Thursday, June 30, 2011

the ballad of John-Michael Liles (part 2)

the ballad of John-Michael Liles, Avs GM Greg Sherman and General Life Asshole Chris Collision duet

Years ago, when I was playing a lot of NHL/NBA games, I thought it was a little silly that a player could customize in-game players, but not in-game coaches: after all, the (video)game itself casts the controller-holder as essentially a GM/coach figure, controlling all the players. It just seemed like a weird misplacement of identification.

Which is to say: everybody who likes pro sports is probably pretty clear that they absolutely cannot compete in any meaningful way with the players*, but they mostly tend to believe that they could coach or run a team adequately, and certainly better than whichever gang of idiots seems to be in charge of their favored squad.

*(Ignoring here professional idiots like Bill Simmons, who seems to believe he could beat WNBA players at basketball.
Confidential to professional idiot Bill Simmons on this point: no way, no day, chump.)

Taking myself as a case study, I believe I understand two things better than the people who make personnel decisions in professional sports.
  1. Time passes and the passage of time almost never makes a player better.
  2. Never fall in love with the most productive players on a bad team.
The first rule there has some somewhat subtle applications. A given player A is likely to be worse in year N+1 than they were in year N, so if you can trade player A for slightly-worse player B and gain any advantage in so doing, that trade is likely to be to your advantage. Another view of this rule is that if you can trade a player A for a player B who is (i) 85% as good and (ii) 3+ years younger, you should do so (modulo financial considerations: for the purpose of that example, I assumed A & B made about the same; for the purpose of the first, I assumed player B was significantly cheaper than player A.)

The second rule is much easier. It says simply "if the guy's so fucking good, how come his team sucked?".

The answer is usually "Well, it's a team game. He's good, but needed support. On our (better) team, he'll be even better and he'll help us win even more.". But--this is my central claim--that's fucking bullshit.

I'm writing this in my normal conditions of privation. Therefore, I'm not going to do the actual research. I'm just going to posit this as an axiom:
Guys who put up big numbers on bad teams almost never go on to put up big numbers on good teams.

Kovalchuk. Ballard. Probably Vokoun next year. Every Toronto Maple Leaf ever.

That means not only do you not trade for a guy who was a big wheel on a shit team, if you're that shit team, you don't want to commit to building around the guy. What's to build around? --If he were any good, you'd be good already, not building!

This brings us to J-M Liles, who was just traded to Toronto for essentially absolutely fucking nothing. A second-round pick. Well--let's assess: is a second-round pick likely to be an NHL player? Sure. Not a safe bet, but a good bet. Is that second-round pick likely to be a 40-point defenseman? Don't bet on it.

And rumours swirl around Paul Stastny: current stooge face of management Joe Sakic (hallowed be his name) declined to name him as a major building block for the future; he's definitely overpaid; he's incredibly competent but far from a marketing dreamboat; his dad's a fucking clown; he's had two bad years in a row.

But he's also a top-10 NHL center. He was an All-Star last year, and that was not a mistake. If 40-point NHL D-men are worth a second-round pick, what's an All-Star center worth? Apparently not much: he's likely to be moved, and the return is likely to be a first-round draft pick of the 10-to-15 variety and maybe a depth forward.

Not to be too strident, but not all that many 10-to-15 first-round picks turn into All-Star centers.

Savvy readers will have noted a subtle change in orientation over the course of this post: early on, I was all like "don't double down on good players on bad teams" and now I'm all "trading our most productive D-man for a second-round pick was bad business and trading our best all-around center is likely to be bad business too, dawg".

I don't have a super-strong defense for this apparent inconsistency. I understand if a reader* might say "your position is apparently the good player on another guy's team sucks eggs; the good player on your team must never be sold off for unproven commodities.".

*(Forgive me this assy affectation. I know full fucking well even the other contributors to this blog don't read this, much less anybody else. Sometimes, I have to pretend otherwise to (a) justify the time I spend on this crap to myself and supplementarily (b) keep myself from slinging my belt over the shower curtain rod.)

Maybe it's consistent in that like a mediocre goalie, I'm just playing the odds: most guys don't get significantly better over time; young guys are all things being equal better at playing and cheaper than old guys; rare commodities like All-Star centers and D-men who put up 40 points are rare and not to be traded for common commodities like second-round picks (30 per year)...

Enough. I am no GM, I know this. It's a fool who falls in love with big numbers on shit teams, and I know this too. But if I can't fall in love with somebody on a bad team, then who am I supposed to root for?

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