Data Dump: Evaluating the 2021 ISL Draft/Recruiting Process

The 2021 International Swimming League season is in the books, and for the 2nd time in 3 seasons, Energy Standard is hoisting the trophy.

With all of the data in the books, we can re-evaluate our mid-season draft evaluation to reflect the entire season.

SwimSwam’s chief statistician Barry Revzin pulled the data on the average number of points-per-match scored by each ISL athlete.

This is not a perfect measure of an athlete’s value to a team. It washes-over a swimmer like Ryan Hoffer, the DC Trident’s top draft pick, who struggled early in adapting to the ISL format, but was much better when the meets were more important, including a 19.5-point output in the “Death Match” to help his team advance to the playoffs. It also doesn’t fully value availability – which is hard to fairly value, because availability matters more or less depending on what team you’re on.

There are two ways to look at the data: one is in evaluating how well it did at rebalancing and bringing better parity to the league.

The other is looking at it and figuring out how successful general managers were in picking their teams.

I think there continues to be some points to be made here when contextualizing this data.

The big one is that swimmers on bad teams continue to lack the financial motivation to race – the difference in money that can be earned by swimmers on good teams and those same swimmers on bad teams is significant, and so that will make bad teams appear worse in their selections and good teams appear better in their selections.

Specific Data Points that alter this data:

  • There was clear collusion to reserve 15-year old Summer McIntosh for Toronto, and they were able to use their final draft pick on her. She wound up being one of the highest-scoring draftees, and that inflated Toronto’s “drafted” numbers substantially.
  • We still don’t know why the New York Breakers didn’t retain one of their top scorers from last season, Kasia Wasick, but given that she swam the whole season and was again a very good scorer, we have to assume that was an inter-personal decision of some sort unrelated to expectations of her performance.
  • Tokyo’s Yui Ohashi was technically a free-agent signing, but in reality she was a retention for Tokyo. While she was in the original draft pool, Tokyo didn’t retain the double Olympic IM champion, in spite of still having unused slots to retain swimmers. Then, nobody drafted her, and she signed with Tokyo as a free agent. Reading between the lines, that probably means her availability changed at some point on that timeline. A truer measure of Tokyo’s picks, then, probably moves her 25.3 points/match from “undrafted” to “retained”
  • The New York Breakers and Tokyo Frog Kings, the two teams that didn’t make the final, both forfeited draft picks. One of those (NYB in round 4) was a high pick. The other three were low picks, but picks where there will still double-digit scorers available.
  • Thomas Ceccon had never raced or been announced as a member of Aqua Centurions, and yet the team was able to retain him. That’s a big reason why their retained points this season (273.2/match) is higher than the points they scored in their last match last season (255). Ceccon was very, very good for them.

Let’s break down the data:

How well did the draft rebalance the league?

Up front, we have to acknowledge that the draft didn’t rebalance the league: for the third straight season, it was the same four teams, the four original teams, in the playoff: Energy Standard, Cali Condors, London Roar, and LA Current.

But did it make progress in rebalancing teams?

Sort of.

Team Retained Drafted Undrafted Added Total
TOR 272.7 175.4 42.8 218.2 490.9
DCT 176.4 164.1 78.6 242.7 419.1
AQC 273.2 138.9 36.9 175.8 449
LON 345.8 132.2 32.4 164.6 510.4
IRO 259.2 116.7 67.1 183.8 443
CAC 506.9 100.5 49.3 149.8 656.7
ENS 463.2 99.1 53.6 152.7 615.9
TOK 183.9 96.5 127.3 223.8 407.7
LAC 323 79.5 88 167.5 490.5
NYB 183.4 64.5 62.6 127.1 310.5

Sorted by “points drafted.”

First things first: Energy Standard was able to retain 563.2 points/match. Cali Condors were able to retain 506.9 points/match. The number of points that Cali was able to retain/match is more points than the actual points scored this season by: Toronto, DC, Aqua, Iron, Tokyo, LA Current, New York Breakers, and almost London Roar.

If the defending champions are able to retain more athletes than any other team has access to, period, then that’s going to require a very long, slow process including waves of athlete retirements to really shift the league. Especially when athletes who have skipped a season are still allowed to return to their former teams.

