How much is Shane Lechler worth? How much is any punter worth to the success of the team. The ambiguous "Field position" is either highly exaggerated in importance or highly minimized. And while every single person that assesses any NFL game will always mention field position, it's rarely quantified with respect to a punter. Punters have some "soft" statistics that have little relationship to game outcomes. Look at a QB stats, 4000 yards, 35 TDs, 10 Ints. You can easily say whether it's a "good season" or not. 1400, 4.6 yards per carry, 14 TDs is definitely a good year by Running back standards. 1200 yards receiving, 100 catches, 12 TDs is a great WR year. But what do you have to say about "40.9 yards net punting average" ?
Full blog post, including detailed charts and statistics on http://www.raiders1.ninjagoro.com/?p=866
Part I : Shane Lechler's Effect on Defense
I looked at every Raiders defensive drive in 2011, based on the starting field position and the outcome. From that I created a chart of PPD based on starting field position.
For the two punts in the 1-10 range, Lechler forces opponents to start at the 61 yard line (opponents' 39). The Raiders defense surrenders 2.46 points per drive that starts here. That works out to be 4.9 points for the year. Now, if we use Nick Harris' punting statistics: for those two punts in the 1-10 range, the opponents' average starting yard line is the 50. The Raiders' defensive PPD for the 50 yard line is 2.85, making 5.7 points for the year for field position.
For the 1-10 range, Lechler provided the Raiders' defense with an 11 yard per drive advantage. That accounts for a 0.8 point difference over the course of the year.
For 13 punts in the 11-20 range, Lechler starts the opponents at the 63 yard line (opponents' 37 yard line). 63 yard line PPD = 2.42. 2.62 by 13 punts = 31.5 points for the year. Harris starts at 57 yard line (opponents 43 yard line). 57 yard line PPD = 2.62 x 13 = 34.1.
For the 11-20 range, Lechler's field position advantage was 2.6 points.
The 31-40 yard line is a slight advantage to Nick Harris. In this range, Lechler punted 53 yards to the 88 yard line (opp 12) and allowed returns to the 74 (opp 26). Harris punted 42 yards to the 76 (opponent's 24) and they returned 1 yard to the 75 (opp 25).
Note also that punting from 51+ is a wash. Provided that the punter does not have too many touchbacks (likely one of the reasons that Jacksonville cut Matt Turk after week 5 in 2011), the 51+ yard range should have field position around the 10 yard line. Note that the more a team punts from relatively good field position (50+), the less important the punter seems to become (within reason).
Lechler enjoyed his largest advantage at the 41-50 yard range where he pinned opponents to the 85 yard line (opp 15) while Harris managed only the 77 yard line (opp 23). That is over a 0.5 point per drive difference.
The total point difference works out to be 12.6 point difference over the course of the year.
Part II : Shane Lechler's Effect on the Offense
The second part of the analysis is a bit more complicated and attempts to assess the secondary value of a Punt.
The opposing team receives the punt and has a starting position on the field (field position). In the previous section, we found that their scoring efficiency is determined somewhat by this starting position. But what happens on drives when the opponent does not score?
The Raiders' offense gets the ball back, of course!
Why is this important? Because the secondary effect of the initial punt is to determine what field position the Raider's offense starts with and what the scoring rate is.
So, we would expect that if Lechler is a stronger punter than the opponent, that an exchange of punts would net the Raiders positive field position. Now we can try to measure that and aggregate that across a season.
So, we've already addressed when the opponents score in Part I, so now we need to address those cases where the opponent does not score. The non-scoring rate here is the percentage of the time that the opponent starts at the given starting yardline and does not score.
For 1-10 yard range, the opponent averages a start at the 61 yard line (opp 39 yard line). When an opponents starts at the 61 yard line, they fail to score 54% of the time. When they fail to score, on average, their drive is 16 yards to their own 57 yard line (Raiders 43).
In the 31-40 range, Lechler puts the opponents at the 74 yard line (opp 26) where the non-scoring rate is 73% and drives end 18 yards later at the 44 yard line.
