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Hall or Anderson: A Sabremetric-Based Approach

There’s no immediate controversy.  Max Hall is the starter and he’s healthy and apparently ready to go for Sunday’s game.  If Hall falters, however, we could very well see Derek Anderson replace Max on the field, which would start the debate afresh.  Not that I’m expecting Hall to fail, but let’s start the debate now anyway.

Sabremetrics are a polarizing force and many people doubt its merit.  Also, many people just don’t have a taste for them, but it can at least brings another perspective to the Hall vs. Anderson debate.  Let’s start with some definitions, which along with the stats below, are courtesy of

  • Win Probability (“WP”)  – The probability that a team will win a game in progress, given a particular combination of circumstances including score, time remaining, field position, down, and to go distance. WP is based on a model built on actual outcomes of NFL games from recent seasons that featured similar circumstances.
  • Win Probability Added (“WPA”) – The difference between a team’s Win Probability (WP) at the start of a play and the WP at the end of the play. WPA is the measure of a play’s impact on the outcome of a game. An individual player’s WPA is the sum of the WPA of the plays in which that player was directly involved. Being directly involved is defined as an offensive player who ran, threw, or kicked the ball, was targeted by a pass, or flagged for a penalty. Defensive players are credited for WPA when they tackle or sack the ball carrier, are credited with an assisted tackle or sack, cause a fumble, defend a pass, or are flagged for a penalty.
  • Expected Points (“EP”) – The value of the current down, distance, and field position situation in terms of future expected net point advantage. In other words, it is the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance, and field position.  First and goal at the one represents an EP near 6, while 3rd and 20 at a team’s own one yard line represents an EP of about -2.  EP differs from Win Probability (WP) in that it does not take into account the game score and time remaining.
  • Expected Points Added (“EPA”) The difference between the Expected Points (EP) at the start of a play and the EP at the end of they play.  EPA is the measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. An individual player’s EPA is the sum of the EPA of the plays in which that player was directly involved.  Being directly involved is defined as an offensive player who ran, threw, or kicked the ball, was targeted by a pass, or flagged for a penalty.
  • Success Rate Percentage (“SR%)” – The proportion of plays in which a player was directly involved that would typically be considered successful. Specifically, SR is the percentage of plays resulting in positive Expected Points Added (EPA).
  • Deep Pass Percentage (“%Deep”) – The proportion of pass targets in which a receiver is greater than 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
  • Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (“AYPA”) – A quarterback’s yards per Attempt (YPA) minus sack yards, adjusted by a 45-yard penalty for each interception thrown.  45 yards is chosen because it is approximately equivalent to the Expected Point (EP) value of an interception.

For those who aren’t familiar with sabremetrics, this seems like a good place to stop before someone’s head explodes, which is how I felt when I first looked into sabremetrics.

A Quick Note on the Selection of the Sabremetric Categories:

I chose WPA and EPA for their obvious value.  WPA is a great tool because it gives you a black and white number regarding how a player either increases or decreases a team’s chance of winning.  EPA is also useful because it illuminates a player’s ability to put points on the board.  Success rate useful because it gives you a feel for how effective a player is on a play-by-play basis.  Finally, Deep Pass Percentage and Adjusted Yards Per Attempt were included to give us a sense of how the quarterbacks are attacking the defense.  A high Deep Percentage shows a willingness to take shots (and vice versa) and AYPA will tell us how much yardage a quarterback is chewing per play when you consider other factor such as interceptions, rather than the traditional yards per play stat, which doesn’t take negative plays into account.

So let’s finally look at some numbers that are responsive to what we’ve just learned.  Derek Anderson is the top line and Max Hall is the second line.  For comparison, I’ve included the same numbers for Peyton Manning, the so-called “diamond standard.”  Again for comparison, the fourth line is the quarterback with the lowest WPA in the NFL this season.  Can you guess who it is?  That’s right, it’s Brett Favre.

Here are the Numbers:

WPA      EPA      SR(%)     %Deep    AYPA

0.6        -12.9       42.5         26.0          4.0

-0.23      -33.0     33.8           18.6           0.9

1.34        68.6      54.7           20.1          6.9

-1.89      -20.7     40.5           24.0          3.3

According to the metrics, it’s a clean sweep for Anderson.  Specifically Derek, more so than Hall, increases the Cardinals’ win probability, expected points, success rate on passes, the likelihood of taking shots deep, and gives Arizona more net passing yards per attempt.  Unfortunately, when you compare Anderson’s numbers to Manning’s, it’s easy to see that Anderson is clearly the lesser of two evils.  But hey it could be worse, we could have an overpaid, over-the-hill, ankle-breaking, game losing machine running the ship.

It’s tough to feel good about saying Anderson gives the Cardinals a better chance to win.  I’m not even sure I’m willing to believe that, but one thing sabremetrics allows you to do is compare players’ performances without prejudice, emotion or “gut” feeling.  Based on cold hard stats Anderson has been the better quarterback.

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2 Responses to “Hall or Anderson: A Sabremetric-Based Approach”

  1. Your atical is really surprising. The article is very helpful to me.

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