18 December 2006

Examining the MLS Draft: Part 3 - How Good is DC United At Using the Draft?


In Part 1 of this series, we described our methodology of evaluating draft picks. In Part 2, we took a look at MLS and attempted to establish some benchmarks for draft pick success. Now in Part 3 we'll look at how well (or not) DC United has used its draft picks since 1999.

The DC United Draft Story

Since 1999, DC United has selected 33 players in the MLS College/SuperDrafts. The chart below shows a summary of those picks, and how many games of production they've seen in MLS:

To put this in the graphical comparisons similar to the ones we used in Part 2, I've redone the same graphic but just for DC United (click to enlarge):

Does this tell us anything? To me, the story is that DC is a bit more willing to give its draft picks a chance, and its success rate is slightly higher than the MLS average in the first two rounds in terms of getting multiple seasons from players. DC's overall success rate in later rounds is about par, but if we find a player that makes it at least 10 games, we're more likely to get more than just one season out of them. It looks pretty good. The only down side is that DCU sees a slightly higher than average flame-out rate, especially in the later rounds, for its draft picks. As we found out in Part 2, the average flame out rate (overall) for draft picks is about 45%. DC has a 52% number. Quick summary: DC is less likely to find a player to stick in later rounds, but the ones we find tend to stay around longer. So, three cheers for the DC United draft strategy, right? Well, not so fast.

The Nowak Years (2004 onward)

Using the same benchmarks for the last three drafts find some disturbing trends. Now, I should issue a statistical caution here: We're using a pretty small sample size. Since 2004, United has a total of nine draft picks, so extrapolating from this data is somewhat risky. That being said, preliminary results are not encouraging. Using the "Played at least 10 games" threshold we used in the year-by-year analysis in Part 2, we find that of DC's 9 draft picks, only two have been successful. That's a 22% success rate, using a pretty low standard for success. In case you're wondering, those picks are Freddy Adu (2004 Round 1 Pick, 87 GP), Kevin Ara (2004 Round 3 Pick, 6GP), Josh Gros (2004 Round 4 Pick, 88GP), Nick Van Sicklen (2005 Round 2 Pick, 0 GP), Tim Merritt (2005 Round 4 Pick, 0 GP), Justin Moose (2006 Round 1 Pick, 1 GP), Rod Dyachenko (2006 Round 3 Pick, 9 GP), Jeff Carroll (2006 Round 4 Pick, 2 GP), and Kenny Bertz (2006 Round 4 Pick, 0 GP). Only Adu and Gros have paid off as draft picks to any degree. It may be too early to judge the class of 2006, but the class of 2005 is a complete bust (none of them are currently on the active roster.)

During the same time period, MLS as a league saw an average 10GP success rate of about 49%. Now, statistically it may not yet be correct to say that DCU has faired significantly worse than the league, but the data isn't good, and in a year or two I imagine we will be able to say such a thing. Given that Freddy Adu was, to some degree, a forced draft pick, the data is probably not as good as even we present here. Sure, to some degree the price is being paid (and happily so) for re-acquiring Jamie Moreno in 2004, but regardless, DCU seems to be worse than MLS even with some higher round picks. In fact, DCU's 22% success rate is the second worst in the league since 2004. Another counter argument would be that DCU has been fielding some competitive teams in these years, meaning it is harder to break into the line-up. This case is bolstered a bit by the fact that the San Jose / Houston franchise has the worst success rate at 20%. However, other teams like Dallas (40%) and New England (55%) have also been competitive in these same years, and seen their draft picks get more activity.

A Cautionary Note...

Do you know the man on the right? That's Eric Denton. He was recently acquired by Red Bull New York. He is also DC United's most successful (in terms of Games Played) draft pick since '99. Really. I know, he only played about twenty games in the black and red, and not a one since 2000. That being said, he has survived as a journeyman in Columbus and Colorado racking up 160GP to date. Your initial reaction may be to say "Well, that just shows how useless GP is in evaluating worth." I disagree. DC United picked a guy in the second round who has managed to hang around the league for a long time, contributing to many games. In short, DC picked a guy who's made a number of contributions. Similarly, Jason Moore is #5 on the DC United longevity list, despite playing little for DC. Does that mean he wasn't a real value pick? I doubt it, since we traded him, I think, for the draft pick that led to Ryan Nelsen. Not too bad. While GP may not indicate how much or intense of an impact a player made, it can certainly identify whether an impact was made at all, and if so, for how long.

Immediate Findings

DC United's draft strategy has been decent compared to the MLS Standard, but not brilliant. There are some worrying signs about the more recent drafts, but we'll probably have to wait until a few more years pass to be more definitive. However, most importantly, let's apply these findings to recent events. By trading Brandon Prideaux for two third-round draft picks, all we've really won is more salary cap space. I don't expect that we'll see an every day player come from those draft picks. Sure, DC has occasionally found value, but I'd still say it is about 70% likely that of the two players we get, neither will make a full season's worth of contributions to DC United's first team, either as a starter or off the bench. Now, that concedes there's a shot we might get someone, but I doubt it. Even DC, who can find value in later picks (or even in undrafted players) isn't likely to get much in return other than more cash on hand from the Prideaux deal.

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At 18 December, 2006 15:16, Anonymous Brian said...

You make me feel like I'm not a real fan.


At 18 December, 2006 15:21, Blogger D said...

I would never even think that. ;)

At 18 December, 2006 16:39, Anonymous Eric said...

I always liked Denton. He was great at Santa Clara and I was excited when we drafted him. He scored a classic goal against San Jose in his last season here when he slalomed his way through about 4 SJ defenders and launched a swerving bomb into the upper corner of the net. One of my top 10 United goals.

He had a great chant too: "EricDentonEricDentonEricDenton"

At 18 December, 2006 16:47, Blogger Oscar M. said...

Interestingly, both Eski and Brian Carrol, who were acquired as draft picks before Nowak was head coach, didn't get significant playing time until PN came aboard. I recall Hudson didn't use Eski enough and I believe he didn't play BC at all. So, Peter came in an salvaged those 2 picks.

At 18 December, 2006 16:54, Blogger D said...

Oscar: That's an excellent point. In fact, a lot of interesting players were picked under Rongren/Hudson. Convey, Stephen Armstrong, Lisi, Nelsen, Quaranta, Eskandarian, B. Carroll, Namoff, Justin Mapp... you could almost put together a servicable team out of the picks between 2000-2003. I doubt we'll be able to say the same about 2004-2007 though. Nowak has used many of those players better, but hasn't brought much new to the table.

At 18 December, 2006 18:03, Anonymous Bootsy Collins (Chris M) said...

You compare the Nowak era "at least 10 games played" rate of 22% to a league value for the same period of 49%. I agree completely with you that the numbers are small here and so it's difficult to put too much into any of this, but let's go with it for a second. Was that 49% number derived from all the league's picks? Or was it derived from frequencies which were weighted by the pick/round distribution which Nowak/Kaspar had to work with?

To illustrate what I'm getting at, imagine that Nowak/Kaspar's nine picks had all been fourth round picks. I know they weren't, but imagine that they had been. In that case, I'd bet that comparing to the league average, 22% would have been pretty good. In contrast, if they were all first round picks, 22% would doubtless have been awful. The question is, how does the pick distribution we had (2004: 1/3/4, 2005: 2/4, 2006: 1/3/4/4) compare to the league as a whole? Six of our nine picks were round 3+, and almost half were round 4 picks. Given that, just how bad is 22%? Again, keeping in mind that we have terribly low number statistics here (root(N) errors are pretty large here).

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