How many wins is Jay Cutler worth?
With expectations for this Bears' season at an all-time high for late July, at least in the last decade, that is a question that is central to a lot of what is being discussed. Bears fans are banking on 10 or more. Now that the offseason is winding to a close (Buffalo opened its training camp Saturday), we can get down to business on the field.
In the New York Times' Fifth Down Blog, Brian Burke tackled just that issue this morning. Seems like the New York Times likes covering Cutler and the Bears these days, probably a good indication of the national focus that is going to be on the team this season. Burke is a guest blogger there who has his own site, Advanced NFL Stats. Burke looks at how much better the Bears should be with Cutler as the trigger man compared to Kyle Orton. To do so, he focused on a statistic called Adjusted Yards Per Attempt. Basically, it's yards per attempt with a penalty for interceptions.
"YPA is a great stat in a lot of ways. It beats total passing yards because teams far behind in the second half can easily generate lots of total yardage in "trash time." But interceptions are a critical part of the equation, so I like Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AdjYPA), which is YPA adjusted by a 45-yard penalty for each interception. A 45-yard adjustment is the accepted statistical equivalent for an interception. AdjYPA certainly doesn't factor in everything, but it encapsulates most of passing performance into one handy number."
Cutler's YPA was 7.3 last season, 10th in the league and a full yard better than the league average. Orton checked in at 6.39. To put Orton's number in perspective, Rex Grossman was at 6.65 during 2006 and prior to that the Bears had a string of quarterbacks averaging under 6.0. The last Bears' quarterback to average more than 7.0? Erik Kramer in 1998. Too bad he couldn't play the entire season.
Burke does the math and Cutler's AdjYPA comes out to 5.8, well ahead of the league average of 4.6. The league average is exactly where Orton came in--4.6.
"How many wins are those 1.2 yards of difference worth? Based on N.F.L. team records from 2002 through 2008, we can estimate the win value of those 1.2 yards using a statistical tool called multi-variate regression. A regression can take several variables and weigh them according to how much difference they each make on an outcome variable. Using offensive and defensive running and passing efficiencies, turnover rates and penalty rates to estimate team wins, my handy regression software says that every yard of AdjYPA above average typically equates to about 1.8 wins.
"So for Cutler and the Broncos, 5.8 AdjYPA equates to +2.1 wins above average. Since Orton's 4.6 AdjYPA was exactly average, his performance was neutral with +0.0 wins. We could say that: Historically, all else being equal -- with an otherwise average running game, defense, and special teams -- a team would have won eight games with Orton's numbers and would have won around 10 with Cutler's numbers."
Now, Cutler doesn't bring the receivers he had with him in Denver or the offensive line. While the Broncos put up nice rushing statistics last season, he should do better with Matt Forte in the backfield than a different back every other week. Burke isn't locking the Bears in for double-digit wins this season, but the analysis helps put into context the value of stats like YPA and AdjYPA.