2013 MLB Awards

  • Hope everyone enjoys my picks for the 2013 MLB Awards. You’ll see plenty of awards listed and broken down into American and National League this way there’s no confusion. There’s also four other awards listed — Gold Glove, Iron Glove, Silver Slugger, and Bronze Bust. Gold Glove, obviously, goes to the best fielders and Silver Slugger, obviously, goes to the best hitters. The Iron Glove goes to the worst fielders and the Bronze Bust goes to the worst hitters. Simple as that. I hope everyone enjoys. Enjoy. Tweet me (@FlyByKnite) if you wanna discuss anything.

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout | CF | Los Angeles Angels
Statistics:.323/.432/.557, 27 HR, 97 RBI, 109 R, 33 SB, .423 wOBA, 176 wRC+, 179 OPS+,  10.4 fWAR
Analysis: People are immediately going to see this selection and wonder why I have Trout winning the award over Cabrera. Well, once you step back and get rid of the ridiculous notion that the MVP should go to a player whose team is going to the playoffs, you can understand this selection a little bit better. Personally, I’m of the belief that the best player should get the award no matter what the people around him do. In all seriousness, I could legitimately write 5000 words about why Mike Trout should get this award but I’ll tone it down here. He’s the best player. Mike Trout, it could legitimately be argued, was the best offensive player in baseball. Combine that with the fact that he’s also the best all-around player in baseball and you see why he should get this award. Should he really be punished because his team didn’t have four frontline starters and instead only featured two and then a whole bunch of awfulness behind them? No. He should not. Trout was the first player in AL history to put up 25+ HR, 30+ SB, and 100+ BB. He’s also the first player in MLB history to hit above .320 with at least 20 HR, 30 SB, 100 R, and 100 BB. Only Joe Morgan in 1976 comes close. And what did Joe Morgan do that year? Win MVP.

Cy Young: Max Scherzer | SP | Detroit Tigers
Statistics: 21-3, 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 214.1 IP, 240 K, 56 BB, 2.74 FIP, 30.37 RE24, 145 ERA+
Analysis: This should be a pretty no-brainer award this season but not because of the win total that Scherzer has. Quite frankly, wins for a pitcher are pretty worthless in my eyes since a lot of the stuff behind wins is luck dependent and offensive production dependent. Either way, Scherzer wins this award on the strength of his peripherals. Among the top five finishers in ERA, Scherzer had the second lowest FIP, the second highest strikeouts per nine innings, the second most innings pitched, the second highest strikeouts to walk ratio, the second lowest batting average against, and the lowest WHIP. Either way you slice it, the fact that he finished second or first in a lot of the major categories is pretty telling. The only other candidates who come close to Scherzer, in my eyes, are Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners, but I doubt he even finishes higher than third in the regular voting because people are getting so enamored with wins right now and the fact that Scherzer reached the “sacred” 20-win plateau, and Yu Darvish of the Rangers, but his team let him down so much in games at times that he doesn’t have the wins to overtake Scherzer despite the fact that he produced a somewhat equally dominant season. I think Scherzer runs away with this.

Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers | RF | Tampa Bay Rays
Statistics:.295/.353/.482, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 49 R, 5 SB, .358 wOBA, 132 wRC+, 133 OPS+, 2.4 fWAR
Analysis: Myers didn’t quite take the league by storm like other rookies in the last two years have but he did a pretty damn good job with all things considered. If he had gotten an entire season’s worth of plate appearances, you’d be looking at a guy who put up over 20 HR and 90 RBI. That guy would be a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year this season. And that’s where Wil Myers is at right now. Personally, I felt Kansas City was stupid for trading him considering he has superstar potential but what they didn’t want, Tampa Bay did. Oh, and in the midst of a playoff race during the final month of the season when no one knew who was going to win the Wild Card spots, Myers hit .317/.360/.558 with a wOBA of .391 and a wRC+ of 154. He produced down the stretch and helped his team reach the one-game playoff with Texas. Hats off to him on a tremendous season. He’ll only be getting better.

Manager of the Year: Terry Francona | Cleveland Indians
Statistics: 92-70, first Wild Card team
Analysis: Last season the Cleveland Indians finished 68-94 and 20 games back in their own division. They were 25 games back in the Wild Card race, which is even crazier. Then they made a few little moves, got Terry Francona to manage them, and stormed back 92-70. They finished just a mere one game back in their own division and won the top Wild Card spot. It’s quite amazing what a great manager can do for you when he’s able to get every little morsel out of his players. Regardless of whether or not the Cleveland Indians have postseason success this year, the job that Terry Francona has done transforming this group of players into winners is quite incredible. It’s the most wins the team has had since 2007, a year that they made the ALCS. I could see a similar result.

Reliever of the Year: Koji Uehara | CP | Boston Red Sox
Statistics: 4-1, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 21 SV, 74.1 IP, 101 K, 9 BB, 1.61 FIP, 25.92 RE24, 376 ERA+
Analysis: Where do I start about awesome Uehara was this season? He not only led American League relievers in ERA, but he led them in walks per nine innings, strikeouts to walk ratio, batting average against, WHIP, and also was second in FIP and second in strikeouts per nine innings. The only reliever who came close to Uehara’s level of dominance this season is Greg Holland. And, while I would love to give Holland this award, Uehara blew him away. Consider this. Koji Uehara faced 265 total batters this season and only walked nine of them. Of those nine, two were intentional walks. So remove those two and realize that of the 263 total batters he faced that actually went up there and weren’t intentionally walked, only seven earned free passes. That’s insane. The guy is a machine and pitched like one. Since being named the Red Sox closer on June 21st, Uehara pitched 44.1 innings, struck out 59 batters, and walked only two. And since that day, the Red Sox went 53-34. Pretty impressive. He brought stability to the back end of the bullpen.

