The Alternative MLS MVP Award...

Zac MacMath was the Philadelphia Unions MVP this season - Justin Edmonds

'Tis the season for MLS Award giving. Here is an alternative way to define the most valuable player, and we honor the Union's 2013 MVP.

Regardless of the sport, when it comes time to pick the league MVP the same debate always rages. How do you define the Most Valuable Player? Is the MVP the best player on a great team? Or could a potentially better player be more valuable even though the team is average at best? But lifting an average team or leading a great team doesn’t even begin to consider what I’d argue is another important factor. How much did the player get paid? Financial resources in sports are not without limits. How can a player’s value be defined without taking into account how many of the precious dollars they use?

It’s easy to understand why the sports world does not factor in money. There is a certain romance to picking the player purely based on their exquisite on-field performance. We don’t want to dilute the brilliance we beheld with the cold reality of money and scarce resources. Fine, have it your way. But there is no way, at $4.3M and consuming 44% of the LA Galaxy salary budget, that Robbie Keane is even the MVP of the Galaxy!

This year the MLS has announced 3 finalists for the League MVP; Mike Magee of the Chicago Fire, Marco Di Vaio of the Montreal Impact and Robbie Keane of the LA Galaxy. You can see the other award finalists here. All deserving seasons, but one must point out that Camilo’s goal leading season with middling Vancouver is oddly absent. But factoring in the money, let’s explore who the final 3 players should really be. And finally the award can be given for Salary Adjusted MLS MVP.

WARNING: You are about to enter the Geeked Out Statistics Zone. Feel free to skip this part and go straight to the answer. I’ll make it clear where to start reading again.

Hello fellow geeks. If I am going to use money as one decision criteria, then I need to determine a number that defines the play on the field. MVP voting is largely going to be based on goals and assists and defining moments or anecdotes about the finalists’ season. But that unfairly excludes midfield and defensive play. The MLS is at least transparent about this and gives out a Defender of the Year Award. However, the Castrol Index attempts to rate a player's complete performance regardless of position on the field. This is the official performance index of the MLS so I am going to hold the players up to this standard. You can read my positive commentary on the metric here.

A player's value on the pitch can be broken into two components, how long he is on the field and how good he is when he is on the field. The Castrol Index attempts to score the quality of the minutes. We can’t use the Castrol Index alone because it does not factor in minutes on the field. You’re going to have to believe me when I tell you that I examined at least a dozen ways of combining minutes played and the Castrol Index into one meaningful statistic. In the end I think just multiplying the two metrics together to create “gross total value” metric is simple and sufficient. So minutes played times the Castrol Index is my metric for gross total value.

Now to factor in the salary. It’s not as simple as dividing the total value of a player by their salary. While that’s reasonable it results in an unfair bias toward minimum wage players. Here's an example of why. Player A at $35K player would be considered better than player B at $70K even if the gross total value of a player B was 90% more than player A. Both salaries are very manageable and almost all coaches and owners would take player B if they were truly 90% better than player A. Especially for just $35K more. But since $35K is half of $70K, player B must perform twice as well. That's not going to work. What I came up with is determining the average gross total value per dollar of salary above the minimum salary. This number turns out to be 3.4. But that value in and of itself has little meaning.

Now we can look at the gross total value of a player minus the value expected due to his salary. The player with the biggest number should be the MVP. This method gives credit for great overall play but adjusts that play to factor in what the average player would have done at the player’s salary. Next I simply sorted the entire list of MLS players by this new metric.

ANSWER HERE!:

Here are the MLS MVP Finalists and the Salary Adjusted MLS MVP Finalists. Please bear in mind when looking at the Castrol Index that any number over 500 represents a player performing in the top 20% of the league. A number over 600 represents roughly the top 7% of players in the league.

MVP Finalists


Team


Minutes


Goals


Assists


Castrol Index


Guar. Salary


Mike Magee

CHI

2,790

21

4

808

$191,667

Robbie Keane

LA

1,982

16

11

762

$4,333,333

Marco Di Vaio

MON

2,743

20

2

810

$1,937,508

Salary Adjusted MVP Finalists


Team


Minutes


Goals


Assists


Castrol Index


Guar. Salary


Mike Magee

CHI

2,790

21

4

808

$191,667

Jose Goncalves

NE

3,060

2

0

620

$104,375

Lamar Neagle

SEA

2,410

8

4

683

$48,400

First of all, I just want to point out that it feels satisfying that all 3 major positions are represented in the salary adjusted list. Only forwards are given the chance this year to be the true MLS MVP.

And the winner is......Mike Magee! Congratulations Mike on winning the first Salary Adjusted MLS MVP Award! At least he was added to the true final list. Kudos to the illustrious panel for that.

It should also be pointed out that Jose Goncalves is a finalist for the Defender of the Year. So we now clearly know who the winner should be.

There is also an Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Award. Let’s look at the different finalists.

MVP Finalists


Team


Minutes


Clean Sheets


Save Rate


Castrol Index


Guar. Salary


Jimmy Nielson

KC

3,060

13

68%

518

$220,000

Donovan Ricketts

POR

2,880

14

73%

762

$300,000

Nick Rimando

RSL

2,430

9

73%

735

$210,833

Salary Adjusted MVP Finalists


Team


Minutes


Clean Sheets


Save Rate


Castrol Index


Guar. Salary


Clint Irwin

NE

2,874

10

69%

584

$35,125

Zac MacMath

PHI

3,060

12

69%

610

$155,000

Luis Robles

NY

3,060

11

70%

677

$77,500

In this case there is no overlap of players. We will have a different winner. And that winner is.......Luis Robles! Congratulations on winning the first Salary Adjusted Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Award! The question that you have to ask yourself is would I rather have Donovan Rickett's clearly better statistics at $300,000, or would I take Luis Robles and the extra $222,500 to spend on another player? Who is more valuable? If you'd prefer Luis Robles then I think you agree with my MVP logic.

Let's turn to the Union and look at their MVP. The Union Salary Adjusted MVP has already been listed, Zac MacMath. What a year he had as he put his name on the MLS map. The Union 2nd place MVP and top position player was Sheanon Williams at a guaranteed compensation of $110,500. And 3rd place was Jack McInerney with a salary of $189,667 and an excellent Castrol Index of 754.

The MLS began their 2013 award announcement season on November 25th and the MLS MVP is announced on December 5th. I’ll be rooting for Jose Goncalves for Defender of the Year and Mike Magee for MVP. Just ask any owner who they would vote for.

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