Freakonomics Football

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How many of you out there have read Freakonomics?  Freakonomics is the best selling book by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt.  These guys look at the world with plain and unadulterated objectivity.  So when you add Freakonomics with football…

you get the new world order.  You take a stick of dynamite to the old traditions and orthodoxies.  You blow them up. 

One of the books in the UltimateNYG Book Club is “MoneyBall” by Michael Lewis.  Lewis follows Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, as this one man wrecking crew (well, really two, Beane and his assistant) turns the rules of the Baseball world upside down.  It is nothing short of enlightening and breathtaking to watch a guy destroy hundred year old practices, all the while facing ridicule and contempt. 

People are afraid of change.  They are so afraid of change that anyone advocating it is interpreted to be an interloper, a villain.  The threat from the new must be vanquished by the old.   The ‘old’ guard of General Managers and Scouts rightfully saw a threat to their livelihood.  Statistics?  Computers?  That will never have any real place in this national pastime, or so they thought.  Until Beane proved them wrong.

Well, in July of 2007 we posted our Rules For Winning in the NFL, and amongst those rules was: 

9) Trading down in the draft is good.      
10) Investing all of your resources in one player is (now, more than ever in the era of free agency) a mistake. Eli Manning, Herschel Walker, Ricky Williams… the teams that do the best are usually giving the pick and getting multiple players.
23) Second round draft picks are the best value in the draft. No sizzle, all steak.

To be fair, we did not have objective data.  But there was more than enough anecdotal data to support our point of view.

I wish I had a dollar for every time we were ridiculed and held in contempt (sound familiar?) for suggesting the Giants and our beloved Accorsi could have done anything wrong in the trading up for Eli Manning.  I mean, how can a Giants fan insinuate for even one moment that our GM made a bad move?!  And how could we argue that trading up for Eli Manning was incorrect when he won Super Bowl XLII for us?! 

What we did next was take apart the draft for the last 10 years and assign output returns for every player drafted at every slot in Round 1.  We then compared the returns versus the accepted dogma of the NFL Draft Value Chart.  The comparison was staggering; we simply amended Rule #9 to read that Trading down in the draft is GREAT because the data showed that.

Today we get a little bit more corroboration.  This time it comes from Freakonomics author Steven Levitt himself, who emailed us when we sent him our results..


My colleague at the U of C could not agree with you more:

Recently the Dallas Cowboys hired Ken Kovash to try to more
systematically take advantage of anomalies like this one.  I’m
sure he would be eager
to hear all your ideas: (email address redacted).


Well, I’d sooner give up football than sleep with the enemy and help the Cowboys, so no, I do not think I’ll be aiding their efforts.  But this should be a wakeup call to everyone out there- change waits for no one.  Either you adapt by listening to new possibilities or you stick with the old at your own peril.  That link that Mr. Levitt passed along to us is so good that we posted it on the left side of the blog under a new category called “Research.”   It is a 59 page pdf.  Read it.  The conclusions are there in black and white.  We’ll start off with one:

Thaler and Massey (2005): “Teams overvalue the right to choose.”  (Page 5)

Now where have you heard that one before? 
UltimateNYG (2010): “#2a: General Managers assign too much value to picking higher in the draft and overpay for the right to pick ahead of their peers, given the variability of results from their efforts.” 

To be fair to these guys at U of Chicago and Duke, they were only 5 years ahead of us.  But you have to take it on our word, they were 1 year behind us on that day in April of 2004 when the trade was made.

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