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Just The Sports: 2006-10-22

Just The Sports

Friday, October 27, 2006

Philip Rivers vs. His Successors

With Philip Rivers firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, now is as good a time as any to revisit his prolific career, a career that is actually looking even better in light of the play of the N.C. State quarterbacks after him. From the moment Rivers stepped on the campus of the Raleigh university, he was the starting quarterback and that did not end until he stepped off the football field fifty-one collegiate games later. In those fifty-one contests, he wrote his name all over the NCAA and ACC record books with his passing yards, touchdown passes, attempts, and completions. Just as importantly, Rivers improved at least one part of his game in each season, culminating in a senior season where he completed 72.0% of his passes, averaged 345.5 yards per game, and 9.3 yards per pass attempt. He also found time to throw thirty-four touchdown passes to only seven interceptions as icing on the cake.

That being said, every legend has to be followed by someone and after Rivers's departure for the NFL, N.C. State has called upon Jay Davis, Marcus Stone, and now Daniel Evans to lead the Wolfpack offense. Evans, a 21-year-old sophomore, looks like he will actually be a competent if not good quarterback and will end up being the best of these three quarterbacks, but needless to say none have even come close to approximating what Rivers did during his tenure as an N.C. State starting quarterback.

Faithful readers are probably aware of (and growing tired of) my obsession with significance testing, but it shows without a doubt if there has really been a difference instead of just assuming there is one and I like to be relatively sure about my conclusions.

As for the difference between Philip Rivers and his successors, you can throw 95% confidence level right out of the window. With 100% confidence, I can say that Rivers has been significantly better in the following categories: completion percentage (63.2% to 54.8%), yards per pass attempt (7.8 to 6.5), points contributed (13.7 per game to 7.4 per game), and passing yards (275.0 to 188.4). Rivers's edge in passing yards can be partly explained by the fact he threw more passing attempts per game than his three followers.

Replacing a legendary college quarterback is always difficult, but come on N.C. State, you can do better than this.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Anthony Morelli: Rocket-Armed, Rock-Brained Quarterback

When everyone jumped on the Anthony Morelli bandwagon after one game against Akron, I was pretty surprised. Anyone who watched the game closely could clearly see that Morelli became a worse quarterback as the game progressed, but apparently most people chose to only focus on the three touchdown passes and ignore the 50% completion rate. Since I have not followed the rest of Morelli's games closely because he is not a particularly good college quarterback, I was unsure whether he actually got worse during all of his games so I put my Sherlock Holmes sleuthing hat on and decided to find out.

Except for the fourth quarter (probably a result of throwing fewer passes), Morelli, for the season, does regress from one quarter to the next, no doubt a big reason why Penn State has struggled this season. The first quarter is by far Morelli's best quarter. In the opening fifteen minutes of games, he has completed 69.5% of his passes, 8.0 yards per pass attempt, a 40.7% success rate, an average of 10.8 extra yards on successful plays, and an average of 5.6 needed yards on his failed passed attempts.

Then the second quarter comes and there is a big drop-off in production. Morelli only manages to complete 47.7% of his passes, has 6.2 yards per pass attempt, a 36.9% success rate, an average of 11.0 extra yards on successful plays, and an average of 5.1 needed yards on failed plays.

The drop-off between the second and third quarters is not nearly as large as the one between the first and second quarters, but it is there nonetheless. Third quarters see Morelli complete only 46.8% of his passes with 5.3 yards per pass attempt, a 35.5% success rate, an average of 8.2 extra yards when he runs a successful play, and an average of 6.1 yards needed when he does not.

Even though the fourth quarter/overtime period does not fit into the linear decline of aggregate numbers, I did the work so I'm going to throw it in here anyway to justify the hour or so I spent looking through play-by-play data. He manages to rebound in a big way in terms of completion percentage with 60.4% and success rate with 41.7%, but the rest of the numbers (5.8 yards per pass attempt, 5.4 extra yards per success play, and 5.1 needed yards on failed plays) in no way define spectacular play.

When it comes to touchdown-to-interception ratio, the third quarter is the only one in which Morelli has throw more touchdowns than interceptions. The only quarters all have a 1:1 ratio in this category.

So far, it looks like the criticism of Morelli not being a smart quarterback is as accurate as his passes are inaccurate.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Why Bunting Is Synonymous With Coaching Incompetence

Originally, I intended this post to be about why John Bunting should be fired, but since it has been announced that he has already been fired by UNC, I will instead show, beyond simply wins and losses, why Bunting needed to be fired for Carolina football to have a chance to compete in the ACC. In fact, Bunting should have been fired three years ago, but with an athletic director like Dick Baddour I'm not surprised it took this so long to happen.

