also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
[Author note: This thing is long and pretty technical. That said, I think there will be sufficient payoff and value for you the reader. Still, be ye warned.]
Have you ever wished there were a convenient way to rate rushers the same way we rate passers? Sure, passer rating has its weaknesses—all mathematical formulas do—but despite it's issues, I've come to appreciate passer rating as a very useful framework to evaluate a player/team when it comes to passing the ball. In the same way that finding a corner piece to a jigsaw puzzle helps you figure out it's entire quadrant, once you have an idea of what to expect from the passing game you can leap to other touchstones to determine what to expect from the running game. A rusher rating would be just the sort of touchstone needed to really start messing around for those of us who are so inclined. This diary lays out what I think should work for these purposes.
To recap some of my previous work: passer rating combines four important factors—completion percentage, yards per attempt, interception rate, and touchdown rate—and blends them into one number. For rushing stats, important information for coming up with an analogous metric has been hard to come by until cfbstats.com came along. Tons of fascinating and useful data, for free. God bless the internet.
To come up with the rating, I looked only at positions that would be considered normal rushers (QB, RB, TB, FB, HB, SB, WR) that have an average YPC greater than zero. If you can’t meet those criterion, then you cant represent a normal rusher, thus sayeth the me. Other positions register rushing attempts but allowing the odd rush by a punter to color your view of what normal looks like would be dumb. See the chart below for more information. Also, if a guy averages negative YPC, uh, find something else to do, kthx. Other than that, no other filter was applied but some math wonk tricks were and I’ll talk about those as we go.
Completion Percentage → Gain Percentage : Parsed play by play is necessary to generate a replacement for completion percentage. I opted to go for Gain Percentage: the percentage of attempts that resulted in more than zero yards. I figured the basic goal of a pass is to complete it (brilliant insight, I know) and the basic goal on a rush attempt is to gain positive yardage so…any gain of more than zero yards is mission accomplished. This parameter is as much about team skill as it is about player skill but the same can be said for Completion Percentage.
Interception Rate → Fumble Rate: The direct analogue would of course be fumbles lost per attempt but that’s not the right way to do it IMO. The luck factor that influences whether or not the team actually loses possession has nothing to do with the fact that bringing possession into question is a terrible idea. So, all fumbles whether lost or not are counted in the calculation.
There is also a bit of mathematical wonkiness deployed as well. Mike Hart is famous—at least around here—for his deftness at protecting the rock. It was awesome: 991 carries, 5 loose balls, 3 losses of possession. That was an aiight career, but these guys were kinda, sorta, maybe, better (!) at protecting the rock:
|Jacquizz Rodgers||Oregon State||789||1|
OK, so the wonkiness…a lot of people who register meaningful rushing attempts do so at a pretty low level of opportunity. Even stud RBs often split carries with other backs: Eddie Lacy siphoned off carries from Mark Ingram before becoming the man, and T.J Yeldon did the same to Eddie Lacie. So in order for fumbles to make sense for players that get meaningful carries in low doses, we need to consider the question: at which point does a low fumble rate cross the threshold from wait-and-see to holy-crap-check-that-dude-for-stickem?
What we have here is a chart comparing the observed percentage (red dots) and the mathematical probability (blue line) that a player will have at least 1 fumble versus the number of carries he has registered. The red dots are binned in increments of 1 so the sample sizes out past 150 are pretty thin but if bigger bins are used, you’d see a scatter of points that more closely follow the mathematical fit, because… math. The blue line was derived using logistic regression.
The weirdness at zero for the mathematical expectation might be concerning as it suggests that there’s a 20% chance you’ve fumbled despite not having a single carry to your credit. However, that is just an artifact of the data. It is possible to fumble on your one and only carry as actual observations show. What the math does, though, is it considers the sample size of the observations and then finds the best fit possible to the overall dataset. There are ways of dealing with that issue, but…I rather talk about football. Also, KISS. This is good enough for my intended purpose.
Anyway, the point of doing all that is it allows me to apply what I’ll call the Phantom Protocol. Basically, I take that curve, subtract it from 1, and add the resulting value to the player’s fumble total. As the number of carries increases, the effect of the phantom fumble recedes thus leveling the playing field and letting us evaluate players with low sample size as best we can. The result of this bit of data manipulation is that a guy with no fumbles in 16 carries is assigned an average fumble rate and by the time 100 carries are registered, the penalty is not perceivable. Below 16 carries, the assigned penalty is pretty stiff but this trick levels the playing field to let us look at guys with few carries and not just dismiss them with the low sample size red card. Sure, 16 carries is still a low sample but at least the rating self corrects for the fact that fumbles take time to manifest.
