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Expected Quarterbacks Wins Based On Passing Efficiency

Sanchez tries to understand the formula for wins above expectation

Sanchez tries to understand the formula for wins above expectation.

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.

First Yr
Last Yr
Exp Wins
Act Wins
1Mike Phipps1970198171-1.5223.63915.40.3330.5490.216
2David Woodley1980198553-0.5423.434.511.10.4410.6510.21
3Steve Bono1985199942-0.0520.8287.20.4950.6670.172
4Vince Young2006201150-0.4222.7318.30.4540.620.166
5Jim McMahon19821996970.235167160.5260.6910.165
6Kordell Stewart1995200582-0.6934.84813.20.4240.5850.161
7Joe Flacco2008201396-0.1246.86215.20.4870.6460.159
8Mark Sanchez2009201362-1.03243390.3870.5320.146
9Danny White19761988920.4250.36211.70.5470.6740.127
10Andy Dalton2011201348-0.0123.9306.10.4990.6250.126
11Jay Fiedler1995200560-0.0829.5377.50.4920.6170.125
12Terry Bradshaw197019831580.4887.310719.70.5530.6770.125
13Tom Brady200020131911.37124.314823.70.6510.7750.124
14Ken Stabler197019841460.3879.196.517.40.5420.6610.119
15Rex Grossman2003201347-0.7919.4255.60.4130.5320.119
16Pat Haden19761981550.2729.
17Randall Cunningham19852001135-0.0167.382.515.20.4990.6110.113
18Steve Walsh1989199949-0.7420.5265.50.4190.5310.111
19Stan Humphries19891997810.0741.1508.90.5080.6170.109
20Trent Dilfer19942007113-0.854658120.4070.5130.106
21Alex Smith2005201390-0.5139.949.59.60.4440.550.106
22Marc Wilson1980199060-0.6625.7326.30.4280.5330.106
23Jay Schroeder19851994990.1851.4619.60.5190.6160.097
24Joe Theismann197419851240.2665.57711.50.5280.6210.093
25John Elway198319982310.47127.5148.5210.5520.6430.091
26Mike Tomczak1985199973-0.1435.4426.60.4850.5750.091
27Ben Roethlisberger200420131420.7482.69512.40.5820.6690.087
28Jeff Hostetler19851997830.28445170.5310.6140.084
29Kyle Boller2003201147-1.4416.1203.90.3420.4260.083
30Matt Ryan20082013940.58536070.5640.6380.074
31Bob Avellini1975198450-119.5233.50.3910.460.069
32Phil Simms197919931590.268495110.5280.5970.069
33Rodney Peete1989200487-0.47394560.4490.5170.069
34Donovan McNabb199920111610.4488.298.510.30.5480.6120.064
35Bubby Brister1986200075-0.6432.2374.80.430.4930.063
36Dan Pastorini19711983117-0.7648.7567.30.4160.4790.062
37Jake Delhomme19992011960.2150.3565.70.5240.5830.06
38Scott Hunter1971197942-0.222022.52.50.4760.5360.059
39Brett Favre199120102980.59168.318617.70.5650.6240.059
40Dave Brown1992200160-1.1322.5263.50.3750.4330.058
41Eric Hipple1980198957-0.56252830.4380.4910.053
42Jim Kelly198619961600.7292.61018.40.5790.6310.053
43Eli Manning200420131510.1277.4857.60.5130.5630.05
44Michael Vick20012013107-0.0153.358.55.20.4980.5470.048
45Brad Johnson199420081250.2666.1725.90.5290.5760.047
46Steve Fuller1979198642-0.86171920.4050.4520.047
47Joe Montana197919941641.55109.91177.10.670.7130.043
48Dave Krieg198019981750.1790.8987.20.5190.560.041
49Brian Griese19982008830.0241.7453.30.5020.5420.04
50Steve McNair199520071530.5185.1915.90.5560.5950.038
51Elvis Grbac19942001700.337.3402.70.5330.5710.038
52Wade Wilson1981199869-0.1333.6362.40.4860.5220.035
53Mark Malone1980198953-0.9121.2231.80.40.4340.034
54Bobby Hebert198519961000.2452.6563.40.5260.560.034
55Jake Plummer19972006136-0.2464.5694.50.4740.5070.033
56Doug Flutie19862005660.42363820.5460.5760.03
57Vince Ferragamo1977198653-0.1825.5271.50.480.5090.029
58Jim Plunkett19711986144-0.2468.2723.80.4740.50.026
59Jay Cutler200620131040.1153.3562.70.5120.5380.026
60Matt Hasselbeck199920131520.0376.5803.50.5030.5260.023
61Drew Bledsoe19932006193-0.1194.2983.80.4880.5080.02
62Neil O'Donnell199120031000.2853.1551.90.5310.550.019
63Troy Aikman198920001650.4690.8943.20.5510.570.019
64Tony Eason19831990560.0128.1290.90.5020.5180.016
65Matt Cassel2005201368-0.4130.9321.10.4540.4710.016
66Rich Gannon198720041320.5573.9762.10.560.5760.016
67Mark Rypien19882001780.845.9471.10.5880.6030.015
68Rick Mirer1993200368-1.4523.2240.80.3410.3530.012
69Steve Grogan197519901350.4173.6751.40.5450.5560.01
