This is How I See It – Moneyball Edition

This is How I See It – Moneyball Edition
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Stat-heads and Economists love the idea of Moneyball. The book, written about Billy Beane and the perennially cheap Athletics, was a fantastic read and an entertaining movie. It was also the worst thing that could happen to the “Moneyball” movement. In the last decade they have made the playoffs four times and have never advanced to the World Series. The success of other teams that admitted using the concepts, such as the Red Sox, didn’t seem to really get the attention of the public at large due to the fact that they were also spending so much money. The result is Moneyball is often considered synonymous with cheap, but the truth is that, like almost everything in reality, nothing good comes from extremes.
Football had stayed away from the Moneyball concept over the last 15 years for various reasons. One being that the dominance of Hall of Fame QBs like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Big Ben made it seem like there was only one path to winning a SB, and that path was through a first ballot HoF QB.1 This may have been even more interesting if it weren’t for the fact that these three QBs all played in the same conference, often beating each other to get to the Super Bowl. This became such an overwhelming thought that QBs reputations were being overblown for just making it to the game once. Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco both made over $100 million off their SB run while Russell Wilson and Cam Newton had people suggesting they were immediately HoF caliber after one SB victory. This occurred even though statistically, there wasn’t much of an argument that the teams were dependent on these players to get to or win the Super Bowl.2
So what has changed? Going into week 8, the top five in over half the national power rankings are made up of New England, Dallas, Minnesota, Denver, and Seattle. New England has been a special outlier for years. Their quarterback decided to go marry one of the most beautiful and richest women in the world. He is the secondary income of the family, as such he has had an amazingly team friendly contract for years. He is currently right above a $13 million cap hit, which ranks him 18th as far as QBs are concerned. An inarguable first ballot HoF QB in the bottom half of QB pay is one of the many reasons why the Patriots are the best and deepest team in football today.
A closer look at the other four teams in the top five show that none of them have a quarterback that is playing near “elite” level. In fact, the single that that is consistent across the board is that all those teams are allowing less than 20 points a game and are in the top six in PPG allowed. If you expand it to include Green Bay, the other team that shows up in the top five on national power rankings, all six teams are in the top 10 of allowed PPG with GB allowing only 20.5 ppg. The other thing they have in common? Not one is starting a player with a cap hit of over $20 million this year.3 Dallas is especially interesting because their two largest cap hits have been a non factor this season during their recent dominant stretch.
Quarterback is the easy cap space number to look at as it’s generally taken up by one player, but the Moneyball concept needs to be looked at over position groups. Teams that drop too much money into one position group often end up with a weakness elsewhere. Seattle, for example, has extremely large cap hits on their defense and their quarterback. The offense has been plagued by absolutely inept offensive line play and has been saved by a defense allowing only 14 points a game.
Mike Tannenbaum is particularly famous for over investing in specific position groups to the detriment of others. As of right now Miami has over $70 million of cap space tied into the starting offensive and defensive of lines for 2017 and another $20 million in the QB. That is 65% of cap space invested into 40% of the positions on the field. In this situation, these positions need to play well above the league average to be competitive, and elite to be contenders. It also can lead to a team devoid of depth.
This season began with an unprecedented amount of young or new QBs succeeding in unexpected situations. Wentz, Prescott, Siemian, Garoppolo, and even the veteran Bradford all had unprecedented success on teams that people weren’t expecting.4 None of this early success was due to these quarterbacks carrying the load for the team. They were put in a position to win, didn’t make mistakes, and allowed the team around them to succeed with them. The shift away from the quarterback-centric teams as the last generation HoF QBs begins to age out is coming at a bad time for the NFL. Scoring seems to be down over all, and that is likely due to he fact that of the top 10 scoring offenses in the NFL in 2016, only three have winning records.
In an NFL where rules are being created to promote scoring, teams are spending their money more wisely and proving that the quarterback doesn’t have to be the most important person on the field.
Fins Talk
Fins got a couple gifts with injury, amazing play from their offensive line, fantastic rushing from Ajayi, and clutch throws from Ryan Tannehill to come from behind and beat a Buffalo team that they were out classing the entire game. This Sunday proved that special teams counts, and Miami has failed spectacularly on that front all season. If they want to have a chance to run a couple wins a row they will simply have to get better there.
Oh, and Oline. Please don’t get hurt. Please.
This is How I see it
– A couple weeks in a row we see media making statements around football in an attempt to make a story out of nothing. This time it is impacting fantasy football though. You don’t mess with fantasy football.
– Gronk wants to score 69 TDs. I wonder why.
– I got nothing on the waiver wire worth a pick up this week. If you know of anything, especially at running back please tell me.
– Next summer will be a time with no election or football. Is it too early in the Season to start dreading no football yet? At least I will have Game of Thrones I guess.
1 Note that all three of the QB’s first SB runs were won mostly on the back of defense and for Brady and Big Ben coaching. It wasn’t until their later victories that they became the cog that made the engine run.
2 Joe Flacco’s playoff run the year the Ravens won is an outlier here. He played what is arguably the best four game stretch of his career throwing 12 TDs to no interceptions during that run. Boldin, his leading target, was spectacular during that run and made a lot of money off of that run too.
3 Dallas is an outlier here as they have a 20 million dollar cap hit on their roster, just not one playing. Their cap space outside of Romo and Bryant is dispersed very evenly, and their most dominant group, the O-line, takes up a surprisingly low amount of cap space.
4 Writers note- I don’t understand the shock at the Broncos being good with whatever QB that was thrown in there. Last year Manning’s numbers were below average at best due to his lack of arm strength.

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