Comeback Player of the Year: Ervin Santana | SP | Kansas City Royals
Statistics: 9-10, 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 211.0 IP, 161 K, 51 BB, 3.93 FIP, 15.30 RE24, 126 ERA+
Analysis: Alright, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this should go to Mariano Rivera after the injury he had last season and the way he came back this season and performed. Take out the fact that Rivera is retiring and is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. Does he still get the award over Ervin Santana? Not in my eyes. Consider where Santana has come from. Santana was so bad last year that the Angels basically gave him away to the Kansas City Royals for a pitcher who didn’t even pitch this season. They gave him away for nothing because they didn’t want to pay him what he was going to make this season and get the same results again. Last year, Santana produced a 5.16 ERA, 5.63 FIP, and -22.99 RE24. This season? He was a whole different pitcher. He dropped his ERA by nearly two full runs, his FIP by nearly two full runs, and improved his RE24 by 38.29. Oh, and then there’s his ERA+ which was at 74 last year but went to 126 this year. He turned in what is arguably his best year in the bigs immediately after what was arguably his worst year. That’s a true comeback story.

NATIONAL  LEAGUE
Most Valuable Player: Andrew McCutchen | CF | Pittsburgh Pirates
Statistics:.317/.404/.508, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 97 R, 27 SB, .393 wOBA, 155 wRC+, 158 OPS+, 8.2 fWAR
Analysis: This is truly a no-brainer. There’s no other candidate in the National League that I can honestly look at and say he should deserve this award. McCutchen is the only guy. Look at his season and realize he’s arguably been the top offensive player in the National League and is also providing fantastic baserunning and fantastic defense. It’s an added benefit that he happens to be on a team headed to the playoffs but it’s a bigger benefit for him that he’s been the keystone part of the resurgence of the Pittsburgh Pirates. That means a whole lot. He’s a loyal player that they’ve personally developed and he’s rewarded them with a fantastic season. He’s the epitome of a franchsie player and he is coming into his own. Perhaps the only other player I’d put into this conversation right now is probably Paul Goldschmidt but McCutchen was better than him as an all-around player this season. I keep using the word but it was truly a fantastic season by Andrew McCutchen.

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw | SP | Los Angeles Dodgers
Statistics: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 236.0 IP, 232 K, 52 BB, 2.39 FIP, 50.40 RE24, 194 ERA+
Analysis: The last time a left-handed pitcher had a last name that started with K and pitched for the Dodgers, we were watching Sandy Koufax be the left arm of god. Clayton Kershaw has invoked the same kind of feeling that Sandy Koufax gave fans when he took the mound at Dodger Stadium. Clayton Kershaw far and away led the National League in ERA and also took the WHIP crown this season. This is also not the first time Clayton Kershaw has led all of baseball in ERA. He also did it in 2011 and 2012. So, this is the third straight year he’s done this. In the entire history of Major League Baseball, only one other pitcher has led the league in ERA for three straight seasons. His name was Greg Maddux. Kershaw is doing some historic stuff right now and it’s about time everyone takes notice of it. His ERA+ of 194 is the highest ERA+ since Zack Greinke put up a mark of 205 in 2009. Dominance.

Rookie of the Year: Jose Fernandez | SP | Miami Marlins
Statistics: 12-6, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 172.2 IP, 187 K, 58 BB, 2.72 FIP, 35.19 RE24, 176 ERA+
Analysis: There are only two names that matter for this award. One of them is Yasiel Puig, who was great during his time with the Dodgers this season, and the other is Jose Fernandez. The young kid was a phenom this season and dominated whoever was up at the plate against him. Consider what Jose Fernandez did since the All-Star Break. He pitched 68 innings and struck out 84 batters while walking 18. His ERA was a microscopic 1.32 and he also sported a 0.82 WHIP. That’s downright disgusting stuff. Puig, meanwhile, hit .273/.373/.481 since the All-Star Break but really tanked in September by hitting .214/.333/452. Fernandez was fantastic all season and got stronger as it went along. A truly dominant rookie from start to finish.

Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle | Pittsburgh Pirates
Statistics: 94-68, first Wild Card team
Analysis: The true success of this Pittsburgh Pirates team starts about three years ago when they hired Clint Hurdle. In his first year, 2011, he had the Pirates at 47-43 and one game out of first place in the division when the All-Star Break rolled around. They fluttered and floundered after that and finished 72-90 and 24 games back. In 2012, Hurdle had them at 48-37 at the break and actually one game up in the division. But, once again, they slipped and finished 79-83 and 18 games back. This season, however, he transformed them into a consistent team from start to finish. At the All-Star Break this season, Hurdle had the Pirates at 56-37 and one game back. He got them to finish 94-68 and only three games back. However, they earned the top Wild Card spot and it has been a great season for the Pirates. Hurdle got great production out of pitchers who no one wanted anymore – namely Burnett and Liriano – and also production out of hitters who were somewhat cast aside. Awesome job.

Reliever of the Year: Craig Kimbrel | CP | Atlanta Braves
Statistics: 4-3, 1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 50 SV, 67.0 IP, 98 K, 20 BB, 1.93 FIP, 20.59 RE24, 317 ERA+
Analysis: Say hello to the best closer in baseball and the guy who is, as of right now, on pace to be the greatest closer in the history of baseball. That’s right. I said it. Craig Kimbrel is on pace to be the best closer in the history of the game. Better than even Mariano Rivera. But that’s for another day. Among all National League relievers, Kimbrel ranked first in ERA, third in FIP, third in strikeouts per nine innings, and third in WHIP. And here’s the scariest stat of all about Craig Kimbrel. He allowed 39 hits this season. He had 50 saves. He had 11 more saves than hits allowed. The guy was insanely phenomenal and this wasn’t the first time. Since being named the Braves closer in 2011, Kimbrel has 138 saves and only allowed 114 hits. His ERA+ during that time is an astounding 263. Mariano Rivera’s career ERA+ is 202. So, make of that what you will.

