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More thoughts on recruiting and sleepers

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A favorite theory of Dorrell supporters is that he has "a special gift for spotting sleepers."  After looking at an admittedly small set of data, Mav has concluded otherwise:

of Dorrell's 4-star recruits, 43% (3/7) have become starters and major contributors, while 57% (4/7) have become at least contributing backups.

Of his 3-star recruits, 17% (4/23) have become starters and major contributors, while 52% (12/23) have become at least contributing backups.

Of his 2-star recruits, 7% (1/15) have become starters and major contributors, while 40% (6/15) have become at least contributing backups.

What do these figures tell us? Well, for one thing they tell us that Dorrell does not appear to be finding a disproportionate number of gems. His 4-star recruits perform better than his 3-star recruits, who perform better than his 2-star recruits.

This indicates that, contrary to Dorrell's supporters' claims, Dorrell is not especially gifted at spotting "sleepers."

Furthermore, studies conducted by Mav, and other more wide-ranging studies indicate that (1) there is a correllation between recruiting success and on-the-field success (please note that the direction of the correllation in not indicated, it could be that good recruiting causes good performance, or vice versa, or they could be mutually reinforcing); and (2) there is a correllation between recruiting rankings and likelihood of having an impact (i.e., a 5-star recruit is more likely to have an "impact" than a 3-star recruit).

At this point, a Blindo will inevitably interject that he can remember 5-star recruits who were busts, and lower-ranked recruits who were All-Conference.  The inevitable conclusion from this premise is that star rankings don't matter.  Such reasoning is, as is often the case with Blindos, both specious and incorrect.

But Blindo may have stumbled onto a valid point, is it at least possible that there are a number of players who are overrated or underrated by the current recruiting system, such that a savvy recruiter could actually increase his chances of recruiting success?  Specifically, are there market inefficiencies?

This is the broad subject of Moneyball, a fascinating book by Michael Lewis (although Billy Beane haters such as ESPN know-nothing Joe Morgan think Beane wrote Moneyball.

A good synopsis of Moneyball is

Every baseball fan has asked themselves over and over, why are marginal players overpaid? Why are millions invested in ONE player to the detriment of the team? Why does ownership seem trapped in some preconceived notion of what a ballplayer should look like? This book seeks to answer those questions and present an alternative view of how to run a winning team.

The antithesis, according to some, of the Moneyball/sabremetrics approach, is the approach of the scout, who relies on subjective measurements of the ability to run, throw, field, hit, and hit with power.

Accordingly to the proponents of sabremetrics, they are attempting to inject objectivity into a subjective system.  According to critics, it dehumanizes players by reducing them to statistics, and attacks the traditional methods of  evaluation, and to some, is a threat to the very core of the game.

I am willing to entertain the argument that Karl Dorrell is trying to find "sleepers" by focusing less on (probably) overvalued "tools" like speed.  Everyone knows and understands the 40-yard dash.  People freak out when they hear a guy runs a 4.4 40.  But the fact of the matter is that a player rarely runs 40 yards, in a straight line in a given football play.  Furthermore, the conditions in which a 40 yard dash are tested are highly different from a football game.  

Another probably overvalued "tool" is strength, especially measured as it is at the camps, by how many times a player can bench 185 pounds.

I won't for a second debate that strength is important in a football player, but there is practically no situation on a football field I can even imagine, when the ability to bench 185 pounds multiple times will be even slightly useful.  Football is a game in which a quick, explosive movement is helpful.  Raw power and strength in one repitition might be a good measurement (max bench, squat, clean, or deadlift, for example).

But although I am willing to entertain the argument that this is what Karl Dorrell is trying to do, upon further examination, it doesn't hold up.  Especially because all of these players are inevitably characterized by wholly subjective measurements that are really just codewords:  "He has heart," "he knows how to play the game," "he's a UCLA type player," "he's not a prima donna."

These epithets, one quickly realizes, are exactly the type of scoutspeak subjective mumbo-jumbo that Moneyball type evaluators of talent and skill would look askance at.

So, while there is probably something to the theory that a good evaluator could find "sleepers," upon closer examination, the numbers don't support the argument (applied to Karl Dorrell, or apparrently in the "big picture"), and furthermore, these supposed sleepers are apparently favored for subjective reasons that are impossible to quantify.

Therefore, it is quite likely that Dorrell's sleepers will continue their slumber.

But a truly innovative coach could take advantage of overvalued "tools" and truly find sleepers.

I think this is a topic that will merit returning to upon multiple occasions.