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11 Dec 2011

2011 In-Season Receiving Plus/Minus

by Aaron Schatz

Earlier this week I wrote an article for ESPN Insider about Jordy Nelson's great season. In that piece I debuted in-season receiving plus/minus numbers for the first time, as well as YAC+ numbers. As promised, here are some more of those numbers for FO readers to check out.

Bill Barnwell introduced receiving plus/minus back in 2009. The idea was to adjust catch rate for the fact that different receivers run different types of routes, and deeper balls aren't going to be caught as often as short passes. Each catch is compared to a baseline of how often balls are caught based on the length of the pass and whether the pass is to the left, middle, or right. Now, the original plus/minus used game charting data to remove uncatchable passes: passes marked "Thrown Away," "Tipped at Line," or "Hit in Motion." If we want to do these numbers in-season, we run into the problem where our game charting numbers are always a couple of weeks behind the standard play-by-play numbers. Therefore, I created new baselines which are based on all passes without adjusting for game charting data. These numbers won't be as accurate, but they do give us a basic plus/minus to use in season. 

There's a second problem with doing plus/minus in season, and that's the fact that there are often mistakes by official scorers when it comes to PYD/YAC. These are "unofficial" stats and therefore there isn't the same pressure from the league to get them right. When the official scorers are trying to track 20 things on each play, there are going to be some mistakes. Some official scorers make more mistakes than others. Usually, we correct these mistakes in the course of game charting, and then report those fixes to the league and get the data changed in league data. However, I have not yet made changes in the FO data unless we've officially corrected that data with the league, so there are some mistakes in here. The league as a whole comes out at -189.6; I have a feeling that this comes from those plays where the official scorer doesn't enter the PYD/YAC correctly, and thus longer passes get listed as 0 PYD. There's also a general problem with incomplete passes marked as "0 PYD," because passes thrown away or tipped at the line are often just marked as 0 by the official scorers. But we'll live with those issues for now, knowing that we'll gradually be able to fix the data over the next few weeks, and then get the game charting data finished and do more accurate plus/minus numbers.

Obviously this isn't a perfect measure of receiving. Besides the problems listed above having to do with the limitations of measuring this in-season, we have a couple of other issues. We're not measuring the specific routes here; I'm sure there's a difference between how often a 15-yard dig is caught and how often a 15-yard curl is caught. We don't have that data for each pass. In addition, obviously the abilities of the quarterback play a big role in the plus/minus numbers, just as they do in catch rate. Green Bay and New England receivers are generally high; Cleveland and Jacksonville receivers are generally low. We could adjust these numbers for a team baseline, but we won't do that this week; besides that presents its own problems -- for example, why should Jordy Nelson's numbers be discounted because Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are also excellent recievers.

Let's take a look at the best and worst players so far this year according to in-season receiving plus/minus.

Top 20 In-Season Receiving Plus/Minus, 2011 Weeks 1-13
Player Team Passes C% +/-
J.Nelson GB 63 76% 11.9
W.Welker NE 127 73% 11.5
M.Colston NO 70 73% 10.0
G.Jennings GB 96 68% 9.5
M.Wallace PIT 85 68% 9.2
R.Gronkowski NE 90 72% 8.8
T.Gonzalez ATL 93 71% 8.1
S.Chandler BUF 41 85% 7.9
P.Harvin MIN 76 78% 7.9
V.Davis SF 65 74% 7.8
V.Cruz NYG 94 66% 6.7
M.Jenkins MIN 55 69% 6.4
J.Graham NO 112 67% 6.4
B.LaFell CAR 41 71% 6.0
H.Miller PIT 56 73% 5.7
P.Thomas NO 43 86% 5.5
J.Maclin PHI 68 68% 5.4
L.Moore NO 58 71% 5.4
J.Avant PHI 65 68% 5.4
A.Gates SD 66 70% 5.3

Also worth noting: Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith (CAR), and Brandon Marshall all have a catch rate of just 59 percent but are at +4.0,+3.6, and +3.2 respectively.

Bottom 20 In-Season Receiving Plus/Minus, 2011 Weeks 1-13
Player Team Passes C% +/-
D.Aromashodu MIN 54 28% -12.9
M.Lewis JAC 66 45% -12.4
M.Thomas JAC 82 48% -11.7
B.Watson CLE 68 51% -9.7
J.Simpson CIN 78 46% -8.8
M.Massaquoi CLE 48 44% -8.3
G.Little CLE 93 54% -7.9
A.Collie IND 72 53% -7.8
P.Burress NYJ 80 46% -7.6
L.Kendricks STL 41 46% -7.6
S.Holmes NYJ 81 51% -7.4
M.Sims-Walker STL/JAC 33 36% -7.4
E.Decker DEN 81 48% -7.1
D.Hester CHI 53 47% -7.0
J.Hill JAC 55 45% -6.8
A.Caldwell CIN 64 55% -6.6
A.Roberts ARI 64 52% -6.4
E.Royal DEN 41 44% -6.3
M.Williams TB 107 53% -6.0
G.Olsen CAR 79 52% -5.9

Also worth noting: Ray Rice is at -4.2 despite a catch rate of 68 percent; LeSean McCoy is at -3.8 despite a catch rate of 71 percent.