From there, we assume an "average" punter on the opposition. In this case, we will use Nick Harris' own numbers as the opposing punter. (Note that since this opposing punters' statistics will be used both in assessing Lechler's numbers and Harris' substitution numbers, they cancel out.)
From that, we see where the Raiders offense will start their drive and then we can look up the points per drive value for the Raiders offense.
We see that in the 1-10 range, the Raiders offense gets the ball back at the 89 (own 11) yard line. The offense scores 1.86 points on average when starting at that position on the field. There were 2 punts. The opponents' drives non-scored 54% of the time and gave the ball back to the Raiders at the 89 yard line. The offense then scored 1.86 points per drive. Multiply those numbers together and you get 2.08 points which is what the Lechler punt value is over the course of the season.
For non-touchback punts, the difference between Lechler and Harris is approximately 7.3 points. By applying similar strategies to touchbacks, I calculated a -.9 point difference, giving a total difference of 6.4 points.
This means that Shane Lechler's field position value for the offense over Nick harrison is 6.4 points.
So, now we can put the numbers together. For the defense, Lechler provides approximately 12.7 points of benefit above what Nick Harris would provide. For the offense, Lechler provides approximately 6.4 points of benefit above Nick Harris. This gives a total value of about 20 points, which is almost 3 TDs.
So how much is 20 points?
Well, let's look at it this way. The punting benefit gives approximately 13 points of total benefit to the defense and about 7 to the offense.
The Raiders were 16th in scoring offense with 359 total points, 10 points behind Dallas (369). 7 points doesn't quite pass Dallas. However, observe Seattle #23 scoring offense with 321. 7 points moves them up to #21, leapfrogging Tennessee and Pittsburgh and only 1 behind Miami. Because teams are more evenly matched than ever, 7 points can be substantial.
On the defensive side, Raiders were 29th in scoring defense with 433 points surrendered. 13 points more would drop the Raiders to 30th, only 3 points ahead of Minnesota. Another example is Jacksonville, #11 in scoring defense with 329. 13 points fewer (316) would move them up 3 slots to #8 just 1 behind Seattle. (on a side note, the benefit of Jacksonville's absolutely terrible punting could be even more significant than the 16 points).
So how much is Shane Lechler worth? $4.5M is his salary for 2012. Nick Harris' previous contract with Detroit had a $1.8M salary for 2012 (also, Matt Turk was given a 1 year $2M contract for 2012 with Jacksonville before he was cut and replaced with Harris). So it works out to something like Lechler gives the Raiders 25 points for $2.5M. Is it worth it?
What differentiates a mediocre team (8-8) from a good team (10-6) is a mere 2 wins; the difference between mediocre and bad (6-10) is another 2 wins; 5-11 or worse is absolutely awful and is a mere 3 wins difference. So the question is how does a team make up those wins. Considering that the Raiders played a number of close games in 2011, nearly every play and every point mattered.
Week 2 : 38-35 loss to Buffalo
Week 15: Detroit 28-27 loss.
6 points separated the Raiders from 10-6.
Week 1 : 23-20 Win over Denver
Week 5, 25-20 win over Houston
Week 6, 24-17 win over Cleveland
Week 10 : 24-17 win over San Diego
Week 11 : 27-21 win over Minnesota
Week 12 : 25-20 win over Chicago
Week 16 : 16-13 win over KC
In fact, the week 4 win over the Jets was the only Raiders win with a final score greater than 1 score (10 points) and even that one was closer than the score indicated with Sanchez just missing the 4th quarter TD at the goal line.
8 points separated the Raiders from 6-10.
20 points from 4-12.
So, think about this. Shane Lechler conceivably made the difference between the Raiders being 4-12 and 8-8. That's worth $2.5M right there. Much more, actually. (Obviously the point impact aren't allocated that way and so it's not exactly true, but the sentiment is certainly valid).
The real question may be if Marquette King ends up "average" like Nick Harris or better than average like, say, Andy Lee.
Followup : What if Shane Lechler were on the Steelers?
