The Greatness of Charlie Batch

The opening game to the 2006 NFL football season featured two quarterbacks previously employed by the Detroit Lions, Charlie Batch and Joey Harrington. Of the two, Batch had the better game. Of course, Harrington didn’t actually play (people can insert cheap Harrington joke here).

As I watched Batch play so well for the Steelers, I wondered how Batch ranked in the history of Detroit signal callers. As I noted a few months ago, the history at this position for the Lions has been dismal. So it would not take much to be among the very best of all-time for the Lions.

The metric I will use to make this evaluation is QB Score, which we introduced in The Wages of Wins, and I discussed previously HERE and HERE and HERE.

In these earlier posts, QB Score was explained as follows:

We were able to estimate the relative value of a Yard Gained – which includes rushing and passing yards – Plays – which includes passing attempts, sacks, and rushing attempts – and Turnovers – which includes interceptions and fumbles. Our research indicates that one play – in terms of wins and points – is worth about three times the value of a single yard. A turnover is worth about 50 yards. Now these values – 3 and 50 – are not exact. But it is close enough to give you a quick estimate of a quarterback’s effectiveness. Given this, QB Score – which is both less complex and more accurate than the NFL’s quarterback rating system — is calculated as follows:

QB Score = Yards – 3 X Plays – 50 X Turnovers

To illustrate, consider the game last night. Batch passed 25 times for 209 yards, rushed seven times for 17 yards, and was sacked three times for 13 yards. So he gained 213 yards in 35 plays. He also lost a fumble. Given all this, Batch’s QB Score would be calculated as follows:

QB Score = 213 – 3*35 – 1*50 = 58

An average quarterback will post a per game QB Score of 40, so Batch was above average last night. Daunte Culpepper, who gained 248 yards with his arms and legs in 43 plays, but also threw two interceptions, had a QB Score of 19. And that would be below average.

Culpepper never played for the Lions, and it is quarterbacks for Detroit that I wish to focus upon.

If you play around a bit at Yahoo.com you can download passing and rushing stats back to the dawn of time in the NFL, although fumbles are not tracked before 1994 and information on sacks is unavailable before 1969. Given these restrictions, I looked at every Lions quarterback who attempted 224 passes in a season (the minimum necessary to qualify for the NFL’s quarterback rating rankings) from 1969 to 2005. I was born in 1969, so I am looking at quarterbacks the Lions have employed in my life.

In 31 seasons a Lions quarterback met this threshold, so that is my sample. Given this group, I then ranked these quarterbacks in terms of QB Score per game. Of the 31 quarterback performances examined, seven – or 23% — exceeded the average mark of 40. Given this result, it is not surprising that Greg Landry in 1971 remains the last Lions quarterback to go to the Pro Bowl.

Although Landry posted a QB Score per game of 56.1 in 1971, this was not the best mark for a Lions signal caller. The top performance was offered by Scott Mitchell in 1995, who posted a per game mark of 102.9. As noted in The Wages of Wins, Mitchell in 1995 offered one of the top 40 performances by any quarterback in the NFL in the past eleven years. In sum, Mitchell was very good that year.

Unfortunately, one of the worst performances by a Lions quarterback was also offered by Mitchell in 1994. That year his per game mark was –11.3, the third worst mark by a Lions quarterback since 1969. (For those who are interested, Jeff Komlo in 1979 had a per game mark of -30.0. Rusty Hilger in 1988 had a per game mark of -30.1. Not surprisingly these were the only years that Komlo or Hilger were employed as full-time starting quarterbacks by an NFL team.)

Mitchell was the full time starter in 1996 and 1997, but his performance in each of those years was below average. Not being able to repeat success is hardly unique to Mitchell. Since 1969 only one quarterback for the Lions has posted above average marks in two seasons.

And that quarterback was Charlie Batch. His per game mark in 1998 was 53.5. The next season Batch’s per game mark was 41.5. Granted, that is not far above average. Still, he was above average and that gives us some evidence that Batch may have been the greatest quarterback the Lions have employed in my lifetime.

If you look at career performances by a quarterback in Detroit, though, we see that Batch is only third best. On the strength of Mitchell’s one great year his career average with Detroit was 43.8. Since 1969 he is the only Lions quarterback to finish his career in Detroit with an above average mark. Again, though, that result is driven almost entirely by what Mitchell did in 1995.

Rodney Peete ranks second on the list with a QB Score per game in Detroit of 34.2. Overall Peete played parts of five seasons. One should note that his per game mark of 66.3 in 1990 was the only time he was above average for a season.

After Mitchell and Peete, though, comes Batch. His career mark in Detroit was 30.3. Again, that is below average. But still it is good for third in our list of Detroit quarterbacks. And I think that makes Batch, relative to other quarterbacks Detroit has employed, a great signal caller.

On Sunday Jon Kitna will start at quarterback for the Lions against the Seattle Seahawks. Kitna has posted a QB Score per game in his career of 15.8. He was above average in 2003 – with a mark of 45.0 – and that is the only above average season in his nine year career. Given this record, he looks like the classic Detroit quarterback. And that should be good news for fans of Seattle.

– DJ

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