Rate my Transfer: Ryan Hardie to Blackpool

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written by: @TheGersReport

Ryan Hardie has spent each of the past four seasons out on loan in Scotland’s lower leagues - which is Rangers’ way of saying “you’re not in our long term plans.” The 22-year old spent nearly a decade with the club but the time has finally come for him to make a move away in order to take the next step in his career trajectory.

That next step will be with Blackpool in England’s League One, a club that desperately is looking to increase their goal output in 2019-20. Blackpool finished tenth in the league table last season despite only averaging 1.08 goals per match (the fifth lowest goal rate in the league).

So, it is very clear how Hardie will be judged next season. Goals…

That’s the reality whenever a club brings in a new striker but when a team’s attack is as anemic as Blackpool’s, the pressure is on to change that somehow.

Even though Hardie never truly got a foothold in Rangers first team, he has had a great deal of success away from the club during his tour of Scotland’s lower leagues over the past four seasons.

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I most recently discussed Goals Above Average in this post about Eamonn Brophy. It basically compares the goal rates for all forwards in a division over the past five seasons. You can see that in three of his past four seasons, Hardie has been an above average forward wherever he played (including scoring at an elite level as an 18 year old for Raith Rovers & as a 20-year old for Livingston). Even when he made the move to the Premiership last season with Livingston, his goal rate was similar to Louis Moult in 2016-17 & Eamonn Brophy in 2017-18.

All this before entering the prime years of his career.

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Now the biggest challenge for Hardie, besides playing in a new league, will come down to him being able to maintain his scoring rate while also increasing his minutes played. Injuries & fitness issues limited Hardie to 1,172 minutes last season & he has never played more than 2,000 minutes in a season. That’s not unusual for a young player, but the time has come for Hardie to be getting regular minutes, week in & week out.

The bottom line is that it’s difficult to overlook the fact that Hardie scores goals. Again, he scored at a rate similar to Moult’s output the season before his big move south & Brophy (who has since worked his way into the Scotland national team picture).

Let’s look at the underlying numbers from last season to see how repeatable Hardie’s goal rate may be.

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I introduced Projected Goals last summer & it is similar to Expected Goals. It combines a player’s Expected Shot Accuracy (how many shots a player typically gets on target based on the kinds of shots they take) & Expected Shooting Percentage (the rate of shots on target that a player would be expected to score based on the kinds of shots on target he gets).

Hardie had the fourth best Projected Goals per 90 rate last season for players who played more than 1,000 minutes (trailing only Odsonne Edouard, Jermain Defoe, & Alfredo Morelos). Even though his expected finishing rates are actually kind of average, the fact that Hardie averaged 3.42 shots from open play per 90 minutes drives up his Projected Goal rate. Only Morelos averaged more shots from open play last season.

Despite those good projected rates, Hardie underperformed what the numbers suggested his goal rate should have been. Below are the top goal scoring forwards last season based on goals per 90, with a minimum of 1,000 minutes played. The visual compares their actual goal rates to their Projected Goal rates.

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You can see that Hardie was the only one who significantly underperformed his Projected Goal rate. When you split apart the key finishing rates, we can begin to see what dragged down his goal rate.

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created using Datawrapper

Hardie really struggled to get his shots on target last season, with only 31% of his shots testing the keeper. A significant contributor to this low rate was poor shot selection. Of all his shots, 38% of them came from outside the box, which was the sixth highest rate for forwards in the league last season. This explains why his Expected Shot Accuracy was only slightly above the league average for forwards. He did get a good number of high quality shots (more on that in a moment), but he also was pretty wasteful with his shot selection.

There’s also a concern that when he did get his shots on target, he rode an unsustainable Shooting Percentage that fluffed up his goal rate a little bit. Typically, players who have a 40% Shooting Percentage or higher tend to regress the following season & you can that Hardie’s Expected Shooting Percentage supports that trend.

I know, I know…I can feel the eye rolls of exasperation from all of those Blackpool supporters who have stumbled upon this.

Now, remember….Hardie has been an above average goal scorer each season he’s had the chance at first team minutes & has even managed a couple of seasons of being an elite goal scorer in the Scottish Championship.

While we have already highlighted some shot selection issues, what truly drives goal scoring is a player’s ability to get on the end of high percentage shots. I’ve labeled these shots Scoring Chances & I’ve argued in the past that they need to be at the heart of any analytics based scouting. These are kicked shots from the heart of the box & headed/kicked shots from within the six yard box.

Before we look at Hardie’s Scoring Chance numbers, here’s a reminder of WHY these kinds of shots are so important:

In the Scottish Premiership last season:

  • Scoring Chances only accounted for 22% of all the unblocked shots, yet they made-up 50% of the non-penalty goals.

  • The Conversion Rate on Scoring Chances was 29%, the rate on non-Scoring Chances was 8%. 

  • When looking at Shooting Percentages (the rate of shots on target that are goals), the Sh% on Scoring Chances was 50%, on non-Scoring Chances it was 19%.

Ryan Hardie ranked eighth among forwards last season in Scoring Chances per 90 minutes.

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This suggests that Hardie has the ability to get shots from dangerous positions, however the fact that only 26% of his shots are Scoring Chances brings us back to his shot selection issue.

Ultimately, this blog post is another example of how clubs should use numbers to identify entry points for coaches & performance analysts. Ryan Hardie has a good goal scoring record, however the underlying numbers have helped explain why he actually underperformed last season.

The next step for performance analysts at Blacpool is to find examples of when Hardie took the ‘wrong shot’ & what he can be doing off the ball to get into better position for the ‘right shot’. Then coaches can work on improving this part of Hardie’s game.

Ryan Hardie is a young player whose career is at a real turning point here. He has the potential to be a real success at Blackpool…but you can also see that he is going to need the right coaching to maximize that potential.

The Modern Fitba Rating of Blackpool's signing of Ryan Hardie?

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Some notes…

  • Stats are courtesy of data provided by Ortec Sports.

  • This is my second Rate my transfer post of the summer. The first looked at Aberdeen’s signing of Curtis Main. Links to last summer’s series of posts can be found at the end of the Curtis Main one.

  • This was written under the influence of Rebel Drones & The Mystery Girls.