Full post, including statistical details and charts on Ninja Goro:
A follow up to assess the value Shane might have to a defensive, field position oriented, championship-calibre team like the Steelers.
The Steelers punters were Daniel Sepulveda (Weeks 1-8) and Jeremy Kapinos (weeks 9-17). Kapinos had a 45 gross and 38.3 net punting average while Sepulveda had 46.1 gross and 40.6 net. Hopefully, we all realize by now how meaningless those stats are.
I aggregated the two punters and took the starting field position that they gave the opposition. Then I looked at every defensive drive for the Steelers and compiled a chart for Points per Drive based on that. The number of punts x points per drive gives the base points allowed for the Steelers punters. Basically this is the field position that Sepulveda and Kapinos were giving to the opposition and then the resulting points are what the Steelers defense allowed due to that field position.
Because the punting values equal out on the 31 yard-and-out punts, the Lechler Effect on the Steelers' defensive points allowed is based on the 27 punts from inside their own 30 yard line. On these punts, the Steelers' punters were surrendering terrible field position and allowed 62.1 points,l which is 2.3 points per punt. Lechler, however, only allowed less than HALF that with 27.5 points, a difference of 34.6 points.
So the field position for the Steelers by having Shane Lechler punting was worth about 5 TDs .
The second part of the analysis is to look at Field position factors on the offense.
Again, the methodology is similar to the one used in the previous post where I compared Lechler and Harris. We look at all the punts by range, see where the opponent started their drives. We account for the scoring drives in the defensive analysis, but now focus on the non-scoring drives. We determine the average end-yard line for non-scoring drives (this is determined by looking at each Steelers' defensive drive by starting field position). We then assume an "average" punter for the opposition to punt the ball back to the Steelers, which gives the offense its starting field position. We then look at the PPD for the Steelers offense by starting yard line.
Similar to the defensive totals, the range from 41-99 is of marginal consequence. The point differential between Lechler and Sepulveda/Kapinos is about 2.4 in favor of the Steelers' punters. However, in the longer ranges, there's a noticeable effect that Lechler has on field position for the offense. The 21-40 range showed a major advantage for Lechler's strong leg and the field position it affords. In those two ranges alone, Lechler was worth over 28 points to the offense.
In total, the benefit was substantial. That field position translated into a total effect of 36.05 points over the course of the year.
For the defense, the field position value was 34.6 points. For the Offense, it was 36.05 points. That's a total of about 70 points (10 TDs). That is a staggering net effect. To put that into context, Pittsburgh led the NFL in scoring defense with 227 points allowed and 14.2 per game average. 35 points fewer would have moved them to 192 points, which is 12 points per game. Put another way, 35 points fewer for the Chicago Bears Defense (341, #14 scoring defense) would move them up 9 spots to #5 in front of Cleveland (307 points allowed).
On the offensive side, Pittsburgh ranked #21 overall in scoring offense with 325 total points and 20.3 per game average. 35 points would give them 360 points (a 22.5 ppg average) and would move them up 5 spots to #16, 1 point ahead of the Oakland Raiders.
I expected that the Steelers would have shown some benefit from having Lechler as their punter. I did not expect that benefit to be so great. In fact, these numbers were so stunning that I went back and double- triple- checked the calculations and they do appear correct.
The standard disclaimer is that there are variation in the game so we don't necessarily expect this is exactly how it would play out. But this is a lesson in how important field position is when the team has a strong defense to start with. The field position battle can skew substantially when punting puts the opposing team into their own territory often. Even the best of the teams will struggle to prevent scores when teams start in "plus territory."
Pittsburgh finished their season 12-4, so how much more could you ask for? Recall that despite the excellent record, they finished the season tied with Baltimore and because they were swept by Baltimore (35-7 loss and a 23-20 loss), the Steelers were the AFC Wild card team and forced to visit the Denver Broncos. Of the Steelers' four losses, two were by one score, the week 4, 17-10 loss to Houston and the aforementioned Week 9 23-20 loss to Baltimore. A win on either (or both) of those games and the Steelers would have hosted a team in the AFC Divisional Game.