How Probability Favors the Steelers' Decision to Trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick | Steel City Underground

Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) celebrates an interception against the San Francisco 49ers
steelers.com

Following the best defensive performance of the year from the Pittsburgh Steelers against the San Francisco 49ers, and after an interception and forced fumble by new Steelers defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, few would openly argue against the recent trade of the Steelers' 2020 first-round pick for the star defensive back but some have been irrationally critical of the trade and their argument essentially goes as follows:

How could the Steelers give up their 2020 first-round pick when they might have a top ten pick and could get a star QB?!

The implied argument here is that a quarterback drafted in the Top Ten of the 2020 NFL Draft is more valuable than getting Fitzpatrick now and at least for the next few years. Those who push the argument focus on the loss of the first-round draft pick.

Proponents of the trade argue that Fitzpatrick is just 22 years old, is under contract through the 2021 season for a total of $5.645 million, and is likely to be a perennial Pro-Bowl defensive back for a Steelers secondary that has been the team's biggest weakness for the last decade.

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Luckily, former ESPN Pittsburgh radio host and Harvard alumnus David Todd helped outline some of the reasons this take is so silly. Todd's Tweet highlights the following: the Steelers getting a top quarterback in the 2020 draft is dependent on a bunch of very uncertain events all occurring one after the other.

Todd's Tweet is applying the basic principle of conditional probability. Basically, to determine the odds of a target outcome (here it's getting the Top 10 QB talent), you have to multiply the likelihood of every preceding event.

Let's break down a modified version of Todd's tweet:

Event 1 (Estimated 50% Chance): Steelers stink and win six games or less this season.

Pessimistic predictions of the Steelers' performance for the remainder of the year assume Mason Rudolph will only play at 37% of Ben Roethlisberger's performance, which would have the Steelers winning about six games. Based on last year's standings, that puts the Steelers between picks seven and 11 in the upcoming 2020 Draft. So to be fair, let's say that there is a 50% chance they end up with a Top 10 pick next year.

Multiplied By....

Event 2 (Estimated 75% Chance): Ben doesn't come back healthy.

Who knows the likelihood of this, but given Roethlisberger's age, let's assume there is a 75% chance he does NOT come back healthy.

Multiplied By....

Event 3 (Estimated 25% Chance): Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert are available when the Steelers pick in 2020.

These two elite collegiate quarterbacks are the front runners of one of the deepest quarterback draft classes in years. Even if the Steelers go 5-11, it's unlikely they would get to pick at or higher than fifth in the 2020 draft, so both of these players would be gone. To be conservative though, let's say there is a 25% chance they could select either Tagovailoa or Herbert.

Multiplied By....

Event 4 (Estimated 45% Chance): The top ten quarterback that the Steelers hypothetically draft in 2020 is actually good.

For this one, I looked at at the proportion of quarterbacks drafted from 2014 to 2018 in the top ten picks that made at least one Pro Bowl using Pro Football Reference. Only 5-of-11 QBs, or 45%, made the Pro Bowl (under those conditions). Note that 45% is probably a friendly estimate (for those doubting the Fitzpatrick trade) because Mitchell Trubisky is one of these five Pro Bowl players, and there has been plenty of recent criticism of his play quality.

Multiplied By....

Event 5 (Estimated 75% Chance): The Steelers take a quarterback in the top ten of next year's draft instead of another position.

Again, to be very fair, let's say that chance is 75%, which is much higher than others have suggested.

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So, the conditional probability that the Steelers would have drafted a Pro Bowl QB using a Top Ten 2020 pick is........(*drum roll*) 0.5×0.75×0.25×0.45×0.75 = .03

Or, about a 3% chance

That means that the estimated chances the Steelers would draft a quarterback in 2020 who earns at least one career trip to the Pro Bowl is about 3%. In other words, the odds are extremely low.

Clearly, there are a lot of assumptions that went into this estimate. Despite that, almost all of these estimates are purposefully biased in favor of those who think the Steelers should have saved their first-round pick for a quarterback in next year's draft.

As we enter the beginning of Fitzpatrick's tenure in Pittsburgh, ask yourself, "Would you rather have a three percent chance of drafting a quarterback with potentially one Pro Bowl appearance in his entire career, or would you rather have a likely perennial Pro-Bowl safety/slot-corner who is under contract for $5.65 million through 2021 and fills the Steelers' biggest position of need now?"

In the end, it doesn't even matter how this trade ages, because when the opportunity arose to trade for Fitzpatrick, the Steelers simply played the odds in their favor.





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