18 December 2006

Examining the MLS Draft: Part 2 - MLS Draft Success Rates

Notes: Part 1 of this analysis (boring descriptive methodology stuff) can be found here. Part 3, in which DC United is examined closely, will be posted later.

MLS Draft Picks: Summary Data

Below is a quick summary showing the various games played statistics, by draft round, for all MLS college/Superdrafts since 1999. There's some interesting analysis to be had in here, but below are some raw numbers as a basis

The 1999 college draft only had three rounds, that's why you see a drop in the overall number of picks for that round. Additionally, in that year, the LA Galaxy chose to pass on their third round pick.

What I find useful about the chart above is that it gives you some quick eyeball measures for how successful a draft pick is overall, and the relative values between rounds. First, note the high rate of failure overall: one-third of the picks will never play a game, and nearly half will play less then ten games. Still, that shouldn't be surprising, as I imagine most drafts in US professional sports show a similar or higher attrition rate. However, the value of a pick does appear to be somewhat dependent on the round in which it occurs. The chart below shows the relative success rates, by percentage, of draft picks based on each round:

Note that 56% of first round picks see at least around 2 seasons of work, and 76% get at least one season. The second round also sees some contribution, with about 42% of the picks getting at least one season, and 65% seeing at least a portion of a season. Rounds 3 and 4 are pretty much identical: A small portion of players (less than 20%) making contributions over multiple seasons, while the vast majority of players (about 80%) never quite get a full season's worth of work.

A phrase that is thrown around a great deal is a "bust". Based on this data, I think it is fair to say that any draft pick that doesn't see at least 10 games can not be considered a decent draft pick. I like this number since it allows us to look at drafts across time (Since it can be accomplished in a single season), and determine how well the different draft classes. The graphic below, based on this fairly low definition of success, shows the success rate over time in all rounds.

2006's data may be artificially low since draft picks haven't really had time to get acclimated to the game yet, but I'd say that it's fair to say that 55% of a team's draft picks should see at least 10 games. Note that at least 45% will see less than that, but that number seems a fair baseline across time.


The key finding here is that draft picks will see an incredibly high attrition rate. Just over a third will see at least a season's worth of work. That being said, you should be able to better in the first and second rounds. The third and fourth rounds are pretty much a crap shoot and interchangeable. Still, I think we have enough to set expectations, by round, for your picks. First round picks should last you a few years. Second round picks around one year. If you can get anything out of third and fourth round picks, you're ahead of the game. In my mind, a first round pick is about three times as valuable as a second round pick, and a second round pick about twice as valuable as a third or fourth round pick (this makes a first round pick about six times as valuable as a third or fourth round pick). Third and fourth round picks are pretty much interchangeable. That being said, even among first round picks, about one-quarter won't pay off into a full season's worth of work.

Given that each team will have about four draft picks a year, it seems clear to me that rebuilding through the draft is a difficult proposition. I also want to stress that our baseline for success is fairly low: Just making it into games. If you're looking for star players around which to build a team, you probably won't find it easy going in the draft.

Next Post

In our next installment, we'll look at how well DC uses its draft picks in comparison to the rest of the league. Are the success rates comparable? Can DC find value in lower rounds of the draft, just as they find value in unsigned players like Boswell and Perkins? Or does DC not fare as well as other teams? Plus: The shocking truth behind DC's longest tenured draft pick since 1999. Hint - He's been in the MLS News a recently.

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At 18 December, 2006 13:37, Blogger Doug said...

How about publishing that fuzzy spreadsheet more cleanly via google spreadsheets? See this FAQ entry.

At 18 December, 2006 13:54, Blogger D said...

Not a bad idea Doug. I'll see what I can do.

At 18 December, 2006 14:32, Blogger D said...

Hey, that's pretty snazzy.

At 18 December, 2006 17:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There seems to me to be a slight methodological issue, which you hint at in your comments about the last plot. The draft picks from the last couple of years have not been available as long as the draft picks from several years ago, and therefore haven't had as long a time to accumulate their games played. Put another way, the best players from last year's draft will still only have at most one season's worth of games played at this point, while crappier players from previous seasons will have bigger numbers. This tends to artificially increase the % of players with smaller numbers of games played, and is likely the reason behind the turnover in your success rate plot.

A partial solution to this is to use not only an early cutoff for draft years as you did, but also a later cutoff (e.g. this year - 4 years), so that everyone's at least had a chance to play a significant number of games. This won't eliminate the problem, but it will make it less. Of course, for our young league, it introduces a new problem for your study -- low number statistics, since you'd be throwing out a lot of the data.

Perhaps a better way to proceed would be to consider not an absolute number of games played, but rather the fraction of games for which the player was available in which the player did play. However, this would probably be a lot more work, since it would make it harder for you to rationalize ignoring the effect of injury/national team callups/etc.

Just some thoughts. Thanks for digging into this.

At 18 December, 2006 20:22, Blogger Allen said...

Great blog series. I hope you do publish the data in form others can grab.

One thing about the rounds, I wonder how much the pressure to play a first round pick plays into the frequency of their use. Or that the coach having drafted them in the 1st round believes they have more potential than a 4th rounder and they're likely to find it easier to get some sort of playing time.

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At 05 April, 2007 18:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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