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MIT Analytics group awards Raiders “Best Transaction” for trading away Khalil Mack

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Wild Card Round - Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the Raiders traded away arguably the best edge rusher in football, Khalil Mack, Raider fans everywhere were aghast at the move. It was seen as a terrible idea by every football fan outside of Chicago, particularly those in Oakland and Green Bay.

But this month, the nerds have spoken. And they loved the trade,

The Sloan Analytics Conference is, as you might imagine, a forum for the increasing role of analytics in sports, and is the largest student-run conference in the world. The conference is co-chaired by Daryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets, and brings together the brightest figures in analytics from across the sports world.

Much of the progress of sports analytics mirrors the progress of technology designed to track esoteric aspects of sports statistics, and so much of the conference revolves around research into technology. You can read more about this year’s conference here.

The conference’s big winners included a lifetime achievement award for analyst Nate Silver, a Best Analytics Organization award for the Oakland Athletics, and a Best Transaction Award for the Raiders for trading away Khalil Mack.

The A’s have, for years under the Moneyball tactics of GM Billy Beane, tried to pull the most production from players for the least amount of money. The Oakland Coliseum has a lot to do with that, as the Raiders could tell you. And they’ve challenged for the playoffs frequently, when other small-market teams have not. They are exactly the sort of team for whom analytics benefits the most, because they simply can’t spend their way out of problems like the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers. Baseball has no salary cap, but football does, making analytics even more important in promoting efficiency and value in contracts.

As for the Raiders, one of the most vital things to consider when talking about analytics is how inhuman it is. It does not care about people or human emotions, it does not care about fanbases revolting or public perception. It cares about money, production, and the value therein. And analytically, the numbers suggest that no team should ever pay a player the type of money Khalil Mack was asking for, because the value is not there. The law of diminishing returns suggests that no defensive player, not even prime Lawrence Taylor, is worth what the Bears are currently paying Mack. The only reason the Bears are able to do so is that their quarterback is on a rookie contract, and the Raiders do not have such a luxury.

Would the Raiders have been a better team last year with Mack? Of course. But with everything else that went wrong, would they have been “better” enough to justify his contract figure? I seriously doubt it. Trading Mack for the haul the Raiders brought in, combined with the cap flexibility they are currently flexing, is probably better for the Raiders in the long run. Nerds and robots do not care about your feelings, they only care about your future.