Sabermetric value analysis of Cleveland Browns defensive players
The Cleveland Browns defense has had moments of success this season, but are the defenders earning their paychecks in 2019?
To answer that question, in this article Dawg Pound Daily uses sabermetric analysis to compare each player’s salary versus their estimated league ranking, using spreadsheet analytics. “Value” is a numerical estimate of how well the player ranks at his position, compared to the expectations for performance by the ranking of his salary. In other words, how much bang per buck are the Cleveland Browns getting for each player?
For example, if your favorite player is, say, the 10th-highest paid guard in the NFL and he is estimated to be the 10th-best guard in the NFL, he is earning is money as expected. On the other hand, if the 10th-highest paid guard in the NFL is ranked 50th in the league in terms of performance, then he is way overvalued. Or if he is first string All-Pro, he is undervalued.
It’s not that different from fantasy football, where players can have dollar value and score points according to the structure of the league.
Valuation theory suggests that if the roster is full of players that overperform, that will translate to wins.
As you will see below, the Browns have several highly paid players who are performing at a vastly lower level than expected based on the high salaries that they earn. The Browns have the highest active payroll in the NFL, and yet they are only 2-4 at the time of this article.
That alone is a huge clue that suggests several players may be underperforming to earn this win-loss record. Moreover, the Browns rank 24th in total yards allowed and an appalling 30th at stopping the run. This is despite adding major free agents to the defensive line.
Player’s salaries measure management’s expectations. Using interior defenders as an example, the actual cap hits for each player from high-to-low are represented by the brown line in Figure 1 below.
This curve means that if your scouting is good and you can form an evaulation of the ranking of the player among others at the same position, then you have a good idea of the fair market value for the player.
On the average, veterans are going to slip as younger players emerge each year and ascend the rankings, especially because the NFL has different pay scales for young players .
For this article, the player grades from Pro Football Focus are used to rank the players. Readers of DPD will no doubt be able to suggest other ranking methods, but PFF at least gives us a place to start the discussion.