Comeback Player of the Year: Francisco Liriano | SP | Pittsburgh Pirates
Statistics: 16-8, 3.02 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 161.0 IP, 163 K, 63 BB, 2.92 FIP, 18.20 RE24, 117 ERA+
Analysis: Consider where Francisco Liriano was just last year. He had an abysmal first half of the season with Minnesota then got traded to the White Sox, who were trying to make the playoffs, and he just flat out stunk for them. He finished last year with a 5.34 ERA and 1.47 WHIP while also having a 78 ERA+ and 4.34 FIP. He was terrible. This year? Not so terrible at all. He’s improved his ERA by over two runs, his FIP by nearly a run-and-a-half, and improved his WHIP. His RE24 last year was a paltry -13.96 but he’s gotten that up to 18.20 this year, an improvement of 32.16. And it’s not like this was a one year thing for Liriano. He was terrible in 2011, as well. He’s really found his pitching form again and looked great. The guy has been a revelation for the Pittsburgh Pirates and has arguably been their best pitcher this season. An awesome turnaround by a pitcher who was thought to have nothing left. Especially when the Pirates got him for a measly $1 million in 2013. You’re reading that right. Phenomenal.

GOLD GLOVE WINNERS
P: R.A. Dickey | Zack Greinke
C:
Salvador Perez | Russell Martin
1B:
Mike Napoli | Anthony Rizzo
2B:
Dustin Pedroia | Darwin Barney
SS:
Yunel Escobar | Andrelton Simmons
3B:
Manny Machado | Nolan Arenado
LF:
Alex Gordon | Starling Marte
CF:
Jacoby Ellsbury | Carlos Gomez
RF:
Shane Victorino | Gerardo Parra

SILVER SLUGGER WINNERS
DH/P: David Ortiz | Zack Greinke
C:
Joe Mauer | Buster Posey
1B:
Chris Davis | Paul Goldschmidt
2B:
Robinson Cano | Matt Carpenter
SS: Jed Lowrie | Troy Tulowitzki
3B:
Miguel Cabrera | Ryan Zimmerman
OF:
Mike Trout | Andrew McCutchen
OF:
Jose Bautista | Shin-Soo Choo
OF:
Jacoby Ellsubry | Jayson Werth

IRON GLOVE WINNERS
P: Anibal Sanchez | Tim Lincecum
C:
Matt Wieters | John Buck
1B:
Prince Fielder | Adam LaRoche
2B:
Jason Kipnis | Dan Uggla
SS:
Asdrubal Cabrera | Adeiny Hechavarria
3B:
Miguel Cabrera | David Freese
LF:
Dayan Viciedo | Matt Holliday
CF:
Alejandro De Aza | Shin-Soo Choo
RF:
Torii Hunter | Michael Cuddyer

BRONZE BUST WINNERS
DH/P: Paul Konerko | Jorge de la Rosa
C:
J.P. Arencibia | Russell Martin
1B:
Mitch Moreland | Anthony Rizzo
2B:
Jose Altuve | Darwin Barney
SS:
Alcides Escobar | Adeiny Hechavarria
3B:
Mike Moustakas | Nolan Arenado
OF:
Ichiro Suzuki | Eric Young
OF:
Nick Markakis | Gregor Blanco
OF:
Michael Bourn | Gerardo Parra

My Personal CFB Top 25 (after Week 5 ) + Other Various Info

  • Enjoy. Tweet me (@FlyByKnite) if you wanna discuss anything.

1.) Oregon Ducks | 4-0 Image (LW: 1)
2.) Alabama Crimson Tide | 4-0 Image (LW: 2)
3.) Stanford Cardinal | 4-0 Image (LW: 3)
4.) Clemson Tigers | 4-0 Image (LW: 4)
5.) Ohio State Buckeyes | 5-0 Image (LW: 5)
6.) Louisville Cardinals | 4-0 Image (LW: 6)
7.) Georgia Bulldogs | 3-1 Image (LW: 9)
8.) Florida State Seminoles | 4-0 Image (LW: 8)
9.) UCLA Bruins | 3-0 Image (LW: 10)
10.) Oklahoma Sooners | 4-0 Image (LW: 13)
11.) Miami Hurricanes | 4-0 Image (LW: 14)
12.) South Carolina Gamecocks | 3-1 Image (LW: 12)
13.) LSU Tigers | 4-1 Image (LW: 7)
14.) Washington Huskies | 4-0 Image (LW: 16)
15.) Texas A&M Aggies | 4-1 Image (LW: 15)
16.) Northwestern Wildcats | 4-0 Image (LW: 17)
17.) Baylor Bears | 3-0 Image (LW: 19)
18.) Florida Gators | 3-1 Image (LW: 21)
19.) Michigan Wolverines | 4-0 Image (LW: 20)
20.) Texas Tech Red Raiders | 4-0 Image (LW: 22)
21.) Fresno State Bulldogs | 4-0 Image (LW: 25)
22.) Northern Illinois Huskies | 4-0 Image (LW: NR)
23.) Oklahoma State Cowboys | 3-1 Image (LW: 11)
24.) Arizona State Sun Devils | 3-1  Image (LW: NR)
25.) Maryland Terrapins | 4-0 Image (LW: NR)

Out: Ole Miss Rebels (LW: 21), Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 23), Notre Dame Fighting Irish (LW: 24)

Heisman Frontrunner: Marcus Mariota (ORE QB) — 60 of 107 for 1003 yards, 9 TD + 295 rushing yards, 5 TD

Offensive Performance of the Week: Cody Fajardo (NEV QB) — 38 of 54 for 389 yards, 3 TD + 81 rushing yards, 2 TD

Defensive Performance of the Week: Alden Darby (ASU S) — 7 tackles (5 solo), 2 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD

Can Moneyball work in the NFL?

