Are Sports Drafts Fair?

April 29, 2010

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If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. Drafts ensure an equal distribution of talent.

But is it really true?

The concept behind drafts in the major sports is that the teams with the worst records receive the top picks in the annual draft of amateur players. In baseball and football, this is as simple as assigning the top pick to the team with the worst record. Basketball employs a lottery system. The worst teams receive more ping pong balls in the lottery, but they are not guaranteed the top pick.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, you probably spotted the moral hazard. If you’re having a bad season, it can be a good move to intentionally lose games late in the season in order to get a good pick in the draft.

Let’s take a deeper look at the core assertion that drafts ensure an equal distribution of talent. This isn’t true, of course. The best that the draft process can hope to do is produce parity in terms of win-loss records. Some organizations are simply much better at maximizing talent than others. Throw a bad coach and GM into the mix, and the team will easily under-perform the level you’d expect based on the talent.

There’s another question to be addressed – even if drafts did ensure an equal distribution of talent, should this be a goal of a league? If your team allows stars to leave via free agency, makes bad trades, and makes inefficient use of the players, should the league bail you out by handing you high draft picks each year? This really amounts to a subsidy of the bad teams at the expense of the good ones.

What’s my solution? Throw all the team names in a hat and randomly draw to determine the draft order.

OK, maybe that’s a bit extreme, and could lead to massive apathy for some teams that struggle to improve. However, at the very least, baseball and football should adopt a lottery similar to the NBAs.

The Resin Bag

Like Johnny Goodman, I was a bit surprised to see Tim Tebow taken with the #25 pick in the draft. I’m not as down on Tebow as Johnny. I think he’s a project that could pay dividends down the road. However, you don’t take projects in the first round, particularly with better QBs still available.

I was hoping the Rams would break from conventional thought and nab Texas QB Colt McCoy with the top pick in the 3rd round (McCoy was taken by the Browns later in the 3rd round). It’s true that the Rams have a lot of holes, and that spending two high picks on quarterbacks is a luxury. However, picking a franchise quarterback can be a real crapshoot.  (For the latest proof of this, look in JaMarcus Russell’s direction).  If Sam Bradford fails, the Rams may be back to the drawing board in a few years, using another #1 pick on a quarterback. McCoy would have given the Rams a second roll of he dice for a lower price. Not only that, but he could have pushed Bradford for the job, bringing out the best in both players.  It’s hard for a sense of entitlement to set in when there is another quality young QB gunning for your job.  After years of battling in the Big 12 South, it would have been interesting to see them battling in training camp.

Iowa State basketball coach Greg McDermott left for a new job as the coach at Creighton. McDermott had a very successful run as the coach of UNI, but his Iowa State teams never won more than 15 games, and the patience of the fans was growing a bit thin.

After McDermott left, the ABC station in Ames began to report the news that favorite son Fred Hoiberg was being considered for the vacant Iowa State job. Hoiberg went to Ames High School before becoming one of the most popular players in the history of the program. His nickname was “The Mayor.” My business law professor was he actual mayor of Ames at the time, and he even referred to Hoiberg as “The Mayor”.  Hoiberg doesn’t have any hands-on coaching experience, but he did spend the last few years in the front office of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard signed a 5 year contract extension that pays him $25 million per year.  Seen licking him chops after the announcement was Cardinals first baseball Albert Pujols, who will become a free agent after the 2011 season.  Pujols is a better offensive and defensive player than Howard and could command upwards of $30 million per year.

Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez will finish the month of April with a record of 5-0 and  0.79 ERA.  If those numbers aren’t enough to warrant the National League Pitcher of the Month honors, perhaps his no-hitter will push him over the edge.

NFL Draft

April 20, 2010

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NFL Draft

The 2010 draft will kick off Thursday night, with a new three day format.  In the past, the draft took place on Saturday and Sunday.  This year’s draft will be split across three days.  First round picks will be Thursday night, the next two rounds will be Friday night, and the final four rounds will occur on Saturday.  The NFL is making this move to try to score higher TV ratings for the draft.  I see this as a losing proposition for fans, though.  In the past, the Saturday start to the draft lent itself very nicely to draft parties.  A Thursday night draft doesn’t work quite as well for those who have work the next day.

