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|
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|
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.
14 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2011, 6:25pm
#1 by Mr. X (not verified) // Dec 11, 2011 - 11:07am
It's interesting to see the former/current Bears littering the bottom of the list:
#5 by andrew // Dec 11, 2011 - 7:38pm
Not as bad as seeing it even more littered with current Jags...
#2 by nottom // Dec 11, 2011 - 11:36am
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 Thomas_beardown // Dec 11, 2011 - 2:26pm
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 // Dec 11, 2011 - 2:47pm
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 // Dec 12, 2011 - 12:12am
Well, when your quarterback completes maybe half his passes...
#10 by Kevin from Philly // Dec 12, 2011 - 7:11am
Blasphemer! Recant - the power of Tebow compells you!
#6 by COINFLIP (not verified) // Dec 11, 2011 - 10:22pm
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) // Dec 17, 2011 - 6:25pm
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) // Dec 12, 2011 - 12:30am
"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 // Dec 12, 2011 - 2:15am
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 G… // Dec 12, 2011 - 9:14am
"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) // Dec 13, 2011 - 12:20am
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) // Dec 13, 2011 - 12:33pm
I contend that this metric is fatally flawed, as there are no Redskins in the bottom 20. Unpossible!