The real story begins with Carl Torbush, who took over as the UNC head football coach after the incomparable Mack Brown rightfully took a job at a university where college football is king and not just an afterthought. He was allowed three full years plus one bowl game to be a head coach before he was fired in 2001 after a 17-18 coaching record.

After Torbush's firing, Bunting was hired for reasons that I do not think have ever been explained except for the fact he has a UNC diploma, which seems to be all a coaching candidate has to have to be hired by Baddour. Now, when one coach is fired and another one is hired, the point is to hire someone who will make the program appreciably better than his predecessor. So did Bunting did anything from 2001 to so far in the 2006 season that Torbush did not do in his 1998-2000 tenure?

Offensively speaking, the only real difference between Bunting's teams and Torbush's teams has to do with quarterback play, most notably quarterbacks for Bunting had a much higher completion percentage than the ones under Torbush (55.4% to 50.2%). Also, Bunting's teams passed more and run less than Torbush-led Carolina teams. Beyond that, there was nothing notably different between the two coaches, meaning in points scored, yards per rush, or yards per attempt so Bunting improved nothing there.

Comparing the two coaches as far as how their teams performed defensively is interesting since both coaches had a background in defense before taking over the head coaching gig. Torbush had been a defensive coordinator under Mack Brown and Bunting had been a head defensive coach with the Rams before Baddour regretfully hired him. As far as improvement under Bunting, it was non-existent. There was no defensive statistic that was significantly better for UNC during John Bunting's tenure. However, his teams were significantly worse in points allowed (30.7 ppg to 24.0 ppg), rushing yards allowed (186.0 ypg to 140.8 ypg), yards per rush (4.5 to 3.4), and completion percentage (58.3% to 50.2%). With no translatable improvement on offense, there is little mystery why Bunting has a 25-42 coaching record as of today. Sadly almost a third of those wins came in his first season (8).

This is probably too much to ask, but Baddour will hopefully hire a football coach this time who will be able to build up the Carolina football program to a point where bowl games are not big events for the college, but games the teams expect to play in.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Have To Go With Billy Beane On This One

There may be no more cliched behavior than what former Oakland A's manager Ken Macha did after being fired, which was to bad mouth his former employer. Of course, fired employees choose this form of action to rationalize to themselves that they did not want to work with these horrible employers anyway when in actuality if they had not been fired, they would still gladly be cashing their paychecks and putting up with whatever incompetence they perceive their bosses to have. But for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on one statement that Macha said in a San Francisco Chronicle article.

Macha said in the article that "the GM [Billy Beane] wanted Bobby Kielty [instead of Mark Kotsay] to start against left-handed pitchers," especially during the postseason. I have no doubt that Beane told him to do this and I wholeheartedly support general managers telling managers how best to utilize the players on the roster because managers are usually dumb and need to be told what to do when they do not possess the same level on information that the general manager does.

As for Beane telling Macha to start Kielty over Kotsay when the team was facing left-handed pitchers. The answer is simply because Kielty is better against left-handed pitching. Since 2002 with 613 at-bats against lefties, Kielty is hitting .297 BA/.382 OBP/.517 SLG while Kotsay in the same time frame with 753 at-bats is hitting .308 BA/.351 OBP/.453 SLG with the biggest descrepancies being in the most important numbers, on-base percentage and slugging. So when Kielty hits against lefties, there's more of a chance of extra-base hits instead of just a lot of singles, which you would get from Kotsay.

Ironically, I wrote about Bobby Kielty in a June 13 post about switch-hitting.

Bobby Kielty
As LHB: .345 OBP/.362 SLG/.708 OPS in 875 at-bats
As RHB: .380 OBP/.487 SLG/.867 OPS in 534 at-bats

Bobby Kielty has the most equal split between how many at-bats he has had from each side of the plate, but he also has one of the more unequal OPS splits since he is 18% better, in terms of OPS, from the right side than he is from the left.

As is the case with most switch-hitters who do not hit similarly from both sides of the plate, Kielty has a wide power imbalance. Not only does he have a slugging percentage .125 points higher from the right side, his isolated power difference (slugging percentage minus batting average), a better indicator of how much true power a player has, is a hefty .71.

Perhaps his blinding red hair keeps the Oakland A's and himself from realizing right-handed at-bats are probably the way to go for him.

It seems Billy Beane was not blinded by his red hair and realized exactly which side of the plate Kielty should only be allowed to hit from.