70Don Majkowski1987199657-0.4125.926.50.60.4550.4650.01
71Derek Anderson2006201343-0.817.7180.30.4130.4190.006
72Tony Banks1996200578-0.534.7350.30.4450.4490.004
73Kyle Orton2005201378-0.1537.7380.30.4840.4870.003
74Peyton Manning199820132401.76166.21670.80.6930.6960.003
75Richard Todd19761985108-0.4448.748.5-0.20.4510.449-0.002
76Ron Jaworski197419891430.1573.873.5-0.30.5160.514-0.002
77Gus Frerotte1994200893-0.0446.145.5-0.60.4960.489-0.006
78David Garrard20022013760.1939.639-0.60.5210.513-0.008
79Jack Trudeau1986199549-0.9419.419-0.40.3970.388-0.009
80Jim Harbaugh19872000140-0.1767.466-1.40.4810.471-0.01
81Cam Newton20112013480.325.625-0.60.5320.521-0.012
82Tommy Kramer197719901100.085654-20.5090.491-0.018
83Chad Pennington20002010810.6145.944-1.90.5670.543-0.024
84Philip Rivers200420131281.382.279-3.20.6420.617-0.025
85Mark Brunell199420111510.398278-40.5430.517-0.026
86Byron Leftwich20032012500.0625.324-1.30.5070.48-0.027
87Steve Young198519991431.699894-40.6850.657-0.028
88Charlie Batch1998201255-0.1526.625-1.60.4840.455-0.029
89Aaron Rodgers20052013871.860.758-2.70.6980.667-0.031
90Joe Ferguson19731990171-0.0484.879-5.80.4960.462-0.034
91Brian Sipe197419831120.416157-40.5450.509-0.036
92Tim Couch1999200359-0.8324.122-2.10.4090.373-0.036
93Steve Bartkowski197519861270.0363.959-4.90.5030.465-0.038
94Drew Brees200120131851.22117.3110-7.30.6340.595-0.04
95Kerry Collins19952011191-0.2191.283-8.20.4770.435-0.043
96Dan Marino198319992401.42157.4147-10.40.6560.613-0.043
97Erik Kramer19871999670.073431-30.5080.463-0.045
98Chad Henne2008201350-0.8620.318-2.30.4060.36-0.046
99Joey Harrington2002200776-1.0129.526-3.50.3890.342-0.047
100Scott Mitchell1991200171-0.0235.332-3.30.4980.451-0.047
101Sam Bradford2010201349-0.6820.818.5-2.30.4250.378-0.047
102Tony Romo200420131081.2368.563-5.50.6350.583-0.051
103Gary Danielson19761988600.2431.628.5-3.10.5270.475-0.052
104Warren Moon198420002030.51112.9102-10.90.5560.502-0.054
105Ryan Fitzpatrick2005201377-0.831.727.5-4.20.4120.357-0.055
106Ken O'Brien198419931100.1356.650.5-6.10.5150.459-0.056
107Jon Kitna19972013124-0.375750-70.4590.403-0.056
108Bernie Kosar198519961150.4563.256.5-6.70.5490.491-0.058
109Josh Freeman2009201360-0.3827.524-3.50.4590.4-0.059
110Steve Beuerlein198820031020.2153.347-6.30.5230.461-0.062
111Kurt Warner199820091161.2974.567-7.50.6420.578-0.064
112Neil Lomax198119881010.3754.648-6.60.540.475-0.065
113Carson Palmer200420131370.3273.364-9.30.5350.467-0.068
114Vinny Testaverde19872007214-0.08105.290.5-14.70.4920.423-0.069
115Chris Chandler19882004157-0.0178.367-11.30.4980.427-0.072
116Lynn Dickey19711985111-0.0854.646.5-8.10.4920.419-0.073
117Jason Campbell2006201379-0.1937.932-5.90.4790.405-0.074
118Matt Schaub20042013900.7852.846-6.80.5860.511-0.075
119Aaron Brooks20002006900.0245.238-7.20.5020.422-0.08
120Marc Bulger20022009950.144941-80.5160.432-0.084
121Mike Pagel1982199354-0.8222.117.5-4.60.410.324-0.086
122David Carr2002201279-1.0730.223-7.20.3820.291-0.091
123Doug Williams19781989810.614638.5-7.50.5670.475-0.092
124Ken Anderson197119861721.11106.991-15.90.6210.529-0.092
125Jim Zorn197619871060.0753.844-9.80.5080.415-0.093
126Bert Jones19731982960.7856.247-9.20.5850.49-0.096
127Jeff Garcia199920111160.969.458-11.40.5980.5-0.098
128Bill Kenney19801988770.3841.734-7.70.5420.442-0.1
129Trent Green199720081130.8967.656-11.60.5980.496-0.103
130Billy Joe Tolliver1989199948-0.762015-50.4160.313-0.104
131Jeff Blake199220051000.0150.139-11.10.5010.39-0.111
132Chris Miller1987199992-0.1644.434-10.40.4830.37-0.113
133Boomer Esiason198419971730.6999.680-19.60.5760.462-0.113
134Matthew Stafford20092013610.083124-70.5090.393-0.115
135Steve DeBerg197819981450.0573.355.5-17.80.5050.383-0.123
136Jim Everett198619971530.458464-200.5490.418-0.131
137Dan Fouts197319871711.2510986.5-22.50.6370.506-0.132
138Jeff George199020011240.076346-170.5080.371-0.137
139Daunte Culpepper199920091000.5355.941-14.90.5590.41-0.149
140Archie Manning19711984144-0.4864.436.5-27.90.4480.253-0.194

