Rate my transfer: Lewis Ferguson to Aberdeen

courtesy of Rob Casey (SNS)

courtesy of Rob Casey (SNS)

written by:  @TheGersReport   

The sample size is pretty small on 18-year old Lewis Ferguson, so any statistical analysis of his output will be far from conclusive.  But, given he has played over 1,000 minutes - we do have some numbers to play with.

He’s 18, six foot, strong & is only going to get better. He plays with an edge to his game, has two good feet & is technically good for one so young.
— Derek McInnes

When McInnes speaks of 'playing with an edge', I initially think of a player who wins a lot of his tackles.  Ferguson wins 52.0% of his tackles, which ranks pretty low (how about 121st overall) - but that rate is also on par with players like James Forrest, John Souttar & is equal to Scott Brown (he plays with an edge, right?)   For the record, Darian MacKinnon has the highest success rate for Hamilton midfielders at 61.1%.

But I'm not really sure what we learn about Ferguson by highlighting a low tackle success rate.  The hope with him is that he develops into an attacking threat from his midfield position.  Any #grit he brings to the pitch will be a bonus.

So let's try looking at his playmaking stats.  He averages 0.42 Key Passes per 90, 0.0 Secondary Shot Assists, & 0.08 Establishing Passes per 90 (all of these stats are explained at the end of this post).

He averages 0.04 Expected Assists per 90 & his xG Chain is the same -- 0.039 per 90.  

Even without context, these numbers feel low.  Let's see how they compare to the rest of the league's midfielders & wingers who have played at least 800 minutes.  All numbers are presented as per 90 minute averages.

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The innermost circle of a radar represents the lowest 5% for all midfielders/wingers....that's where Ferguson's output has mostly resided.

Now, it would be foolish to make any conclusions off of those numbers, but yeah - he really hasn't been all that involved in Hamilton's build up play when he's had the chance to play.  Of course, this is Hamilton - they are the worst offensive team in the Premiership & never found an answer to losing Ali Crawford & Greg Docherty.  So I'm not going to sit here & ding an 18-year old for his poor playmaking stats.

Let's look elsewhere for some hope.  He averages 0.75 successful dribbles per 90...which is equal to Sofien Moussa & Sean Kelly & is slightly better than 35-year old Don Cowie.  The league average for all players is 1.34...so ummm yeah.  

courtesy of David Young (Getty Images)

courtesy of David Young (Getty Images)

I don't usually turn to Expected Goals when evaluating midfielders...but I want to find some positives for this kid.  Given his low shot totals (0.42 unblocked shots per 90) I'm going to narrow this down to his Expected Conversion Rate (xCR).  This is basically his xG per shot, but takes away blocked shots to project what percent of goals that actually make it towards goals that "should" beat the keeper.  Ferguson, who didn't score any goals this season, had an xCR of 0.149. 

Hmmmm....we may have found some warm fuzzies to send Ferguson's way. 

You want some context?  His Expected Conversion Rate is only slightly less than players like James Forrest, Alex Schalk & is actually better than Louis Moult (!) & Eamonn Brophy.  Now, there are SERIOUS sample size warnings going off here...but that's very, very good company.

Lastly, I decided to dig into my Rangers Report archives to see if his name came up in a summer project I did in which I used stats from the Developmental League to identify the best goal scoring prospects in Scottish Football.  Of the midfielders & wingers with at least 1,000 minutes of data, the, then 17-year old, Lewis Ferguson ranked 14th.  That's not bad & really highlights that there may be some real potential here.

Ultimately, this is the kind of signing I wish more teams in Scotland made.  It's a low-risk (he was out-of-contract), high reward investment in a young player who is still a good four years away from entering his prime. 

The Modern Fitba Rating of Aberdeen's signing of Lewis Ferguson?

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Some notes:

  • Tackling & dribbling data comes from InStat Football

  • All other stats come from my season long tracking of Scottish Premiership data. Next season, Modern Football will work off a unified set of stats.

  • The initial installment of Rate my Transfer was on Steven MacLean joining Hearts. I didn't like that signing so much...

  • The post on using Age Adjusted stats to identify goal scoring prospects was published last June. Three of the top prospects all made their debuts with Hearts this season. Euan Henderson, Lewis Moore, & Andy Irving didn't score in their cameos this season but Moore, in particular, had some nice underlying numbers. The top forward prospect was Oli Shaw, who averaged 0.70 goals per 90 for Hibs this season.

  • Key Passes refers to the passes that lead to a shot. Secondary Shot Assists are passes to the player who gets the Key Pass. Establishing Passes are the third shot assist. Expected Assists measures the quality of chances that a player creates based on the xG of the shots that they set-up. Read more here. xG Chain credits each player who had a Key Pass, Secondary Shot Assist, or Establishing Pass as part of the build up to a shot. The value is based on the xG of the shot created. Read more here. This only includes the passes leading up to the shot. I don't include the shooter as part of the xG Chain, given the goal is to credit players for their build up play.