On Friday, the Jets released Mark Sanchez. I don’t have much in the way of a post mortem, but it felt odd not to have at least some post on the subject. And despite watching every Sanchez start for four years, it still takes me by surprise when I see that his career record is 33-29. That winning record came despite Sanchez being one of the worst starters in the league for most of his career. Through five seasons, he has a career Relative Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average of -1.03. Among the 140 quarterbacks to enter the NFL since 1970 who have started 40 games, only one other passer (who will remain nameless for now) had a winning record with a worse RANY/A than Sanchez; the next worst quarterback with a winning record over that time frame is Trent Dilfer, who finished 58-55 with a career -0.85 RANY/A.
If you grade quarterbacks by #Winz, Sanchez is above-average. If you look at passing statistics — i.e., ANY/A — he’s one of the worst in the league. So I thought I would quantify that gulf and see if Sanchez was the quarterback with the largest disparity between winning percentage and passing statistics.
First, I ran a regression on team wins (pro-rated to 16 games) and Relative ANY/A for every year since 1970. The best fit formula was 8.00 + 1.756 * RANY/A. In other words, for every 1.00 ANY/A above league average, a team should expect to win 1.756 more games. For a team to expect to win 11 games, they need to finish 1.71 ANY/A better than average.
Next, I calculated the career RANY/A — i.e., the ANY/A relative to league average — for every quarterback to enter the league since 1970. For example, Sanchez has a RANY/A of -1.03. This means you would expect his teams to win 6.19 games every season, for a 0.387 winning percentage. In reality, Sanchez’s Jets have a 0.632 winning percentage, which means he has an actual winning percentage that is 0.146 higher than his expected winning percentage. As it turns out, that differential puts him in the top ten, but it is not the best mark.
That honor belongs to Mike Phipps. Here’s how to read the table below, which shows all 140 quarterbacks to enter the league since 1970 and start at least 40 games. Phipps entered the league in 1970 and last played in 1981, starting 71 games in his career. He finished with a career RANY/A of -1.52; as a result, he “should have” won only 23.6 games. In reality, he won 39 games, meaning he won 15.4 more games than expected. On a percentage basis, his RANY/A would imply a .333 expected winning percentage; his actual winning percentage was 0.549, and that difference of +0.216 is the highest in our sample.
|130||Billy Joe Tolliver||1989||1999||48||-0.76||20||15||-5||0.416||0.313||-0.104|
One way to interpret these results is to say that Phipps was the luckiest quarterback of the last 45 years, by being credited with a winning record despite ugly individual passing numbers. Generally, when a quarterback wins more games than expected based on his passing numbers, that’s due to the fact that he was playing with a great running game and/or defense, but of course, that’s not always the case. Quarterbacks who have a lot of comeback wins will appear “lucky” in this metric, too. To be perfectly clear, the only two variables used in this formula are RANY/A and winning percentage. Among the many things I have not even attempted to measure are the six inches in-between a quarterback’s breastbone and backbone.
- Phipps had a long but undistinguished career. He was often linked to two Hall of Famers, which probably didn’t make his job any less stressful. Phipps and Terry Bradshaw were considered the top two quarterback prospects in 1970. The Browns, desperate for a quarterback,1 traded Paul Warfield to Miami for the rights to the third overall pick. With the first overall pick, Pittsburgh selected Bradshaw, placing these two in the same division and inviting years of unfair comparisons.
- Phipps made it to #1 on the back of two seasons particularly wild seasons. In 1972 he finished with a league average 4.1 ANY/A ratio but the Browns went 10-3. Phipps led the league with four 4th quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives, which helps to reconcile those two numbers. Then in 1979, he went 9-1 as the starter for the Bears. Phipps again had a league-average ANY/A (this time, at 4.5), but he also had Walter Payton and a Buddy Ryan defense that finished 3rd in points allowed. The prior year, he went 3-1 with the Bears despite throwing 2 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
- David Woodley went 34-18-1 despite a career 65.7 passer rating that wasn’t good even for that era. From 1980 to 1982, the Dolphins ranked 6th in points allowed, which helped Woodley go 24-10-1 despite ranking 24th out of 28th qualifying quarterbacks in ANY/A over those three years. Despite that stellar record and a trip to the Super Bowl in 1982, Don Shula didn’t hesitate to draft Dan Marino in the 1983 draft. Speaking of Marino, he won 10.7 fewer games than we would expect based on his stats. Marino backers will cite this as strong evidence that Marino was in many ways a one-man team, while Marino haters will cite this as strong evidence that Marino was not a winner. So there’s that.
- Did you know: Steve Bono had a 28-14 career record. In 1995, Bono had a league average ANY/A, but the 13-3 Chiefs ranked 1st in rushing yards and 1st in points allowed.
- At number 4 is Vince Young. To be fair, this analysis ignores Young’s rushing numbers, but Young’s record has never come close to matching the perception of him as a quarterback.
- Quarterbacks 5 through 8 fit the same mold: Jim McMahon, Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco, and Sanchez all played the role of game manager on teams with strong running games and great defenses. McMahon won a Super Bowl with this style, while Stewart, Flacco, and Sanchez all flamed out in the AFC Championship Game. Yes, you read that correctly: I enjoy making fun of Flacco as much of the next guy, but let’s not pretend that the 2012 Ravens were a run-it-and-play-defense type of team. Flacco carried them to the Super Bowl, as odd as it is to say.
- Because somebody was going to ask: Tim Tebow has a RANY/A of -0.64 and a career record of 8-6. He would be expected to win 6 games, so Tebow grades as 2 wins over expectation. That means he’s exceeded his expected winning percentage by .142, putting him a hair behind Sanchez.
- As always, the tables are fully sortable and searchable. So you can sort by “wins over expectation” instead of “winning percentage over expectation.” And while the appearance of Phipps and Sanchez high on the list shows that quarterback wins don’t mean much, the fact that Tom Brady ranks #1 in wins above expectation is just another piece of evidence that Brady possesses winner DNA.
- If you sort by career RANY/A, you’ll note that Peyton Manning’s expected wins and actual wins are a near perfect match. Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young come in 1st and 3rd in RANY/A, and both slightly fell short of their super high win expectations. Number 4 on the list of RANY/A ratings is Joe Montana, further support for my ongoing quest to prove that Montana is one of the most underrated regular season quarterbacks of all time. This is not shtick, and here’s proof: If you make the statement that Montana was one of the best regular season passers ever, people will look at you like you have two heads.
- If you sort by the reverse of wins above expectation, you find Archie Manning. Football’s famous father is also the leader in winning percentage below expectation: despite a not-terrible career RANY/A of -0.48, he won just 25.3% of his games. And, of course, many would say that his RANY/A underrates Manning, who was surrounded by below-average teammates on both sides of the ball.
- Daunte Culpepper, Jeff George, and Dan Fouts are the next three quarterbacks in win percentage below expectation. Many thousands of words could be written on the careers of any of those three. But one thing is clear: all were saddled with terrible defenses, which led to lots of fun games to watch but no championships.
- Hard to imagine, right? [↩]