The two teams that made the biggest improvements are Aqua Centurions, who made their first-ever post-season appearance by finishing 6th in the regular season; and Toronto Titans, who if it weren’t for illness or injury might have made the final.

Those two teams had big advantages from some wrinkles in the draft rules, discussed above with Ceccon and McIntosh. Aqua still probably drafts Ceccon first overall if they aren’t allowed to “retain” him, but then they lose out on Arno Kamminga.

My educated-guess is that without Ceccon’s retention, Aqua probably swaps spots with Iron in the regular season, but still advances to the Playoff from the “Death Match,” and Toronto probably is still straight into the Playoff but feels like less of a contender for the final.

DC definitely got better via the draft, without any of the “special picks” outlined above. They did much better in that regard than the New York Breakers, who had the #3 pick but wound up last in the league in points from their draftees. That was not a great start for the team’s second-year head coach, but first-year general manager, Martin Truijens. He wan’t helped by the fact that his 2nd pick, David Popovici, never showed up, but all-in-all, there weren’t many “high value” picks for the Breakers (they did better in free agency, really).

How Did the “Fan Vote” Athletes Fare?

It turns out, the fans are not better at picking athletes than the general managers are. Unless the fans were trying to troll the teams.

Rank of “Fan Vote” swimmers:

  1. Cali Condors – Eddie Wang – 13.5/match
  2. London Roar – Adam Peaty – 0.0/match
  3. LA Current – Julia Sebastian – .5/match
  4. Energy Standard – Ben Proud – 23.6/match
  5. Iron – Marco Orsi – 19.7/match
  6. Tokyo Frog Kings – Cristian Quintero – 0.0/match
  7. Toronto Titans – Jay Lelliott – 5.2/match (injury)
  8. New York Breakers – Brandonn Almeida – 9.3/match
  9. DC Trident – Mohamed Samy – 1.7/match
  10. Aqua Centurions – Fabio Santi  – (-0.9/match)

Some of these picks could have been fixed with a little more transparency up front – for example, if London had just acknowledged that Adam Peaty probably wasn’t going to swim the season – but in gneeral, the “fan vote” picks didn’t help their teams much.

The two primary exceptions were Marco Orsi of Iron and Ben Proud of Energy Standard. Part of me wants to believe that the always-scheming Energy Standard coaches gambled and left Proud for the fan vote, expecting him to win easily, to reserve an extra “retention pick.”

Top-Scoring First Round Picks

This was the so-called “rookie round,” though it also included Kasia Wasick, who is not a rookie, so whatever that means.

Ranked in order of selection:

  1. Aqua Centurions – Arno Kamminga – 21.1
  2. DC Trident – Ryan Hoffer – 12.2
  3. New York Breakers – Matt Temple – 23.2
  4. Toronto Titans – Kasia Wasick – 31.2
  5. Tokyo Frog Kings – Paige Madden – 24.0
  6. Iron – Barbora Seemanova – 30.7
  7. London Roar – Kenzo Simons – 0.8
  8. Energy Standard – Evgenia Chiknuova – 23.7
  9. Cali Condors – Maaike de Waard – 20.9

With the exception of Kenzo Simons for London Roar, this was a pretty successful round. Yes, there were swimmers drafted in later rounds who scored more, but with the vague “rookie” limitation on this round, all-in-all it was a successful set of selections by the GMs.

Best Non-First Round Picks

These were the best draft picks from outside of that first round:

Swimmer Team Points/Match Round/Pick Overall Pick #
1 Summer McIntosh Toronto Titans 35.8 11.2 92
2 Andreas Vazaios DC Trident 28.6 3.2 18
3 Aleksandr Shchegolev DC Trident 25.6 7.2 52
4 Ali DeLoof DC Trident 25.5 4.2 24
5 Dylan Carter London Roar 25.4 5.8 38
6 Maria Kameneva Aqua Centurions 24.9 1.1 1
7 Holly Barratt Aqua Centurions 23.9 6.1 41
8 Vini Lanza London Roar 23.6 4.8 30
9 Christian Diener London Roar 21.8 6.8 48
10 Fabian Schwingeschlogl Toronto Titans 21.1 6.4 44

McIntosh we’ve discussed. The next three-best were all by the DC Trident – and not just because they had a high pick either: those swimmers were available when many other lower-scoring swimmers were chosen.

