Friday, March 23, 2007

Crunching the Numbers on the Quarterbacks

If you remember a while back, I proposed a formula for evaluating quarterbacks. It was:

Rating = (yards passing + yards running -yards lost by sack + 20*Touchdowns -30*Turnovers)/(# of designed passing plays).
To recap, the main features of my rating are that it:
  • cuts down the credit given for completing passes for short gains,
  • rewards passers who avoid sacks and get positive yardage on the ground,
  • penalizes turnovers more than does the conventional passer rating, and
  • expresses the result in an easily comprehensible yards-per-passing-play format rather than a completely incomprehensible format.
Well, there's a mild problem with this formula. The statistics available to me do not differentiate between sacks, scrambles, and designed runs. They're all counted as "carries", which is incredibly dumb, especially for sacks, which are clearly and obviously yards lost in the passing game. I also have no statistics on fumbles, so I just have to skip those. I wanted to evaluate the 2006 SEC quarterbacks, so I evaluated them without differentiating between the types of runs. The results are below. I only included quarterbacks who started. Because I couldn't figure out how to make a usable table out of this, I'll just list the results:

Jamarcus Russell, LSU, 9.16
Blake Mitchell, S. Car., 8.26
Erik Ainge, Tenn., 8.07
Andre Woodson, UK, 7.79
Chris Leak, Fla. 7.02
Syvelle newton, S. Car. 7.00
Casey Dick, Ark., 6.99
Chris Nickson, Vandy, 6.55
Brandon Cox, Aub., 6.37
John Parker Wilson, Bama, 6.14
Omarr Conner, MSU, 6.13
Michael Henig, MSU, 5.82
Matthew Stafford, UGA, 5.78
Mitch Mustain, Ark. 5.68
Jonathan Crompton, Tenn., 5.35
Brent Schaeffer, Ole Miss, 4.27

I can only represent to you that I devised the formula and wrote the previous post without knowing the results. I did not know that my formula would result in Jamarcus Russell being in a class by himself. I thought he might be, because I think he really WAS in a class by himself. The thing is, even if you use conventional passer ratings, he was still in a class by himself. He was the highest rated, with a 167 rating. Woodson was second with a 154 rating. By either measure, Jamarcus was clearly the most effective quarterback in the SEC.

It's not an artifact or an accident. He was second in the league in yards and in touchdowns, behind Andre Woodson in both, who had almost 80 more pass attempts. Speaking of Woodson, Kentucky put the ball in his hands a LOT. If he hadn't been sacked so many times, he would have been fairly close to Jamarcus. On the other hand, one of the strengths of Jamarcus's game is the fact that he is so hard to sack. As a result, he finished almost 1 full yard/play ahead of every other starting quarterback.

If Kentucky could run the ball, they'd be dangerous.

Who got hurt the most by my changes to the formula? Brandon Cox, Andre Woodson, and John Parker Wilson. Cox and Wilson lost a lot of yards to sacks, and Wilson had a relatively poor touchdown to interception ratio, which is underpenalized in the conventional formula. Cox, by the way, was the least effective veteran starter in the SEC. No one who had been a regular starter in 2005 performed worse than Cox. Who got helped the most? Probably Chris Nickson of Vandy, whose 9 touchdown runs really helped his rating. However, he also gave up a lot of points by throwing a lot of interceptions.

I also think it's interesting that under either measure, Brent Schaeffer was the least effective quarterback in the SEC last year. I'm careful in my wording here. I don't say "worst". I say "least effective". Obviously, nobody on the football field operates by himself. A quarterback is dependent upon his blockers and his receivers to give him the opportunity to be successful. Therefore, no single statistic can measure how "good" a quarterback is, independent of the players around him. We can only measure how "effective" he is, which is dependent on the other personnel. This isn't to say that ratings are independent of skill. Clearly they are not independent, but we have to recognize the limitations inherent in this formulation.

Notice also where the true freshmen are: very near the bottom. This goes to show something I will touch on again. It's never a good idea to start a true freshman at quarterback.

What does all this mean for next year? Well, the top returning starters are Tim Tebow (who isn't included in my chart, but he was very effective in his time on the field, but will have to show it every down) and Blake Mitchell.

Blake Mitchell? I have to admit that was a surprise. Wasn't he benched? He has a very solid yards/attempt number and doesn't lose a lot of yards in the running game. His TD/interception ration is weak, but he made up for it in other areas. Even under the conventional formula, he's solidly mid-pack among SEC starters (higher than Leak, for example). When you consider that both Woodson and Ainge lost yards running and Mitchell didn't, Mitchell starts to look a lot better.

Blake Mitchell was statistically the second most effective starting QB in the SEC in the time he was in the game, and got benched in favor of Syvelle Newton, who incidentally wasn't nearly as effective. I'm willing to accept the proposition that Mitchell's stats are inflated by the fact that he had Sidney Rice, but that doesn't explain why Newton was less effective.

Players to watch for next year: Ainge, Mitchell, and Woodson. If Cox can move his legs, and if Auburn has any receivers, he should be very effective next year.

I'll definitely be keeping up with this during the season. If I keep up with it game-by-game, I may even be able to refine the numbers by getting better statistics on quarterback fumbles. It'll be interesting to see how young QBs like Casey Dick and John Parker Wilson progress.

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