Buying runs isn’t possible in the NFL. Let’s just get that out of the way right from the beginning. The sole purpose of Moneyball is to strategically buy runs for the lowest dollar value possible and turn those runs into wins. In baseball, it’s a lot easier to accomplish this simply because talent is controlled for longer periods of time – teams own rights to a player for at least six full seasons in the majors – whereas in the NFL teams have to pay their rookies a substantial amount of money, even with the rookie wage scale, and have to do so over a shorter period of time. Most first round draft picks sign four or five year deals in the NFL. In MLB, it’s a uniform six years of team control. You start out making the minimum and then get gradual increases based upon performance which then lead to your arbitration years. I won’t bore people with explaining that any further. But rather let’s discuss whether or not the Moneyball model can work in the NFL.

If you can’t buy runs in the NFL then what can you buy? Well, the obvious answer is points. You can try to buy points. But that’s not really all of the equation. Points in football can come from the defense and special teams as well as from the offense. Runs in baseball only come from the offense. There’s runs saved (defense) in baseball but that’s something that’s still being tinkered with to varying degrees within the sabermetrics community. Rather than buying points, you can buy yards. But how many yards results in a successful team? 5000? 5500? 5750? 6000? It’s hard to say, really, but I did a little bit of research on this.

Over the last ten seasons in the NFL, 2003-2012, there have been 161 teams that have put up at least 5250 yards in a season. There were 320 team seasons during that span. So this, clearly, means that just almost about half the teams in the NFL put up at least 5250 yards in a season. Narrowing this down further, 120 teams have put up at least 5500 yards in a season. So we’re finally under half of the league. This means that roughly 37.5% of the seasons produced by teams over the last ten seasons have resulted in at least 5500 yards. If we’re going to do this and buy yards, instead of points, we’re going to have to narrow this down even further. Let’s look at how many teams have produced 5750 yards in a season. I could go as high as 6000 yards in a season seeing as how that’s sort of become the norm over the last few seasons but 5750 feels like a safer number. Over the last decade, there have been 75 instances of a team putting up 5750 yards in a season. This equates to 23.4%. And, finally, 41 instances of a team putting up at least 6000 yards in a season has occurred. This is just ever so slightly under 13%. Now that’s an elite level. So let’s use 6000 yards in a season as the barometer.

Of those 41 teams that have put up 6000 yards in a season, just 5 of them have finished under .500 in a season. Another eight have finished right at the .500 mark, 8-8. So we’re looking at just 13 of those 41 teams failing to provide a true winning record. This comes out to 31.7%. So, roughly, a third of the teams that put up 6000 yards in a season over the last decade have failed to produce a winning record. So how does this compare to baseball’s version of yards (runs)? Well, if you want to put a high value on runs, which you absolutely should, then a team who scores 800 or more runs in a season is generally thought of as having a great offense. Over the last ten full MLB seasons, 2003-2012, there have been 76 teams that have produced at least 800 runs in a season. This is over 300 team seasons. This equates to 25.3%. It goes nearly perfectly into what the NFL showed about teams who have put up at least 5750 yards in a season over the last ten years. Of the 76 teams that put up at least 800 runs in a season, only 13 of them have ended up under the .500 mark (17.1%). If you factor in teams that have finished right at the .500 mark, it gets the ever slightest of nudges to 14 out of 76 (18.4%).

If you narrow that down even further and move the barometer from 800 runs scored in a season to 850 runs scored, the number of teams who have done that over the last ten seasons goes from 76 to 34. So, that’s 34 out of 300 team seasons. Or, in percentage terms, 11.3%. This is almost in line with the 12.8% that the NFL has seen in regards to teams putting up 6000 yards over the last ten years. Of those 34 teams who scored at least 850 runs, four didn’t finish with at least a .500 record. A mark of 11.8%. So while it’s still 20% lower than what the NFL mark was, it’s still a nice little hand-in-hand mechanism there. Of the 34 teams to score 850 runs in a season over the last decade, five have finished with at least 100 wins in a season (14.7%). In the NFL, of the 41 teams to put up at least 6000 yards of offense over the last decade, six have put up at least 13 wins in a season (14.6%). The harmony here is actually quite noticeable. So it looks like you have a good chance of being a real good football team if you achieve 6000 yards of offense in a given season. Of course, as you can see by how infrequently this has happened over the last decade, this is easier said than actually done since it’s only happened 12.8% of the time.

So, back to the original point, how do you actually buy yards? It’s nearly impossible to say. What you can buy, however, is talent to gain those yards. The means in which to get to your goal. It’s all about acquiring the talent that’ll get you into the endzone in an efficient and quick manner for as cheap as possible. I firmly believe there is a model that’ll work in the NFL in order to make this happen. And this is a four-fold model. There are currently four teams – yes, four – that are implementing some form of this model or, at the very least, attempting to implement. They are the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cleveland Browns. I’ll explain each team and how they’re doing this.

As you’re about to see, all four of these teams are going about buying yards through the draft model. It’s the only way to provide a successful return on your investments. Since 2003, the San Francisco 49ers have had 14 first round draft picks. Of those 14 first round picks, nine were on offense and five were on defense. Of the nine offensive players selected in the first round, four were offensive linemen, four were receiving options (three receivers and one tight end), and the other was a quarterback taken with the first overall selection in 2005. Of the five defensive players selected in the first round, four were front seven pieces (two outside linebackers, one inside linebacker, and a defensive lineman) while the other was their first round pick this past season, a free safety who they traded up for. I’ll get into trades more in a second but let’s continue to look at the other teams.

