Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Two new "Moneyball"-type possibilities

I'm usually doubtful that significant "Moneyball"-type inefficiencies still exist in sports. But, recently, two possibilities came up that got me wondering.

First, in a discussion about baseball player aging, commenter Guy suggested that there are lots of good young players kept in the minors when they're good enough to be playing full-time in the majors. He mentions Wade Boggs, whom the Red Sox held back in the early 80s in favor of Carney Lansford.

It's certainly a possibility, especially when you consider the Jeremy Lin story. Of course, baseball and hockey are different from basketball and football, because they have minor leagues in which players get to show their stuff. But, still.

Second, and even bigger, is something Gabriel Desjardins discovered.

For the past several seasons, the NHL has been keeping track of the player who draws a penalty -- that is, the victim who was fouled. Desjardins grabbed the information and tallied the numbers.

Most of the players near the top of the list are who you would expect -- Crosby, Ovechkin, and so on. But the runaway leader is Dustin Brown, of the Los Angeles Kings.

Over the past seven seasons, Brown drew 380 opposition penalties. Ovechkin was second, with 255; Ryan Smyth was twentieth, at 181.

That means the difference between first and second place was almost twice the difference between second and twentieth place. Dustin Brown is exceptionally good at getting his team a power play.

Desjardins writes,

"Incidentally, 380 non-coincidental penalties is worth roughly $33M in 2012 dollars relative to the league average, and quite a bit more relative to replacement level. ... Dustin Brown has made roughly $15M so far in his career, making him one of the biggest deals in the entire league."

Wow. If you had tried to convince me that you could find an official NHL stat that would uncover $33 million worth of hidden value, I wouldn't have believed you. But there it is.

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At Wednesday, February 15, 2012 9:32:00 AM, Anonymous Alex said...

A minor point: the NBA has the Developmental League, which serves as an official minor league (college basketball serving as an unofficial minor league). Lin played pretty well in the D-League.

At Wednesday, February 15, 2012 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Right ... thanks, Alex.

At Wednesday, February 15, 2012 6:06:00 PM, Anonymous MGL said...

Wow. If you had tried to convince me that you could find an official NHL stat that would uncover $33 million worth of hidden value, I wouldn't have believed you. But there it is.

Come on, Phil. There is not $33 mil of hidden value. The hidden value is in the true talent component of his extra penalties against.

First we have to determine the luck/skill proportion of those numbers, if there is any. Then we have to regress this guy's numbers. The regressed amount, certainly a lot less than the 380 penalties drawn, over and above league average, is the "hidden value" amount.


At Wednesday, February 15, 2012 6:26:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...


Right, of course. Gotta regress to the mean to get the hidden value of the talent. I should have mentioned that.

$33 million is the value of the *penalties*, but if the extra calls were all luck (they weren't, but just say), the hidden talent value would be $0.

At Thursday, February 16, 2012 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Actually, you know what? I'm not sure you have to regress Brown to the mean at all. Reasoning: he's so huge an outlier that the probability that he got there mostly by luck is very small.

Therefore, we can't assume he comes from the "regular" talent distribution, and so we have no reason to believe he was lucky.

Correct me if I'm wrong here. If you convince me that the probability of (say) Ovechkin drawing as many penalties as Brown over 7 years is as high as 1%, I might reconsider.


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