Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Texans thinking behind Mario over Reggie [UPDATED]

Tom has a great post on the Texans first-draft pick of Mario over Reggie, including links to all the relevant articles. I'm no sports guru, but I'll throw in my two cents. I rooted for Vince after the Rose Bowl, but was slowly convinced Reggie Bush plus Carr was the better choice. Now I'm OK with the Mario choice, even in the face of stinging criticism. I don't think sports columnists/analysts really understand the shift to economics-thinking in a salary-cap era - aka Moneyball - exemplified in the NFL by the New England Patriots who've won 3 of the last 5 Super Bowls. They think the draft is all about getting the absolute best player, but it's really about adding the most marginal value to the team for a given salary expenditure.

Vince, Reggie, or Mario would all be expensive as the first pick, but which is the largest value delta: Vince over Carr, Reggie over Domanick Davis, or Mario on defense? You have to remember that picking a player like Vince or Reggie nullifies or substantially reduces the value of existing team assets like Carr or Davis - thus creating a far lower marginal value to the team than the absolute value of the new player. I think the Texan calculus was that Vince wouldn't add that much marginal value over Carr relative to his marginal cost, and Reggie wouldn't add that much marginal value over Davis relative to his marginal cost, but Mario would add a lot of absolute value to the defense for his marginal cost, without displacing any existing high-value assets on defense.

Mega-stars demand outrageous salaries, and the era of putting together a team of those stars ended with the 1990s' Dallas Cowboys. In a salary-cap world, you want a balanced team of above-average players that aren't big enough "names" to make celebrity-level salary demands. Those players sap salary cap and therefore strength from the rest of the team. The ultimate outcome of the Texans decision is unpredictable, but from an economics viewpoint of maximizing expected value at this decision point with available information, they just may have made the right call.

Update: Two more thoughts on why investing big money in defensive talent may make more sense than offensive talent:
  1. Defensive talent is less prone to injuries. This is doubly true when it comes to celebrity offensive talent that defenses key on for that "bit hit". Build an offense around a critical one or two talented offensive players, and then they get injured, the team is in serious trouble.
  2. Defense has the harder job. Offense knows their plan in advance for each play, and must simply execute. Defenses have to read and react instantly in a collective way with very limited communication (especially in a thunderingly loud stadium). I'm not saying talent is not important on offense, just less so than defense - with the possible exception of the quarterback.
Update #2: Sporting News has the inside story on the pick.


At 10:29 PM, April 29, 2006, Blogger Kevin Whited said...

I don't think sports columnists/analysts really understand the shift to economics-thinking in a salary-cap era - aka Moneyball

Maybe not, but it's not clear you've applied those principles very well in this case.

John McClain made an excellent point for the Chronicle earlier -- that the Texans signed Anthony Weaver to play left defensive end in the offseason for quite a bit of cash. That's the natural position for Mario Williams. So the Texans now have two expensive guys whose best position is left defensive end.

They also have a running back who is merely average and who tends to break down over the course of a season, and the guy who might have solved that problem was drafted by the Saints.

And even conceding that somehow the Texans got "value" by taking Williams (i.e. by ignoring the signing of Weaver), that argument doesn't take into account the value of the top overall pick, value that was effectively wasted by taking a player who could have still been obtained, in all likelihood, had the Texans traded down a few spots for extra picks or other considerations.

At 9:52 AM, April 30, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I should know better than to do a sports-related post - I just don't keep up with it in enough detail to make solid arguments. I just wanted to give the team the benefit of the doubt. I don't know how hard it is to switch a guy from left defensive end to right or another position - I imagine it's not as difficult as repurposing a QB or RB. That last point is a very good one though - they probably should have traded for more value out of the first pick.


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