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.
  1. Hard to imagine, right? []

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Laverneus Dinglefoot March 24, 2014, 8:16 am

    The thing that stood out most to me is Tom Brady’s high ranking on the list, despite incredible RANY/A. I think it says a lot about Belichick and the team he constructed. Or winnersauce…either or.

    The Montana comment you made is spot on. People that I have talked to tend to look at 1989 and think that was the only good statistical season he had. They don’t mention the fact that he probably would have been MVP in 1984 if Marino hadn’t become the Babe Ruth of passing. It is strange that his incredible playoff record has somehow led people to forget that he was a great regular season QB.

    I would be interested to know how Steve Young’s numbers would look if you ignore his time in Tampa Bay (not really fair, but whatever).

    • David March 24, 2014, 11:36 am

      I too was surprised by Tom Brady’s “ew%/aw% diff”. I thought that this was going to be a “bad qb” list. Instead, the list shows a qb’s performance in contrast to their team’s performance (stating the obvious). Like Dinglefoot said, it shows how good Belichick and the rest of the team is compared to Tom Brady. The fact that Brady rates high in RANY/A and Exp Wins is what separates him from the stinkers like Sanchez. Brady, Bradshaw, Elway; they were really good qb’s fortunate enough to play on some really good teams.

      There is a running debate about who is more important to the Patriots, Brady or Belichick. Even though the question is only hypothetical and can’t truly be answered, this metric does shed some light on the subject.

      • sn0mm1s March 24, 2014, 4:01 pm

        Meh – I think a lot of this difference is weather related. Here is the list showing only HOFers and QBs with a decent shots of making the HOF:

        Besides Rodgers this list is pretty much cold weather QBs at the top half and dome/warm weather QBs in the bottom half.

