Sunday, April 29, 2007

Stats and Tools and JaMarcus Russell

With Pittman getting ready to take a rest, I think I should get more involved with this blog again. I just got out of law school finals, so I’ve got some free time again. And I’m no longer bitter about perhaps the worst NCAA basketball tourney ever played. They can’t all be winners, I guess. I also like to talk baseball, and things are getting intersting for the Tigers squad. But that's for another day.

I don’t really watch the Draft. I like player personnel decision and am actually quite interested in the actions of front offices, but actually sitting down and watching the Draft? That’s just excrutiating. Aside from a morbid fascination with Mel Kiper’s hair, I just can’t bring myself to watch it. Except for the first 15 minutes this year, because I wanted to see JaMarcus Russell go #1.

Most of the commentary made me happy. They talked about how great he was, his record as a starter (25-4), and his extraordinary physical tools (as if he’s ever going to be asked to throw a 60 yard pass from his knees). Ron Jaworksi, who I believe is the best NFL analyst on TV, called Russell the only franchise QB in this draft. High praise indeed. So I want to be clear, I’m not talking about some sort of ESPN conspiracy to badmouth LSU. That doesn’t exist except in the heads of some fans who equate any criticism with “bashing”. With that caveat in mind, I hate how there is this false debate between Quinn and Russell as a continuation of the stats vs. scouts argument.

I’m a stats guy. I think a player’s 40-time and his bench press are certainly relevant pieces of information, but take a backseat to the basic question: can he play football? Which means I like guys who have a record of performance. While it is possible for a successful college player to bomb in the pros, it is extremely unlikely for a player to fail in college and then succeed in the pros. The first thing I look at when evaluating a player in the Draft is simple: what has this guy done?

And the general storyline is that Quinn put up the big numbers in college, and Russell has the “tools” with mediocre numbers. Quinn is the, for lack of a better term, the “Moneybal” player and Russell is the tools goof. That general storyline is flat-out wrong. Russell’s numbers are unbelievably good.

232-342, 67.8%, 3129 yds, 28 TD/8 INT, 167.0 Rating, 9.15 yds/att
289-467, 61.9%, 3426 yds, 37 TD/7 INT, 146.7 Rating, 7.34 yds/att

That’s Russell vs. Quinn. Both players put up huge numbers, and I won’t even getting into an adjustment for playing in the SEC versus Notre Dame’s schedule. It took Quinn 125 more passes to throw for just 297 more yards. Russell completed a staggering 67.8% of his passes, which is so ridiculously high I can’t understand why people aren’t more impressed by it. And its not like he’s a dink and dunk passer. Every time Russell drops back to throw, he’s worth 9.15 yards to Quinn’s 7.34. Russell is worth almost two more yards a play. That’s a chasm.

Columnist love to point to the TD/INT ratio, but the key number is not the TD’s but the INT’s. Are we really supposed to reward Quinn because the Irish had an absolutely anemic running game and had to pass if there were ever going to score? TD’s are a usage stat, like saves or RBIs. It’s the INT’s we should focus on, and it’s a dead heat between the two. Russell doesn’t just have the tools, he has better numbers than Quinn as well.

Which leads to the next layer of the argument against Russell, that he is a one-year wonder. Like his previous season was poor or something. His 2005 numbers?

188-311, 60.5%, 2443 yds, 15 TD/9 INT, 136.6 Rating, 7.86 yds/att

Same completion percentage as Quinn, and a similar QB Rating and yards attempt. OK, Quinn has the TD advantage and the INT advantage, but it’s not like Rusell’s numbers were terrible. They compare quite favorable to Quinn’s 2006 numbers. And the way people are trying to spin 9 interceptions in 13 games as a really bad thing is just silly. Russell has never thrown a lot of interceptions. He has always put up lots of yards coupled with great rate stats. On top of that, he has a gaudy winning percentage and an almost unbelievable record of coming through in the clutch. He had eight fourth quarter comebacks in his career, and would have had nine had Iowa not scored on a hail mary.

There is no performance vs. measurables debate with Russell and Quinn. Russell has better numbers and he has better tools. He even has better intangibles and soft leadership skills. The debate between Russell and Quinn has always been completely phony.

Now, Russell and Calvin Johnson…


Richard Pittman said...

I'll disagree with you in only one respect. I give Quinn a lot of credit for his TD/interception ratio. I think of touchdowns and interceptions as rate statistics, particularly interceptions.

This past year, Quinn threw a touchdown every 12.6 attempts, and an interception every 66.7 attempts.

Russell threw a touchdown every 12.2 attempts and an interception every 42.5 attempts. Quinn really took care of the ball very well. Of course, his lower yards per attempt numbers suggest he threw a lot safer passes.

Of course, when you start correcting for differences in competition, those interception numbers start looking a lot closer.

I think Russell is by far the better pro prospect, but I give Quinn more credit than you give him.

Poseur said...

I'm not saying Quinn isn't good. But TD/INT ratio is a horribly overrated stat. It just doesn't mean a whole lot. As long as a player doesn't throw a bunch of INT's, the ratio will tend to even itself out over time. The best TD/INT ratio I ever saw in college was Brad Banks, and he wasn't a pro prospect (though an underrated college QB).

If people start hyping up a guy's TD/INT ratio, its usually because they can't hype up something else that is more significant.