Thorns FC: what the heck is a pmr?

Although I didn’t get any feedback in the comments section from the last post, I did get some questions about this “PMR” system thing over at the Riveting! Facebook page. Since you’ll be seeing this stuff again when the season starts, I thought I’d take a moment to explain it.

The whole magilla was invented by my Riveting! partner Richard Hamje back in the NWSL Dark Ages of 2016, when there was no statistical data on the players in this league available for love or money.

(Well…actually, there was, -for money, anyway. The stats organization Opta kept them, but as securely as the NSA does your last conversation with Nonna Frankie. While I was writing for Slide Rule Pass I got in touch with Opta to see about setting up a Thorns stats feed. Sure, said the nice Opta contact person. That’ll be $4,000 for a season for a suite of stuff like heat maps and passing charts. Thanks so very, I replied, and ecplained to my readers why there would be no pretty Opta charts at Slide Rule Pass then, or ever.

Last season I got a nice deal from the InStat people, who comped me a season’s worth of Thorns match reports in return for propping them in the column. The regular fee was $500, which I had then no more than I had $4K the season before – or I do now, for that matter – which is why there will be no InStat information here next season, either.)

“PMR” which stands for “plus-minus rating”. The idea is to track significant player actions during the match and record 1) how many actions that player makes that have an impact on the match, and 2) whether that impact is positive for the Thorns, or negative.

Here’s what I record as “significant” actions:

Goals for and saves against: are obvious pluses for the scorers or goalkeeper, respectively. For a goalkeeper, a concession may be a minus if I judge that the keeper could and should have done better with the shot. An own-goal is an obvious minus for a field player.

Passes: a pass that places the receiver in a dangerous attacking position, results in an assist, or produces a significant tactical advantage is a plus pass. A pass that either results in a loss of possession (if a better option for the passer is available) or places the receiver in a hazardous position, such as being tackled for loss, is a minus pass.

Heavy touch: is a mishandled ball that runs away from the player. If that results in a degradation of the Thorns’ tactical situation, it’s a minus. A heavy touch is never a plus.

Tackles: a good tackle, one that slows or stops an attack including a tackle that gains possession, is a plus. Being tackled (when there are obviously better options like passing out of danger) and losing possession is a minus.

Defending: Defensive positioning, or play, that results in the marked opponent’s progress being significantly impeded, forces hurried passes or similar poor decisions is a plus. Poor defensive positioning that allows an opponent an advantage such as an uncontested shot or an easy pass into an advantageous position is a minus.

Shooting: an accurate on-target shot, one that forces a save, or wins a corner, is a plus. A poor shot (from a position that would have allowed a better one) is a minus.

Runs: a dribble, or a run onto a pass, that results in tactical improvement, and particularly puts the opposition goal under threat is a plus.

Foul: an unnecessary and reckless foul, and particularly one that gives up a free kick close to the Thorns goal, is a minus. Conversely, a smart tactical foul may be a plus.

Clearances: a defensive clearance that ends a dangerous attack is a plus. A clear that goes short and to an opponent, or otherwise increases the danger to the goal, is a minus.

All of these actions must have an impact on the game to get recorded. What this means is that there are numerous player actions that don’t go in my records at all. Aimless knocking the ball around the backline? Nothing. A pass that’s well-defended and goes nowhere? That’s just good play by the opponent. A run that gets turned back? Nope, nothing to see there.

The format I use for displaying PMRs in the player comments section looks like this:

Raso (60′ – +5/-1 : +6/-2 : +11/-3) Hayley Raso had a solid night against Sky Blue…

Each player has a comment and rating section following the player’s name in boldface type.

Behind the name there’s a series of numbers in parentheses and separated either by a dash or a colon.

If the first number looks like this; 60’ – that’s how long the player was on the field. If there’s no number in italics the player went the full match.

For a player that played in both halves there will be three sets of numbers that will look like this: +2/-2 : +2/-2 : +4/-4. The first pair is that player’s first half rating. The second pair is the second half rating, and the third set is the match rating that should be a sum of the first two pairs. A player that plays in only one half will have a single pair of numbers that is her rating for her shift and for the match.

Long (60’ – +4/-4 : +6/-3 : +10/-7) indicates the Allie Long played for an hour, was rated +4/-4 in the first half, +6/-3 in the second, and +10/-7 for the match.

A well-played match should result in a player with an overall positive rating – pluses should be higher than minuses – and higher overall numbers mean the player was more involved in the match than a player with lower numbers.

Typically a “good” match should result in two or three times the pluses as minuses and overall PMRs in the 20’s, something like +15/-5. Any plus total above 20 is typically an outstanding match for that player. A match where the player has twice the minuses as pluses? Not a good outing. A match PMR (for a full ninety minutes) that looks like +2/-2? That player did very little of note, either good or bad.

This system seems as good as any for rating field players. It’s subjective, yes, but if you’re interested I can send you the explanation InStat went me for their “Index” and you can scratch your head like I did; it was like trying to teach German irregular verbs to a cat.

It falls down badly, however, with goalkeepers. Which makes sense when you think about it. A keeper may only make a handful of decisive actions a match, if her defense is playing well in front of her. She may be controlling her penalty area and directing her defenders like a boss, but there’s no way to really “rate” those actions, so the PMR system artificially lowballs her.

At the other extreme, a keeper that’s under the cosh may be scrambling around like a madwoman, making save after save and getting pluses for actually having a very tough outing.

I have yet to figure out a good way to bring the keepers into line with the PMR system, and I’m still looking for inspirations, so any ideas will be welcomed and considered…

So. There’s the PMR system explained. Drop by this coming week, and I’ll be here to discuss the Thorns midfield; who did what in 2018, and what could things look like this coming season..?

John Lawes
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