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What to Expect When You're Expecting (To Play in MLS)

A look at past draft picks playing time and salary in their first year post MLS draft, and what it means.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

So every year I try to go ahead and figure out what happened with the previous draft class as sort of a "Well, you made it to the Pro's, here's what to expect" in the sense that there's often a lot of optimism about draft picks and the myth of the late round steal, and the smart pick and... I'm still not convinced any of that plays out.

Going back to the last three years of drafts, that is, 2012, 2013, and 2014, I've culled out playing time and salary, as, let's face it, as a kid right out of college you probably are mainly concerned with what are you going to do and how much are you going to get paid for doing it (not to say there's no value in being the understudy, more on that later).

Right now my list is certainly NOT all inclusive as I only have 500 players picked.

The first graphic I've got is playing time vs draft pick #. Here we go.


You can sort of see that, around position 25 or so, there's a pretty big drop off in the number of guys who see playing time in their first year and those who don't. Indeed, many guys who go after round 30 or so don't even wind up making the first team for a full year. Now, the correlation isn't great, and that's probably reasonable. Each team will have different needs at the start of the draft, not to mention that over the course of the year, injuries, suspensions, callups and trades may mean some inexperienced guy has to step in.

The second graphic I've got is draft order vs. salary. This one is a little more tight. In general, the guys who go higher, get paid more. Also makes sense, as the early guys tend to have Generation Adidas contracts or enough skill to potentially take their trade elsewhere. Here's that chart.


Again, if you draw a straight line from the top guys towards the X axis you can see at around position 25 wages tend to flat line at the minimum wage. The two exceptions you see there are goal keepers taken late, Brian Perk and Sean Johnson. So Sean Johnson is maybe a good example of an outlier... Goalies never seem to warrant much attention in the draft (I saw after Andre Blake goes #1 in 2014..) but maybe have a little more pull when it comes to contracts.

One thing I found somewhat interesting was the relative change, or lack there of, in the R^2 values from this iteration last year to this one. Last year for Pick Position v Playing Time the R^2 value (rough estimate of correlation) was 0.243. This time it was 0.254, implying that maybe guys from 2014 are getting a little more regular time compared to previous draftees. On the flip side was the R^2 value for Pick Position v initial salary. It moved from 0.585 to 0.560, implying that guys who got drafted earlier weren't making quite as much as they have in previous years, relative to guys who went later.

I'm not sure there's a whole helluva lot you can read into this other than, after about pick 25, draftees rarely make an immediate impact (indeed, most are cut, I should run those numbers some day) and rarely get big contracts right away. Goal keepers are perhaps an exception to this, implying that college GKs are either under valued by MLS coaching and technical staffs or that it's simply easier to sign/develop a GK in MLS.

Perhaps this is an argument to start cutting the Draft off after 2 rounds? It's already been relegated to a conference call...