as a Wolverine (and only three during his career) probably helped.
Mike Hart, The Decade’s Most Valuable Running Back
[Ed-Ace: Brian (knee) is day-to-day, though he did prepare some content that will be posted this afternoon. Post-Burke-return hoops stuff and a Spring Game primer will appear later this week. In the meantime, enjoy some Mike Hart.]
In honor of Michigan’s all-time leading rusher’s birthday yesterday, a look at one of the unique careers in college football.
Since the 2011 season completed, I have been re-loading 9 seasons worth of games (6,063 to be exact) to update my database to include 2011’s new feature of Win Percent Added. In doing so, something immediately popped out at me. No running back added more wins to their team than Mike Hart did for Michigan.
Sometimes when you are looking at advanced stats you are surprised by how counter-intuitive results can be and sometimes you are surprised how well the data fits the existing narrative. Mike was the back who wouldn’t go down, always got the extra yard, killed the clock and never fumbled. Those are all the things that factor highly in Win Percent Added, especially the 4th quarter capabilities. Burning the clock in the fourth quarter is a key requirement of a successful running back. Especially a Michigan running back. No one did it better than Mike.
For his career, Mike Hart was responsible for 4.4 Wins running the ball. Reggie Bush edges him out if you count receiving WPA, as well, but those are tainted wins. It’s not just longevity and playing time that pushed him to the top. His per game average of 0.11 is fifth, behind two players with only a single season in the database and two more with two seasons at non-BCS level schools.
At this point, writing about Mike Hart is a daunting task. What is left to write that hasn’t been written? He joined the team in the 2004 class as a 3 star recruit. He nearly set the national high school rushing record but wasn’t even the highest ranked running back in Michigan’s class. He would have been the fifth highest rated running back in Miami’s (YTM’s) recruiting class. He saw his first quality action in his second game of his career against Notre Dame in the second week of the season. By week three he was over 100 yards and posting a +5 EV+ and a crucial .36 WPA as Michigan held on for a 24-21 win over San Diego St.
Hart would go on to string together three straight 200 yards games in Big Ten play, including a 0.26 WPA in the Braylon Edwards game. His EV+ was always strong for a running back but where his EV+ was strong, his WPA was Herculean. Mike Hart made all the plays to win the game but none of them to lose them. By the end of the 2004 season true freshman Mike Hart had gone from anonymous three star to posting a per game WPA of 0.15, still my best recorded number in the Big Ten.
Injuries killed a large portion of the 2005 season. Kevin Grady, Max Martin, Antonio Bass and Jerome Jackson all took carries but none could come close to the production from Mike Hart. Kevin Grady was the only one to surpass a +1 EV+ in his absence, and that was mostly unnecessary against Indiana. Jerome Jackson did have a solid 0.14 WPA on 11 carries in an overtime win against Iowa, but that was limit of the success when Hart was out. In five full games of action Hart averaged 0.23 WPA which if replicated across an entire season would have given him the second highest (Reggie Bush, 2005) WPA average in a season for any running back since 2003.
It’s hard to think about what could have been with a healthy Mike Hart. Three carries in a seven point loss to Notre Dame, a DNP in a three point loss to Wisconsin eight ineffective carries in a four point loss to Ohio. There’s a very real chance he swings those three games and Michigan shares a Big Ten title with Penn State and spends its holiday taking on Florida State in the Orange Bowl rather than getting screwed over by the refs in the Alamo Bowl.
With fewer games coming down to key fourth quarter possessions in 2006, Michigan didn’t need the fourth quarter machine Mike Hart. He finished the season with a profile almost exactly like Chris Perry’s 2003 season. With not much in the way of close games, he didn’t have any massive, WPA pushing games like he had in his first two years, but 10 of 13 games would finish at .07 or better. For the year Hart ended at .09 WPA/game, his third top 20 Big Ten WPA year in as many tries. John Clay is the only player to have even 2 top 20 finishes.
For the second time in his career, injuries would derail an outstanding Mike Hart season. After surviving The Horror and somehow managing a strong WPA in the follow-up beating by Oregon, Hart was on track for a season to along side his junior year. An ankle injury in mid-season cost him a couple games of action and a couple more of effectiveness. 2007 would be his lowest rated season but still crack the Big Ten top 50. He would finish the year with enough quality carries to become Michigan’s all-time leading rusher and set the then non-existent WPA record.
