Scoring Chances per 90, & xGImp/90 is a new stat I’m playing around with this year. xG Impact accumulates the Expected Goals a player has an impact on via a shot, a Key Pass, a Secondary Shot Assist, or an Establishing Pass (the pass to the Secondary Shot Assist).  So, xG Impact is an attempt to see how many quality chances a player is directly impacting from his shooting or his passing.

  • The first name you’ll notice is Alfredo Morelos.  His scoring rates are off the charts good so far.  Will he keep scoring 1.11 goals per 90?  Probably not.  It’s an unsustainable rate & his G-xG per 90 of 0.52 highlights that.  Over the course of 180 minutes, he’s scored one more goal than his xG suggests he should be.  Oh yeah, he’s not going to have a Shooting Percentage of 100%, even Roy of the Rovers missed from time-to-time.
  • The good new for Rangers fans is that Morelos’ Goals Above Replacement level of 0.93 is only slightly higher than his GAR in Finland last season of 0.84.  Two seasons ago, as a 19-year old, Morelos’ goals per 90 was 0.60 which translated to a GAR of 0.43.  Not as sensational as his scoring rate from last season but it’s still the 8th highest GAR in Finland over the past three seasons.  Morelos goal scoring was elite for Finnish football & so far has been elite in Scotland as well.  He’s one of six forwards to be averaging at least one Scoring Chance per 90, if he keeps up that rate…the goals should continue to be in the cards for Morelos.
  • Hearts have been bad this year.  Like, really bad.  Of the Expected Goals created in their matches, Hearts have only generated 22% of them. In four matches, they have only three(!) Scoring Chances, their opponents have 17.
  • Before we continue:  I define Scoring Chances as being:

    Kicked shots that come from the red shaded area.  Headers are only included if they come from vicinity of the six yard box

  • I’ll say it again, Hearts have three Scoring Chances this season, so that might help explain why Esmaël Gonçalves’ xG per shot is so low.  Of his seven shots this season, one has been a Scoring Chance (& it was a goal).  He’s doing his best, only 29% of his shots from open play have come outside the box…so the majority are inside the box.  However, he’s been forced to the edges inside the box for three of his shots.  The good news is that one of those shots has been a goal, but typically 7-9% of these kinds of shots end up as goals.
  • As a team, Hearts simply aren’t creating chances.  For Goncalves, if he’s not getting shots – he hasn’t been doing much else.  His xG Impact is the fourth lowest for any forward whose played at least 150 minutes this season.  Of course, Hearts only average 0.56 xG per match so there’s really not much happening offensively – so don’t be too hard on Goncalves.  They’ve only scored three non-penalty goals this year & he has two of them.
courtesy of SNS
  • Then there’s Kyle Lafferty.  His current output is below average (GAA of -0.07) & is basically a replacement level forward right now (GAR of 0.08).  A big part of this is the fact that Hearts have been so bad, but if this poor play continues they should look at replacing him in the lineup.  He has taken eight shots this year & one has been on target (his only goal).  It was a pretty sensational goal….a shot taken from a distance that he’ll probably never score from again.
  • Of his eight shots, four have come from outside the box (one was a free kick), three have been in the box (but not centrally), & one header from the heart of the box.  Two of those three in the box have been blocked.  None of those shots have been Scoring Chances.
  • In the summer, I wrote about how Lafferty was a calculated risk given his age & inconsistent output over the past several seasons.  He could turn his scoring form around but he’s also a few seasons removed from being a below replacement forward.  How long do you give a ‘calculated risk’ to prove his worth (especially given he turns 30 in a couple of weeks)?  Or, maybe Craig Levein should ask himself – how long do you keep one of the best forward prospects out of the first team while Lafferty scores at a below average rate?

  • Another former Rangers forward whose output should be a concern is Kris Boyd.  Like Lafferty, he has scored a fantastic goal this season.  But beyond that, there are serious questions about how much more you can expect from the 34-year old.
  • Below you’ll see Boyd’s GAR & GAA from his last season with Rangers (his first stint) to last season.

