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How good is Bart?

The numbers don’t fully convey the Polish custodian’s effectiveness.

Juventus v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Soccer is a sport that often defies statistical analysis because it’s so fluid. Sports like baseball, which have discrete actions independent of other actors, are relatively easy to analyze. Same for American football. Basketball is a bit trickier because it’s also continuous, like soccer, but because there are only 10 players on the court at any given moment and the scoring is essentially non-stop, there are a lot more things to look at. Soccer, by contrast, is only just catching up in terms of stats.

Nowhere is this more apparent than than with goalkeepers. It’s famously difficult to analyze them via the numbers because, more than any other position, context matters. A goalkeeper who leads the league in saves may look great on paper because the defense allows opponents to shoot a lot, but if that goalie lets in a howler every other game, they’re not doing well. Similarly, a player with a high save percentage may be flattered by a defense that limits good opportunities and reduces opponents to taking hopeful shots from long range.

That makes it tough to appreciate Bartłomiej Drągowski if you don’t watch him every week. His 1.5 goals against per 90 is 11th in the league, just ahead of AS Roma’s mildly disastrous Antonio Mirante and newly-promoted Benevento’s Lorenzo Montipò. He’s 10th in save percentage, sandwiched between Sampdoria’s Emil Audero and Parma’s Luigi Sepe.

The more advanced stats are a bit kinder to him, but not too much. Per Fbref, his post shot expected goals per 90 (which tallies how likely he is to stop any given shot he faces in comparison to every other goalkeeper in the league compared to how many goals he’s actually conceded) is 0.05, which ranks 5th in Serie A. Extrapolated over an entire season, it means that, with Bart between the sticks, Fiorentina will concede 2 fewer goals this season than the numbers would otherwise predict. That may not sound like much, but for a team that’s spent much of the year scrapping against relegation, those two goals could mean 6 points.

Again per Fbref, he’s been fine with the ball at his feet. He averages the 3rd-longest passing distance for a goalkeeper in the league, which indicates a certain old-fashioned desire to get the ball out of the defensive third in open play, although his average passing distance from goal kicks is just 12th, indicating Fiorentina’s desire to build from dead balls at the back. He’s only 14th in percentage of crosses claimed at 5.5% and isn’t great coming off his line. He isn’t a sweeper keeper either, averaging just 0.43 defensive actions outside his area per 90 minutes

With apologies to StatsBomb and others, I don’ think that anyone’s developed a good, public-facing statistical system to determine a goalkeeper’s worth, although I’m sure that they exist for teams to buy. In the absence of such comprehensive takes, it’s not too hard to reach the conclusion that Drągowski is one of Serie A’s best goalkeepers just by watching him every week. I count 11 saves he’s made this year that I wouldn’t expect anyone to make:

  • at Inter Milan: point blank kick save on Romelu Lukaku
  • vs Sampdoria: point blank save on Gastón Ramírez’ header against Sampdoria
  • vs Udinese: 1-v-1 stop on Kevin Lasagna, point blank save on Stefano Okaka header from free kick
  • at Roma: save on Edin Dżeko’s header off a corner, double save on Rick Karsdorp and Henrikh Mkhitaryan
  • at AC Milan: PK save on Franck Kessié
  • at Atalanta: point blank save on Duván Zapata header from corner, tipped over Christian Romero’s header from a corner, close range stop on another Zapata header
  • vs Hellas Verona: 1-v-1 save on Darko Lazović.

Not all of those helped Fiorentina take all three points. Some of them were in blowout losses and his efforts merely kept the scoreline sort of respectable. Per my very advanced statistics, though, that means that Bart’s making 0.76 saves from which I expected a goal per game. I haven’t watched every other team in Serie A enough to know if their goalkeepers do that, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Viola goalkeeper make this many really good saves in a season.

More than that, he barely makes mistakes. After having Marco Sportiello and Alban Lafont in goal for the past several seasons, it’s been such a change having a steadier presence back there. I can only count maybe 5 genuine mistakes he’s made this year, and only a couple of them have resulted in goals. Again, I haven’t watched every other goalkeeper in Italy enough this year to make a judgement here, but I’d venture that very few of them avoid catastrophe as well as the Pole.

Is he perfect? No, of course not. He occasionally struggles to track shots from distance. He can be a bit slow off his line. He’s not immune from the odd clanger (although his ability to rescue himself from peril of his own making is pretty amazing too). All things considered, though, I think it’s safe to say that Bartłomiej Drągowski is the best goalkeeper Fiorentina have had since Sebastien Frey. Artur Boruc, Neto, Ciprian Tătărușanu, Sportiello, and Lafont are all excellent players with impressive careers, but Bart’s been the best of the bunch.

It’s not always easy to appreciate a goalie. After all, soccer is all about scoring goals, and the player between the posts is tasked with preventing the purpose of the game from occurring. Goalkeepers are a famously odd tribe that defies explanation by philosophers or mathematicians, but let’s all agree that our Bart is a star and deserves all of our love and adulation.