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The Value of Things: A Houston Texans Analytical Manifesto

How do analytics impact the way teams play?

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New York Jets v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

There are certain points in the calendar where it takes some effort to come up with stuff to talk about. While the draft is only a few weeks away, we have hashed and rehashed these prospects to death. There is always a spot on the calendar when pro days are done and interviews are done and fans are just left to sit around twiddling their thumbs in preparation for the actual event.

Last year at about this time The Value of Things was born. In the radio business they teach you that your audience changes every 15 to 20 minutes. While it might not be that severe here, our audience turns over here as well. So, this is a good opportunity to go over what value of things is all about.

I originally come from a baseball background. I’ve written five books, but the two I’m proudest of are The Hall of Fame Index and The Hall of Fame Index Part II. Of course, analytics has come under some fire lately. There have been voices that have said the same about the NBA. It is only natural that people would say the same about football eventually.

Analytics are used in two different ways in the sports world. The first purpose of analytics was as a way to maximize how one uses their resources. Every team has the same amount of money to spend, so how efficiently do you spend it? Obviously, baseball and basketball don’t operate the exact same way, but there are similar questions involved. Value of Things has definitely been organized around that central question.

The second part of analytics is probably the one that most people think of when they think of when they say analytics are killing the sport. Analytics have effected the strategies that teams use to win. In the NBA, it is a focus on three point shooting. In baseball, it is the proliferation of strikeouts, walks, and dingers. There is no way that analytics hasn’t impacted the way that offenses and defenses operate.

All of us have opinions about how offenses and defenses operate, but that isn’t the purpose of The Value of Things. The purpose of The Value of Things is to look at resource allocation. The biggest revolution in baseball analytics was the concept of a replacement level player. It seems so simple now, but before then you were comparing players to the average player at their position.

The problem is that average players have value. It is sometimes challenging to find average players. In football terms, a replacement level player becomes a undrafted free agent that makes a team. In other words, if you took a picture of the 2022 Houston Texans linebacking corps you could see replacement level performance as something tangible. These concepts have different starting points than in the NFL, but the concept is essentially the same.

From a value perspective, the distance between replacement level and average is the same as the distance between average and exceptional. Yet, the amount of money you pay to get to exceptional is exorbitant. Those are the players that excite fans, but in free agency you might be able to find one or two exceptional players. You can easily find a half dozen average players at the same time.

A look at the Texans roster between 2017 and 2020 was a lesson in resource allocation. They had a terrific roster if you were looking at the top 22. It was the next 22 where things went awry. You never make it through a season with the starting lineup intact. The Texans just didn’t have the depth to make a deep playoff run. Then, you start paying average guys like they are good players and you find yourself in the hole.

There are worse things in the world than being forced to rebuild. Some teams find themselves in purgatory. They have just enough talent to compete, but not enough talent to succeed. The Texans have flushed out just about every bad contract they had. They stripped it down to the foundation. Now, Caserio has the herculean task of upgrading over replacement-level players one position at a time.

Going from terrible to average isn’t exciting. Average players don’t capture the hearts of a fanbase. However, we will begin to look at different facets of the game. We know what terrible looks like. We’ve seen that the last three seasons. Now, begins the thankless work of moving to average. We will look at that from every conceivable angle. After all, if you are able to get to average across the board then you become an eight or nine win team by definition. Sometimes that’s good enough to make the playoffs. With the rest of the AFC South in varying degrees of dysfunction, average could come a lot sooner than everyone thinks.