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Introducing QBOPS - An attempt to consolidate passing prowess into a single useful number

APC is your home for a new statistical quantity known as QBOPS, which seeks to measure a quarterback’s overall passing success, inspired by a baseball statistic that has gained traction in recent years.

Indianapolis Colts v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A few weeks ago I created a new stat for tracking quarterback performance. I call it QBOPS, or phonetically, Q-Bops.

1. What is QBOPS?

QBOPS provides a nice snapshot of the two most important things a quarterback does in one easy to understand number. QBOPS is based off of the baseball version of OPS (On Base + Slugging), which combines On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage into one quick and dirty assessment of a player’s hitting ability.

In baseball, OPS works because it captures the two most important aspects of hitting, those being:

  1. Did you not make an out, and
  2. How much were your hits worth? Are you a singles hitter, or someone who walks a lot, or do you hit doubles and home runs with some frequency?

OPS isn’t perfect, but for a simple statistic it is far more telling than batting average (and is now the default stat shown on the Miller Park scoreboard for hitters) and it tells us 90% of what we want to know about a hitter’s performance.

QBOPS is similar in concept (and is even made up of QBOBP and QBSLG), and combines completion percentage and yards per attempt into a single number that tracks the scale of the baseball version of OPS. Closer to 1.000 is great, and closer to .700 is bad.

2. Why is this useful?

Passer rating and QBR are hot messes that no one really understands properly, and while I love the work of Football Outsiders, it can be a bit opaque for the casual reader. QBOPS is transparent, and focuses on just a few simple concepts to put a number on quarterback play. If you understand the baseball version of OPS already it is even easier to immediately grasp, and if you do not, the fact that 1.000 is good is something everyone can grasp intuitively. When we discuss quarterback play we tend to fall back on touchdowns and picks, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it would be nice to have a single number that represents everything else a quarterback does.

3. Why focus on Completion Percentage and Yards per Attempt?

Football offense is based on reliably picking up first downs, and scoring before you make a mistake. A high completion percentage will help you move the sticks no matter how far your average pass is traveling, and Yards per Attempt will factor in the frequency of big plays a quarterback generates. More big plays per drive require fewer first downs per score. Together, these two factors cover the vast majority of efficient quarterback play. Just as reliably getting on base and reliably hitting home runs makes someone a great baseball hitter, reliably stringing together passes and regularly hitting big plays will make someone an outstanding quarterback.

4. Does QBOPS incorporate interceptions?

Currently it does not. We may explore this for future iterations (perhaps involving interception percentage), but for now making an adjustment for picks would needlessly complicate what is meant to be a simple statistic. Also:

  1. Interceptions can be deceiving. Not all interceptions are the fault of the quarterback, and defenses sometimes drop a great deal of interceptable passes. While completion percentage and yards per attempt make use of a fairly large sample (all of the passes thrown by a quarterback), interceptions will always be a fairly small number.
  2. That said, separating interceptions from the underlying QBOPS equation can also tell you a lot about a quarterback. The best current example may be Ryan Tannehill, who, as I write this, has a very impressive .924 QBOPS, 6th in the league. Tannehill’s big problem is, of course, interceptions. As of this writing he has 7 picks against 7 TDs, and while he does pick up first downs reliability and hits a ton of big plays, he is giving the ball away too much. If Tannehill could clean up those picks he would become very good indeed, and it’s useful to know that about him.
  3. It is easy enough to look up a quarterback’s interception total.

5. What about Touchdown Passes?

I am much more comfortable excluding touchdown passes from the equation. For one thing, I would wager that efficient passing as captured by QBOPS is more predictive of future touchdown pass numbers than current touchdown pass numbers. For another thing, long touchdown passes will be accounted for in the QBSLG portion of the stat. Finally, short touchdown passes are nice, but some quarterbacks end up with padded stats due to a proclivity to throw inside the 5 while other teams rely on the running game. Touchdown passes are a positive indicator for a quarterback to be sure, but QBOPS already captures much of the data around TD passes while filtering out some of the noise, and if you want to know, it’s a very easy thing to look up.

6. Any other limitations?

There are groups out there such as Pro Football Focus who seek to separate individual play from team play through tape analysis, and this does not do that. Quarterbacks with better supporting casts (hello Andy Dalton) will look better than quarterbacks with bad supporting casts. Football is an interconnected game and parsing out the individual components of production is extremely difficult, and frankly I have very little interest in doing so anyway. Guessing about how Andy Dalton would do with worse receivers is purely academic, and I’m much more interested about how quarterbacks and offenses actually perform in real life with the tools they have, as that is what ultimately results in wins and losses.

QBOPS will update every Tuesday or Wednesday, and will live here at Acme Packing Company. Please enjoy.

QBOPS, Week 9

Aaron Rodgers’ Career Numbers

Since this is a Green Bay Packers-focused site, I also looked at Aaron Rodgers’ QBOPS numbers throughout his career as a starter. Note that Rodgers’ numbers peaked in his 2011 MVP season and sustained strongly through his 2014 campaign, but have dropped off precipitously since then.