Saturday, September 4, 2010

Josh Wilson And Relative Value

The Wilson trade probably would never have crossed my radar if one of the principals wasn't the Ravens and if my two co-bloggers weren't Raven fans. But one was and they are and as a result Jim and Chris and I had a good time with some back and forth exchange on the day following the trade.

The impetus for this post though is from our discussion of whether an absolute value for Josh Wilson can really be calculated. Okay, it wasn't exactly that since we never really discussed it but we talked all around the question. At one point Jim wrote:

Bill James wrote something many years ago, about how his default position was always that professional baseball men were professionals, and you have to assume they know more than you do. He goes on: "And then came Don Zimmer."

There's always going to be some room for idiots at the top in football, because the cause-&-effect is not always clear when teams win and lose. Luck is a big factor. But football people can't really believe (can't afford to believe?) the extent to which luck determines their results. And who knows if "personnel evaluation" is even the most important thing that owners look for in hiring a GM. There are all those aspects of the job we don't see: negotiating contracts, handling the stadium and all the people who make that go, travel, arranging training camp, hiring coaches and hiring the training staff, hiring the scouting staff, handling their travel, etc etc. It seems possible that a guy could be a good GM and not have any skill at evaluating players.

There's also the situation where two GMs could hold very differing ratings of one particular player, and it's not that one of them is right and the other's an idiot, but that they have different "philosophies" of that particular position. For example, a tall statue pocket passer is going to seem like a better player to the guy who comes from the Coryell-Zampese passing school (like Cam Cameron), than he would to a pure West Cost offense guy (like Holmgren or Shanahan). Likewise a small-armed accurate good-decision-maker QB is going to seem like a better player to the WCO guys than to the other school. Some players fit your system, and some players don't. The Ravens wouldn't draft a lot of the defensive players that Indy drafts at LB, from my take of some stuff Eric DaCosta has said in interviews, because they would be too small to set the edge on running plays in the Ravens 3-4 D. But they work great in Indy's D. (The Steelers and I think Patriots tend to draft the same defensive players the Ravens do.) Shanahan's Broncos could draft those small O-linemen, because they had a way to use them, but most teams didn't want them.

A guy like Josh Wilson is almost the textbook case of a situation where scouting/coaching philosophies will change the way you rate him. He's a productive player with bad measurables. Maybe he's too small to fit "the Seahawks System". Ozzie sees a playmaker and leader, a guy with a lot of speed and heart at a position where the Ravens have a need, and he grabs him. Ozzie has spoken before about how Ted Marchibroda taught him to not get too hung up on "measurables", watch how a guy plays. And Wilson will help the Ravens during the regular season. But the size is a real thing. If Wilson is covering Randy Moss in the AFC Championship Game, we can't be surprised or disappointed if Moss catches the TD right over Wilson. That's part of the package.
which is probably better than anything I can add here, but I still think it is an interesting question. 'What is Josh Wilson worth?'

From an obvious perspective, the Ravens perceived his worth to be greater than the Seahawks, otherwise a trade could never have happened. Wilson was highly drafted and productive at times but could never crack the lineup on a full time basis. With Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings ahead of him, and with younger players (Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis) developing rapidly behind him it wasn't at all clear where Wilson fit on the depth chart.

On the other hand the Ravens have been dealing with nicked up corners for the entire offseason. Their top three corners are each dealing with injury, and with their best lost for the season. Wilson represents great importance to them, particularly considering that their are otherwise poised to contend for a championship. Wilson could be the difference between and early season victory and loss, a difference that could cascade into significant playoff implications.

This really isn't about whether Wilson was a fungible commodity to the Seahawks (he was) or whether the Ravens really needed to acquire a player like him (they did), but rather how the question of how the market was set for this kind of player.

Last winter a fairly large number of starting players changed teams for picks in the 4th - 6th round range. Kerry Rhodes, Bryant McFadden and Sheldon Brown are probably the most relevant because they are each cornerbacks who are probably relatively more valuable than Josh Wilson. Only Brown - who was traded for a 4th - garnered a greater return than Wilson.

So it seems that Wilson went for a premium. There was an additional hidden premium to the trade as well. Roster spots are finite and as with any supply/demand question represents a value to the team. Presumably Wilson would not have been cut, so trading him allows Seattle to keep a player who they otherwise wouldn't. Likewise, acquiring Wilson requires Baltimore to cut a player. I would be the first to agree that the last player on a 53 man roster isn't terribly significant, but it isn't entirely without significance either.

So what we see here, if I am right, is that Wilson actually returned a greater value to Seattle than he probably would have if traded over the winter. I am certain that we are seeing supply dry up so close to the season, which makes acquiring players much more difficult.

While first reactions were overwhelmingly positive for the Ravens - which they should have been - it also seems that Seattle made out much better than it initially appeared.

1 comment:

  1. The most depressing thing here is that my emails read just like blog posts.

    One factor not mentioned is that Wilson is entering the last year of his contract. Seattle was probably planning to keep Trufant, Jennings, Thurmond and Lewis long-term, and not Wilson. So this trade lets Seattle turn him into an asset next year, rather than letting him walk.

    For those who haven't seen, the most enjoyable stuff BY FAR that I saw on the Josh Wilson trade, were the rants by John Morgan on (Patrick brought these to my attention.) Best here:


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