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Delving Into a Numbers Game

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Recently, I began reading The Hidden Game of Football by Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer and John Thorn. It’s an older book, dating back to the late 1980’s, but it gives some great information and different ways to look into stats. In one chapter in particular, they have a way to assess quality of a team, or an individual player. Not all three yard plays are equal. For instance, in the book they suggest that in order to “win” on a first down play, you must gain 40% of the necessary yards, otherwise it’s a failure. In order to win on a second down play you must gain 60% of the necessary yards or it’s a failure. On third down you must pick up a first down, and the same situation can be said for fourth down. They laid out a fairly simple system to figure out who was successful and who wasn’t using points. I modified this system a bit and ran through a practice run with Washington Redskin running back Ryan Torain to test the system.

First, before getting into Torain’s specific numbers, let me break down the scoring system and methodology.

A turnover on your own side of the field is more costly than a turnover on the opposing side of the field, so I weighted them differently. It’s -5 points for a turnover on your own side and -3 for a turnover on the opposing side. Let me clarify something, a turnover is also a turnover opportunity. I don’t care if you fumble and your team recovers it. It’s a severely negative result. If dropped interceptions were a statistic, I’d use those as well, but I can’t find that recorded information.

A loss of two or more, no matter how much extra is -2 points. I did this for simplicities sake, I probably could have weighted larger losses to be worth more negative points.

On 1st down, gaining 40% of necessary yardage is worth 1 point, anything less is a fail.

On 2nd down, gaining 60% of necessary yardage is worth 1 point, anything less is a fail.

On 3rd/4th down, getting a first down is worth 1 point, anything less is a fail.

Extra yards, meaning yards over the 40% on first, 60% on second, 100% on 3rd/4th is also given points. If it’s 1st or 2nd down, you get .2 extra points per yard. If it’s 3rd or 4th down you get .5 extra points per yard.

On top of that, any gain of 11+ is worth 1 point. And every additional ten yards is an extra point. So if you gain 21+ it’s worth 2, 31+ is worth 3, 41+ is worth 4 and so on and so forth.

A touchdown is always worth 4 points. I think a turnover on your own side should be worth more negative points than the positive points of a touchdown. But a touchdown should be worth more positive points than a turnover on your opponents side of the field. So I sat that number right between.

With that out of the way, I’ve only tried this with one player as mentioned earlier, Ryan Torain. Here is his game by game breakdown (I have the full statistical breakdown in Excel, that I can post if anyone is interested. If not, here’s the results I found)

Keep in mind that EVERY play is either positive or negative. No one will ever be assigned a zero in my rating system.

Vs. St. Louis: 7 carries, 46 yards, 3 wins, 4 fails, 6 points
Vs. Philly: 18 carries, 70 yards, 4 wins, 14 fails, 1 TD, -2 points
Vs. Green Bay: 16 carries, 40 yards, 8 wins, 8 fails, 1.6 points
Vs. Indy: 18 carries, 96 yards, 10 wins, 9 fails, 2 TD, 20.2 points
Vs. Chicago: 21 carries, 125 yards, 10 wins, 11 fails, 1 fumble, 14.8 points
Vs. Detroit: 9 carries, 10 yards, 2 wins, 8 fails, -10.8 points
Vs. Tampa: 24 carries, 172 yards, 9 wins, 15 fails, 25 points
Vs. Dallas: 11 carries, 53 yards, 5 wins, 6 fails, 4.4 points
Vs. Jacksonville: 20 carries, 65 yards, 10 wins, 10 fails, 1 TD, 9.2 points
Vs. Giants: 18 carries, 61 yards, 9 wins, 9 fails, 6.8 points.

Notes: Some carries were counted despite a hold in the official stats, I threw that out. I didn’t count any receiving statistics, this is pure rushing data, so those aren’t reflected.

Torain averaged .46 points per carry.

Some things to point out:

Torain’s best game via points per carry was against Indy, averaging 1.12 points per carry.

Torain’s worst game via points per carry was against Detroit, averaging -1.2 points per carry.

Torain’s best game as far as wins versus losses ratio was Indy with a 1:1 ratio.

Torain’s worst game as far as wins versus losses ratio was Detroit with a .25:1 ratio.

This rating system is basically a quality system. Looking at the stats blindly, his best game was against Tampa, but this system states otherwise.

Something else of note:

Torain carried the ball 100 times on 1st down.

55 times on 2nd down.

5 times on 3rd down.

2 times on 4th down.

I believe that this is a start on putting together an organized and complete way to view statistics beyond just the numbers, however, like anything worthwhile it could probably use some tweaking.

I have no idea what number a back should average. However, thinking as logically as I can (and that could be flawed ) I’d say that a 0 rating indicates a back who does what he’s asked around 50% of the time. A 1.0 indicates a back who does what he’s asked most of the time. A -1.0 rating indicates a back who doesn’t do what he’s asked most of the time. Anything in between on the positive side is an average to above average back. Anything under a 0 is a below average to poor back.

Once more data is collected, it will be easier to figure that kind of stuff out.

Thank you to the authors of The Hidden Game, it's helping to put the sport I love in a completely different light.

Updated 01-11-11 at 02:08 PM by KDawg

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