I'll save the in-season YAC+ numbers to run later this week in a separate post.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 11 Dec 2011

14 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2011, 7:25pm by Mr. Guest to you

Comments

1
by Mr. X (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2011 - 12:07pm

It's interesting to see the former/current Bears littering the bottom of the list:

- Olsen
- Hester
- Aromashodu

5
by andrew :: Sun, 12/11/2011 - 8:38pm

Not as bad as seeing it even more littered with current Jags...

2
by nottom :: Sun, 12/11/2011 - 12:36pm

I think the most interesting entries are the teams that appear on both lists. Carolina has a couple guys who barely qualify LaFell and Olson, while Minnesota has two guys solidly on the top list (Harvin and Jenkins) along with the guy at the top of the bad list, Aromashodu. Since these are recievers getting balls fromt he same QB, it would seem that this could be a measure of their relative skill, but it could still be a relic of QB strengths and weaknesses on different types of throws (Minn can't throw the deep ball, while Cam might struggle a bit with shorter passes)

3
by tuluse :: Sun, 12/11/2011 - 3:26pm

As I wrote when he got traded, Greg Olsen is not very good. He has some moments and has potential to be good, but he isn't good.

4
by tunesmith :: Sun, 12/11/2011 - 3:47pm

Denver: ouch. I think diehard Denver fans (including me) are finally starting to come around to the view that Eddie Royal has been a disappointment. But it's tough to see Eric Decker so low as well.

7
by Vincent Verhei :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 1:12am

Well, when your quarterback completes maybe half his passes...

10
by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 8:11am

Blasphemer! Recant - the power of Tebow compells you!

6
by COINFLIP (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2011 - 11:22pm

Notice that NO has 4 names in the top 20. Speaks well of Brees.

Teams with 2 or more names in the bottom 20 have one thing in common: Rookie QBs. Or Mark Sanchez.

14
by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Sat, 12/17/2011 - 7:25pm

This stat speaks mostly of scheme. Yes, Brees and Brady are wonderful QB's, but it's the scheme that has their receivers leading the league in YAC. Likewise, other schemes require its QB to throw deeper, thus, less YAC.

8
by twelve pount courier (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 1:30am

"The idea was to adjust catch rate for the fact that different receivers run different types of routes, and deeper balls aren't going to be caught as often as short passes. Each catch is compared to a baseline of how often balls are caught based on the length of the pass and whether the pass is to the left, middle, or right"

Is this a component of DVOA or DYAR for Quarterbacks?

9
by theslothook :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 3:15am

I hate to say it...but this stat still faces the inevitable issue of not being able to accurately separate receiver performance with poor qb play. Notice all the poor wideouts belong to offenses operated with poor passing games. Now look at austin collie, not a surprise to see him on this list but where would he be WITH MANNING? Right now, we still have no way of accurately apportioning credit for passing success or passing failure.

11
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 10:14am

"for example, why should Jordy Nelson's numbers be discounted because Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are also excellent recievers."

Considering that your top and bottom lists almost uniformly divide out by QB ability, I suspect the discount to Nelson's numbers belongs to Mr. Rodgers, and not Mr Jennings or Driver.

It's enlightening how ineffective those same playcalls and route combos are when it's Flynn throwing instead of Rodgers.

12
by KB (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 1:20am

After seeing Nelson play all year and knowing he is also topping the list at PFF he has been nothing short of a beast. I can think of 1 drop this year and he is constantly getting separation on the outside and has no fear going across the middle. He has absolutely put up a pro bowl year but I doubt he will get that 'honor'. GB has a stacked receiving group so it is saying a lot to say Nelson has been the best of the bunch that includes Finley and Jennings. Jennings has been great but has had a drop or two more but is also getting doubled more. The last half of the year Nelson has been amazing catching nearly everything Rodgers puts up for him no matter where it is. Also his double moves that have seemed to improve this year are ridiculous.

13
by Skins fan # 721 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 1:33pm

I contend that this metric is fatally flawed, as there are no Redskins in the bottom 20. Unpossible!