Merlin’s Magic: Pioli Trade Chart Edition

Trades, trades, trades. As we build towards the NFL Draft, trading draft picks is always a hot topic. Inevitably in that discussion, the Jimmy Johnson created Trade Chart comes up. People love to hate the trade chart. This is exemplified by a recent comment from a pretty level-headed commenter on another blog had this to say when discussing a potential big move down by the Chiefs.

“I would trade down for sure and I think Pioli would, too …… but, yeah, the compensation issue would be a problem… it takes a LOT of picks to make that big of a move though, Pioli and I would probably consider less than the ‘chart’ says”

Well, that commenter might be willing to take less than the “chart” says, but would Pioli? Is this an example of the empty vessel syndrome or does that commenter have some insight or evidence to support his belief? It got me thinking. Does Pioli value the trade chart? Short of asking him directly and probably getting a non-answer answer, how do we find out? I decided to do some investigation and see if his history gives us any clues. Pioli has been involved in draft pick trades for years with the Patriots. What does that tell us and what conclusions can we draw from it?

First, we need to establish some methodology. The most direct and fairest evaluation of the Trade Chart and how closely Pioli adheres to it can be seen by looking at trades that involved draft picks being traded for draft picks in the same draft. I discarded all examples where players and/or draft picks in the following years draft were part of the compensation. Also, there was one trade that involved picks so low they were not even on the trade chart. This was due to compensation picks added and pushing down trade-able picks below the floor of the Trade Chart. After all that, we have ten trades that we can look at.

 Pioli’s Draft Picks Trades

Year Picks Given Picks Received Points Given Points Received Differential Moved Up Or Down % Differential
2006 52, 75 36 595 540 -55 Up -9.25%
2003 14, 193 13 1114.2 1150 35.8 Up 3.11%
  41, 74 36, 117 710 600 -110 Up -15.49%
  50, 120 45 454 450 -4 Up -0.88%
2002 32, 96, 234 21 708 800 92 Up 11.50%
2001 39 50, 112 510 470 40 Down 7.84%
  50, 173 48 422.2 420 -2.2 Up -0.52%
  69 86, 119 245 216 -29 Down -11.84%
  112, 139 96 106.5 116 9.5 Up 8.19%
  149 180, 216 31.8 24.4 -7.4 Down -23.27%

There is a lot of information on that chart so lets go through it. What I did was list each trade by year, pick numbers given and received, Trade Chart points given up and received, The differential (Where Pioli gave more points than he received are listed as negative numbers and are in red), whether Pioli moved up or down (defined by the highest pick on each side) and the percentage differential (listed also in negatives for giving up more than he received or positive, getting more than he dealt. The percentage differential is important. It’s one thing to give up fifty points on an exchange when you are dealing with first round picks. It’s quite another to have that much of a differential when you are dealing with forth round picks. The differential percentage is calculated as the points differential divided by the higher points a team exchanges, not the entire sum of the trade. For example, Team A trades 500 points to Team B for 400 points. The differential (100 points) is divided by Team A’s points (500) and a percentage (20%) is derived. Team A got 20% less value than the trade chart says it should receive.

The general assumption is that the team that trades up has to overpay, go beyond the trade value to move up. So, we would expect the trade up percentages to be in negative territory (giving up more that the chart value) and the trade downs to be in positive territory (getting more value than the chart indicates). How well does Pioli hold up to that? Pioli has made seven trade ups. Three of those trades were essentially a wash with a percentage differential of ~3% or less. They were basically even trades. Twice Pioli went above chart value to move up. The largest percent differential (~15%) came in the 2003 trade moving from #41 to #36. Pioli gave up 710 points to get only 600 points back. Twice Pioli moved up and actually gained point value. If you are looking for evidence of people not following the trade chart, you have those two examples. The percentage differentials are between 8 and 12 percent. It’s a significant differential, but it doesn’t blow the chart out of the water. Out of the seven times Pioli moved up, He got either a break-even trade or had to overpay a bit five times. Only twice did he deviate significantly from the Trade Chart. That deviation was never more than ~12%. What happens when he moves down? Does he, as expected, gain points by doing so?

He only has three trade downs to look at. So, the sample size really isn’t enough to derive a pattern from. However, he did lose value twice and only gained value once. Two of the trades contained percentage differentials of ~12% or less. Only one trade exceeded that. That was the 2001 trade of a 5th round pick for a 6th and 7th round selections. The point values (31.8 versus 24.4) are quite low so the percentage differential (~23%) is quite high.

Does one trade down of lower level picks destroy the value of the Trade Chart? No, I don’t think so. Does Pioli deviate from the Trade Chart? Yes, he does, not frequently though. However he rarely deviates by more than ~12% of trade value. I think the only fair conclusion we can draw from this is that the Trade Chart is still holds quite a bit of value for Scott Pioli. 

There are a couple of other interesting patterns in this study. I was struck by the trade up and trade downs. Does Pioli tend to move up or down in a draft? For this, we can add back in the trades I discounted for being below the trade chart or involving picks in another draft. For this, I created another table adding the designation ‘Out’ for when a trade was made purely for a pick in the following years draft. That table is below.

Year Picks Given Picks Received Moved Up, Down Or Out
2006 52, 75 36 Up
2003 81, 140 75, 4th rd in 2004 Up
  78 2nd in 2004 Out
  14, 193 13 Up
  19 41, 1st in 2004 Down
  41, 74 36, 117 Up
  50, 120 45 Up
  128, 5th in 2004 120 Up
  154, 225 164, 201, 243 Down
2002 32, 96, 234 21 Up
2001 39 50, 112 Down
  50, 173 48 Up
  69 86, 119 Down
  112, 139 96 Up
  149 180, 216 Down
  170 5th in 2002 Out

 With the sixteen trades in this chart, we can see some patterns. Pioli has move up in the draft nine times, moved down five times and move out twice. What does this tell us? It tells us that Pioli can move either way in the draft, but he is more likely to move up than down. For those of us who are hoping for a small move down from #5 this year, the data does not support that hope. It does not eliminate it, but the trend is against it.

The other thing that struck me was the years of these trades. With one exception, Pioli’s picks for picks trades all occurred between 2001 and 2003. Why is that the case? He has gone six drafts and made one trade solely comprised of draft picks. There are two possible answers here. Either Pioli traded a lot early to build the Pats to his liking or he has become more reluctant to do picks for picks trades as he has matured. He certainly hasn’t been shy about trading players for picks or vice versa. He traded for Cassel and Vrabel this past year. He traded Tony Gonzalez and traded for people like Randy Moss and Wes Welker. All this activity occurred in the last couple of years. Right now, I don’t think we have enough data to draw a firm conclusion on the last question. These next two drafts should provide some clearer answers.

What has this study revealed? It’s far to say that Pioli is not shy about trading picks, though his trades purely involving draft picks have decreased dramatically in the last few years. The jury is out as far as the reason why. Pioli does adhere to the trade chart, but will deviate though not more than ~12% of the trade chart value. This could be a result of variance in a particular draft or a willingness to be a bit flexible to get the player he wants. He tends to move up more than down but will move in either direction even moving completely out of the draft.

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