Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What are NFL draft picks really worth (and do they help teams win)?

One of the biggest moments in the history of the NFL Draft took place almost as far from it as possible. On October 12, 1989 – 171 days after Everett Ross became Mr. Irrelevant as the last pick of the 1989 Draft and 192 days before Jeff George kicked off the 1990 edition – the Dallas Cowboys sent Herschel Walker and a handful of picks (two 3rd rounders, a 5th and a 10th) to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for five players, three 1st round picks, three 2nd round picks, a 3rd round pick and a 6th round pick. Dallas’ multiple 1990s Super Bowl runs were powered by players such as Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper and Darren Woodson who either came directly from the picks or as a result of further trades involving those picks.

Mike McCoy, who owned approximately 5% of the team, had been a business partner of majority owner Jerry Jones in the oil business. The team was looking for a way to systematically value their cache of draft picks, and McCoy was the one to do it. According to a 2004 Dallas Morning News article, McCoy spent two days graphing the actual trades that had taken place over the past four years. He found that the trades appeared to fit a trendline overlaid on the graph. This trendline became the basis for the Draft Value Chart[1].

The Chart provides a value for each pick in the form of unitless “points” assigned decreasing from 3000 for the number one overall to, depending on which source you consult, 0.4 points for the 256th pick or 2 points for the 224th pick[2]. The decrease in point values is extremely steep at the top of the draft with the value dropping by 50% to the 7th pick and by another 50% to the 24th pick, leaving it only 25% as valuable as the number one selection for trade purposes.

Since the early 1990s the Draft Value Chart has made its way through the NFL and become the basis for draft pick value on nearly every team. The assistant coaches and assorted front office employees from the Cowboys took it around the league when they left the team. Research conducted by Cade Massey and Richard Thaler plotting actual trades found that prices aligned closely to The Chart with the deviation from the chart dropping significantly and trade volume increasing in the years after it became well known[3]. In other words, once the chart became widely accepted teams did not vary from the assigned values.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Tigers never had a chance (World Series 2012)

There are very few things that get my wife interested in sports. The only truly reliable trick is to have a Detroit team do well. Imagine my luck, then, that the Detroit Tigers entered the World Series as heavy favorites among the various experts. Before parades down Woodward became a realistic option, the San Francisco Giants showed up with all the momentum that comes from winning a decisive game 7 and swept Detroit.

Momentum, no wait, rest!

Once it became apparent that the Giants would be taking the series – somewhere late in game 3 – the notion that San Francisco had momentum and Detroit was rusty started to seep into coverage. Nevermind that the narrative before the series was that Detroit’s opportunity to get rested and get Justin Verlander lined up to pitch games 1 and 5 (Ha! Game 5!) would give the Tigers two guaranteed wins with favorable matchups for the rest of the series.

So which is it? Do teams benefit from a long layoff before the World Series to get their rotation set and heal nagging injuries from the long season and postseason? Alternatively, do they build momentum and roll from a dramatic seven game series win to a sweep of the World Series (I mean generally, obviously that is what happened this time)?