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Just The Sports: 2006-10-01

Just The Sports

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Not Quite Mr. Javarris James This Week

After an impressive performance against the University of Houston, cousin of Edgerrin (you can tell by the double "r" in their first names), Javarris James, gave it another go, this time against a porous University of North Carolina defense, for whom rushing defense has been mostly a ceremonial title thus far. James finished with 114 rushing yards, 7.1 yards per carry and one touchdown, which are totals that would suggest a spectacular game, but once a glimpse is taken beneath the surface, those numbers look less impressive and certainly less dominating overall.

On the day, he had a rushing success rate of 60%, lower than his 75% success rate last week against Houston. During his successful runs, he averaged 8 extra yards and for his failed runs, he lacked an average of 4.5 yards per run. Even though it appears as if he did much better on his successful runs, 83.6% of the extra yardage came on his 62-yard touchdown run on 2nd and 3. When that run is removed from the equation, he only netted 1.5 extra yards per successful run so at least for today, James had a much higher total value as a running back than he did value per play. Last week, it was much more even.

For those wondering, I do plan to keep an eye on young Javarris James in the coming weeks to mark his production as a running back.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Louisville QBs

Certain college offenses have the ability to turn out quarterbacks with similar numbers year after year with no real thought to personnel, like Mike Leach's passing attack, and that is why I have been so confused about the different treatment given to Louisville quarterbacks Stefan Lefors and Brian Brohm who have both played under Bobby Petrino.

Every year I adopt two or three college quarterbacks who I root for and wish to succeed and from 2003-2004, one of my adopted quarterbacks was Stefan LeFors. He was everything I was looking for in a college quarterback being left-handed, accurate, and having the ability to run effectively if need be and in no way was I disappointed in his performances.

In 2003, LeFors completed 61.3% of his passes, had 8.8 yards per pass attempt, and also averaged 5.7 yards per rush while throwing 17 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He had even a better senior campaign, his second under Petrino, completing a sublime 73.5% of his passes, had a 20:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and also 10.7 yards per pass attempt as he was staving off the highly touted freshman Brian Brohm, whom everyone seems to think is a sure-fire NFL star.

Despite LeFors's success, he still had many of his passing attempts stolen by the freshman Brohm as Lefors threw one hundred fewer passes his senior year than his junior year. This is because Brohm was allowed to throw the ball 98 times while LeFors's back-up in 2003 only attempted 24 passes.

Also, interestingly enough, even with a resume like that, Lefors was only the eighth quarterback taken in the 2005 NFL draft and has since been cut by the Carolina Panthers.

Now, Brohm has played thirteen games as a starting quarterback as a Petrino quarterback and so far in his career has completed 67.2% of his throws, has 9.7 yards per passing attempt, and a 22:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. None of those numbers is significantly better than the ones put up by LeFors. In fact, the only statistically significant differences between LeFors and Brohm are passing yards, rushing attempts, rushing yards, and yards per rush.

The difference in passing yards in Brohm's favor is easy to understand, simply because no one was eating into Brohm's passing yards the way he ate in LeFors's. When the back-up quarterback Hunter Cantwell was getting the majority of his pass attempts it was because Brohm was out with a torn ACL. The difference in rushing statistics is simply because LeFors is a better runner than Brohm is.

Because of the similarities in their numbers, the question is how much of their total success can be attributed to anything special about themselves or if it is all a result of playing in Petrino's system. The real test will be how well Hunter Cantwell plays while Brohm is out with a strained thumb. Cantwell has been similarly accurate except for the 2005 bowl game against Virginia Tech and the only negative on him is his tendency to throw interceptions, but the more success he has, the better answered the question will be. Right now, though, as much as I like Stefan LeFors, I am not sure he was as good as his numbers. Nor do I think Brohm is.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

So This Is Why He Wanted To Be Traded

Just two years into a seven-year contract worth $35 million, Laveranues Coles demanded a trade away from the Washington Redskins, who obliged Coles by sending him back to the team that had drafted him in exchange for Santana Moss. Coles had signed the free-agent deal after a breakout 2002 season, which coincided nicely with Chad Pennington's first season of significant starting time, where he had 89 receptions for 1,264 yards and 5 touchdowns. Coles reproduced a similar 2003 campaign: 82 receptions, 1,204 yards, and 6 touchdowns; however, in 2004 when Joe Gibbs's first year as a coach, Coles caught 90 balls, but averaged only 10.6 yards per catch, the lowest such total of his career. Whether this was the result of Gibbs's offense or a lingering toe injury did not matter as Coles simply wanted out.

