Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On the MLS Draft Part One

I've been playing around with Tableau Public a little more and I have to say I'm impressed. I decided to revisit some work I had done on the MLS draft. Mid-season I decided to look at the correlation between a player's selection spot and the amount of impact they are having with their new team. Currently there is no good metric to estimate impact, so I used minutes played. Yes, it is a very imperfect metric, but it does provide an easy way to compare players of any position. The logic behind using minutes played is that it shows a baseline ability that player X is good enough to make it onto the playing field. If they perform well, they will be selected again, if not, then they won't see much playing time. It tells us nothing about potential or future performance nor about the quality of those minutes played. Certainly there are unique circumstances in each team that could affect a players minutes, but as a stake in the ground to get started I think it's a decent metric.

When I first looked at the data, I noticed that minutes played seemed to decay exponentially as the selection number increased, with a handful of outliers. The drop off was a little surprising. It shows that there are only a handful of players in the draft class that are able to come in and make an impact straight away. Looking at the data again, but this time with the ability to filter by position, I noticed that defenders taken later in the draft outperformed their expected minutes. Something to keep in mind if you're looking for cover in the back and need someone to step up immediately.

I wanted to play around with Tableau's mapping features so I decided to plot the draftee's university or club and see what patterns appeared. There's a heavy East Coast bias with Southern California getting good representation as well. Given that a lot of the traditional college soccer powerhouses are located in the Mid-Atlantic region and Southern California, this wasn't too surprising. However, it doesn't represent the current ranking of college teams. Midwestern schools like Tulsa and Drake who were in the top 10 of the NSCAA rankings at the end of 2009 didn't have a single player selected while schools outside the top 10 had 17 players selected (out of 32). Most surprising was Notre Dame, with 3 players selected. Notre Dame wasn't in the top 25 at the end of last season. The players selected have yet to make an appearance in MLS.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I can't wait to look at the previous years' drafts as well as how players progress over the years. Take a look at the viz below and let me know if you notice anything I missed.

1 comment:

  1. I think its sort of clear what universities provide the talent for MLS, but what youth programs provide the universities. where are these guys spending the first 10 years learning to play...?