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Found: The Carryover Minutes Percentage Sweet Spot

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A deep dive into a decade’s numbers yields strong evidence that consistent, limited turnover breeds best results in MLS

2014 MLS Cup - New England Revolution v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Author’s note: if the phrase MLS Carryover Minutes Percentage (CMP) doesn’t mean anything to you, you’ll want to go read Carryover Minutes Percentage 101. Advanced readers of this stat are welcome to dive right in to the CMP 202 course reading below.

The 2016 Carryover Minutes Percentages continued to demonstrate that a high CMP is generally a precursor to success. Rather than go over final CMPs for 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 year by year, I’m going to present two color-coded charts. The first chart is all of the CMP data I’ve collected for the years between 2007-2016. The second chart is each team’s Point Per Game (PPG) total during the same period.

Color-coded charts are currently not available in SB Nation’s new article format so please pardon our appearance while corporate HQ works on upgrades to improve your Hot Time In Old Town reading experience.

MLS Carryover Minutes Percentages 2007-2016
*Numbers in bold indicate a trip to the MLS Cup Finals or a Supporters’ Shield Winner
MLS Points Per Game 2007-2016
*Numbers in bold indicate a trip to the MLS Cup Finals or a Supporters’ Shield Winner

The Bad Teams Are Red - The Good Teams Are Blue

If you scan back and forth between the two tables, you will see that many squads with red, low CMPs lineup with having red, low PPGs. Our own Chicago Fire have their colors match up remarkably well during this 10-year period. Toronto FC has historically been the poster child for excessive roster turnover and you can see that has historically lead to historically terrible results. TFC set the bar low for Carryover Minutes and they set the bar for team performance even lower. On the other side, the LA Galaxy have enjoyed consistently superior results in PPG while regularly maintaining high marks in CMPs. Real Salt Lake’s path in both charts is almost all blue too. The CMP theory holds strong...

... Well, Mostly Anyway

2007-2016 MLS AVG CMP & AVG PPG

Team AVG CMP AVG PPG
Team AVG CMP AVG PPG
Real Salt Lake 81.83 1.45
Houston Dynamo 80.65 1.40
FC Dallas 75.06 1.47
Columbus Crew 74.93 1.47
New England Revolution 74.50 1.33
Sporting KC 74.24 1.45
San Jose Earthquakes 73.32 1.31
Seattle Sounders FC 72.17 1.63
Montreal Impact 71.90 1.27
Orlando City SC 70.23 1.21
LA Galaxy 68.97 1.57
Portland Timbers 68.65 1.39
New York City FC 68.22 1.59
Philadelphia Union 67.47 1.23
Chicago Fire 65.63 1.28
Colorado Rapids 65.61 1.31
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 65.07 1.37
New York Red Bulls 63.56 1.48
D.C. United 60.58 1.30
Chivas USA 57.08 1.16
Toronto FC 48.87 1.15

The chart above is the average CMP and average PPG each MLS team has put up between 2007-2016 where applicable years apply. For example, NYCFC’s data only comes from the 2016 season because in 2015, NYCFC couldn’t have any Carryover Minutes. They were an expansion team.

This chart demonstrates that while some clubs were rewarded for their long-term roster consistency, consistency in PPG does not always follow. New England has the 5th highest average CMP however their average PPG is only 1.33 in this time period. That’s bad enough that the Revolution fall in the lower half of the league. Inconsistent CMP teams on average were not always punished for their high turnover either. The New York Red Bulls have the 4th lowest average CMP but their average PPG is 4th highest. Long-term roster inconsistency does not ensure poor point production. Teams can overcome this. Since there’s not much here, let’s move back into the micro and away from the macro.

The bottom of the barrel

We’ll start by reviewing the last of the pack. The teams that could have been featured on KickTV’s Extreme Makeover. Of the 163 MLS rosters that are eligible for review, the squads in the above tables are the MLS squads that had the least amount of minutes come from players that were with the team the previous year.

Tier 7 - 51.30 to 61.20

Tier 7 is not so dramatic. A CMP of 60% means a team returned more than half of its starters and had some familiar subs coming off the bench. Tier 7 even includes the winners of the 2013, 2014, and 2015 Supporters’ Shield. There are worse Tiers to be in.

Tier 8 - 41.59 to 51.16

Like Tier 8. Tier 8 is worse. The only team to see any kind of success in Tier 8 is the 2009 LA Galaxy and they only made it to the MLS Cup Final. Curiously this Tier consists of multiple squads from Toronto FC, the Chicago Fire, D.C. United, the Colorado Rapids, Chivas USA, the New York Red Bulls, LA Galaxy, and cameos by Real Salt Lake and the Montreal Impact. It’s interesting that half of the league hasn’t had a CMP lower than 50% while most of the teams in this tier are multiple offenders of being here. It’s not interesting to see Toronto FC in this Tier because for some reason they have loved roster turnover almost throughout their entire history.

Tier 9 - From T to Not So Shining TFC

They loved it so much, there’s no Tier 9. There’s only the Tier of Toronto FC Shame. Seriously, what the heck went on up north before this past MLS season? How do you get rid of 6-7 starters on a regular basis year after year and not even replace them with players that were on the team the year before? I will read any book that comes out about this shameful era. I will set my DVR to record any 30 for 30 on this subject.

As they must have said many times in Toronto, NEXT!

