The New Data-driven Revs Need to Better Forecast the Impact of Injury on Performance

Jay Heaps
Will the Jay Heaps experiment work? Yes he has nearly 300 games in a Rev uniform but having 10,000 frequent flyer miles does not make you a pilot.

The Revs announced today the 6th coach in team history is former Rev defender Jay Heaps. While many of the most hardcore Revolution fans were quick to question this high risk, high reward decision considering Heaps has zero coaching experience.

Zero. Coaching. Experience.

However, as odd as this decision may seem, Jeff Lemieux on the Revs’ blog pointed out the Revs are embracing a recent MLS coaching trend of teams hiring “new school” young, passionate ex-MLS players like Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake and Ben Olsen in DC. Kreis won a MLS Cup with RSL and Olsen won 4 as a player with DC. Considering Heaps graduated from Duke in 3 years and has a background in finance, he would therefore not be a stranger to making data-driven decisions. He will hopefully embrace the opportunity to use data to analyze this season’s performance and then improve specific areas of the team by finding the right personnel to accomplish the strategic objectives.

Predict and Mitigate Impact of Injury on Performance

A good place to start is to more accurately forecast the impact of injuries on midfield possession and ultimately, performance.

Heading into the 2011 season, many Revs fans will remember that one of the on-field strategic objectives was to improve midfield possession % from 2010. Maybe the Revs planned to use data to analyze 2010 midfield possession then make decisions on which players would improve possession the most this season. Sounds good. Makes sense to me. They go out and sign Ousmane Dabo, figured he ought to do the job here.

Then Dabo got hurt. This is where the strategy breaks down.

Since the FO plans to be more reliant on numbers to inform decisions about players that ostensibly would accomplish this strategy and Dabo was probably on their shortlist of players that would improve this area, my specific criticism for the FO is failing to anticipate how an injury would impact 2011 midfield possession.

Given the drop off in terms of talent after key injuries, how is it possible the Revs’ talent decision makers could justify such a collection of poor passers (Nyassi, Tierney)? The invisibility of their forward corps (Ski, Lekic)?

Surely they had enough historic data on players like Nyassi, Tierney, Ski and even predictive data on Lekic before he was signed to anticipate poor possession and invisibility of these players. The gap between reaching the strategic goal of improving possession (and results) remains large; Burns and Heaps have their work cut out in order to more accurately anticipate the impact of injury on all areas of the field and plan accordingly.

High Risk, High Reward Move

This move is gutsy by the Revs. It has potential of being a train wreck or working out surprisingly well. The data can forecast results; only time will tell us how accurate the forecast is.

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Revolution GM and Coaching Search: Will the Revs Hire themselves?

Lots of talk among New England Revolution fans about who the team will hire to replace Steve Nicol. People are throwing out the experience required – should they have coached abroad? Be used to the rules and regulations of MLS? Experience and skills are great but the new Revs’ coach should be compared against a benchmark of the characteristics of the most successful coaches across MLS who have won MLS Cup look like.

Revs Today: Structure and Process
I think if they were surveyed, the entire Revs organization would be very structured and process oriented with a very low sense of urgency. This is how the Krafts themselves appear to be. They have established a work culture that prefers stability when doing business. The evidence for this is how patient they were with Nicol in spite of continually poor results the past 3+ seasons. Nicol also appeared to prefer stability not change.

I wouldn’t doubt Burns is process-oriented and will hire a coach that is much like himself. This is a potentially huge hiring mistake because if we look at a benchmark of the characteristics of the most successful management teams league wide in this era of MLS, they probably act with a greater sense of urgency and may even be less collaborative in their decision making. The Revs need to understand how the most successful coaches and GM’s in the league work – how they make decisions, their sense or urgency, etc then hire accordingly, rather than preserve the status quo and just hire themselvesĀ unless this is what is required to win MLS Cup.