Looking At Past MLS Superdrafts And Useful Players

Whenever anyone starts talking about the MLS draft, you’ll often find them talking about discovering useful and productive pieces. Really, this is true with just about any draft among any of the major sports. But, I kind of started wondering yesterday morning what was the percentage of “useful” pieces that actually come out of the draft.

 

THE DEFINITION:

Of course prior to actually finding that number you have to define what is useful? In baseball you can just take a look at WAR or even how many big league plate appearances they have. Soccer–obviously–is a lot different. There isn’t much in the way of numbers or a static metric that can provide you with a short insight on a players performance or production for their club.

The one thing you can go with above all else is how often they get to see the pitch. MLS is a league that’s about opportunities and though they are sometimes limited you could potentially tie a players usefulness to game time opportunities. Granted this is not the best way and I’m sure someone smarter than me could figure out a better way. But with data in short supply, at this stage, you have to turn to logic and logic dictates that a player wouldn’t be seeing consistent quality time out on the pitch if they weren’t some what useful.

Again, it’s not an indicator of performance or really even talent, though an interesting debate could ensue on useful vs. potential and the growing of that potential depending on minutes. But that’s really another story all together.

You are going to have to make an adjustment for time, obviously, if you were go for just one static number a player drafted in 2009 is going to have 4-times the amount of opportunities to get minutes as someone in 2012. So you have to have a gradual step up over a period of time. What that does is it removes what we DID know during that limited time frame and it kind of helps to give us a more current picture.

There are a couple of players that in 2011 might have been consider useful but after another year and increase on the threshold of the pool, we see them kind of fall away.

I started with 500 minutes, then increased it to 1000 minutes for the past year of 2011, then again 1500 in 2010 and then a big jump to 2500 minutes in 2009. Remember this is about usefulness. Not necessarily becoming a star or grading productivity to the club. Being able to play minutes on a senior team is useful. Maybe the definitive minutes that I set weren’t exactly the best, and I’ll concede that could be a possibility, but it was purely a experiment.

I only went as far back as 2009 for the simple reason as that’s the start of the Sounders. Really you could make an argument to go back to 2008 or 2007 as many are starting to cite that as the start of MLS 2.5, with expansion starting to take off and teams coming around to the home grown player program. I won’t disagree and I may even–eventually–take this all the way back to 1996 but until that endeavour begins, 2009 seemed good enough as we were simply looking for recent years and experiences.

 

THE HYPOTHESIS:

 

I kind of feel as though I was lead to believe that the draft in general is kind of a dying affair. That its continually becoming more and more challenging to find useful players and players that will have future value. That your roster and general 18 roster spots are less composed of draftees and more of HGPs, USL youths and various internationals.

 

THE FINDINGS:

 

 

2009

2009 of course still had four rounds to the Superdraft but it of course held some big names. Four of which are currently training in USMNT camp Omar Gonzalez, Chris Pontius, Matt Besler, and Graham Zusi preparing to meet Canada at the end of the month in a friendly. All in all I counted a total of 17 players, out of 59, that have played a total of 3,000 minutes or more since being drafted. Good for a 29% success rate. That seems low but coming from MLB, I think it’s quiet a good. Especially when you consider that only 2 of those came after pick 30.

 

Zusi, drafted 23rd overall, was chosen in front of Jean Alexandre, Brad Ring and Ryan Maxwell who account for less than half of Zusi’s total minutes on the pitch with Sporting Kansas City.

 

 

2010

2010 was largely successful in finding useful players in the first round. Only 4 of 16 players failed to meet the 1,500 minute threshold I set–and really two of those four were David Estrada and Bright Dike who found bits of success in 2012 and could easily find themselves battling out for starting jobs this winter. There was a total of 21 useful players out of 63 drafted that year, good for 33% mark.

A trend I started noticing right about this point was that there were no useful strikers drafted after 11th overall pick. Now this could be for a variety of different reasons (one specifically is that there are less positions on the pitch available for them and often filled with an international DP) but looking back the only real chances that I see for developing forwards after the first round are Quincy Amarikwa (2009) and Mike Fucito (2009). It would be interesting to see how many forwards drafted after the 30th overall pick found success, defining success with goals, scored more than 5 times.

Maybe the development league deal with USL Pro will change that.

 

2011

2011 marked a reduction of the Superdraft. cutting the draft from four rounds just to three and bringing the pick total to only 54. But despite that there was another solid turn out of 21 total useful picks. Percentage wise, that was good for a sizable increase to 39% up 7 points. What is yet even all the more impressive is 6 of the finale 14 picks also turned out useful players to their clubs. Drafts are notorious in any sport for getting weaker as they get deeper so it’s pretty cool to see teams get some solid support from their young guys.

 

2012

The league was yet in bloom and zoomed up to 19 clubs last year. With that more emphasis on the club youth systems and Academies. This continues to drive the emphasis away from the draft and again another round is cut, taking the event down to 2 rounds and 38 total picks. The total numbers for last year were a little bit disappointing as only 13 total players were identified as being useful to their clubs dragging down the overall percentage back to 33%.

Taking a closer look, however, revealed that there was 4 players within 90 minutes or less of breaking through the barrier. Should you drop the cut off to count those 4, the end result would improve to the tune of 45% and yet another positive trend.

 

CONCLUSIONS AND EXPECTATIONS

Looking at the 152 players over four years that were drafted from the 16th overall slot roughly 19% of them became useful. That’s not exactly great, but it’s not terrible either. But this also gives you a much better insight to what the Sounders odds are of actually getting a useful players. Of course this doesn’t have insight into the depth of the current player pool But, I really appreciated some of Sigi Schmids comments today.

“Every year, everybody says the same thing, ‘I don’t know if it is as good as it was last year or the year before that’. The can’t-miss guys are somewhere in the range of maybe three to six in each draft – guys who can’t miss. But I think that the next group – guys who have a shot – I think that group is a little bit deeper that it was last year – Sigi Schmid.

Sigi has remained pretty positive about this draft and after looking at the results and the fact that the draft continues to get smaller I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sounders take a step back. I know it won’t be popular as they could miss out on Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, but if it meant getting a few extra pieces, and cheap ones at that, that could potentially grow into 2013′s version of Alex Caskey and Andy Rose–I’m fine with that and supporters should be too.

I actually like the idea of maybe swapping out the 16th pick and getting allocation money (yuummmmmm candy!) and a pick down the road. Another thought; looking at the second round, the New England Revolution actually have two picks….maybe we do a two for one special k-mart, old fashioned blue light special? There are a lot of options available.

Drafts in general are crap shoots because it involves human beings and people are, in general, are so very unpredictable. You role the dice and you don’t know what you’re going to get out of an individual. Some people may end up growing into their talent and maturing to become superstars that you never thought possible, then again the can’t miss guys could decide that they don’t have that desire for the game and turn their mind towards something different.

All that said, technical directors have gotten better at identifying talent, that is, either right for their system or guys that they feel can make an immediate impact with their club. The draft is hardly the “dump” that a lot of people make it out to be and it’s very plausible that the Sounders could pull multiple players out of this draft that end up being either rotational or even down the road starters.

Considering the street price for a ticket to the rodeo, as being shopped by Caleb Porter and co, it seems like clubs understand how important this process is to the league and finding success. I’ve kept my information and I plan on working on something between the connections of the draft and consistent teams in the MLS table. That should be a fun one too.

 

Topics: Chris Pontius, Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Mike Fucito, Omar Gonzalez, Quincy Amarikwa

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