When I talk to people about how much more valuable quarterbacks are than running backs they usually point to running out the clock in the fourth as the unquantifiable equalizer between the two. When I first developed the Win Percent Added I was anxious to see how true it was. If you properly value the ability for a running back to keep the clock running and close out a game, what happens to the value relationship between quarterback and running back. After I crunched the numbers I found that the fourth quarter benefit was largely overstated. Until I looked at Mike Hart. There are very few running backs whose value is truly magnified by the little things like the narrative claims.
Mike Hart is the narrative.
Mike Hart, Seasons
Mike Hart, Games
|Year||Week||Vs||EV+||WPA||Rush EV+||Rush Att||Yards|
|2004||3||San Diego St||5||0.36||5||25||121|
my mike hart jersey is happy.
As one who values the perception of Michigan as a quality institution of learning, however, please note that an apostrophe does not mean "oh shit here comes an 's'!" Don't use it for simple pluralization.
Edit: Thanks for fixing those.
All this behind what was anecdotally one of the worst Michigan four-year O-lines in a couple decades. '04 had a senior David Baas and RS frosh Jake came on for 8 games. It went swiftly downhill thereafter. '05 Long was injured. Outside of JL, I don't think there was a single draft pick on the line in '05 or '06. Schilling started at RT in '07 to end the non-Jake drought, but not by much. I might not have that exactly right. What I do remember are the UFRs. "Mike Hart (+1) dodges DT in the backfield, scoots ahead for 4". Rock, rock, rock.
So true ... and so few people appreciate it.
There aren't two players that deserved wins against Ohio more than Mike Hart and Chad Henne, at least not in my mind.
Football was often frustrating while I was in Ann Arbor (04-08). If not dong punches like the Alamo Bowl and the 2006 finale, it was 2007 and I THINK I WAS SOJOURNING IN TIBET AND MISSED THE START OF THE SEASON CAN'T REMEMBER
I console myself with Braylon-fest and the knowledge that I got to watch Michigan's all-time leading rusher and passer for 4 years. Thanks, Mike.
PITCH THE BALL TO BREASTON!
I'll never forget the disbelief from the announcer (which was Herbie if I'm not mistaken), commenting on that being the worst officiating that he has ever seen.
Not sure if I should ask about the absence of "the horror" or if the reason is self evident.
Beyond the obvious reasons for avoiding, I don't track games against FCS teams.
What bothered me the most about Mike Hart's freshman season was all of the hype that Adrian Peterson was getting at Oklahoma. Their freshman year stats were very comparable but Mike Hart was the undersized underdog that did everything. I'd take Mike Hart over Adrian Peterson any day of the week, at least at the collegiate level.
Not trying to hate here and I know you have sentimental connections and bias toward Hart, but...
Did you see Peterson play in college?
Yes I did. He was a physical beast with speed. He was also a very highly touted recruit. Mike Hart was the underdog. He was short and slow. I am only talking about their Freshman campaigns here. Compare the stats from that year. Peterson should run over people and not go down. Mike Hart over achieved. That is why I would take him, he fought hard and earned every yard. Plus, he was likable and very easy to root for.
He was only liked by Michigan fans, but that's how it should be.
Looking at his production vs MSC, it's no wonder they universally despise the guy.
HALOL. Suck it Sparty.
Yes, that and the fact the "lil' bro" thing has hung around for about 5 years and counting now.
I think the "lil' bro" comment will be one of those great memories we have of Hart that last's a lifetime. I hope the next RB that wins its sixth straight game against Sparty reflects on Hart.
The weird thing is the 2005 team was known for not being able to close to games out. That ability came on in 2006. In 2005 the team was statistically better when losing by a little going into the 4th quarter rather than winning by a little. I do not recall how Hart did in the loses but your finding that Hart was so good at grinding out the wins in the 4th quarter in 2005 strikes me as counterintiutive and at odds with my memory. It seemed like every loss came with a game ending FG or TD.
Those things aren't mutually exclusive. Hart would burn clock and grind out yards and improve get small positive WPA with each carry. The opposing team's 2 minute offense though would take big chunks of WPA off against our defense, more than offsetting Hart's effort. If our offense had been in scoring mode rather than clock management mode in those close games chances are the overall offense WPA would have been higher and maybe able to offset the negative from our defense.
Short version: Mike Hart was great at grinding out wins, but in some cases was used to burn the clock when we should have been trying to score.
Nice work Mathlete.
Mike Hart was great.
I thought he would play as a freshman when he committed. I KNEW he would play when I heard the coaches commit on his blocking ability early in camp.
I specifically remember having low expectations for Mike Hart because of his size and lack of SEC TOP END SPEED. But thankfully he proved me wrong, and he was as solid a UM back as we've had. His consistency is really what set him apart.