Don't be scared of a little youth! Give these teens a chance!
written by: @TheGersReport
Raise your hands if you think Stevie May has been bad for a while now, or if you think a 38-year old Kenny Miller is probably done being a reliable goal scorer?
Raise your hands if you think Sofien Moussa is bad…like really bad, or if you think part of the reason Partick Thistle is playing Championship football is because they believed in Conor Sammon?
I think we can all agree with the claims made above, but for some reason Steve May has still played in the majority of available minutes this season for Aberdeen & a 30-something Connor Sammon still managed to get nearly 2,000 minutes for a Partick Thistle side fighting for its Premiership lives last season.
Meanwhile, a bunch of Generation Z kids are looking up from their hours of Fortnite…waiting to take over the world.
Seriously…Bruce Anderson, Matthew Henvey, & Kevin Nisbet “might be bad” but you know what…May, Moussa, Miller & Sammon are “definitely bad.”
The point is Anderson, Henvey & Nisbet might actually be good - but how will we ever know when their minutes get gobbled up by ‘older, more reliable’ players who combined to average 0.22 goals per 90 minutes last seaosn (that’s a Goals Above Average of -0.10 — more on that later).
I stumbled upon the aforementioned tweet from Micah Blake McCurdy & it perfectly summed up a major pet peeve. Why are managers in Scotland so scared to give youth a chance? There were pockets of Rangers supporters who openly campaigned for youngster Andrew Dallas getting the call ahead of Umar Sadiq in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final. Your humble (& sometimes embattled) author has been pushing for Dundee to ease Kenny Miller into retirement & hand the #9 role over to 18-year old Matthew Henvey to anyone who will listen.
Given the abject stubbornness of some managers to invest minutes in young strikers, I decided to see how some of the prospects have been doing this season that have been touted by an age-adjusted model I rolled out two summers ago.
Over the past two years, I have thrown stats from developmental league matches into a fancy model that understands the fact that a 16-year old scoring goals at this level is WAY more impressive than a 20-year old & used that data to rank the best forward prospects in Scottish football.
The top ranked forward in 2017 was Hibs’ Oli Shaw, who has since gone on to be a very good goal scorer whenever Neil Lennon can pry him away from his Snapchat stories. Last summer, the model declared Neil McLaughlin to be the top young forward prospect out there.
He currently is sitting on one goal after 533 minutes of action for Stirling Albion in League Two.
Shit…this is so awkward.
Where was I….oh yes…let’s check in on some of the forwards tabbed by the numbers to be among the better goal scoring prospects in the country. Below you’ll find some players highlighted over the past two summers based on their Age Adjusted scoring rates who are seeing some actual playing time this season, either with their club or out on loan…..or with an all new club all together (& cough, cough….winning player of the month awards).
You may be wondering what GAA represents. Goals Above Average (GAA) takes a forward’s goals per 90 rate & compares it to the average goal output for forwards at that level over the past five seasons. You can see that even though Kevin Nisbet has the third highest goals per 90 for the group above, he ranks fifth in GAA. That’s because historically the average goal rate for forwards in League One is 0.348, while it’s 0.325 in the Premiership & 0.312 in the Championship.
This provides a basic way to compare goal scoring rates for different leagues to begin providing context for how good a forward’s numbers really are. I first introduced this stat when looking at Rangers signing of Alfredo Morelos back in 2017.
Obviously, given that Connor McLennan scored in his scant 72 minutes of action doesn’t actually mean all that much & is not indicative of future success. Back in 2017, he had the third highest age adjusted goal production for players with more than 1,000 minutes of developmental football. He turned 17 that season & spent the next season out on loan with historically bad Brechin City. His goal production dried up, as his Goals Above Average was a putrid -0.14.
The word “dynamic” kept coming up in this recent profile & it appears that he is in the plans this season for Aberdeen - but it’s another Aberdeen forward who clearly deserves more minutes moving forward this season & that’s Bruce Anderson.
