Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Giants: Draft strategy - Talent, skill or polish ?

What kinds of players do you want to draft / acquire for your team? Do you want the player that has produced at the college level, is polished, has great technique  and has shown that he has gotten the most out of his ability while playing at the college level? Or do you want someone with uncommon natural talent that may be a bit raw, take a few years to develop and, in fact, may never blossom into a star. I'm framing this question, obviously, in the context of the Giants first rounder, Jason Pierre-Paul, but the question really could be asked more generally about any draft choice and in fact about any sport. This is interesting, especially in the context of Billy Beane/moneyball analysis. He went after high on base percentage guys that were successful at every level of competition. His assertion was that if the player produced at lower levels, he expected him to produce at the highest level as well. He had the stats to back it up, but is that always the route you take? Do you want a pitcher coming out of the minors that has a 90 MPH fastball, perfect control, great breaking ball and really understands how to set up a hitter? Or do you want a pitcher with a 96 MPH fastball, with great action on his breaking ball, but one that he can't quite control? My approach: give me the unpolished guy with a gun for an arm and I can always teach him to throw the hook and set up the hitter, but you can't teach someone to throw 96MPH. Red Auerbach used to say the same thing when he talked about basketball players - you can't coach height. Of course, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes present an interesting contrast to this approach. Hughes will be a star and Chamberlain will always be filled with potential. Joba throws 96 and Hughes' heater is a little less impressive, but he is way ahead of Joba on the career progression curve. We'll see how that turns out and of course, I am simplifying, because they are both already at the major league level. Once you're at the big dance, then technique can make the difference.

Moneyball took the approach to take hitters with proven production records. I guess it's hard to argue with, but it may be different with positions (and sports) other than a baseball hitter. In football, success in the sport is mostly based on pure athleticism. If the man you are assigned to take on is bigger than you or faster than you, he's likely to beat you, no matter how much technique you apply or how much heart you have. It's probably why there is such a high rate of college stars in fotball that are complete busts in the NFL. In college, the great athletes just outrun and overpower their slower or weaker opponents. But in the NFL, everyone is fast and everyone is big. If you're on equal planes athletically, then technique, heart, brains, etc can be a differentiator and can make you successful. But if you are overwhelmed athletically, forget it. As a corrolary, if you are enormously gifted athletically, and you have a chance to dominate even at the NFL level, you have to be given a chance to shine. You may not succeed - other factors may take you down, but you have to give your coaches a chance to take an uncomon athletic talent and turn him into a star.

The Pierre-Paul choice is a risk because of his lack of experience and no track record. But his freakish athletic talent makes him a worthwhile risk, because he could be a star. At the end of the day, there are many ways to build a team. You can build through the draft or through free agency. You can take young players or veterans. You can build around the QB or around the defense and running game. There is no single formula that works, all can be successful. At the end of the day - it comes down to talent evaluation and scouting. Whichever route you go, you have to pick good players. That is why Reese and the talented scouting department that the Giants have is an enormous asset to the team.

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