Most importantly though, the protocol adequately acknowledges players with low fumble rates even though they have a lot of carries. It’s easier to have a 1% fumble rate after 100 carries than it is to have the same rate after 789 carries. That said, after a while the fumble rates should be allowed to speak for themselves. Quizz Rodgers and Mike Hart need their proper allocation of DAP; nothing more, nothing less. I think the ghost protocol concept accomplishes exactly that.
Touchdown Rate: This one is also directly analogous but here again I’ve deployed the ghost protocol to credit guys with low sample the expectation of an eventual TD. TDs come about much more freely than fumbles do with goal line attempts and the like so this credit vanishes very quickly. But fair is fair: the protocol giveth and it taketh away.
Those are the components directly analogous to the ones used in passer rating and these would be enough to go about the business at hand. However, whereas a passer’s job is to get the ball into the hands of a play maker, players that are given the ball whether by pass of handoff are called upon to be the playmaker. Certainly the scheme, play call RPS, and execution of the supporting cast all have major influence on the results of a play but the ball carrier can do things that elevate the call from good to great. I wanted to be all formal-like and call this the Impact Run Rate but this [stuff] is s’posed to be fun, man. Hence—
Another Dimension: the Dilithium Quotient
The 20 yard threshold is usually referenced as registering a play as a big play. That would certainly qualify as a big play by any standard but that threshold seems to have been established somewhat arbitrarily in my opinion. On average, a generic runner on a generic team in a generic game gains about 4 yards per attempt with a standard deviation of about 7.5. Its called the standard deviation for a reason as a huge swath of observations (about 2/3rds) occur within 1 SD of the mean, or between –3 and +11 (remember: discrete data). The other 1/3 of observations get split evenly with 1/6 below -3 yards and 1/6 above 12. I’ve used objective criterion, you know, math, to define Impact Runs as those that register 12 yards or more. To register one of these the player’s entire team has to execute the play correctly, then the carrier he has to do something special (i.e. juke a dude, break a tackle, be fast). This is the real life manifestation of the Madden Circle Button and its informative. It’s the difference between Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.
Denard Robinson was great at this but it might be surprising to hear that he wasn’t the best. Percy Harvin in the spread option was ridiculous in this category. Percy had touched the ball a lot when he was a Gator and 27% of the time, he darted for an impact run. By Contrast, Denard’s DQ% was ‘only’ about 15%. Could you imagine Denard breaking loose almost twice as often? Of course, the scheme, the team’s execution of the scheme, and the player’s deployment within the scheme has a lot to do with this number. Florida circa Percy Harvin was galaxies away from Michigan circa Denard Robinson. Percy Harvin was the 3rd rushing option in Florida’s spread and shred, Denard Robinson was options 1-10. Also, being the QB in the spread-option means you are concern #1 for defenses: the cornerstone. That was triply the case when facing Michigan with Denard in the captain’s chair. Harvin was usually one-on-one with a guy 10 times slower than he was who was also probably pooping his pants.
Denard’s DQ% was pretty stable around 15% (scheme be damned) but his utility rate (723 career carries) was second to none save minor conference QBs. His closest proxy Pat White (684 career carries) broke loose at a 19% clip in RichRod’s Scheme. However, the Big EEEast sans Miami and Virginia Tech wasn’t quite the Big TEEEN. Denard went up against stout defenses way more often than Pat White did and did so without the benefit of Steve Slaton or Noel Devine and the benefit of a revolutionary offensive scheme. When Pat White lost RichRod is DQ% dropped to under 12%, Denard didn’t bat an eye. Everyone *knew* they had to stop Denard and only him on *every play* and they still had their hands full trying to actually do it. The fact that Michigan could never position itself for him to win the Heisman trophy will always be one of my sports fan laments. For ever and ever and ever. He better get a Legends Jersey or I’m qui’in’. I don't care if that’s silly. You’re silly. Where’s my bourbon?