Back in 2017, Anderson was just outside the top 25 in the age adjusted rankings & then jumped up into the top 10 as a 19-year old last season. Given that he’s now 20, it makes no sense for him to NOT get first team minutes. Think about it…Alfredo Morelos signed with Rangers as a 20 year old, played over 2,500 first team minutes in the Premiership & it’s safe to say that has been beyond beneficial in his development.
Anderson spent part of last season on loan in League Two with Elgin City. His Goals Above Average at that level was +0.23, which is among the very best rates the league has seen in the past five seasons.
Above you can see the numbers of forwards who have GAA at the various rates & in fact, only nine forwards have had better goal scoring rates since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
Anderson recently signed a three-year deal, which means Aberdeen have until 2021 to cash in. Give him the minutes & if he turns into good goal scorer at this level, he’ll add something that is missing in the current Aberdeen line-up (an actual goal scoring threat). Additionally, since he just turned 20, Aberdeen could have a very valuable asset on their hands when it comes to the transfer market.
But yeah….Stevie May.
Oh boy, that’s not good. Steve May’s best season came as a 19-year old playing for Alloa Athletic in League Two…a level he clearly was too good for. St. Johnstone wasn’t ready to give him regular minutes yet, so they shipped him out to Hamilton, then in the Scottish Championship.
He was 21-years old when he had his breakout season for St. Johnstone in 2013-14 when his goal scoring rate was on par with Kris Boyd last season. His move to England didn’t work out, where he performed at a below average level with Goals Above Average rates of -0.05 & -0.12 (in 2015-17 combined).
A return to the Scottish Premiership hasn’t changed May’s fortunes & now the bigger concern is that his Goals Above Replacement (GAR) suggests that the next guy in line could walk in & probably do better. The concept of being at a replacement level is just as it sounds…his goal scoring output suggests he should be replaced. Basically, GAR is set at the bottom 20% of goal scoring rates for each league in the past five seasons; the idea being the next guy in line (either from the reserves or a lower division) should be able to walk into the lineup & replicate the goal rate if a player’s GAR is flirting with 0.00 or slightly above.
The release of Kevin Nisbet by Partick Thistle this summer was curious. Even though he had struggled to score in his first team cameos beyond his stint as a 17-year old in League Two (he had a GAA of +0.25), there were indicators that he still had a pretty high ceiling as a goal scorer.
In 2016-17, he ranked third in age adjusted goals for players I tracked who played at least 1,000 minutes of developmental league football (he was 11th overall). Last season he dropped to 8th for players with 1,000 minutes or more. But he did average 0.68 goals per 90 in the Developmental League, but given he was 20 years old, the model dinged him for being old (remember a 16-year old scoring goals is more impressive than a 20-year old in the model).
If anything, as he entered his 21-year old season it seemed like Partick would be smart to give him a chance at the Championship level. Instead, they cut him loose & they are currently in danger of joining Nisbet next season in League One.
Nisbet signed with Raith Rovers this summer & has been a sensation. He won the Player of the Month award in October & currently has a Goals Above Average rate of +0.61. It will be nearly impossible to sustain that kind of rate, but if he did it would be the best rate in League One in over five years (last season, Lawrence Shankland established the best rate in recent seasons with a GAA of +0.53).
My favorite part of the video below is when Nisbet is asked what his secret has been this year as he piles up goals.
Nisbet’s response? “It just comes down to game time.”
Nisbet has found a manager who has given him a chance to play (it also helps that Lewis Vaughan has been injured this season). It’s funny what can happen when young forwards get first team minutes . Of course, there is no guarantee that he can score goals at a higher level then League One - but I’m sure there are plenty of Championship forwards currently getting regular minutes that people know can’t score at that level but “they’re older & more reliable.”
