While he has never expressed a disdain specifically for analytics in football, one could assume Kris Boyd does not have much time for the subject. He previously has spoken ill
of those who appreciate both football and laptops, and both this article and the stats on this site are not exactly created via pen and paper, so we can probably safely make some assumptions.
In the recent Opta Pro Forum in London, tweets emerged of the NBA’s Sacremento Kings VP of Strategy and Analytics and former AS Roma Head of Analytics Luke Bornn presentation discussing communication relating to analytics. In the presentation, he discussed using an analytics department to try and make your scouts and coaches seem smarter. Trying to find the medium of finding an edge for a club and/or creating innovate work in the public sphere while making it simple to understand is a tricky proposition. Fluency in analytics in both the SPFL and Scottish football fans is growing each week, though it probably is still behind most of the major leagues in Europe. So how do we continue to further understanding throughout the game?
One avenue to try and create understanding about analytics in football is to use them to praise players. Letting a player know he has good stats, what those stats mean on a basic level, and what he is doing to get those impressive metrics can help foster acceptance and further understanding from players. Which brings us back to our pal Kris.
If I told Kris Boyd, “Hey your expected goal numbers of 7.90 are great,” he would most likely look at me as if I had four heads, with two of the heads telling him to switch to a vegetarian diet. However, he might be more receptive to the idea if I said something along the lines of “we have this stat that says you have done a great job at creating shots that are more likely to be scored. If you continue to be able to get shots centrally in the box, you will likely keep scoring goals,” he may be more receptive to the idea. A player may be more interested in analytics if it is includes praise and includes an easy to understand idea to lead to continued success.
This hypothetical discussion with Kris Boyd does indeed contain some of the reasons why he has seen a resurgence on the pitch this season. Boyd has 9 non-penalty goals and 0.56 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes so far this season, only Alfredo Morelos has more in the SPFL Premiership. He also has had good underlying statistics this season, with an xG of 7.90 which is 4th in the league and an xG per 90 of 0.54. These xG stats show his goal scoring has been sustainable for Kilmarnock this season.
If we compare these stats to the same numbers from last season, we see a clear improvement. Last season, Kris Boyd scored 7 non-penalty goals and 0.32 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes. Like this year, Boyd’s goals were about what you would expect based on his expected goals numbers, with an xG total of 7.38 and a per 90 average of 0.30. We see the striker/pundit has already surpassed both his goals and expected goals total from last season and we are only into February. While you may or may not enjoy his TV work this season, Boyd’s goals have been a big part of Kilmarnock’s success this season.
Not only has the Killie striker been knocking in the goals this season, but he has been a bigger part of the Ayrshire side’s attack overall. Looking at his expected assist numbers from last year and this year, we see last season Boyd had 3 assists, an xA of 1.67 and 0.08 xA per 90 minutes. This year while he only has 2 assists, Boyd already has an xA total of 2.58 and a per 90 of 0.16. His contributions to the Kilmarnock attack has improved, with improved shooting and creation statistics this year.
Given that Kris Boyd is 34 years old, this improvement from last year is a bit surprising. Strikers typically regress at that age, something many may have assumed was happening last season with Boyd. So the question therefore becomes what has happened between last year and this year to see this improvement from the Killie striker.
During this campaign, Kris Boyd has been able to get far better shots than he did last season. He is averaging 0.16 xG per shot this year, while he only averaged 0.11 xG per
shot in the 2016-2017 campaign. To simplify this, on average every shot Boyd takes this year has had a 5% higher chance of going in based on where and how he has been shooting. Not only is he taking higher quality shots this season, but he also taking more of them, averaging 3.4 shots per 90 minutes this season and 2.59 per 90 last season. Taking more and better quality shots is clearly one of the reasons for the rise in Boyd’s form this season.
Thirty-four year olds do not usually see those types of jumps in those numbers from one season to the next, so why has Boyd? Well, he has some help shouldering the load at Kilmarnock this season. Last season, Boyd was the only Killie player who played at least a third of the available minutes in the league last season (1140) with an xG per 90 of at least 0.3. Only Souleymane Coulibaly had an xG per 90 of over 0.2 at Kilmarnock last year, and he left midseason. No player who appeared in at least 1140 minutes averaged at least 0.1 xA per 90 or more for Killie last season. Boyd was the focus of the Killie attack last season.
The current campaign must feel like a weight has been taken off of Boyd’s shoulders. Though both playing less minutes than Boyd, Eamonn Brophy and Lee Erwin are both averaging over 0.2 xG per 90, at 0.68 and 0.23 respectively. Both are options off the bench for Kilmarnock that are capable of scoring. Along with other scoring options besides Boyd, the Killie attack also has considerably more options for players that can set up Kris Boyd and his fellow strikers.
As previously mentioned, no Killie players averaged over 0.1 xA per 90 minutes last season. Boyd has already bested that himself, averaging 0.16 xA per 90 minutes, but he is not alone. Along with Boyd, Gary Dicker, Brophy, Jordan Jones, Adam Frizzell, Stephen O’Donnell, Erwin, and Rory McKenzie have all appeared in at least a third of Killie’s available minutes and have averaged at least 0.1 or higher xA per 90 this season (0.20, 0.19, 0.17, 0.16 , 0.14, 0.13, and 0.12 respectively). Boyd is clearly flourishing with more creative support around him.
Surely Kris Boyd has also benefitted from the lift that Steve Clarke has brought to the club since he has joined as well. While the underlying stats for Kilmarnock were decent at the time when Lee McCullough was sacked (they were 6th in the SPFL in expected goal difference when he left Killie), both results and underlying stats have improved with Clarke’s time at the club. Friend of the site Alex Lawrence did a great overview of Kilmarnock’s improvement under Clarke and their recent 1-0 victory over Celtic that I highly suggest you read.
While he may not be interested in knowing the math behind it, there is no doubt Kris Boyd has been one of the better strikers in the SPFL according to the stats. Analytics skeptical players like we can presume Boyd is may not be interested in regression models and scatter plots, but they are surely interested in becoming better players and they are definitely interested in receiving praise. Praise and recognition for a player can lead to more playing time, improved contracts, and a move to a bigger club. Framing the discussion around football analytics to a skeptical player about how it can improve their career may be a bridge to understanding for them.
This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.