Update: The original post was from September 2013. On March 1, 2014, it was updated to include even more data and information.
The inspiration for this post was planted about a month ago with these tweets by Jimmy Kempski about geniuses Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly only having left-footed punters at their joint practices. Some have previously expressed belief that the opposite spin on lefty punts messes with returners and makes left-footed punts harder to catch. Then during Thursday’s Patriots-Jets game, Bill Barnwell resparked my interest in the topic when he tweeted about how the Patriots have not recovered more muffs than league-average since 2000 despite having used mostly lefty punters.
So, do lefty punters induce more muffs?
Using a sample of all punts from 2002-Week 12 of 2013, (i.e., every punt from all the currently available play-by-play data graciously provided by Brian Burke), here’s what emerged:
This is a huge sample and the difference is statistically significant (one-tailed p-value < .0001).
Belichick has called his extensive history of employing lefties “a coincidence.” Meanwhile, Chip Kelly’s punter at Oregon for his entire tenure as head coach was Jackson Rice, a right-footed punter.
Even with this difference, we must remember how small it is. About 30% of muffs were recovered by the kicking team. And the league average for punts per season last year (2012) was 77.5. So over the course of a season, on average, a lefty punter has created about .2 more turnovers than the average righty punter. It’s about the equivalent of creating one extra turnover every 5 years.
So should teams go out of their way to get a left-footed punter?
I don’t think so. Rather than worrying about the footedness of their punters, teams would help themselves a lot more by just choosing to punt less. Given that in 2011 the “average team forfeited .65 wins for the year” by employing suboptimal fourth-down decision-making (mainly, punting when they should “go for it”), one turnover every 5 years is almost entirely insignificant relative to the fact that the average team forfeits about 3 wins every 5 years just by punting too much.
Follow Allen Rodriguez on Twitter at @ByAJRodriguez.