Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Moneyball V

Posted from Culver City, California at 12:02 pm, March 25th, 2018

In an ongoing effort to drive away readers by combining my love of the worst team in the NFL with my love of math, here’s another post about the upcoming NFL draft.

As I’ve posted previously, I buy in fully to the idea that most NFL teams are bad at valuing draft picks, and that the Browns have done a great job in recent drafts of taking advantage of that quirk of NFL management (note: they’ve done a great job acquiring picks, and a terrible job of using those picks). For example, while one can argue about whether Deshaun Watson should have been the Browns’ choice last year at #12, it’s tough to argue against the value they got for that trade, giving up #12 in 2017 for #25 in 2017 and #4 this year.

In my predictions for 2018 I suggested that the Browns would take a quarterback #1, and then take advantage of teams willing to overpay to move up by trading away the #4 pick. The Jets recently traded up to the #3 position, heavily overpaying for that privilege according to the traditional draft value chart:

IND trades NYJ trades Result
#3 (2200 points) #6 (1600 points)
#37 (530 points)
#49 (410 points)
2018 2nd round pick (270-580)
2200 points for 2810-3120 points
(28-42% premium)

Assuming the Browns would get a similar premium for the #4 pick (worth 1800 points), the following are all trades that I suspect will be viable in this year’s draft based on the fact that there are four quarterbacks being discussed as top picks, and all of the following teams need QBs; were I the Browns’ GM, I would accept any of these offers without hesitation:

Trading partner Picks traded Result
Denver #5 (1700 points)
#71 (235 points)
1800 points for 1935 points
(8% premium)
Miami #11 (1250 points)
#73 (225 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2065-4475 points
(15-149% premium)
Buffalo #12 (1200 points)
#65 (265 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2055-4465 points
(14-148% premium)
Arizona #15 (1050 points)
#47 (430 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2070-4480 points
(15-149% premium)

Obviously making mathematically-smart trades won’t matter if the Browns don’t do a better job of actually drafting players that have success in the NFL, and thus the Browns clearly need to improve their talent evaluation. That said, statistically they’ve made all the right moves when it comes to maximizing their draft capital, and I hope that they don’t forgo that success this year when teams offer to trade a king’s ransom for whoever the fourth-best quarterback ends up being.

Moneyball IV

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:19 pm, May 8th, 2017

I promise that this will be the last post about the Browns and Moneyball for a while, but with the 2017 NFL Draft now complete (quick summary: from a math perspective, awesome draft by the Browns) I wanted to revisit the 2016 trade of the #2 pick. I get that some people believe that Carson Wentz is going to be the second coming of Peyton Manning, but statistically he seems pretty average so far, and even if he turns out to be above-average, it’s really, really tough to argue with the numbers when you look at what the Browns have gotten for trading that draft pick. Moneyball now and forever.

Browns trade: Browns receive:
  • 2016 First Round pick (#2): Carson Wentz
  • 2016 Fifth Round Pick (#141): Zack Sanchez2
  • 2016 Sixth Round pick (#176) Andy Janovich1
  • 2017 Fourth Round pick (#139): Jehu Chesson
  • 2016 First Round pick (#15): Corey Coleman1
  • 2016 Third Round pick (#76): Shon Coleman1
  • 2016 Third Round pick (#93): Cody Kessler2
  • 2016 Fourth Round pick (#114): Ricardo Louis3
  • 2016 Fourth-round pick (#129): Derrick Kindred2
  • 2016 Fifth Round pick (#154): Jordan Payton3
  • 2016 Fifth-round pick (#168): Spencer Drango2
  • 2017 First Round pick (#25): Jabrill Peppers4
  • 2017 Second Round pick (#52): Deshone Kizer1
  • 2018 First Round pick: TBD4
  • 2018 Second Round pick: TBD

1 via trade with Tennessee for 2016 First Round Pick (#8) & 2016 Sixth Round Pick (#176)
2 via trade with Carolina for 2016 Third Round Pick (#77) & 2016 Fifth Round Pick (#141)
3 via trade with Oakland for 2016 Fourth Round pick (#100)
4 via trade with Houston for 2017 First Round pick (#12)

Ryan Holliday, General Manager

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 7:04 pm, February 20th, 2017

I’m pretty sure that writing a post that combines statistical analysis and the Cleveland Browns is a surefire way to drive away any remaining readers of this journal, but math and the NFL’s worst team are two of my favorite subjects, so against better judgement I’m going to indulge myself.