Still barren, except for the top

Tier Six - 61.68 to 66.48

Much to the delight of the Southend Supporters, Toronto FC finally manged to put together a consistent squad in 2016. A 65.38 CMP is middling for most teams but it’s THEE gold standard for TFC. The team’s reward? Toronto’s first trip to the MLS Cup Final. They lost in the final but it’s TFC’s only moderate success league-wide and it’s Tier 6’s only appearance in the MLS Cup Final or holding the Supporters’ Shield.

Tier Five - 66.49 to 70.23

Tier Five has solo representation as well. It is the first sign of a MLS Cup Finals Winner though, the 2010 Colorado Rapids. That squad clocked in at a 67.51 CMP. This ranks as the lowest MLS Cup winning team in the years surveyed.

Tier Four - 70.35 to 76.28

In Tier Four we start to see more action. The 2007 D.C. United squad won the Supporters’ Shield while boasting a 71.67 CMP. A trio of MLS Cup Finalists, the 2011 Houston Dynamo (72.16), the 2013 squad from Real Salt Lake (76.28), and 2016 FC Dallas (74.50), show up in this tier. MLS Cup Winners the 2014 LA Galaxy (73.22) and the 2016 Seattle Sounders (74.10) round out the teams with honors in Tier Four.

Personal point of privilege, if you look to the lower left corner of the image above, you’ll see the last Chicago Fire that made the playoffs clocking in at a 70.35 CMP in 2012. That was a fun year. We have three Tiers to go and we’ve only encountered 10 of the 30 ‘honored’ squads in MLS between 2007-2016. Can you feel the excitement?

As you look to the right, you’ll notice the Sweet Spot

Tier One - 85.42 to 95.85

In Tier One, we have just one MLS Cup Champion (Real Salt Lake, 2009, 93.97 CMP), just one MLS Cup Finalist (New England Revolution, 2007, 90.31 CMP), and just one Supporters’ Shield Winner (Columbus Crew, 2009, 91.96 CMP). Tier One also includes several RSL teams from over the years. This has increasingly fascinated me as different team management has continued to roll out almost identical teams year after year. When RSL does make changes, they promote from within. They don’t win honors but they do well and they do well with “their guys”.

Tier Two - 80.69 to 85.39

Tier Two features it’s own trio of one MLS Cup Champion (Sporting KC, 2013, 81.56), one MLS Cup Finalist (Houston Dynamo, 2012, 85.04), and one Supporters’ Shield Winner (San Jose Earthquakes, 2012, 81.47). In this tier it is the San Jose Earthquakes I find intriguing. As in, why are they here so often? The team finished with 1.12 PPG in 2011 and 2016 while racking up CMPs over 80.00. The Quakes are not the only team to rack up high CMPs with a low PPG total but it’s odd to see it take place 5 years apart at the same club.

Yes, with one tier to go and a slew of MLS honors hanging in the air, you’ve probably realized I’ve been burying the lede worse than Rachel Maddow. On to the final fun tier.

Tier Three - 76.31 to 80.61

While other tiers had no more than 6 distinctions and some had zero, Tier Three is home to 5 MLS Cup Champions, 4 MLS Cup Finalists, and 3 Supporters’ Shield Winners. If there’s a sweet spot in MLS CMP, the range of 76.31 to 80.61 is somewhere right in the middle of it. The numbers are one thing to look at but consider these facts too:

  1. The only two squads to win both the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield in a single year fall into this range (LA Galaxy, 2011, 79.82 and Columbus Crew, 2008, 77.43)
  2. Eight of the 10 MLS Cup Champions featured a CMP between 73.22 and 81.56
  3. Half of the teams that fall into Tier 3 earned some kind of MLS honor
  4. RSL has consistently enjoyed regular season success while maintaining CMPs in the 90s yet RSL fell outside of the 90s once (76.28 in 2013) and it is the only time they made it back to the MLS Cup Final since 2009

The Full Sweet Spot

The tiers are a helpful way to break down MLS squads into evenly numbered groups but they are also artificial. They are no barriers between the Tiers. The number of Tiers will grow as more MLS teams get added. That or the tiers will change if SB Nation provides a table format that fits my quirky table preferences.

Once we expand outside of the tier concept, we can see the biggest concentration of the honors in question is between the CMPs of 71.67 and 81.56. This 10 point-range accounts for less than 27% of the qualified squads in MLS between 2007-2016 while also accounting for 66% of MLS Cup Finalists and Supporters’ Shield Winners.

Shrinking the field even further, 14 of the 27 MLS squads that finished with a CMP between 73.22 and 80.61 won the Supporters’ Shield or appeared in the MLS Cup Final. Would you like to make your odds of approaching MLS greatness be better than a 50% chance? We might have a solution for you.

What Does This Mean for the 2017 MLS Season and Beyond?

I don’t know much but I do know these numbers mean I’m going to write more about Carryover Minutes Percentages. It’d be one thing if teams that had over 67.00 CMPs won but did so at roughly equally distributed ranges once they were over that threshold. However teams that have 82.00 CMPs or higher are just a little more successful in the post-season and getting top honors in the regular season as those teams that are under 65.00 CMPs.

Do teams become too predictable at a certain point when they are rolling out the same crew? Do teams need fresh legs to arrive in the mid-season and that helps them in November/December? Do teams benefit from having an injured player go down so they acquire a new player and get their old player back just in time for the MLS Playoffs thus diversifying their options and staying more fresh? Is RSL an above average team that needed a big-time DP all these years to put the team over the top and their rosters are having a disproportionately negative effect on the highest CMP squads in MLS because they make up a disproportionately high amount of those high CMP squads?

I don’t know but I want to find out. Something is going on here and I’m intrigued to see when, if ever, the pattern will stop working.