In the NFL, it is extremely hard to quantify exactly how much a player matters to a winning team. However, in the world of NFL metrics, such a statistic already exists.
It is called “win probability added,” and it is not nearly as complicated nor as hard to understand as it seems. Let’s take a look at it.
Win probability added, or WPA, is extremely simplistic in its concept. In a given football game, every single play either adds or subtracts the probability of victory for each team. For example, if Mark Sanchez hands the ball off to LaDanian Tomlinson for a six yard gain on first down, the probability for a Jets win goes up by a small amount. If Tomlinson gets taken down in the backfield for a two-yard loss, the probability decreases. It is extremely intuitive and easy to understand when followed from that perspective.
WPA is also contextually based, so an interception in the fourth quarter counts more than an INT in the first. This measure a sort of unquantifiable “clutchness” within players that is interesting to see. If you have any other questions about WPA, feel free to Tweet me or post a comment in this thread.
Let’s look at WPA in regards to a player leaving the Jets, Braylon Edwards, and the team’s new addition, Plaxico Burress.
I have not been shy in saying that I am an Edwards fan (despite whatever off-field misgivings the team apparently had), and I think that WPA bears out that opinion. Over the regular season, he and Santonio Holmes shared a 1.53 WPA. However, in the playoffs, Braylon ratcheted his game up to another level, garnering a massive 0.56 WPA in the three post-season games.
This increase in WPA is a testament to the unique skillset that Braylon brought to the table in New York. He could stretch the field like no other receiver on the team, and he showed a lot of improvement from many of his “dropsies” issues in the past.
Santonio is a great player in his own right, but he’s going to need new addition Plaxico Burress to help shoulder some of the slack that Braylon leaves behind. Can Plax do it? Perhaps, but the statistics do not bear out my opinion.
Since 2000, Plaxico has been a fairly successful receiver. However, he still never approached the levels of Braylon nor Santonio last year. His best year was obviously the Super Bowl run in 2007 with the New York Giants. Even then, he only carried a 1.29 WPA over the regular season. Even then, in the playoffs, he only added 0.49 points of win probability, less than Braylon.
Despite the numbers, the game of football is not played on a piece of paper, and Plaxico does offers certain things that will help the Jets in their Super Bowl run. He is a huge target and, despite Braylon’s lack of dropsies this past season, Plax still possesses a better set of hands than his Wolverine counterpart. However, he will have to make a bigger impact off the stat-sheet in order to equal Braylon’s abilities and standards on the field.
We’ll see what happens. As I’ve said, football is not played in black and white letters, numbers and equations. It is played on the gridiron, and Plaxico could be the guy to put the Jets over the top.