Browns fans apparently hate the idea of trading away the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, but here’s why I’d do it anyhow (see also Moneyball and Moneyball 2 for my past ramblings on this subject). The draft value chart says the #1 pick is worth 3000 points, a number that is almost certainly more than it should be, which means that the Browns should be able to make a trade similar to any of the deals in the table below. Note that in recent years teams have given up more than 3000 points, so the first pick may even be overvalued beyond what is shown below. The table shows the #1 pick from each of the last four drafts, and the players who were picked at positions equal to the value of that #1 pick. Pro-Bowlers are marked with an asterisk(*), and I’ve highlighted trades that I judged as “good” in green, “great” in bold green, “poor” in red, and “terrible” in bold red.

Trade #1 pick (3000 points) for:
  #2 (2600)
#50 (400)
#3 (2200)
#21 (800)
#4 (1800)
#12 (1200)
#5 (1700)
#10 (1300)
#6 (1600)
#8 (1400)
2016 Draft: #1 pick – Jared Goff
  Carson Wentz (QB)
Nick Martin (C)
Joey Bosa (DE)
Will Fuller (WR)
*Ezekial Elliott (RB)
Sheldon Rankins (DT)
Jalen Ramsey (CB)
Eli Apple (CB)
Ronnie Stanley (OT)
Jack Conklin (OT)
2015 Draft: #1 pick – *Jameis Winston
  Marcus Mariota (QB)
Ronald Darby (CB)
Dante Fowler (DE)
Cedric Ogbuehi (OT)
*Amari Cooper (WR)
Danny Shelton (DT)
*Brandon Scherff (OT)
*Todd Gurley (RB)
*Leonard Williams (DE)
*Vic Beasley (OLB)
2014 Draft: #1 pick – *Jadeveon Clowney
  Greg Robinson (OT)
Jeremiah Attaochu (LB)
Blake Bortles (QB)
*Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S)
Sammy Watkins (WR)
*Odell Beckham, Jr (WR)
*Khalil Mack (LB)
Eric Ebron (TE)
Jake Matthews (OT)
Justin Gilbert (CB)
2013 Draft: #1 pick – Eric Fisher
  Luke Joeckel (OT)
Jonathan Bostic (LB)
Dion Jordan (DE)
*Tyler Eifert (TE)
Lane Johnson (OT)
D. J. Hayden (CB)
*Ezekiel Ansah (DT)
Chance Warmack (G)
Barkevious Mingo (DE)
Tavon Austin (WR)

I realize that teams rarely possess two high first-round draft picks, and thus that the table above is purely theoretical, but it gives an idea of how out-of-whack the valuation on the top pick actually is. In the past four drafts, the results of making the hypothetical trade would have been:

  • great: 3 times
  • good: 5 times
  • about even: 9 times
  • poor: 0 times
  • terrible: 3 times

There are exceptions – in 2012 everyone in the world agreed that it would be insane to pass on Andrew Luck – but this draft doesn’t have a can’t-miss quarterback, so if someone offered a deal I’d look at the numbers above and almost certainly make the trade, rather than risking everything on the hope that Myles Garrett won’t be the next Courtney Brown.

Moneyball 2

Posted from Culver City, California at 4:08 pm, April 30th, 2016

Even though this topic may only be of interest to me, here’s the follow-up now that the 2016 NFL Draft is complete and the Browns have actually traded away their #2 pick. In a series of trades, they first gave the #2 pick to Philadelphia for a king’s ransom of picks that included the #8 pick, then traded that #8 pick to Tennessee for another bounty. Short summary: math won.

Pick HOFer Quality Starter Starter Occasional Starter Substitute Bench Never played
Browns trade:
#2 (1st) 0.17 0 0.67 0.17 0 0 0
2017 4th 0 0 0.05 0.20 0.45 0.05 0.25
#176 (6th) 0 0 0.04 0.04 0.22 0.39 0.30
Total 0.17 0 0.76 0.41 0.67 0.44 0.55
Browns receive:
#15 (1st) 0 0 0.50 0.50 0 0 0
2017 1st 0 0 0.50 0.50 0 0 0
2017 2nd 0 0.25 0.25 0.42 0.08 0 0
2018 2nd 0 0.25 0.25 0.42 0.08 0 0
#76 (3rd) 0 0 0.07 0.27 0.53 0.07 0.07
#77 (3rd) 0 0 0.07 0.27 0.53 0.07 0.07
#100 (4th) 0 0 0.05 0.20 0.45 0.05 0.25
Total 0 0.50 1.69 2.58 1.67 0.19 0.39

The result above is far better than in the example trade with San Francisco that I previously analyzed, and according to their historical drafting results should give the team two good players, another 2-3 decent players, and 1-2 guys who can occasionally contribute. Given the fact that the football gods hate the Browns, the two players drafted by Philadelphia (Carson Wentz) and Tennessee (Jack Conklin) will probably go on to become the greatest ever at their positions, but until that happens the statistical analysis says this was a really impressive result for the new Moneyball regime.

