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Is Manuel Neuer the best shot stopper in the Bundesliga?

Is Manuel Neuer the best shot stopper in the Bundesliga? The answers may surprise you.

Alexander Hassenstein

Priceless. That was the exact word that Uli Hoeness used to describe Manuel Neuer last week. After receiving the weekend off in recognition of his new status as a soon-to-be-MasterCard spokesperson and the rather poor performance his replacement Tom Starke had, it's important to remember all that Manuel Neuer does for this team.

One of the many issues in evaluation goalkeepers is that so much of their job is so unaccountable. Box organization. Wall organization. Reading the through ball and collecting it. These are all events that come with a significant amount of context and are very hard to quantify in terms of overall impact from the players perspective. Manuel Neuer is one of the best passing keepers in the Bundesliga, but at the same time it's extremely difficult to judge his ability on goal kicks or other set pieces with that of others when so much of his work is done with short passing and ball control while other keepers rely on 60 yard goal kicks and the aerial ability of their attacking teammates.

The one area that we can evaluate goalkeepers on is saves. It's the fundamental statistic people point to when talking about how fundamental keeper quality. How often do are saves referenced as a point of how a goalkeeper kept his team in the game while the defense crumbled around him?

To that end, is Manuel Neuer the best shot stopper in the Bundesliga? And if he's not, who is?


The first key piece of evidence that comes out when studying saves in goalkeepers, is that saves per 90 correlates well with both shots per 90 (R2=0.4671) and shots on goal per 90 (R2=0.4362). In this scenario we're studying goalkeepers with in excess of 180 minutes of playing time in the Bundesliga this season but I'm only going to display goalkeepers with 990 minutes or more of playing time as qualified candidates for identifying the best shot stopper. The first is to remove small sample size considerations; the second is a completely arbitrary set point you can quibble with if you want, but recognizes keepers who have started at least half their team's game this season.

From that point we can extrapolate expected saves per 90(ExpSV/90) from a goalkeeper given the number of shots or shots on goal he faces using the line of best fit as a description of the average Bundesliga goalkeeper and using the correlation as a factor for removing the performance of the average Bundesliga keeper from the equation. From there, extrapolating based on playing time to date we can evaluate expected saves(ExpSV) to date as well as extra saves per 90(ExtraSV/90). However since so much of "saves" is dependent on shots faced, a better metric would actually be extra saves per shot faced(ExtraSV/Shot)

Extra Saves (based on Shots)

In this first results section we're using shots per 90 to extrapolate out. While shots on target represents a better reflection of actual chances at saves, the fact that shots is a better predictor of future defensive and offensive success by a landslide compared to shots on target makes it an importance piece for considering future applications of this metric.

Minutes Saves ExpSV/90 ExpSV ExtraSV/90 ExtraSV/Shot(sorted)
Oliver Baumann 1890 104 1.92 40.40 3.02 0.187
Diego Benaglio 1890 69 1.34 28.34 1.93 0.169
Marc-Andre ter Stegen 1890 87 1.73 36.50 2.40 0.164
Kevin Trapp 1877 75 1.56 32.62 2.03 0.153
Manuel Neuer 1800 48 1.07 21.32 1.33 0.146
Roman Weidenfeller 1710 45 1.05 20.03 1.31 0.145
Sven Ulreich 1620 64 1.64 29.46 1.91 0.139
Sebastian Mielitz 1080 53 2.05 24.63 2.36 0.137
Raphael Schaefer 1890 88 1.97 41.37 2.22 0.134
Ron-Robert Zieler 1890 78 1.75 36.74 1.96 0.133
Thomas Kraft 1800 49 1.19 23.76 1.26 0.124
Daniel Davari 1440 67 2.07 33.09 2.11 0.122
Timo Hildebrand 990 36 1.63 17.98 1.63 0.118
Loris Karius 990 39 1.78 19.56 1.76 0.117
Bernd Leno 1890 65 1.61 33.82 1.48 0.109
Koen Casteels 1620 51 1.55 27.87 1.28 0.098
Rene Adler 1530 53 1.78 29.87 1.36 0.091

Manuel Neuer comes in at fifth when looking at saves added per shot faced among such excellent company as Roman Weidenfeller. And it's actually SC Freiburg's Oliver Baumann who comes out the runaway best. The real surprises though are how well rated VfL Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio comes up and how abysmal Leverkusen's highly touted Bernd Leno looks. The fact that Rene Adler comes in dead last is a good litmus test for this analysis as the man between the sticks for Hamburger SV has been absolutely dreadful this season which is putting that in the nicest terms one can manage.

Extra Saves (based on Shots on Target)

Minutes Saves ExpSV/90 ExpSV ExtraSV/90
Oliver Baumann 1890 104 1.77 37.36 3.17 0.335
Marc-Andre ter Stegen 1890 87 1.55 32.73 2.58 0.317
Kevin Trapp 1877 75 1.37 28.72 2.21 0.315
Manuel Neuer 1800 48 0.98 19.61 1.41 0.305
Diego Benaglio 1890 69 1.33 27.93 1.95 0.289
Sebastian Mielitz 1080 53 1.78 21.39 2.63 0.277
Roman Weidenfeller 1710 45 1.02 19.56 1.33 0.270
Raphael Schaefer 1890 88 1.72 36.20 2.46 0.270
Sven Ulreich 1620 64 1.54 27.79 2.01 0.250
Daniel Davari 1440 67 1.80 28.86 2.38 0.248
Ron-Robert Zieler 1890 78 1.63 34.38 2.07 0.241
Thomas Kraft 1800 49 1.14 22.92 1.30 0.231
Timo Hildebrand 990 36 1.53 16.88 1.73 0.217
Bernd Leno 1890 65 1.51 31.73 1.58 0.202
Loris Karius 990 39 1.71 18.86 1.83 0.20
Rene Adler 1530 53 1.58 26.92 1.53 0.185
Koen Casteels 1620 51 1.45 26.13 1.38 0.184

Under the same analytical conditions, this time substituting shots on target for shots, we can see that not a whole lot changes. Manuel Neuer makes a huge jump coming directly in line with Marc Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp. Diego Benaglio drops down quite a few places in line with what you'd expect to be a more realistic interpretation of his skillset. Oliver Baumann still looks like a stud. But most of the other Bundesliga keeper remain basically the same, including poor Bernd Leno. Good news awaits Rene Adler though as he's no longer dead last! He beats out Hoffenheim's Joen Casteels by a whole 1/1000th of a save per shot on target!

So, Manuel Neuer isn't the best shot stopper in the Bundesliga. That honor belongs to Oliver Baumann But he's close and he brings so much more to this Bayern Munich squad that we can't even begin to measure.

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