Since 2003, the Seattle Seahawks have had 10 first round draft picks. Of those ten, three have been on offense. All three are offensive linemen. That obviously means that the other seven draft picks have been on the defensive side of the ball. Four of those seven have been front seven players (two defensive ends, a defensive tackle, and a linebacker). The remaining three were secondary picks (two cornerbacks and a free safety). The Philadelphia Eagles have had nine first round draft picks since 2003. Three of those nine were offensive linemen, one was a wide receiver, and five were defensive linemen. And, lastly, the Cleveland Browns have had 12 first round draft picks over that span of time. Three of them were offensive linemen, two were receiving options (one tight end and one wide receiver), one was a running back, two were quarterbacks (both taken late in the first), three were front seven players (two outside linebackers and one defensive lineman), and one was a cornerback.

In total, there have been 45 first round draft picks made since 2003 by these four teams alone. Of those 45, 13 were offensive linemen. They accounted for 28.9% of the first round picks made by these teams over that period of time. Only 7 of the 45 (15.6%) were receiving options, which I’m classifying as either a wide receiver or a tight end. Three of the 45 were quarterbacks and one was a running back. This means that four of the 45 were what I’d like to call “backfield talent.” In total, 53.3% (24) of the 45 first round draft picks have been offensive players. Of the remaining 21 players, 16 were front seven players and five were secondary players.

The draft angle here is why this is so important. All four of these teams have seen coaching changes within the last four years. Some, and I’m looking at you Cleveland, have had more than one coaching change during that time. One of the biggest rallying points of recent drafts has been that you absolutely, positively, never spend a first round pick on a running back. Their shelf life is one of the shortest in the NFL and you can find a capable replacement without really looking all that hard. Well, thanks to the recent trade that saw Cleveland ship off the third overall pick last season, running back Trent Richardson, to the Indianapolis Colts, none of these four teams have a first round running back on their roster that they themselves personally drafted. Of the top 20 rushers in the NFL last season, eight were first round picks. The remaining 12 players had a draft breakdown as follows: three in the 2nd round, four in the 3rd round, one in the 5th round, one in the 6th round, one in the 7th round, and two that were Undrafted Free Agents.  Why is this important? Well ..

Of those eight first round picks at running back that finished in the top twenty in rushing yards last season, only two of them had the added benefit of being on a winning team. And those were Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, who both finished in the top three in rushing yards last season. This means that the other six players wound up on teams that didn’t finish above the .500 mark. In fact, none of those six teams even finished at the .500 mark. So they weren’t even average teams. The combined record of teams that those eight first round picks were on last season was 59-68-1. In other words, not good. The non-first round picks in the top twenty of rushing yards last season were on teams that went a combined 107-84-1. On top of that, there were only three teams with an actual losing record; the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans. Every other team finished above .500 last season. So just how important is a first round running back? To put it mildly, he’s not that important at all. A quarterback, as I’m sure we’re all aware of right now, is far more important. But, when should you draft your franchise quarterback? Let’s take a look.

Using the same method that we used for running backs, looking at yards – since our whole construct here is to buy yards instead of points – as a gauge, 14 of the league’s top 20 quarterbacks in yards last season were selected in the first round. It’s an astounding number. Then again, one could reasonably argue that that’s because more quarterbacks are taken in the first round than running backs. This could be why it’s so heavily slanted towards quarterbacks in this method. Since 2003, there have been 32 quarterbacks that have been selected in the first round. Over that same period of time, there have been 29 running backs that have been taken in the first round. So, perhaps, the argument that more quarterbacks than running backs are taken in the first round is one that’s pretty much misguided. I’m sure there are even people who would say that over the last few seasons, we’ve seen fewer running backs go in the first round and more quarterbacks go in the first round. A “new age” line of thinking, so to speak. Well, since 2008 there have been 16 quarterbacks taken in the first round while there have been 15 running backs that have been called in that opening round. In fact, even looking as closely as 2010, there have been only 11 quarterbacks taken in the first round while running backs have seen their number stay pretty much on par with 7 first round selections. Not a huge discrepancy there. This all goes back to the “shelf life” idea.

With a shorter shelf life on running backs, the first round picks have a shorter career thus teams are selecting backup running backs in the middle rounds and securing their future through cheap, satisfactory, talent. In 2011, a study came out that said the average NFL career lasted 6.86 years. The average career of a running back lasts 2.57 years. So, think about it this way. Would you rather use a first round pick on a player that you’ll likely get seven years out of or a player that you’ll get only two-and-a-half years out of? The answer is pretty much a no-brainer. If you have two players, one who you’ll get an average of 41 games out of and the other who you’ll get an average of 110 games, you’re likely going to go after the one who’ll give you 69 extra games. Even if those 41 games are great and the 110 games are average, you still want the extra 69 games just because it doesn’t require you to find a replacement and spend money on that replacement. Now let’s look back at the four teams I brought up earlier; the Eagles, Seahawks, 49ers, and Browns.

The Cleveland Browns are the only one of these teams to draft a running back in the first round since 2003. And, as I’m sure everyone is aware of by now, they traded Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first round pick. I’m actually quite critical of this trade. I think the Colts made out like bandits since the one thing they lacked on offense was a power running game, which is something Richardson should provide them. However, upon further review, the Browns got what they wanted out of this deal. They cut a little bit of salary, lowered their winning chances this season, and got a solid first round pick in what will be a pretty strong draft in the first round. It’s a stretch to say what the Browns will do in the first round. I’ve gone on record as saying they’ll likely select Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, both from Oregon, in the first round. I might have been way too hasty in saying this, though.

