Welcome to Dataspin, a weekly data visualization of whatever the fuck.
Brad Friedel once said that "for a goalkeeper, there is no hiding place." As the last line of defense, the goalie's mistakes are as obvious as they are costly. These players are expected to defy basic survival instincts and try to get in the way of fast-moving projectiles, meaning the position takes a certain kind of mental toughness. Or maybe just a functional insanity.
At the end of February, Everton/U.S.A. keeper Tim Howard broke two bones in his back, which has massive implications in England and the entirety of Europe. Hope Solo, too, is on the shelf after wrist surgery. While our "Big Three" sports are goalie-less, these injuries serve as our regular reminder that goalkeeper is an extremely important, objectively weird, and totally unique position.
Surprisingly few sports worldwide employ a goalie, and the expectations of keepers in these different sports can vary widely. So how can you tell if a keeper is doing well, compared to their peers? To help make reasonable comparisons, we've compiled some recent data on goalkeeper performance in five major sports, to calculate the typical goals allowed average and save percentage of keepers at the highest level of play. Introducing the Deadspin Guide To Goalkeeping:
Typical range (within one standard deviation of the mean), max, and min for goals allowed average and save percentage are calculated based on keeper data per season from the most recently completed 2-3 seasons of the highest level of competition in that sport. A more detailed methodology can be found at the bottom of this post.
Goals allowed average (GAA) refers to the average number of goals a keeper allows per game. These five sports fall neatly into two categories. In lacrosse and water polo, you're going to get scored on a lot, even if you're doing a good job. In ice hockey, field hockey, and soccer, one goal can seriously ding your stats.
These keepers don't face an equal number of shots, so perhaps a fairer measure would be Save Percentage, which measures the percent of shots (on goal) a keeper saves:
Here we see a three-way split, with lacrosse and water polo goalies still the most likely to give up scores, but with ice hockey goaltenders in a stingy league of their own. Let's take a look at these sports one by one:
Soccer keepers see the fewest shots of any of these sports, but they're still expected to save around 70 percent of them, while defending the largest goal area. For obvious reasons this makes the position a total mindfuck, as keepers get very few chances to make up for potentially disastrous mistakes.
Duties Besides Stopping The Ball: Kicking the ball super hard on punts and goal kicks, organizing the defense (like all goalkeepers in any sport, so I won't mention it again).
A Name To Know: Lev Yashin, terrifyingly nicknamed "The Black Spider," is the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d'Or. He also stopped over 150 penalty shots in his career, and was named to the Order of Lenin. Terrifying.
Vocab: Clean Sheet. A shutout, in association football. Joe Hart, arguably England's best keeper, recorded 17 clean sheets in 38 games for Manchester City last season. Here he is doing his thing.
Unlike soccer keepers, hockey goalies see a huge number of shots, and they are expected to stop almost all of them. The margin between a great goalie (2.2 GAA, 93 save percentage) and a terrible one (3.1 GAA, 89 save percentage) is almost brutally thin.
A Name To Know: Dominik Hašek, known as "The Dominator" and "the best player in the game" according to Wayne Gretzky, has the highest career save percentage of all time at 92.23 percent. He is the only goalie to win two NHL MVP awards, and he led the Czech Republic team to its only Olympic gold in 1998. Here are some of his highlights.
Vocab: Five-hole. The space between a goaltender's legs, where particularly embarrassing goals can be scored. Here are some examples.
As the numbers show, it's really hard to stop lacrosse shots, and even a great goaltender can expected to get burned in the double digits from time to time. The size of the ball and speed of the shot is equivalent to ice hockey, but a lacrosse net is 50 percent larger and the ball is much, much easier for attackers to control.
Duties Besides Stopping The Ball: Clearing the ball, adjusting the outhaul to add tension to the main sail.
A Name To Know: Scott Bacigalupo was Princeton's goalie from 1991-1994, receiving three goalie of the year nods (the Ensign C. Markland Kelly, Jr. Award), a player of the year award, and two National Championships. He now works for Merrill Lynch and led them to three straight Wall Street Lacrosse League championships. Here he is kicking ass.
Vocab: Gilman. A punt-style clear where a goalie (or defender) hurls the ball as far down the field as they can. This happens a lot in high school lacrosse.
It's very difficult to corral a field hockey ball and advance it, especially with people trying to stop you. As a result, field hockey goalies—like soccer goalies—face very few shots per game, and are expected to save roughly three in four of the ones they do see.
Duties Besides Stopping The Ball: Kicking the ball, which no other players are allowed to do and requires a special piece of equipment, wearing a bunch of other special padding that makes them look sort of like a Japanese fighting robot.
A Name To Know: Amy Tran Swensen, U.S.A.'s goalie during the 2008 Olympics, where she recorded three shutouts. Swensen was named the Goalkeeper of the Tournament at the 2006 Women's Hockey World Cup, and has collected 144 International caps. Here she is showing off some technique with a couple other goalies.
Vocab: Swatting. A penalty called on the goalkeeper for swatting at the ball with her hands, which is not allowed. It's all about the kicking with these guys.
Compared to the other keepers listed here, water polo goalies protect one of the smallest goals, face the slowest shots, and still have the worst save percentages. Why is this? They're treading water the entire match.
Duties Besides Stopping The Ball: Sparking counterattacks with precision clears, not drowning, leaping out of the water like a goddamn shark with arms. Seriously, water polo is insane.
A Name To Know: Craig Wilson, the U.S.A. goalkeeper during the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympics, were he came away with two silvers and an Olympic record for saves. His aggressive style of play "revolutionized goaltending," according to Sports Illustrated. Here are some highlights.
Vocab: Donut. Sort of an upside-down equivalent of "five-hole," a goal scored by flinging the ball between the keeper's upraised arms. Also known as a Bunny. Here's an example.
Apologies to hurling, Gaelic football, international rules football, netball, bandy, floorball, and handball, all of which also have goalies.
Methodology: Goals allowed and save percentage figures based on keeper data from the following seasons. Soccer: all EPL, La Liga, Serie A, and Bundesliga keepers from the last two completed seasons, min. 50 percent of league games played (n=152). Ice hockey: all NHL goalies from 2009-2011, min. 50 percent of games played (n=177). Lacrosse: all Men's D-I goalies from 2010-2012, Minimum 60 percent of games played (n=159). Field hockey: all Women's D-I goalies from 2009-2011, min. 50 percent of games played (n=150). Water polo: all goalies over the last two Olympics, min. 100 minutes played (n=23). If someone knows a good place where water polo statistics are compiled, let me know.