April 24, 2011

How do you determine the value of a player?

It won't be long before IPL franchisees figure out a formula to calculate the true worth of players

It's ironic that currently cricketers receive the highest pay for playing the shortest game. Three hours of effort in an IPL match reaps far greater rewards for a player than a gruelling five-day Test. This doesn't make sense - economic or cricketing - but it's a matter of supply and demand.

However, in the same way that businessmen establish a worth for their employees, IPL owners and other franchisees around the world will eventually find a way to put a value on players. When that happens, cricketers will have to get used to fewer rich contracts that don't make sense. After all the franchisees are businessmen who didn't amass their fortunes by making poor deals. It won't be long before they realise - some already have - a player has a certain value and beyond that mark you're over-paying for talent. As a witty economist once said: "The ancient Greeks used to sit around and argue whether men or women have more hair on their head. Did they ever think to count?"

The first figure the franchises will need to arrive at is the value of a win. There's more to it than just the prize money, as a franchise can add to its value by building a winning tradition. Once a win can be roughly valued, then a reasonable estimate can be made of each player's worth. The franchise owners can better decide what is value for money in each player's case.

Obviously for marquee players like Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Shane Warne, Kevin Pietersen and company, there's also a marketing value to be added. These players can't be judged solely on what they do on the field, even though they represent good value as cricketers.

A quick look at the early going in this year's IPL gives a clear indication that the latest auction has produced a few potential steals and some dud deals. The Mumbai Indians appear to have gone to auction with more money than sense. To pay a huge fee for both Andrew Symonds and Kieron Pollard, two powerful strikers who field well and can bowl a bit, seems to be a case of overkill. Both are able to play a full season, so why not buy only one and have a cheap replacement available if the star player is injured?

In the first five matches Pollard faced two balls and Symonds hit just two sixes, with neither contributing greatly to a Mumbai win. Forget the economics, having both those players in a side where Tendulkar is renowned for regularly batting a good proportion of an innings that only lasts 120 balls doesn't make cricketing sense.

Both Pollard and Symonds are viable propositions if they are regularly clouting sixes and contributing to at least a couple of victories a season. It's difficult for that to happen when neither is getting much time at the crease. As one of the rich clubs, Mumbai can afford to make a few monetary mistakes but eventually even the high rollers tire of fiscal folly.

Some of the less affluent clubs can't afford to make million-dollar mistakes. They are looking for bargains - a reasonable value player who performs extremely well. In that category, both Jesse Ryder, for the Pune Warriors, and Paul Valthaty, of the Kings XI Punjab, represent good value for money in the early going.

In 2003 the bestselling author Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball, a book in which he delved into the art of valuing baseball players in America. The gist of the book was about how the general manager of a less affluent club was utilising modern statistics to unearth players who were undervalued. Since then, even more sophisticated statistics have been devised in baseball to give a rough indication of what a win is worth.

A similar statistical transition will take place in Twenty20 and eventually this may even flow through to the longer games. So the message is clear to cricketers: enjoy the high wages for short games because soon "value for money" will become the owners' catch-cry.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on April 27, 2011, 12:29 GMT

    Chappell just can't grasp the true meaning of value. He's obsessed with slogging, measured by mighty sixes and huge strike rates. No wonder he's barking up the wrong tree. Who's winning matches for Mumbai Indians? Obviously it's total team effort: batting, bowling, fielding, all in unison. Meaning total team value is bigger than the sum of its parts. That's synergy. Among MI batsmen, builders contribute the most: Tendulkar, Rayudu, Sharma. Even Symonds. He and Sharma did most in a consolidating-building mode. Pollard is a slogger: flashy but can't be counted on as a consistent, reliable player like a builder. Tendulkar is a reliable constant: last year he was the top IPL scorer, but only had 3 sixes, in leading MI to the final. More important, how do you measure intangibles: character, self-belief, passion, work-ethic, mentoring, leadership, staying power? How do you assess Sachin's true worth? You cannot. He's Invaluable! Priceless! A National Treasure! Ian just doesn't get it.