  • Boyd left Rangers as an elite goal scorer after the 2009-10 season.  His first season in the English Championship (with Nottingham Forest & Middlesbrough) weren’t as good – but they also weren’t that bad.  He was an above average goal scorer for that level.  After spells in Switzerland & the US, he came back to Scotland – where he promptly returned to being a very good goal scorer.

  • The above chart counts how many forwards have scored at the various GAR levels since 2013.  Boyd’s 2013-14 rate of 0.452 has only been outmatched by a handful of forwards (only three not named Leigh Griffiths have had better seasons).
  • But, remember Boyd was now in his 30s.  His second stint with Rangers was a complete bust.  His GAR was -0.018, meaning just about any forward in the Scottish Championship could have stepped in & outperformed Boyd’s output that season.
  • He has since returned to Kilmarnock & has been a very average goal scorer.  His GAA rates have been -0.052 (so technically, below average) & 0.011 (as average as you can get).  It makes you wonder why Boyd is still among the first names on Lee McCulloch’s team sheet?  Think about it…his Goals minus Expected Goals per 90 is 0.05.  Meaning his output basically matches his Expected Goal scoring rate & his GAA is -0.05.  Maybe it’s time to invest the minutes in someone else.
  • Let’s look at Killie’s options:  Lee Erwin & Eamonn Brophy.  At 21, Brophy has only seen 30 minutes this season
courtesy of SNS

  • Brophy signed this summer from Hamilton & his career was trending in the right direction…until last season.  As a 17 year old, Brophy produced at an elite level while on loan in League Two scoring seven goals in 752 minutes for Queen’s Park.  The next couple of seasons were below replacement level – first with Hamilton in 359 minutes & then on loan in the Championship with Dumbarton.  In 2015-16, he began to show some potential scoring at a very good rate (GAR of 0.318) in 716 minutes.  But the inconsistencies of youth reared its ugly head, as he returned to below average scoring rates.
  • Brophy is a year or two away from his peak years & this will be a critical season to determine how many opportunities he’s going to get over the next couple of seasons (he has a three year contract).  Remember how we said a replacement level forward could be replaced by just about anyone at that level…maybe it’s time to recognize that Boyd may be that replacement level player & maybe it’s time to give Brophy a chance to prove if he’s got the talent to build off of.
  • Killie also signed Lee Erwin this summer, whose potential led to a move down south & whose subsquent lack of success in England led to a move back to Scotland.
courtesy of Kenny Ramsay (The Sun)

  • Erwin, who is 23, also started his career by tearing up defenses in Scotland’s lower leagues.  His goal scoring while on loan with Arbroath was at an elite level for League One & like Brophy, he has failed to come close to that level ever since.  His woeful output as a 21 year old was based on 238 minutes with Leeds in the English Championship (hardly enough time to properly react to those numbers).  Last season, with Oldham in England’s League One, Erwin got better but was still a below average forward at that level.
  • Erwin is off to a decent start with Killie, scoring a goal in 178 minutes.  The concern is that he only averages 0.21 xG per 90 & 0.10 xG per shot.  Those are not early indicators that his goal scoring rate (a GAR of 0.32 & GAA of 0.16) will continue.
  • Killie projects to be hovering around the relegation bubble all season & right now, their situation up front isn’t promising.  Erwin has never been an above average forward outside of Scotland’s League One, while the only player who has been clearly above average over the past couple of seasons (albeit in limited minutes ) has yet to really get a run in the first team.
  • It should be noted that Kilmarnock had the sixth highest ranked young forward on my list that used stats from the developmental leagues to project future success.   It should also be noted that he signed with St. Mirren this past summer.
  • There is so much more to pull out of the numbers from the table above…but I’ll stop for now.  Let’s come back to a similar table after another month & see what the trends are then.


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