The Impact Of Carlos Ruiz

[Editor's note: Quality fanpost, though it does leave out Harvey's impact a bit too much - check out the comments for additional information on him and the defense. Front page'd]

Faryd Mondragon.  Carlos Valdes.  Brian Carroll.  Carlos Ruiz.

These were the Union’s four biggest offseason acquisitions.  The first three have played almost every minute of every game, providing stability in the back.  They are well-respected and well-liked.  Carlos Ruiz? Well, I think "polarizing" would be a good word.  Unlike the other three, he hasn’t played nearly as consistently, as he missed games early in the season due to the Gold Cup and has missed games more recently due to not being on the team.  My friend and I were curious as to how the Union played with and without him, so we did a bit of stat-gathering.

The method was fairly simple.  We listed how many minutes Ruiz played and didn’t play in each game.  Injury time was not added.  

Ruiz Minutes: 1144
Non-Ruiz Minutes: 1016

Initially, we looked at how many goals were scored with Ruiz on and off the pitch.

Goals - Ruiz on pitch: 14, 1 goal /82 minutes
Goals - Ruiz off pitch: 16, 1 goal/63.5 minutes

This looks like a fairly big disparity.  However, 6 of the 16 goals came in the single game against Toronto.  Treat that how you will.  Regardless, it is pretty clear that the Union were at least slightly to noticeably better offensively when Ruiz wasn’t on the pitch.

Next, we took a look at points earned in all games Ruiz played vs. games Ruiz didn’t play.

Points - Ruiz played: 14 gp, 25 pts, 1.8ppg
Points - Ruiz didn’t play: 10 gp, 9 pts, .9ppg

Well then.  The Union have been twice as good this season when Ruiz has stepped on the pitch for any amount of time.  This struck us both as quite strange, as the Union were a worse offensive team with Ruiz playing. Naturally, we then took a look at goals allowed with Ruiz on the field.

GA – Ruiz on pitch: 8, 1 ga/143 minutes
GA – Ruiz off pitch: 16, 1 ga/63.5 minutes

We were speechless.  The Union allowed less than half as many goals with Ruiz on the field as they did with him off it.  And the results reflect these numbers almost perfectly.  Without Ruiz, the Union score and allow goals at exactly the same rate, and they’re just under 1 PPG in games without him.  When Ruiz is playing, they score 1.75 goals for every goal allowed, and have 1.8 PPG to show for it.

For reference, last season, the Union allowed 49 goals in 30 games, a rate of 1 goal/55 minutes.  In the 7 games Knighton started and went 90 minutes (who else had forgotten about his red in his first start?), the Union allowed 1 goal/78.75 minutes, including allowing 4 goals in one game.

Before we jumped to any conclusions (such as "Carlos Ruiz is the greatest defensive player ever!"), we decided to rule out a couple explanations that immediately came to mind.  The first was Jordan Harvey.  We have allowed more goals recently, and maybe this big difference has more to do with Harvey than Ruiz.  After all, Harvey IS a defender.

GA – Harvey on pitch: 1241 mp, 13 ga, 1 ga/95.5 minutes
GA – Harvey off pitch: 919 mp, 11 ga, 1 ga/83.5  minutes

Certainly some difference, but nowhere near as large as the Ruiz gap, and much of the difference there comes from the past 5 games, when Ruiz was also absent.  Given the statistical evidence, it appears that losing Jordan Harvey is not the reason for Ruiz’s numbers.

Next, we decided to just see if it was an effect of the Union simply playing worse D lately.  After all, it seems the D hasn’t quite been as sharp.  So we took pieces of the season.

First 10 games (pre-Gold Cup):
GA - With Ruiz – 801 minutes, 4 ga, 1 ga/200.25 minutes
GA - Without Ruiz – 99 minutes, 3 ga, 1ga/33 minutes

Okay.  Well, our defense was actually absolutely pitiful without Ruiz early in the season.  But 99 minutes is a small sample size.

Let’s check the 4 Gold Cup games sans Ruiz:

GA – Without Ruiz – 360 minutes, 5 ga, 1 ga/72 minutes

Okay, so we were actually pretty poor defensively then too.  Worse than we were when Knighton was starting at the end of last season.  

Now, the last 5 games we’ve played:

GA – Without Ruiz – 450 minutes, 8 ga, 1ga/56.25 minutes

Hey, we’re back in Seitz-era territory!  Whelp.

So, the Union have actually been very poor defensively all season when Ruiz has not been on the pitch.  No better than we were last season.  There was one brief stretch in which the Union played better offense and worse defense with Ruiz on the pitch (vs. Chivas/@ DC), when they scored 5 goals and allowed 4 in 180 minutes, but this appears to just be a brief aberration to both goals scored and goals allowed.

At this point, I am willing to say that the Union’s defensive resurgence for most of the season is owed to none other than the Little Fish, Carlos Ruiz.  Maybe I’m missing something obvious.  But with over 1000 minutes on both sides and the consistency throughout the season, it’s hard to call it simply coincidence.  While accolades have been thrown at Mondragon, Valdes, and Carroll for organizing the defense and bringing a physical presence, it appears that their additions to the team (and MOF and Knighton’s subtractions) have had very little effect on the team.  If somebody has a postulation as to some other factor beyond pure coincidence or small sample size, and wants us to do some statgathering, I will certainly do my best to oblige.

So, why exactly were the Union so much more successful defensively with Ruiz on the field?   Put simply, given the numbers and stats available to us, it’s impossible to say.  We have correlation, not causation.  I will, however, guess at a few possible factors:

1. Formations and responsibilities were changed.  Maybe Le Toux got back a little more when playing next to Ruiz, or other player(s) paid more attention to their defensive roles.

2. The Union were less likely to give away the ball in bad positions.  Maybe they didn’t try certain passes or plays, or maybe Ruiz just had better ball control, or any number of other reasons.  But maybe the ball was given away less in positions where the Union were caught out of position.

3. Carlos Ruiz contributed significantly on defense.  I think a few people just threw up in their mouths.  Sorry about that.  A striker generally doesn’t have huge defensive responsibilities, but if he disrupted the opponent’s attack at the start of the buildup, it could have had a big impact.  I also noticed him helping in the box on set pieces.

Again, these are simply possibilities.  I make no judgment as to which, if any, are true.  But I will confidently assert that the Union are not improved defensively from last season.  They’re just a Little Fish out of water.  For the sake of the season, let’s hope they figure something out.

The data can be found at:

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