Blending It All Together
Passer Rating was developed such that an average QB would end up with a rating of 100 according to the data set that was used to develop it, which was gathered two maybe three football eras ago when linemen couldn’t really block and scholarship limits weren’t so much. I’m not sure how they went about the process of pinning the rating to average==100 and I don’t have the data to try an replicate the results…so, I kinda, sorta, you know, pulled something outta my [hat]. That is to say: I did what I think is correct or at least valid. I normalized each parameter by it’s par value, summed them together, then forced resulting rating to equal 100. Ultimately the 100 thing is completely arbitrary, but negative numbers are weird, I guess. All said, a rating of 100 means the player was a solid runner but not special, below that you wonder if he should be running at all.
Where in the World is
Carmen San Diego Mario Mendoza
Now that we have a calibrated formula its time to get down to business, application. I calibrated the rating so that 100 was a normal guy, but to figuring out what par should be is a little more complicated. I mentioned earlier that if you cant get to a rating of 100 I don't think you should be a primary running option and I also think we should only look at primary running options to establish our benchmark. But being a primary running option means different things depending on where you’re lining up.
When trying to crack a nut like this I often find that the data itself will help you figure out where to chop it. In the chart below I have plotted Average Rating vs. Amount of Carries. Obviously, the better runner you are, the more carries you should see but runners that are REALLY good are few and far between…this chart shows that dichotomy very nicely. I like to look for population gaps and/or inflection points in a performance curve. Those usually a good places to drop an anchor as far as I’m concerned. When they are near each other it’s a dead giveaway. Based on the data itself I’m using 115 for RBs, 70 for QBs, and 120 for WR as performance benchmarks.
So, this is all well and good but the real test is whether or not things make sense. Here the values for the B1G in 2013:
|Team Name||Player Name||RB Rat||Attempt||Yds/ATT||TD%||FMB%||Gain%||Dillitium%|
This generally looks pretty reasonable to me in terms of an overall ranking as well as a relative ranking. The players/team you’d expect to be at the top and bottom of the list are where they are supposed to be. If anything I’d criticize the Mendoza line at 115 given how we all feel about Michigan’s running game last year. Maybe 115 is just the threshold of suicide and 130 or better is what we fans really want from our teams. But, even this jibes with what I think.
As with passer rating, this rating depends on player skill, surrounding support, and offensive scheme. Toussaint’s YPC and Gain%—components heavily influenced by surrounding support (i.e. the O-Line)—are way under par. So is his Dilitium % which is a skill/talent/speed thing but the dude had a bum knee and he’s not that far off of par there. Makes sense. So, he hit the Mendoza line even though he had bad support in front of him, sorta like Gardner. These numbers make sense to me.
Re: Smith Vs. Green
I mentioned in my last diary that it was interesting to hear grumblings about De'Veon Smith being ahead/competitive with Derrick Green because I think the numbers bear this out. Check this out:
|Player Name||Att||TD||Fum||Gain %||Yds/ATT||TD%||Fum%||DIL%||RB Rat|
These guys played with the same support and in the same system so the differentiators on display here are essentially Skill and Opportunity. Neither Green nor Smith actually registered a fumble but the Ghost Protocol affect Smith’s rating more because he has far fewer carries. Indeed, Smith’s rating is also bolstered by a phantom touchdown, but this effect dissipates faster because TDs occur more frequently. So the math is screwing Smith over here a bit. Meanwhile, Smith’s Gain % and YPC (hitting the right hole at the right time) and DIL% (juking, speed, whatever) were the highest on the team last season. Yep, Small samples yadda yadda. Just sayin’.
Anyway, that's a lot of words and I hope this was worth the read. Of course, I will be referring to this information in future diaries. Thanks for reading and let please provide and criticisms or comments you might have in, uh, the comments section.
For those of you who enjoy rotating wallpapers during the season to
mock highlight our weekly opponents, I thought I'd submit one for Appalachian State. I hope to have a new one each Monday (yeah, I know this one is early), similar to what momuMental has done in seasons past. In my opinion, his work is second to none (if you haven't yet had the privilege, check it out) but I believe he only does wallpapers for marquee opponents now. If that's still the case, I'll continue to offer a wallpaper on Mondays. If not, I'll kindly cease and desist :-).