In spite of Hoffer not having a great rookie year (and he was the consensus choice in that slot), DC general manager Kaitlin Sandeno really had a great draft.

This also shows us that Ceccon wasn’t the only thing that Aqua did well in the off-season: they had a great draft outside of that too.

Top “Free Agent” Signings

These are the best swimmers who were signed in the free agent/open signing period after the draft.

The asterisk on Ohashi is discussed above.

Swimmer Team Points/Match
1 Ingrid Wilm LAC 40.8
2 Yui Ohashi* TOK 25.3
3 Mark Nikolaev DCT 22.7
4 Miranda Tucker TOK 19.9
5 Erik Perssona TOK 17.2
6 Katie Shanahan LON 16.6
7 Stan Pijnenburg NYB 15.2
8 Gabby DeLoof TOK 15.1
9 Luiz Altamir Melo TOK 14.4
10 Katerine Savard CAC 14.3
11 Jose Angel Martinez CAC 14.1
12 Pedro Spajari TOK 14.0
13 Paulina Peda NYB 13.4
14 Jakub Kraska NYB 13.0
15 Lorenzo Mora CAC 13.8

Ingrid Wilm, the cover girl of this article, was 11th in the season-long MVP standings. And she was missed multiple times by every team in the draft.

That’s really one of the top 5 stories of the season to me. Essentially an unknown swimmer outside of Canada coming into the season, she’s now a legitimate bona fide star. To me, that’s a bigger breakout even than other short course specialists we’ve seen like Ilya Shymanovich or Beata Nelson.

Did Dave Salo‘s Strategy Pay Off?

Not the strategy to pick swimmers who weren’t in the ISL Draft Pool (though Noe Ponti interestingly did wind up being available). I’m talking about his choice to retain just 10 swimmers, plus the fan vote, instead of the maximum 15, plus the fan vote.

At the time, he said he thought he could do better in free agency.

The answer to whether this worked out is complicated. On the one hand, three of Tokyo’s retained swimmers didn’t swim during the season: Leah Smith, Tomoru Honda, and Suzuka Hasegawa. That’s tied as the most of any team in the league, in spite of such a small number of retained swimmers.

So, from that perspective, there were swimmers that Tokyo didn’t retain who did swim in the season. That’s by default an upgrade.

Looking at a more granular level, one example is Anna Ntountounaki, who swam for LA Current this season after not being retained by the Frog Kings. She swam 56.2 in the 100 fly this season. That would have put her just behind Tetzloff (56.0), but ahead of Harriet Jones (57.9) and Keanna McInnes (58.0) for the Frog Kings this season. Of course, Ntounaki only swam one meet in season 2, and split 56.4 on a relay, so that example is maybe not entirely fair. She did score 13.9 points/match, but many of those points also came from the very-good LA Current relays.

Maybe a better example is Simona Kubova, who wasn’t retained and was not only let go to free agency, but was signed by Energy Standard in free agency. Kubova wound up being Energy’s #3 50 backstroker (26.38), #2 100 backstroker (56.88 – only .04 behind Mary-Sophie Harvey), and #3 200 backstroker (2:07.68). In the 50 and 100, she was faster than the fastest Tokyo backstroker this season. She was about as good as prior ISL seasons too, so not a surprise per se.

On the other hand, Tokyo did do pretty well in free agency – even beyond the Ohashi situation.

Overall, I would evaluate that the Salo strategy didn’t work, but it was far from Tokyo’s biggest issue this season.

Full Data

The full data table is far too big to paste in here, so click this link to check it out on Google Docs.

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11 months ago

Well Kyle’s second shoulder is also f***ed apparently. I feel like that takes precedence over these nobodies

Reply to  jamesjabc
11 months ago

Where’d you hear that?

Reply to  Troyyy
11 months ago but I can’t get into the story. But yes on FINA live Instagram he said he has returned to Australia-to have exploratory shoulder surgery I think. Talk about bad luck. Our relays need him too,

Reply to  jamesjabc
11 months ago

okay I think he said he’s still planning to race at long course world champs (but not short course)

Last edited 11 months ago by Joel

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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