Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reinventing the Red Zone Metric (posted 10.11.11)

Reinventing the Red Zone Metric

a.k.a. Yes, We Can Make the 2011 PSU Offense Look Even More Miserable ...

or Surely Someone Somewhere Has Come Up With This Idea Already, Why Is It Not Universally Popularized?

For years, RFBS has been frustrated by how incomplete standard red zone statistics are.

For example, when the television graphic flashes a red zone statistic, typically it looks something like this: Team BlahBlah in red zone: 24 of 28 (85.7 percent)

This is followed by the announcer (insert voice of Brent Musberger) saying something like: "Team BlahBlah now is in the red zone, and as you can see they've been very successful there this season with an 85.7 success rate. Which ranks third in the Big Ten."

Moments later the color commentator (Herbstreit?) says something like: "But of those 24 scores, 10 of them are field goals and only 14 are touchdowns, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten. So Team BlahBlah hasn't been very successful there this season.''

And you, dear viewer, are left with a big, huge ? in your head, and perhaps a "huh?" expression on your face: Is Team BlahBlah good in the red zone? Are they not good in the red zone? You've just been presented two sets of statistics with little context and apparently contrasting meanings.

Well, finally there is a solution to your red zone quandary. It will be one number, an easily quantifiable percentage. It's simple, and much better than what is currently peddled.

It is Ultimate Red Zone Percentage. Here's how it works:

Much like a baseball pitcher's ERA is a calculation of runs allowed per nine innings (because nine innings is the length of a baseball game), Ultimate Red Zone Percentage is based on a theoretical maximum of seven points per trip to the red zone. Because the objective almost every time a team enters the red zone is to score seven points.

(Admittedly this is one of the new metric's imperfections. Sometimes a team might want/need to score eight points, and sometimes three points is just as desirable as seven. But the vast majority of the time, seven points is the objective. Over the course of a season, such situations should, in general, even out.)

So, in the hypothetical Team BlahBlah example above, the 28 red zone trips could have resulted in a maximum of 196 points (28 x 7 = 196). Those 28 chances actually yielded 128 points (14 x 7 = 98, 10 x 3 = 30, and 98 + 30 = 128).

Divide 128 (actual points) by 196 (maximum points) and voila, you have an Ultimate Red Zone Percentage of 65.3%

There it is, the only number you likely ever need to know about Team BlahBlah in the red zone: 65.3. (Some other statistics could be meaningful, such as turnovers in the red zone, or whether teams are running or passing for red zone scores, but this is the best overall figure.)

And over time, as Ultimate Red Zone Percentage becomes the lone stat cited for red zone proficiency, you'll instantly know whether 65.3 is a good percentage or not, much like baseball fans instantly know a .300 batting average is good, and .230 is not, or a 5.00 ERA is bad but a 3.00 is good. Or a 65.0 completion percentage is good but 45.0 is not.

The formula uses the scoring system for football: seven points for a touchdown/PAT, three points for a field goal and zero points for everything else. Then it all is compressed into a tidy, singular percentage. It is a much truer measure of red zone success than the percentage currently used.

Need proof? Looking at the Big Ten's conventional red zone stats for this season, Penn State ranks 11th with 17 scores in 23 chances for 73.9 percent.

However, Penn State's 17 scores consist of 11 TDs and 6 FGs. So its Ultimate Red Zone Percentage is 59.0 percent.

Guess what? That ranks 12th in the Big Ten. Dead last.

See? Ultimate Red Zone Percentage already has proven to be a more accurate measure of red zone success. Or in this case, failure.

On the flip side, very surprisingly Penn State's stellar defense ranks 12th/last in the Big Ten in conventional red zone percentage. The 11 red zone chances PSU has allowed is the second-fewest (per game) in the Big Ten behind Michigan State, but the 100 percent success rate opponents have had at putting some sort of points on the board (TD or FG) leaves Penn State No. 12 in red zone defense in the 12-team league.

Yes, incredibly, by conventional measures the Penn State offense has been better than the Penn State defense in the red zone this season.

That alone tells you the statistic needs an overhaul.

Ultimate Red Zone Percentage corrects that deficiency. With 6 TDs and 5 FGs among those 11 scores allowed, the PSU defense's Ultimate Red Zone Percentage is 79.2 percent, which moves the Lions up to 10th in the league. And they would be even higher except PSU's opponents have been perfect on FGs in the red zone (5-of-5), while Northwestern's and Nebraska's opponents have each missed two red zone FG attempts. Which is one of the luck elements in red zone defense.

So there you have it, the reinvention of the red zone metric - Ultimate Red Zone Percentage. Someday, hopefully soon, it will be the universally accepted No. 1 red zone statistic.

Just remember you read it here first.

Unless of course you already read it somewhere else.

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