In the first season after the trade, the request by Coles looked a little foolish. Chad Pennington, who has never started a full 16 games, only appeared in three games and Coles had to deal with being thrown balls by an extremely washed-up Vinny Testaverde and a quarterback who wasn't even impressing during his University of Wisconsin tenure in Brooks Bollinger. Understandably, playing with mediocre signal-callers resulted in a large drop off in Coles's production. He did manage 5 touchdowns, but he only had 845 receiving yards and ranked 43rd among 89 NFL receivers in defense-adjusted points above replacement (cumulative value) and and 57th in defense-adjusted value over average (value per play).

On the other side of the trade coin, Moss was having the best season of his career and flourishing under Joe Gibbs. At season's end, Moss had accumulated 1,483 receiving yards with 9 touchdowns for good measure. More importantly, Moss had the third-highest cumulative value and the fifth-highest value per play among his wide receiver brethren, making it seem as if he had gotten the better end of the deal in being traded.

Now, in the second season of the trade, Coles is reunited with a healthy Chad Pennington and is currently tied for 1st in receptions and is 2nd in receiving yards. Overall, he is 9th out of 70 wide receivers in cumulative value and 22nd in value per play.

It does need to be said that Santana Moss is 4th and 1st in those categories, but at least now Coles agreeing to go back to the Jets is starting to make sense.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Finally Some Restraint from Ricciardi

Judging from recent comments from Toronto Blue Jays G.M. J.P. Ricciardi indicating that he will not lavish upon center fielder Vernon Wells a similar contract extension to the one the Mets gave to Carlos Beltran (7 years, $119 million, $11 million signing bonus), he is finally ready to show the restraint he did not show last off-season.

Last off-season, the Blue Jays owners finally opened their wallets and Ricciardi spent their extra money like a starving boy who finds $20 lying on the street and decides to spend all of it on two overpriced $10 meals instead of dining off Taco Bell's low-price menu for five days.

Closer B.J. Ryan, whom Ricciardi gave $47 million over five years, was one of those overpriced commodities. Ryan rewarded Ricciardi's confidence by placing sixth in the majors in terms of Relievers Expected Wins Added above Replacement Level (5.987 WXRL), but that is not an indicator of future success. Since Ryan's contract is five years, I looked at the seasons 2002-2006 to see how well reliever repeated their performances from year to year. It turns out they do not do so well. Thirty different pitchers made the top ten in WXRL and only seven pitchers appeared in the top ten in at least two seasons. Ricciardi would have been well-advised to not pay so highly for such a fungible position.

Oft-injured A.J. Burnett was the other foolish purchase made by the Blue Jays. Ricciardi tried to rationalize the deal by saying he did not give Burnett $55 million over five years for the first year, which is true, but $55 million is a lot of money for a pitcher that may only be healthy a full year two seasons out of the five. That is not exactly a great return on the investment.

As for not wanting to pay Wells Beltran-like money, when I read that and before I did any real research, I immediately thought to myself, duh, Wells isn't nearly the player that Beltran is. Wells is better than I was giving him credit for, though.

In seasons where the two players played at least half a season, Wells has a batting line of .288 BA/.336 OBP/.499 SLG/.276 GPA and Beltran's is .281 BA/.355 OBP/.493 SLG/.283 GPA. The difference between the two is Beltran has a much better walk-to-strikeout ratio and he has slugged at least .500 five of the past six seasons. Wells, however, has really only had two superb seasons (2003 and 2006) and the other three seasons he has been basically a league-average hitter. Perhaps if he sustains his performance of this year to next year, he will live up to a big-money contract extension, lower than Beltran's of course.