        Terry Bradshaw 1970 1983 158 0.48 87.3 107 19.7 0.553 0.677 0.125
        Tom Brady 2000 2013 191 1.37 124.3 148 23.7 0.651 0.775 0.124
        John Elway 1983 1998 231 0.47 127.5 148.5 21 0.552 0.643 0.091
        Ben Roethlisberger 2004 2013 142 0.74 82.6 95 12.4 0.582 0.669 0.087
        Brett Favre 1991 2010 298 0.59 168.3 186 17.7 0.565 0.624 0.059
        Jim Kelly 1986 1996 160 0.72 92.6 101 8.4 0.579 0.631 0.053
        Joe Montana 1979 1994 164 1.55 109.9 117 7.1 0.67 0.713 0.043
        Troy Aikman 1989 2000 165 0.46 90.8 94 3.2 0.551 0.57 0.019
        Peyton Manning 1998 2013 240 1.76 166.2 167 0.8 0.693 0.696 0.003
        Philip Rivers 2004 2013 128 1.3 82.2 79 -3.2 0.642 0.617 -0.025
        Steve Young 1985 1999 143 1.69 98 94 -4 0.685 0.657 -0.028
        Aaron Rodgers 2005 2013 87 1.8 60.7 58 -2.7 0.698 0.667 -0.031
        Drew Brees 2001 2013 185 1.22 117.3 110 -7.3 0.634 0.595 -0.04
        Dan Marino 1983 1999 240 1.42 157.4 147 -10.4 0.656 0.613 -0.043
        Warren Moon 1984 2000 203 0.51 112.9 102 -10.9 0.556 0.502 -0.054
        Kurt Warner 1998 2009 116 1.29 74.5 67 -7.5 0.642 0.578 -0.064
        Dan Fouts 1973 1987 171 1.25 109 86.5 -22.5 0.637 0.506 -0.132

        • eag97a March 24, 2014, 6:44 pm

          He might not be in it (HOF) but you can add Ken Stabler to that list.

  • Shattenjager March 24, 2014, 10:22 am

    “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.”

    Isn’t that actually because “best regular season quarterback” is a denigration? I’ve only ever heard phrases like “great regular season quarterback” and “all-time great regular season quarterback” used to describe players who are seen as postseason failures (Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Dan Marino). Guys like Brady and Montana, who are not so viewed, don’t get the phrase “regular season” added because of their postseason reputation.

    • Chase Stuart March 24, 2014, 10:35 am

      Well yes, I thought that was obvious :)

      But I do think Montana’s great postseason numbers have overshadowed his production. Jim Plunkett, for example, was not very good, but he had some great playoff runs. I almost think because people see that Montana never threw for 4,000 yards in a season, that he was a solid QB who just “turned it up a level” in the playoffs. That’s definitely not the case. If Montana stunk in the playoffs, I’d argue that he would still be a HOFer.

      • Shattenjager March 24, 2014, 6:41 pm

        Never let it be said that I do not state the obvious!

        I can follow what you’re saying–his statistical dominance has been, essentially, overborne by the mythology of “teh ringzz” and “he was so much more than statistics.”

  • Kibbles March 24, 2014, 12:58 pm

    Color me surprised to see that Rex Grossman managed to keep his RANY/A within 1 point of league average. I had him, not Phipps, pegged as the anonymous “winner” mentioned at the top of the post.

  • Ben March 25, 2014, 3:00 pm

    Well, the defensive units that those QBs played with probably explain much of the disparity; the Jets usually had pretty good D. The Patriots had good units until recently (any coincidence that they stopped winning Super Bowls?). Oh yeah, they also had consistently excellent rushing attack, usually ranking among the top in various measures of efficiency (e.g. success rate and expected points).

  • Ben March 25, 2014, 3:01 pm

    Oops, I overlooked the part where Chase already made the point. Sorry!

  • JBirks March 25, 2014, 6:54 pm

    Phipps was amazingly bad for an amazingly long time. In 1973-74 his Browns went 9-9-2 in games he started, despite his throwing twice as many INTs as TDs, completing less than 50% of his attempts. He would play for seven more years! QBs must have been terribad back then…

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