In addition to the two big trades, the Browns made three smaller trades, and overall turned ten draft picks into sixteen. Obviously quantity does not equal quality, but in this case the math says they got good value and, while they aren’t going to be very competitive for at least a couple more years, there might actually be some reason for optimism in Cleveland again.


Posted from Culver City, California at 2:04 pm, April 16th, 2016

The Browns recently hired Paul DePodesta, whose story of bringing an analytical approach to baseball was chronicled in the book/movie Moneyball. Seeing as this hiring provides an opportunity to combine two of my favorite things – the Browns and math – I decided to make my own attempt to play football Moneyball. Since the NFL draft is the most obvious place where statistics can be applied, and since I’m a huge dork, I put together a spreadsheet of all Browns draft picks from 1999-2014, and used a formula based on career starts, Pro Bowl appearances, and Pro Football Reference’s “career value” rating to put each player on a seven point scale from “Hall of Famer” to “Never played”:

Pick HOFer Quality Starter Starter Occasional Starter Substitute Bench Never played
#1-5 (1st) 1 (17%) 0 4 (67%) 1 (17%) 0 0 0
#6-10 (1st) 0 1 (25%) 1 (25%) 1 (25%) 1 (25%) 0 0
#11-20 (1st) 0 0 1 (50%) 1 (50%) 0 0 0
#21-31 (1st) 0 1 (17%) 1 (17%) 2 (34%) 2 (34%) 0 0
#32-46 (2nd) 0 3 (25%) 3 (25%) 5 (42%) 1 (8%) 0 0
#47-61 (2nd) 0 0 1 (12%) 3 (38%) 3 (38%) 1 (12%) 0
Round 3 0 0 1 (7%) 4 (27%) 8 (53%) 1 (7%) 1 (7%)
Round 4 0 0 1 (5%) 4 (20%) 9 (45%) 1 (5%) 5 (25%)
Round 5 0 0 0 4 (25%) 5 (31%) 4 (25%) 3 (19%)
Round 6 0 0 1 (4%) 1 (4%) 5 (22%) 9 (39%) 7 (30%)
Round 7 0 0 0 0 7 (39%) 5 (28%) 6 (33%)

Teams who hold a draft pick in the top five value that draft pick as if it is certain to produce a Hall of Famer, but of the six top-five draft choices the Browns have made, Joe Thomas was the lone great pick, four of the others never made a single Pro Bowl, and the sixth (Braylon Edwards) made one Pro Bowl in his only good season and was traded after three years. Drafting in a position where they expected to find great players, the Browns instead came away disappointed five out of six times.

Since the Browns have done so poorly drafting in the top five, trading back needs to be a consideration. When considering whether to make a trade during the draft, the accepted way to “value” a draft pick in the NFL is the draft value chart. An alternate approach is to use analytics to determine the expected value of a trade, and that approach is more likely than the draft value chart to support trading back to get more picks, stating that the draft value chart over-values high picks. With the huge caveat that my table above is admittedly too small of a sample size to be fully accurate – it should include the draft history for all NFL teams, not just the Browns – here’s my attempt to use math to show why the Browns should listen to analytics and trade back.

The Browns have the #2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, which the draft value chart says is worth 2600 points. Theoretically the Browns could trade with San Francisco and get San Francisco’s first round pick (#7 – 1400 points), second round pick (#37 – 530 points), third round pick (#68 – 250 points), and second round pick in the 2017 draft. Based on what Tennessee just got from the LA Rams the haul would probably be even higher, but for the sake of argument let’s assume that’s the deal. Using the Browns draft history table above, and assuming San Francisco’s 2017 second round pick is in the top half of the second round, here’s what the odds of each of those picks panning out look like, based on past drafting history:

Pick HOFer Quality Starter Starter Occasional Starter Substitute Bench Never played
Browns trade:
#2 0.17 0 0.67 0.17 0 0 0
San Francisco trades:
#7 0 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25 0 0
#37 0 0.25 0.25 0.42 0.08 0 0
#68 0 0 0.07 0.27 0.53 0.07 0.07
2017 2nd 0 0.25 0.25 0.42 0.08 0 0
Total 0 0.75 0.82 1.36 0.94 0.07 0.07

By giving up one player who the odds say is most likely to end up as a regular starter the Browns get four players and have excellent odds that one of them is a future Pro Bowler while another turns into a regular starter. The math seems clear: you make that trade.

With all of the above said, it’s the Browns, so expect to see them throw analytics out the window on draft night and pick another quarterback that they can then cut after 3-4 mediocre years.