After Jimmy Nielsen retired on a high note, Sporting Kansas City wasted little time trading for Columbus’ starting No. 1, Andy Gruenebaum. SKC gave up a second-round draft pick to acquire Gruenebaum. Though a second-round pick in MLS is probably not as valuable as it is in, say, the NFL, Sporting has now essentially spent a draft pick on a backup goalkeeper because Vermes named Eric Kronberg the starter for 2014.
“The last two years, [Kronberg’s] been more than ready to try to assume the position,” Vermes said. “The difference is that Jimmy’s been on top of his game.”
Now, I haven’t seen Kronberg play at all because, well, who has? He’s only played 382 minutes over eight seasons—about the equivalent of four full starts. But Vermes’ decision still perplexes me. For instance, Kronberg has played behind Nielsen for some time, and based on 2013 data, Nielsen was not a very good goalkeeper. This from our own Will Reno and this from our shot locations data both suggest that Nielsen was basically “replacement level” this past season. Kronberg is not likely to be much better, if at all, since he was playing behind Nielsen.
Then there’s Gruenebaum. I talked about him on the podcast last week, but here’s the short of it. That same data up there suggests Gruenebaum was one of the better goalkeepers in MLS last season. Both Will and I independently arrived at our statistical ratings, and Will ranked Gruenebaum as the second-best keeper on a per-game basis, while I ranked him as the third-best in the league (among regular starters, by “Goal Ratio”). Nielsen was something like 16th. Kronberg watched Nielsen from the bench.
Obviously, I haven’t been watching Kronberg train as I am not Peter Vermes. But two independent sets of keeper ratings make Gruenebaum sound like a top shelf No. 1, making this a puzzling decision from my, admittedly limited, perspective.