Hearts have an intriguing trio of young forwards in their system. Rory Currie, who is currently on loan with East Fife, was third in age adjusted goals back in 2017 (behind Shaw & McLaughlin) & then dropped down to 13th last season. Again, part of that drop was due to the fact he was on on the older side (19) & still managed a respectable 0.49 goals per 90 in the Developmental League.
Now 20-years old, Currie’s getting his first run of first team minutes while on loan in League One & like, Nisbet is scoring at a rate that may flag him as being too good for League One. He’s done most of his scoring as a substitute so that skews his per 90 rate, but ultimately four goals in 350 minutes is an indicator of someone who deserves more opportunities.
Aidan Keena (19) ranked fifth in age adjusted goals last season & is now out on loan for Dunfermline. Like Currie, he’s scoring at an elite rate - albeit in very limited minutes. Last season, he had a Goals Above Average rate of +0.27 playing for Queens Park. That rate in League One is similar to Lawrence Shankland & Lee Erwin’s rates back in 2013-14. If he can get more minutes & score at a similar rate, Hearts may have an interesting decision to make in January on whether to bring him back to the club or not.
Craig Wighton has consistently scored at a high rate at the developmental level but for the most part has failed to translate that potential when given first team minutes.
This summer, I used this chart above to justify why Dundee would be smart to invest first team minutes in a couple of other young forwards (Matthew Henvey &/or Cedwyn Scott ) instead of Wighton. Now that Wighton has signed with Hearts, I present it again to argue that Hearts may want to allocate minutes to other prospects.
Back to Dundee…there still seems to be a reluctance to give their young forward prospects a chance. This season, Matthew Henvey has played two minutes of first team football. Last season, he had the third highest age adjusted goals & scored in his brief cameo of first team football. This season…he’s been given 120 seconds of first team action.
Meanwhile, old & reliable Kenny Miller (who turns 39 in December) has been a regular starter since joining from his weird foray into management with Livingston. Last season, Miller’s GAA for Rangers was -0.10 & this season it’s -0.12. Remember that quote from the beginning of the post…Matt Henvey may end up being bad, but we kinda know that a 38-year old Kenny Miller is….well, bad.
Eighteen year old Zak Rudden is the other name of this list who is the most intriguing. In 2017, as a 16-year old, he ranked 6th in age adjusted goals for players who had at least 1,000 minutes tracked. Last season that same ranking dropped to 10th. In both season his actual goal rates in the developmental league weren’t spectacular (0.39 & 0.28 goals per 90). His young age boosted him up the rankings once the model took into account the fact he was born in 2000. Rangers have sent him out on loan to Falkirk this season & he has made a major step in his development - averaging 0.46 goals per 90. His current Goals Above Average rate of +0.14 is similar to the Championship goal rates of Martin Boyle in 2015-16, Gavin Reilly (2014-15) & goal machine Stephen Dobbie last season.
As I looked back at the lists of age adjusted goal rates from the past two seasons…yes, there were a few players who no longer are playing professional football. So yeah, the model isn’t perfect.
I also published a post using the same model to identify midfield & winger prospects. Of course, simply using goal rates to identify young midfield prospects is a pretty narrow lens to be using. It does help identify players who may be performing at an elite level given their ages in the developmental league but it’s only an entry point & obviously, age-adjusted stats for Key Passes, Expected Assists, etc. would be a much more useful tool. Euan Henderson (18) finished in the top two in both seasons & is now out on loan with Montrose. David Turnbull ranked in the top ten for midfielders with at least 1,000 minutes back in 2017. Lewis Ferguson & Callumn Morrison also made the list back in 2017. Last summer, Morrison moved up to 2nd for players with at least 1,000 minutes & is now earning regular minutes for Hearts. Glenn Middleton finished fifth overall & keeps earning more minutes nearly every time he sees first team action for Rangers.
Ultimately, teams in Scotland would be smart to in-house age adjusted stats (I know that teams in England are doing similar things) & apply the model to more advanced stats then simply goals.
This was written under the influence of The Chrome Cranks, Albert Hammond, Jr., & Miss World.