After releasing longtime quarterback Marc Bulger, the St. Louis Rams are expected to select a quarterback with the top overall pick.  The general consensus is that this year’s crop of quarterbacks doesn’t have the slam-dunk guy who is a near-guaranteed star.  Barring a trade, the Rams are expected to pick Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, whose injury derailed the Sooners’ 2009 season.

Speaking of the Rams, their ownership is still in flux.  When majority owner Georgia Frontiere passed away in 2008, her 60% stake of the team was inherited by her children, Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez.  Now, they have chosen to sell their stake in the team.  They accepted a bid from Illinois businessman Shahid Khan (check out his Wikipedia bio for a great immigrant-makes-good story).  However, minority owner (40%) Walter  Kroenke has an option to match any offer.  At the end of his window to match the offer, Kroenke announced that he would exercise his option.

There’s a wrinkle in the plan, though.  The NFL bans owners from owning franchises (in other sports) in other NFL cities.  Kroenke owns the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Denver Avalanche – and would thus be barred from buying the Rams, unless this rule is waived, or unless he sells the Colorado teams (his 40% stake in the Rams was grandfathered during a 2005 expansion of this cross-ownership rule).  I’m really not a huge fan of the rule, as it doesn’t make much sense to me.  Some people think the Kroenke has a legitimate interest in becoming sole owner of the Rams, whereas others see this as posturing in an effort to get Khan to pay more for Kroenke’s 40%.  Only time will tell.

Another player sure to be drafted high in the NFL draft is Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  Suh is expected to be grabbed in the first three picks.  Suh already has a massive fan base in Husker Nation – but he may have gained a few more on Saturday.  During Nebraska’s spring game, Suh announced his intention to donate $2.6 million to the university.  $2 million will go toward the strength and conditioning program within the athletic department.  $600,000 will go toward endowing a scholarship in the college of engineering – from which he earned his degree.  Suh’s family is yet another story of immigrants living the American dream.  His Jamaican-born mother and Cameroon-born father  met in Oregon in 1982.  There will certainly be some 2010 draftees who get into trouble in the future – but I sincerely doubt that Ndamukong Suh will be one of them.  He’s a great player and an all-around class act.  I say this despite the fact that I hate the University of Nebraska.  It’s hard to root against the kid.

Be Like Ike

On the baseball beat, Ike Davis was called up by the Mets on Monday.  Not coincidentally, players called up on Sunday would have received credit for an entire season of service time; those called up on Monday only get credit for actual time served (I explained how this works when I answered the question of why Stephen Strasburg got sent to the minors).  The effect of delaying Davis’ call-up until now is that he will not become a free agent until after the 2016 season.  Down the coast in Atlanta, 20 year old Jason Heyward broke camp with the Braves and is off to a great start.  However, barring a demotion at some point, this means that Heyward will become a free agent following the 2015 season.  A few weeks in April make a lot of difference down the line.

If you’re a longtime reader of The Soap Boxers, you’re familiar with Davis’ name.  He was one of the players selected with draft picks the Mets received as compensation for losing Tom Glavine to free agency.  Chalk up that exchange as a win for the Mets.

Where There’s a Will

Mike and Mike in the morning were talking with George Will this morning and mentioned that his book Men At Work will be re-released next month.  It’s 20 years old, but one of my favorite baseball books.  Will picks the minds of 80’s baseball icons such as Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. to see what makes them tick.  (Yes, this is the same George Will who writes about politics).

When I was looking up the book in Amazon so that I could link to it, one of the books that popped up in “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought …” was Jim Bouton’s Ball FourBall Four takes an even more interesting look way behind the scenes of baseball.  It’s a great read, but there’s adult language and situations, so it’s not the sort of book to use as a bedtime story for your kids.  (There’s no logical reason to talk about Ball Four today, othe than the Amazon connection.  It’s just a good book 🙂