Beltran has also played better defense in center field in his career, another reason why is he a more valuable player than Vernon Wells.

Since Ricciardi has not even talked to Wells or Wells's agent about a contract extension, his comments may seem a little odd, but Blue Jays fans should be happy to know he has broken himself of the habit of flushing money down the toilet.

Monday, October 02, 2006

University of Miami Football

The decline of the University of Miami football team is obvious to anyone who sits and watches college football games week in and week out and some of what I write in this post will not be anything new to the ardent college football fan, but even you may be surprised at some of the findings because there are similarities between Butch Davis's six years as the head coach for Miami and Larry Coker's time as the head coach, from 2001 to the nailbiter victory over college football powerhouse, the University of Houston.

Those who read my offensive coordinator post will already be familiar with the methods I used to see if there was a big difference between Davis's Miami teams and Coker's Miami teams. Overall, though, there is no statistically significant difference between the two coach's offenses. In fact, completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, yards per catch, and average completions are identical for the two eras. Passing yards per game and yards per rush are very nearly identical. So, what exactly is the problem with Miami's offense?

As I mentioned earlier, the answer is simple and probably already known to you. The problem has been the direction of Miami's scoring prowess under Larry Coker compared to when Butch Davis was roaming the sidelines before leaving to lose with the Cleveland Browns. Under Davis, Miami's average points per game did not increase linearly over the six years. Instead, the scoring averages acted more like a roller coaster, increasing then decreasing then increasing then decreasing then increasing. Even though it went up and down, the decreases were never are large as the following increases so in the end, Miami averaged 42.2 points per game in 2000 compared to 26.7 in 1995.

Miami's scoring has been largely linear except for one blip on the radar from 2003 to 3004 and that line has been straight down into mediocrity. In Coker's first year, Miami averaged 42.7 points per game, last year they averaged 27.1 points per game, and so far this year they are averaging 20.5 points per game, a decline steep enough to put any coach's job security into question.

As for the defense, there are statistically significant differences (pass completions, passing yards, points per game, yards per pass attempt, and completion percentage) between the two eras and the difference all favor Miami's defenses under Larry Coker so the defenses have not been to blame for the decline unless they continue on the path they are on in 2006. Four games into this season, quarterbacks are completing 59.2% of their passes and averaging 202.0 yards per game with 8.2 yards per pass attempt.

The completion percentage is the highest Miami defenses have allowed since 1997 when they were 5-6 and having to deal with having numerous scholarships taken away thanks to an NCAA infraction, the average passing yards is the highest since 2000, and the yards per pass attempt is the highest of any Coker or Davis-led team. Since these games account for only one-third of the season, there is still a lot of time to turn that around, especially since they only have a couple games against veteran successful quarterbacks left.

Still, it will be the offense that will need to improve the most if Coker wants to reverse the current trend of his teams.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mr. Javarris James

In a conversation with the incomparable Flash Warner, I mentioned that I really liked Miami's freshman running back, Javarris James, and also remarked that he should get a lot more carries than he had gotten. Well, he did get a higher number of rushes in the game against Houston (as many as he had gotten in the first 3 games) and he rewarded the coaching staff's confidence by running for 148 yards on 18 carries and scoring one touchdown.

Not only did James amass a lot of yards, but he gained necessary yards for the Miami Hurricanes and then some with his rushing success rate of 66.7%. Of the 18 carries James was given, 12 were successful runs and averaged 8.1 extra yards than the minimum successful yardage with a large portion of the credit for that number going to a 44-yard run on 3rd and 2. He also had two receptions that gained enough yardage to make it easier for the Hurricanes to continue to move the ball and get first downs.

Despite having such a great rushing night, not all of James's runs were worth a whole lot. He did have 6 unsuccessful runs and on these runs he missing gaining a significant amount of yardage based on the down by 3.0 yards per failed run, more than twice fewer than the extra yardage he gained on successful downs. Oddly enough, all of James's 6 failed runs came on first down so Miami's offense was at a disadvantage after letting James run on first down since he was putting them in a 2nd and 7 situation on average after these failed rushes.