If the Cleveland Browns are going to follow a true “Moneyball” model and have success in the NFL for the next few seasons, they need to either (a) draft a quarterback with their first pick in the draft or (b) draft other elite talent and find a quarterback in the second or third round that’ll be on a cheap deal who can lead them for the foreseeable future. Option A is sort of seen in the Philadelphia Eagles, but not because they actually drafted Michael Vick. He’s just a piece of the puzzle. The Philadelphia Eagles are averaging 7.0 yards per play this season, which ranks 2nd in the NFL. If your goal is to buy yards then averaging seven years per play is something that you can aim for. The Eagles are used as an example here because of their yardage. Anytime you’re averaging seven yards per play, you’re doing something extremely right. So the Eagles are one slice of the Moneyball pie here. Let the next slice be added in the form of ..

The Seattle Seahawks. They did something that some people perceived as stupid at the time since they brought back Pete Carroll for his second stint as a head coach in the NFL. Not only that, but they gave him the power of also being general manager without actually holding the title. Carroll, believe it or not, actually hired the Seahawks general manager, John Schneider. In his first season in Seattle, Pete Carroll was at the forefront of over 250 transactions. He got rid of what he perceived was dead weight and made some bold moves. Prior to those other moves, Pete Carroll started off with a true “Moneyball” move. He drafted a franchise cornerstone left tackle (Russell Okung) and, then with the first round pick they got from Denver due to a trade from the previous season, he drafted a free safety (Earl Thomas). Carroll, ultimately, got a lot of quality players out of that draft. Not only did he get Okung and Thomas but also Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, and, especially, Kam Chancellor. And do you remember when I brought up the running backs and first round picks earlier? Well, Pete Carroll traded for a first round running back much in the way the Indianapolis Colts did. However, Carroll did it by giving up only a fourth round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012, which ended up being a fifth round pick.

When you look at the roster construction of the Seattle Seahawks, they truly fit the true “Moneyball” mantra more than any other team in the league, at least from a roster construction standpoint. Money is another issue but, as I stated earlier, the NFL is different than the MLB simply because guys have to be paid in football. You can’t cut salary down to a bare minimum and expect to put out a winning team. There’s only one team in the NFL that is spending less than $90 million on players this season, the Oakland Raiders. And we can honestly say that they’re terrible. The other teams in the bottom five for salary? Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and New York Jets. Those five teams are a combined 5-10 this season. You have to spend money in order to be successful in the NFL. The top five teams in salary this season are a combined 11-4. On a larger scale, the top ten teams in salary this season are a combined 20-10. The bottom ten teams in salary this season are a combined 14-16. The other twelve teams in the NFL, the teams in the middle, are a combined 14-23. It pays to spend money. It’s as simple as that.

Going back to the Seattle Seahawks for a second here. In 2011, they drafted Richard Sherman, the best cornerback in the NFL right now, in the fifth round after dealing a second round pick to the Detroit Lions, who, coincidentally, selected a running back. That running back hasn’t worked out. Richard Sherman has. In 2012, the Seahawks and Pete Carroll drafted Russell Wilson in the third round after he had fallen due to the ridiculous notion that he was too small. He’s been a revelation for them. He beat out the guy who got a massive contract from the Seahawks, Matt Flynn, who then was able to be flipped to the Oakland Raiders for two picks that’ll be happening over the next two drafts. Crazy, right? Anyways, the Seahawks, prior to drafting Wilson during that draft, happened to draft Bruce Irvin in the first round, which was seen as a reach, and Bobby Wagner in the second round. Wagner has been great already and Irvin has shown flashes. Their fourth round pick? Robert Turbin, who has been great as the backup to Marshawn Lynch. Either way, the Seahawks were built masterfully by Pete Carroll and the guys under him.

This brings us to the San Francisco 49ers, who also hired a coach away from college to lead them back to prominence. It’s already paid off in just two short seasons that saw Jim Harbaugh lead the 49ers to two consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances and a Super Bowl appearance. His first ever draft pick? Aldon Smith. His second? A trade up for current starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Or, as I like to refer to him, Gazagtah. After having a successful first season with Alex Smith, he jumped off that boat as soon as Smith got injured because he knew his team needed to have more of a weapon under center. That weapon took the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl where they ended up only about five yards short from winning it all. The 49ers then traded Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second round pick in 2013 and a second or third round pick in 2014. The pick in 2014 depends on how many games the Chiefs win. If they win at least 8 games, the 49ers will get a second round pick. Less than 8 games makes it a third round pick. Either way, it was one hell of a deal. The 49ers are on here for one reason, shrewd moves. That’s another piece of the Moneyball puzzle. Knowing when and when not to pull the switch and get something for an entity that you don’t need.

So far I’ve talked about three-fourths of the puzzle here and how they fit the Moneyball mentality: Eagles, Seahawks, and 49ers. That leaves the Cleveland Browns. So why does a team who seemingly has no idea what they’re doing find themselves on this list? It’s simple really. They’re slowly starting to get back onto the right track. They got top dollar, much like the 49ers, for an entity that they didn’t need. Dealing Trent Richardson, on the surface, is a pretty dumb move. I mean, the kid has unbelievable talent and will be a good player in the NFL barring anything serious. However, getting a first round pick for him and getting out from under that contract – a contract that has, at the very least, another two years and $5.4 million on it – was an incredibly smart move. The problem with the move is that the Browns must hit on both first round picks in the upcoming draft. If not, then this trade did absolutely nothing for them. As I talked about extremely earn on, the Browns need to draft a quarterback high in the first round or wait until early in the third round to nab a low cost quarterback that they can have under contract for about four or five years rather than a slightly higher priced quarterback. For instance, just as a thought, if the Cleveland Browns walked out of the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft with Anthony Barr, Sammy Watkins, Kyle Fuller, Zach Mettenberger, and Bishop Sankey, would Browns fans be all that mad? I’d seriously doubt it.

