Premier League substitutions: 3. Do subs score more than starters?

Super-subs, the sub effect, pinch hitters and more. Players like Jermain Defoe (23 Premier League goals as a sub), Nwanko Kanu (17), Ole-Gunnar Solksjaer (17) and Javier Hernández (14) have done a lot of work to promote this terminology over the past decade(s). But how certain are those concepts? Are their players that consistently score more goals coming on as a sub? And what is the general tendency; do subs, fitter than starters when they come on, score more goals then starters? Let’s see.

Again, data on substitutions in the last four Premier League seasons is used. Here are the amounts of goals scored per minute (only for the second half), also separated for starters and substitutes:

Goals per minute (3-minute averages)
Goals per minute (3-minute averages)

Nothing very noteworthy to see here, although I was a bit surprised to see that the amount of goals does not significantly go up over the course of the second half. But on our discussion: a higher percentage of all goals is scored by players that have come on as a substitute. Not surprisingly, as later in a game a higher share of players on the pitch will be substitutes. This is visualized in the following graph:

Share of total goals and subs (3-minute average)
Share of total goals and subs (3-minute average)

As you can see again, the share of goals scored by substitutes increases to the end of the match, but after minute 23 of the second half this share is actually lower than the percentage of substitutes on the pitch. An interesting given that in the first 20 minutes after half time the subs outscore the starters relatively speaking.

When graphing the same statistics but only considering strikers (goals from strikers and strikers on the pitch) we see that the conclusion is pretty much the same: the share of goals by strikers follows the share of the share of striker who came on the pitch as substitutions.

Share of total goals and subs (3-minute average) (only strikers)
Share of total goals and subs (3-minute average) (only attackers)
Starters vs substitutes

But when we look at it from another perspective? This is the table of minutes and goals per player and whether he was playing as a starter or a substitute:

Goals for starters and substitutes (2012/13 Premier League until week 8 of the 2016/17 season)
Goals for starters and substitutes (2012/13 Premier League until week 8 of the 2016/17 season)

As is clear from the table: subs score more goals per 90 minutes than starters do. But there are two possible alternative explanations for this: as we saw earlier more goals are scored in the last part of the game and subs tend to play more then. The other is that subs are more likely to be attacking players than starters and subs are thus more likely to score because of their position. Here is the same table but then only considering attackers:

Goals for starters and substitutes (2012/13 Premier League until week 8 of the 2016/17 season) (only attackers!)
Goals for starters and substitutes (2012/13 Premier League until week 8 of the 2016/17 season) (only attackers!)

And indeed, although at first sight subs seem to score more it is not the case and it’s just an underlying effect of other variables (more attackers on the pitch and more goals at the end of matches). Conclusion: it’s a myth! A hoax!

super subs

Remains the question whether super subs exist. Those players that come on and score all the timeHere is a table of the substitutes with the highest goals per 90 minutes rates over the last 4 seasons (and 8 weeks):

Goals per player as a sub (only players with at least 300 minutes as a sub)

And there are actually some players that seem to have an outstanding record playing as a sub. Adam Le Fronde for example outscores himself as a sub 1,19 to 0,25 (goals per 90 minutes). And then there are also some more well-known players as well. Have a look for yourself.

There is also “the other side of the medal”; players that just don’t get that goal when no getting the full 90 minutes waiting for that perfect opportunity. Now sorted for the lowest difference between goals as a sub and goals as a starter:

Worst goal scoring rates for subs compared to being in the starting XI
Worst goal scoring rates for subs compared to being in the starting XI

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