One of the most common questions front office staff members ask themselves is ‘what are we getting out of this player for what we’re paying them?’ Until very recently, there were only a few ways this could be measured: goals in a season, assists, saves, tackles won, etc. With the introduction of the Castrol Index several years ago, the tracking capabilities increased dramatically. Castrol worked with MLS and sports data company OPTA Sports to log on average 1,800 player movements per match. Castrol’s performance analysts then analyze the data and provide each player a Castrol Index score out of 1,000 – the higher the score, the better the player’s performance. The Castrol Index tracks every move on the field and assesses whether it has a positive or negative impact on a team’s ability to score or concede a goal.
Last year Business of Soccer compared Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Castrol Index with salary data provided by the MLS Players Union to illustrate the value each club was getting out of its players. We continue this analysis for the 2014 season.
Leading goal scorer and New York Red Bulls striker, Bradley Wright-Phillips, was the outright leader in the overall Castrol Index ranking, while FC Dallas midfielder Victor Ulloa, and Toronto FC midfielder Jackson were among the leaders in value when considering compensation levels. For purposes of comparability, the data used in the analysis below relates to the 2014 regular season.
The first figure above depicts the “Top 25” in the Castrol Index for the 2014 regular season. As noted above, Bradley Wright-Phillips, led the category, followed by US Men’s National Team and Seattle Sounders captain, Clint Dempsey, and Los Angeles Galaxy captain, Robbie Keane. Wright-Phillips, who tied the regular season scoring title this year, did so while earning the 35th highest salary in the League and garnering All-Star Honors. The Englishman’s performances have fueled the New York Red Bulls success this year, and left the squad in a solid position for further advancement in the playoffs versus DC United.
Of the Top 25, eleven were selected to the All-Star team, while fourteen were excluded. Similarly, ten were Designated Players, while fifteen were not. Also noteworthy is that four members in the Top 25 earn less than or equal to the median League salary of approximately $92,500. Salary aside, any player on this list and throughout this analysis demonstrated a genuine impact worthy of a bigger paycheck next season.
Next, the figure below depicts the “cost” of each player’s contribution throughout the season. Theoretically, the 25 players listed below are the biggest bargains in the League, barring any qualifying criteria which are analyzed further in the third graph.
The players noted below are in some cases among the lowest earning athletes in the League, but deliver an extraordinary value considering their cost. There is no minimum requirement to be on this list, where as our criteria is further refined based on playing time in the third analysis.
Among some of the noteworthy members of this list are Real Salt Lake striker Joao Plata, Columbus Crew striker Ethan Finlay, and Chicago Fire striker Quincy Amarikwa. These are difference making players who excel at the objective of the game: scoring. On top of that, they do it for cheaper than just about anyone else in the League.
The third and final figure highlights players who featured in approximately 2/3rds of the regular season (roughly 2,040 minutes). Instituting this minimum requirement further identifies the biggest bargains in the League who consistently executed impactful performances for a majority of the campaign. At the same time, applying the limitation eliminates several “diamond in the rough” players who have statistically proven their worth. Essentially, the table both below and above act as a General Manager’s shopping list for building a supporting cast of impactful players that can supplement a core of established, proven, designated players.
The top performer in this regard is FC Dallas midfielder, Victor Ulloa. Ulloa, a 22 year-old product of the FC Dallas Academy system, was signed to a Homegrown contract in 2010, and made 28 appearances this season, with two postseason starts. While he’s not a league leader in terms of performance (149th in the Castrol Index Ranking), the data indicates that Ulloa provides consistent, above-average play at rock-bottom prices (league-minimum). An injury ridden squad at FC Dallas enabled Ulloa’s integration into the first team this season, and through his breakout play, he’s become a critical part of the central midfield, and a regular in the starting XI.
Los Angeles Galaxy defender and journeyman Dan Gargan also proved to be a serious bargain this season. Gargan nearly finished in the Top 50 Castrol Index at 54th overall, yet ranked near the bottom in regards to compensation making just $48,500. Similar to Ulloa, Gargan demonstrated a consistent presence for the Galaxy’s defense, notching 27 starts and 5 assists, despite starting the year in Galaxy preseason camp as a non-rostered invitee with a history of injuries. He’s proved to be an experienced, intelligent defender that is statistically one of best value players in the League.
While there are many other factors to account for when considering player salaries and contracts for upcoming negotiations, it is good to at least who got you the biggest ‘bang for your buck’ during the previous season.
See more on the MLS Castrol Index here.