  • Jay on April 27, 2011, 12:18 GMT

    (Contd) Another sad MLB reality: Bankruptcy is as American as baseball and Chevrolet. Two MLB clubs - Chicago Cubs & Texas Rangers - went bankrupt recently. And last week the MLB Commissioner seized control of the storied LA Dodgers club from its feuding owners. The big problem: Mismanagement and bad finances. The IPL? So far so good. Ian, you missed it: the frugal Rajasthan Royals won the inaugural IPL trophy with the least costly player payroll! Maybe the MLB can learn a thing or two from the IPL: Its novel auction, which limits contracts to 3 years, with salary caps. As any numbers geek knows, MLB clubs have big busts too: Those deadly long-term contracts with dud stars. Yes, statisticians have a role to play, but only in the support staff. Decision-making should best be left to selectors, captains & coaches, with owners having a say. The IPL model is working fine; it weathered a major crisis last year. The future? Like any business, market forces will determine IPL's value.

  • Prashant on April 26, 2011, 22:02 GMT

    It's always that way with wages. People who do hard physical labor and put in 90 hrs a week are the least paid. People who sit at the top of the tree and never see light of day from within their air-conditioned offices/cars/homes are the highest paid. It's similar, that people who spend years in the domestic/test circuit go unnoticed while a couple of hours and six or two here and there in the IPL reap lots of rewards! MI is so rich that they can afford million dollar deals for their backups - as Ian pointed out, clearly Symonds and Pollard are there to provide the big hits, should Tendulkar fail at the top and it's for that that MI paid close to a million dollars for both Symmo and Polly.

  • Ankit on April 26, 2011, 18:18 GMT

    Good article but I would argue that it fails to comprehend two things: 1) Value for money vs star power - IPL caters to the Indian market, where star power is the way to go, no matter how good/bad your product. In an over populated country, narcissism is bound to brew & celebrity endorsement is the strategy to a proitable campaign. Yes Mumbai have both Pollard and Symonds, neither of whom have contributed too much except may be Symonds in the last match. But it does'nt matter. The crowd pays to see them in the same outfit as Bhajji, Malinga and Tendulkar. All of Mumbai's home games have been sold out. Why? Due to the insane levels of star power and resultant wins. And who makes the money? The businessmen. 2) For a true businessman a sporting win far undervalues profits. Iconic players mean more sponsorship, means higher capacity stadiums means greater profits overall. So unfortunately or fortunately, it's not all about winning, it's about the money. And in India, celebrities = money.

  • Pranav on April 26, 2011, 17:36 GMT

    Interesting article. But I hope crickets boards also do a similar value analysis. IPL is like a war, but in a war-movie while international cricket is real war.

  • vinoth on April 26, 2011, 14:07 GMT

    yeah absolutely true. symo and polly should have to up to the order.sachin have to step down atleast now to giving the stoke makers up to the order. this is better for the team otherwise nothing gonna happen for mumbai indians for sure

  • Suhail on April 26, 2011, 8:41 GMT

    I think mumbai's strategy on having both Symonds and Pollard is "better to have them in our team even if they don;t get to bat, rather than have them against us and score big"

  • Michael on April 26, 2011, 8:35 GMT

    You are right Ian soon they will figure out who is worth what.

  • Mirza on April 26, 2011, 7:37 GMT

    The indian players were the most sought after players in the auction because they are the only players who will play the full tournament every time. But if the leagues are played on the guidelines of IPL it would be good. the league cricket should build on it and should follow the football leagues' rules. this would make cricket globally hit. I think the value of the player depends on his caliber. Andrew Symonds price of $850,000 is not more given his caliber. but Michael Hussey, Rahul Dravid and some other players were paid relatively less price. this needs to be sorted out. HOPE THAT THE CRICKET BECOMES A GLOBAL SPORT........................

  • david on April 26, 2011, 6:33 GMT

    Nice article. I completly agree. It's lucky that Mumbai has tendulkar.

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