For the Appalachian State game, I struggled with whether to dub it "the Horror II" or not. On the one hand, it's awefully catchy and reminds us why Dave Brandon even thought this game would be mildly interesting. On the other, it seems to suggest the possibility that this year's game could have a similar outcome which... [insert curse word]. In the end, like Brandon, I went with brand recognition. Without further ado, I give you:
Here's the link for the full size image: 2560x1440
The men's basketball team defeated the Perugia Select Team, 99-60, in the opening game of their Italy exhibition tour. Zak Irvin led the way with 27 points on 10/13 (5/8 2PT, 5/5 3PT) shooting, followed by freshmen Kam Chatman and Ricky Doyle chipping in 12 apiece. Most importantly, Austin Hatch entered the game for the last few minutes, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd:
— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) August 17, 2014
The full box score, which was compiled by hand by the Michigan staff—hence no minutes played tally—is below (click to embiggen):
Visual proof of Irvin being Not Just A Shooter™:
Postgame quotes from John Beilein, Hatch, and more courtesy of the athletic department:
Michigan Head Coach John Beilein
On the opening victory on U-M's Italian exhibition tour ... "Offensively, that first quarter was not what I was expecting. With us playing so well offensively that led to us playing so well defensively. You don't know what to expect in games like these. The first quarter was probably a little above what I thought we would do. The last three quarters were a little more predictable for a team on a trip like we are on."
On what he learned that will help going into the next game ... "We will have 48 hours before our next game. This film will be invaluable. There will be plenty of it that will coach the coaches on what we have to teach better. The second part is we will have a chance to sit down with players on the train tomorrow when we go to Verona. It will be just a great teaching tool."
On getting Austin Hatch getting into the last three minutes of the game ... "It was a special moment. Austin even led us in the fight song after the game was over. It's something he has worked very hard for. It was a great moment for our team; however, it was truly special for Austin and his grandfather, Jim, who was here in the stands."
Freshman Austin Hatch
On getting into the game ... "(long pause) As you can imagine it has been a heck of a journey to get here. Playing basketball at the University of Michigan has been my goal since I was a little kid. It was unreal to be here and to have actually played a game. I really feel like I have that game under my belt now and I really feel like a Michigan basketball player."
On almost getting an opportunity to score ... "I am not going to take a shot if it is not the right point in the game. For example if I have an open three and I have a teammate who is open under the basket, you better believe I am going to be passing it to him. Yeah, it would be cool if I made a three. It would be a good story, but I am about my team and my teammates."
On leading the team in 'The Victors' ... "It was unreal. To lead the team in the fight song after the game is a big tradition. I learned that early on in the recruiting process and watched U-M sing it a lot on my visits. I always thought to myself, 'I hope someday I am in position to be able to do that.' Just like everything else that happened today, it was just unreal to be able to do that."
Sophomore Zak Irvin
On his opening 27-point, 11-rebound game ..."I really shot the ball well today; however, I have to give my teammates credit because they were looking for me and getting me the ball. The big thing for me was getting to the hole and I was able to do that. I was able to score inside and outside. It was a great start for us, a great game and hopefully we can keep this going."
On U-M's red hot first quarter ... "We came out shooting the ball really well. That just speaks volumes for our team. We are all looking for each other and playing unselfish basketball."
On how this team progressed ... "We are a growing team. There were a lot of things that went well today, but there is plenty we still have to work on. We can do better communicating and on the defensive end. We came out to Italy and had a great game, but we also just have to enjoy and really take in everything on this trip."
On Austin Hatch getting into the game ..."It was great to see that, especially after everything that Austin has been through. To see him step out onto that floor just meant so much. I have known Austin since the eighth grade so to see him out there playing was just incredible. I hope he is able to do that a lot more during this trip and beyond."
Freshman Ricky Doyle
On playing his first game in a Michigan jersey ... "It was a lot of fun. Finally getting out there with all these guys was a great experience. There is a lot more to come. It's going to be a great year."
On Austin Hatch getting into the game ..."He has been through so much and for him to be out here with us, it is phenomenal. He is part of our family. He is one of our brothers. Seeing him going out there was just as important to all of us as it is to him."
I can't see where you’re comin' from / but I know just what you’re runnin' from / And what matters ain't the who's baddest / but the ones who stop you fallin' from your ladder.
For a little over four years now I’ve had a summer time hobby of trying to predict plausible performance levels from various QBs for the upcoming football season. I have tried to root these projections as deeply into the bedrock of reality as is possible for a figment of one’s imagination and at this point there is a codex of sorts in the diary archives describing my methods. It’s fun to go back and see what worked and learn from what didn’t. There’s something there, man.