This is what the model is designed to do. However, despite all of this, pulling off a model like this is almost like a one-in-a-million shot. I’m not saying that Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh got lucky with what they did but some luck was involved. It took the perfect storm of events to make all of it possible. In order to have sustained success in the NFL with this model, you will have to eventually pay the talent what they respectfully deserve. You will lose some players to free agency simply because that’s the nature of the business. However, if you feel that way, you can head off that problem by trading them and getting something back in return for nothing. It’d make a lot of sense. Much like in the same way the 49ers traded away Alex Smith. You have to be able to accumulate a ton of draft picks in order to make the process go faster. Much like in the same way the Browns have done. You have to be able to make brash moves and wheel-and-deal wherever you see fit in order to get the talent you want and the results you desire. Much like in the same way the Seahawks did. And, finally, you have to be able to produce with the talent on the field by pulling off chunks of yards at a time so that you’ll have a chance to compete. Much like in the same way the Eagles are trying to do.

The model is there. It’s not perfect but nothing in life really ever is perfect. It requires you knowing what you’re doing, hitting on a lot of your personnel decisions, and being lucky with injuries and things of that nature. It requires a front office that’s willing to bend and embrace this kind of theory. And that’s what it is. A theory, mostly. It won’t work all the time. But it will work some of the time. Just look at the Seahawks. Made a ton of right moves, made a couple of wrong ones, but they’re right there amongst the elite because of their decisions. Now they have the highest paid roster in the NFL but they’ve earned it because of those moves. They’ll continue to be successful because the model they’ve used dictates long-term success. That’s all you can ever hope for.

2014 NFL Draft Big Board (Edition #1)

  • I plan on doing this every week or at least every two weeks. I’ll be updating my draft board during that time and showing who is rising and who is falling. Over the next few editions, I’ll also list my most underrated and most overrated. If you would like to discuss anything about it, you can always tweet me (@FlyByKnite).

01.) Marcus Mariota | QB | Oregon | rSO

02.) Anthony Barr | OLB | UCLA | SR

03.) Brett Hundley | QB | UCLA | rSO

04.) Teddy Bridgewater | QB | Louisville | JR

05.) Jadeveon Clowney | DE | South Carolina | JR

06.) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix | SS | Alabama | JR

07.) Jake Matthews | LT | Texas A&M | SR

08.) Marqise Lee | WR | USC | JR

09.) Jason Verrett | CB | TCU | SR

10.) Bradley Roby | CB | Ohio State | rJR

11.) Cyrus Kouandijo | LT | Alabama | JR

12.) Mike Evans | WR | Texas A&M | rSO

13.) Kevin Hogan | QB | Stanford | rSO

14.) C.J. Mosley | ILB | Alabama | SR

15.) David Yankey | OG | Stanford | SR

16.) Taylor Lewan | LT | Michigan | rSR

17.) De’Anthony Thomas | OW | Oregon | JR

18.) Ryan Shazier | OLB | Ohio State | JR

19.) Louis Nix III | NT | Notre Dame | SR

20.) Kyle Van Noy | OLB | BYU | rSR

21.) Austin Seferian-Jenkins | TE | JR

22.) Khalil Mack | OLB | Buffalo | rSR

23.) Will Sutton | DT | Arizona State | rSR

24.) Loucheiz Purifoy | CB | Florida | JR

25.) Sammy Watkins | WR | Clemson | JR

26.) Tajh Boyd | QB | Clemson | SR

27.) Melvin Gordon | RB | Wisconsin | rSO

28.) Lache Seastrunk | RB | Baylor | rJR

29.) Eric Ebron | TE | North Carolina | JR

30.) Ifo Ekpre-Olomu | CB | Oregon | JR

31.) Ed Reynolds | FS | Stanford | SR

32.) Telvin Smith | OLB | Florida State | SR

My Personal CFB Top 25 (after Week 4) + Other Various Info

  • Enjoy. Tweet me (@FlyByKnite) if you wanna discuss anything.

1.) Oregon Ducks | 3-0 Image (LW: 2)

2.) Alabama Crimson Tide | 3-0 Image (LW: 1)

3.) Stanford Cardinal | 3-0 Image (LW: 4)

4.) Clemson Tigers | 3-0 Image (LW: 3)

5.) Ohio State Buckeyes | 4-0 Image (LW: 5)

6.) Louisville Cardinal | 4-0 Image (LW: 6)

7.) LSU Tigers | 4-0 Image (LW: 7)

8.) Florida State Seminoles | 3-0 Image (LW: 9)

9.) Georgia Bulldogs | 2-1 Image (LW: 8)

10.) UCLA Bruins | 3-0 Image (LW: 10)

11.) Oklahoma State Cowboys | 3-0 Image (LW: 11)

12.) South Carolina Gamecocks | 2-1 Image (LW: 12)

13.) Oklahoma Sooners | 3-0 Image (LW: 13)

14.) Miami Hurricanes | 3-0 Image (LW: 14)

15.) Texas A&M Aggies | 3-1 Image (LW: 16)

16.) Washington Huskies | 3-0 Image (LW: 18)

17.) Northwestern Wildcats | 4-0 Image (LW: 17)

18.) Ole Miss Rebels | 3-0 Image (LW: 19)

19.) Baylor Bears | 3-0 Image (LW: 21)

20.) Michigan Wolverines | 4-0 Image (LW: 15)

21.) Florida Gators | 2-1 Image (LW: 20)

22.) Texas Tech | 4-0 Image (LW: 22)

23.) Wisconsin Badgers | 3-1 Image (LW: 25)

