Monday, December 08, 2003

A Day Off: How valuable are those twerpy kickers?
Today's piece focusing not on baseball, but rather the National Football League and more specifically the question of whether or not a kicker can be a team's most valuable player. A week ago, Aaron Gleeman of Aaron's Baseball Blog panned FOX's Joe Buck for claiming that St. Louis kicker Jeff Wilkins might be their most valuable player to date. Usually a tough sell for a team that includes the likes of former MVP Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and two-time MVP Kurt Warner. While Holt has excelled, Warner's thrown just 54 passes and Faulk has missed six weeks this season.

Joe Buck wasn't off the mark at all when you consider what Wilkins has done so far this year. Gleeman said, "For those of you who aren't huge NFL fans, let me just tell you that it is impossible for a kicker to have been as valuable as 'any' player on the team." I question how big a fan of the NFL Gleeman is, especially NFL in 2003. The parity has created an exorbitant number of close games this year and as such, a clutch kick from a field goal kicker can be the difference between a win and loss, which can in turn be the difference between playoffs and going home after week 17.

Games decided by 3 or less in the NFL: 43 of 180 = 24%
Games decided by 3 or less in which losing K missed/had blocked XP or FG: 19 of 43 = 44%
Games decided by 3 or less in which K account for ALL of winners points: 3 of 43 = 7%

A quarter of the games are being decided by the feet of these players that couldn't possibly be more important than any other player on the team. Furthermore, nearly half of those teams suffered a loss due to shaky kicking within the game. Three such games resulted in wins strictly due to the scoring of kickers. A handful of other games were won on the scoring of only the team's kicker, but by more than 3 points and thus don't show up in the above data. Tell the defending champs and their 61% efficient kicker that kickers aren't very valuable!

FOX's Buck claims that Wilkins has been as valuable as any Ram this year and he's right. His 132 points (1st in NFL) account for 38% of St. Louis' output and field goals by Wilkins ended 3 games in their favor.

Wilkins' performance in StL victories

Week 2 SF 9 27 winning FG
Week 4 ARZ 13 37
Week 6 ATL 10 36
Week 7 GB 10 34
Week 8 PITT 9 33
Week 10 BAL 15 33
Week 11 CHI 11 23 winning FG
Week 12 ARZ 12 30 winning FG (in fact, last 6 pts for StL)
Week 13 MIN 12 48

Wilkins has scored double-digit point totals in all but two of the Ram victories and in one of those, his FG was the difference. I'd have to believe that the Ram front office would find that pretty valuable and with the injury to Marshall Faulk, it wouldn't be hard to conceive that they deem Wilkins the most valuable player on the team.

"In this case, Wilkins plays on the same team as Torry Holt, a wide receiver who is on-pace to set the all-time NFL record for receiving yards in a season."

This is true as Holt would surpass Jerry Rice by one yard (1849) if he kept up his current pace. Why, though, would the record for yardage be more important to a team than that of scoring? The team with the most yards doesn't win the game, the team with the most points does.

Wilkins' stats through 13 weeks of excellent campaign speak volumes:

Point % in wins 101/301 34%
Point % total 132/347 38%
Made 29/31 Fields Goals
All 36 XP attempts

He's currently on pace to set the record for non-touchdown scoring in a season and tie Paul Hornung's 1960 record of 176 points in a season. The pace blows away the leaders of the last 6 years:

2002- Feely 138
2001- Wilkins 127
2000- Stover 135
1999- Vanderjagt 145
1998- Andersen 164
1997- Hollis 134

"More and more announcers lately have taken to proclaiming more and more undeserving players the 'MVPs' of teams."

Can't disagree with this sentiment, but it's misplaced in the context of Buck discussing Wilkins' importance to the Rams.

"In football it is apparently a kicker who plays for a team with a great offense, thus allowing him to rack up tons of points."

If this were simply the case, then Morten Andersen (10th in scoring) and Aaron Elling (21st) should be high atop the leaders in scoring, but they only account for 24% of their team's points, or 14% less than Wilkins.

People can stigmatize kickers all you want, but Wilkins' performance has been something to take notice of and with the inconsistent play at quarterback and the injuries in the backfield, Wilkins has at least been the co-MVP of the Rams, and again he's accumulating points, while Holt has been accumulating yardage. Before agreeing with Gleeman that Buck's statement was "incredibly ridiculous", you might want to check the numbers, something I'm surprised Gleeman didn't do given his proficiency with statistics.

And remember folks, Mark Moseley won the MVP award for Washington in 1982, albeit a strike-shortened season.

Stats used are thru Week 13


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