Kurt Warner announced his retirement Friday, and his Hall of Fame credentials have been a topic of conversation. Everyone is familiar with his career: three Super Bowl appearances, one ring, two MVP awards, and a compelling personal story that inspires grocery stock clerks around the country.
According to Pro-Football-Reference, his career Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt (net passing efficiency minus 45 yards for each interception and with a 20-yard bonus for each TD pass) is 6.7 ANY/A. That's very, very good, and it puts him in league with the era's best passers. But it's not called the Hall of Efficiency; it's the Hall of Fame.
With that in mind, we turn to Win Probability Added (WPA), a narrative stat uniquely suited for measuring performance in terms of how each play helps a team win or lose. Fame is about a lot of things, but it's primarily about wins, so let's see what WPA has to say.
I'll compare Warner to the other top quarterbacks of his era in terms of both WPA and, for perspective, Expected Points Added (EPA). I chose Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Donovan McNabb. The first three are locks for the Hall, but McNabb is probably considered a notch or two below.
Per-play or per-game stats are most appropriate for predicting future performance, but that's not what this discussion is about. I think using career totals is most useful for Hall of Fame discussions, so I'll start with those. Playoff games and Super Bowls are included.
Unfortunately, digital play-by-play data is not available prior to the 2000 season, and perhaps Warner's best year was his first as a starter, in 1999. The other QBs to whom I'm comparing him played in years prior to 2000 as well, so although this analysis is not complete, I still think it's illuminating. Favre, in particular, enjoyed his best seasons prior to 2000. But in a way, Favre's latter career is a very appropriate comparison to Warner's entire career. In essence, Warner only had a second half of his career. His first half was spent in the Arena League, NFL Europe, or down at the Save Mart.
Here are the WPA totals by year (* denotes MVP year):
Warner slots-in below Manning and Brady, but well above McNabb. His career is similar to Favre's performance in the second half of his career. Add in about another 3 or 4 WPA to cover Warner's 1999 career-year, and he's definitely in the conversation for the Hall.
And here is each QB's EPA by year:
When we look at both WPA and EPA, we can see some interesting things. For example, Warner and McNabb's EPA numbers, which are less context-dependent than WPA, are about equal. But Warner's WPA numbers are higher, indicating that Warner performed better when it mattered. It's not McNabb's fault he played on teams with great defenses, which is likely why his WPA numbers aren't higher. But then again, shouldn't Warner get credit for carrying his team when they needed it?
Warner had some injury problems, and held the clipboard for a good share of time during his stints in New York and Arizona. If we want to look at per-game numbers for the past decade, here is how Warner compares:
Again, if we could add in 1999, Warner's per-game numbers would improve. In terms of per-game performance, he looks like a stronger candidate for the Hall.
In the end, Warner enjoyed a phenomenal career and is widely admired for his dignity and class. After all, the stats, whether simple yardage totals or WPA, are only part of the picture.