24.) Notre Dame Fighting Irish | 3-1 Image (LW: 24)

25.) Fresno State Bulldogs | 3-0 Image (LW: NR)

Out: Arizona State Sun Devils (LW: 23)

Heisman Frontrunner: Teddy Bridgewater (LOU QB) –79 of 110 for 1214 yards, 14 TD, 1 INT

Offensive Performance of the Week: Brett Smith (WYO QB) — 35 of 41 for 373 yards, 4 TD + 138 rushing yards, 1 TD

Co-Defensive Performance of the Week: Morgan Breslin (USC DE) — 4 tackles (4 solo), 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 QBH

Co-Defensive Performance of the Week: Vic Beasley (CLEM DE) — 5 tackles (3 solo), 3.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FF, 2 pass breakups

My Personal CFB Top 25 (after Week 3) + Various Other Info

  • Enjoy. Tweet me (@FlyByKnite) if you wanna discuss anything.

1.) Alabama Crimson Tide | 2-0 Image (LW: 1)

2.) Oregon Ducks | 3-0 Image (LW: 3)

3.) Clemson Tigers | 2-0 Image (LW: 2)

4.) Stanford Cardinal | 2-0 Image (LW: 4)

5.) Ohio State Buckeyes | 3-0 Image (LW: 5)

6.) Louisville Cardinal | 3-0 Image (LW: 6)

7.) LSU Tigers | 3-0 Image (LW: 7)

8.) Georgia Bulldogs | 1-1 Image (LW: 8)

9.) Florida State Seminoles | 2-0 Image (LW: 10)

10.) UCLA Bruins | 2-0 Image (LW: 15)

11.) Oklahoma State Cowboys | 3-0 Image (LW: 12)

12.) South Carolina Gamecocks | 2-1 Image (LW: 13)

13.) Oklahoma Sooners | 3-0 Image (LW: 14)

14.) Miami Hurricanes | 2-0 Image (LW: 15)

15.) Michigan Wolverines | 3-0 Image (LW: 11)

16.) Texas A&M Aggies | 2-1 Image (LW: 9)

17.) Northwestern Wildcats | 3-0 Image (LW: 17)

18.) Washington Huskies | 2-0 Image (LW: 19)

19.) Ole Miss Rebels | 3-0 Image (LW: 21)

20.) Florida Gators | 1-1 Image (LW: 20)

21.) Baylor Bears | 2-0 Image (LW: 23)

22.) Texas Tech | 3-0 Image (LW: NR)

23.) Arizona State Sun Devils | 2-0 Image (LW: NR)

24.) Notre Dame Fighting Irish | 2-1 Image (LW: 24)

25.) Wisconsin Badgers | 2-1 Image (LW: 18)

Out: TCU Horned Frogs (LW: 22), Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 25)

Heisman Frontrunner: Marcus Mariota (ORE QB) — 49 of 82 for 889 yards, 7 TD + 262 rushing yards, 4 TD

Offensive Performance of the Week: Mike Evans (A&M WR) — 7 catches for 279 yards, 1 TD

Defensive Performance of the Week: Anthony Barr (UCLA LB) — 11 tackles (7 solo), 1.5 TFL, 3 FF

My Personal CFB Top 25 (after Week 2) + Various Other Info

  • Enjoy. Tweet me (@FlyByKnite) if you wanna discuss anything.

1.) Alabama Crimson Tide | 1-0 Image (LW: 1)

2.) Clemson Tigers | 2-0 Image (LW: 2)

3.) Oregon Ducks | 2-0 Image (LW: 3)

4.) Stanford Cardinal | 1-0 Image (LW: 5)

5.) Ohio State Buckeyes | 2-0 Image (LW: 4)

6.) Louisville Cardinal | 2-0 Image (LW: 7)

7.) LSU Tigers | 2-0 Image (LW: 10)

8.) Georgia Bulldogs | 1-1 Image (LW: 11)

9.) Texas A&M Aggies | 2-0 Image (LW: 8)

10.) Florida State Seminoles | 1-0 Image (LW: 9)

11.) Michigan Wolverines | 2-0 Image (LW: 14)

12.) Oklahoma State Cowboys | 2-0 Image (LW: 13)

13.) South Carolina Gamecocks | 1-1 Image (LW: 6)

14.) Oklahoma Sooners | 2-0 Image (LW: 15)

15.) UCLA Bruins | 1-0 Image (LW: 18)

16.) Miami Hurricanes | 2-0 Image (LW: 23)

17.) Northwestern Wildcats | 2-0 Image (LW: 20)

18.) Wisconsin Badgers | 2-0 Image (LW: 22)

19.) Washington Huskies | 1-0 Image (LW: 21)

20.) Florida Gators | 1-1 Image (LW: 12)

21.) Ole Miss Rebels | 2-0 Image (LW: 24)

22.) TCU Horned Frogs | 1-1 Image (LW: 25)

23.) Baylor Bears | 2-0 Image (LW: NR)

24.) Notre Dame Fighting Irish | 1-1 Image (LW: 17)

25.) Nebraska Cornhuskers | 2-0 Image (LW: NR)

Out: Texas Longhorns (LW: 16), USC Trojans (LW: 19)

Heisman Frontrunner: Teddy Bridgewater (UL QB) — 46 of 60 for 752 yards, 9 TD, 1 INT

Co-Offensive Performance of the Week: Aaron Murray (UGA QB) — 17 of 23 for 309 yards, 4 TD

Co-Offensive Performance of the Week:  Taysom Hill (BYU QB) — 9 of 26 for 129 yards, 1 INT + 17 carries for 259 yards, 3 TD

Defensive Performance of the Week: Damante Horton (WSU CB) — 4 tackles (3 solo), 2 TFL, 2 INT, 1 TD