For Devin Gardner 2013 I laid out two stat lines hinging on two sets of assumptions—a reasonable/prudent set, and a ‘sexy’ set. The reasonable prediction: Gardner would complete 225 of 360 passes for 2900 yards, 23 TDs, and 10 INTs. In reality he went 208 of 345 for 2960 yards, 21 TDs, and 11 INTs. There’s a HEAVY dose a good fortune involved there but, hot damn, that’s pretty good. The assumptions here were basically looking at only QB stats and nothing else Devin had shown enough in his 5 QB starts during the 2012 season to perform at the “seasoned veteran QB” level which I think of as an incumbent with 2 years of experience in tow. That's a brutal benchmark, IMO but that's what I measure guys up against. That's what we want them to be.
Anyway, the sexy set of assumptions were:
- Devin has elite talent. I believe this one held. More on that later.
- The O-line would be fine despite the possibility of being “a touch weaker than last year (2012).” Eh boy…
- The offensive scheme would be well tailored to Gardner’s skill set and that of the support around him. This was sometimes true but not consistently often enough for Borges to keep his job.
Ok, so the necessary assumptions for DG to be the second coming of Vince Young vanished into the ether. But those last two assumptions about the support and scheme are really kind of baked into the reasonable prediction too. For my money, the fact that DG put up the numbers he was able to in spite of the glaring flaws of the team is a testament to just how good he can be if the conditions are reasonable.
The fact that there are so many straight-faced questions being asked about Devin Gardner’s incumbency status is ludicrous. Sure, numbers don’t tell the whole story but they tell a good part of it. DG went from being one of the darlings of the 2013 Manning Passing Academy to needing to prove his talent simply because he couldn't compensate for all of the flaws around him last season. He did as well as could reasonably be expected without adjusting for other very real headwinds.
[After THE JUMP: Gardner under the microscope.]
Seeing as we just had the annual heights and weights delivered to our doorstep with nary an emotion beyond “these large men either got slightly larger or slightly smaller, and that is good”, there really isn’t much else going on until the season starts. Sure, there was the BBQ and a couple of commitments, but I’d be surprised if much else happened until a couple of days before The Horror II – Horror-ier comes into our lives at the end of August. So yeah, figured I’d dust off this diary and expound a bit on the UM sports landscape, the upcoming football season, college sports in general, and a couple of other topics.
Best: Are You Ready for Some Football!
So it’s been over 8 months since UM last played a down of football (and, frankly, many more months since those downs felt meaningful). I know a great deal has gone on both locally and nationally to put a dour tone on the upcoming season, but I’m just excited for the sport to return and for my fall weekends to have a bit more entertainment. Living in NY but being a Lions fan, I’m forced to watch the Jets and Giants try to out-dryhump doorknobs for 3 hours most weeks, and can usually only catch games with teams I care about on postage stamp-sized feeds from random “sports” sites hosted in countries Russia hasn’t realized they might want to take back yet. But basically every Saturday from August until November I know that I can turn on the television and find some channel with Michigan on it, and for a couple of hours I can be unabashedly zealous over something pretty inconsequential but still incredibly endearing to my heart. That’s why I love the fall, and why I love having Michigan football back in my life.
[After the JUMP: lots more things that are either the best or the worst.]
There has been much debate around our AD and his success (or lack-there-of) in fulfilling his job duties. Many strong, passionate sentiments have come forth on the board. While I love a good “back-and-forth” as much as the next person, there does seem to be a large amount of apples vs. oranges, non sequiturs, straw men, and other nonsensical musings. In an effort to add some clarity to things I created the following Venn diagram. As this very lively discussion continues perhaps you will find this tool useful to better organize your thoughts and make your arguments.
A1 - A place everyone agrees does not exist
A2 - Miami (YTM) circa 1984
A3 - A place fans fear more than death itself
A4 - Brian’s own personal Hell; why $5 is what you will receive from a scalper in exchange for taking his Horror Part II tickets.
B1 - Boise State
B2 - Exists only in Dave Brandon’s Mind; The reason he hired Lochmann
B3 - Slippery Rock at the Big House
B4 - “I am proud to introduce the next director of athletics for Eastern Michigan University, Mr. Hunter Lochmann”
C1 - Oregon
C2 - Alabama
C3 - Duke vs. Arizona Basketball! Prime-time!! For the championship!!! Of the Preseason NIT