I am throwing in the white flag – at least temporarily. A few weeks ago I bemoaned the fact that so many of the decisions in fantasy football range from intuitive to whimsical and I miss the analytical nature of fantasy baseball. I realize there are some very telling football stats like targets, red zone percentage and yards per attempt, but I am speaking more towards lineup decisions with respect to matchups. A wide receiver with a lot of targets is (usually) going to catch his share of balls, a running back with a high red zone conversion rate is going to score touchdowns and a quarterback with stellar yards per attempt is going to rack up completions and yards. In all of these cases the player is going to be on a fantasy roster, we don’t need the fancy stats to realize his potential.
What bothers me is how in baseball, matchups are largely irrelevant even though it intuitively seems some hitters fare better against some pitchers and teams and vice versa and we have data to prove it. It isn’t that I don’t believe good run defenses impact the stats of good runners, it is more that there is not a conventional means to quantify this, though I would be willing to bet, pun intended, that some who earn their living in Las Vegas have this broekn down. So I am going to stick with what my more than ample guy growls, embellished by a touch of research and that is, while matchups are important, player talent is paramount and should be given the lion’s share of the priority when considering start ‘em/sit ‘em conundrums. We’ll still play our matchup game in the forums so that we can share the intuitions and whims that comprise setting our lineups, but I will not focus the entirety of this bandwidth each week to the topic like originally planned.
My chief message during drafting season was to focus on expected contribution per draft spot and not per roster spot. In other words, don’t approach things along the lines of “I need X points from my RB2” but rather “I need X points from this draft position.” In other words, if your wide receiving corps is especially strong, then you can get away with a weaker second running back (though you’ll always look to improve). Keeping with this mindset in-season can help defray some mid-week consternation during byes and with injuries, especially if you are blessed with some overproducers that are in essence giving you the numbers of a player drafted a round or two earlier. This allows you to drop the expectation down of a replacement for an injured player or a bye week substitute. Again, this is largely cosmetic as the ultimate goal is to upgrade wherever possible, but shifting around expectations can aid when it comes to fending off the urge of a knee jerk reaction.
The main time this is relevant is when an opponent attempts to play off a perceived weakness by offering you a deal “to improve your running back situation”, etc. This is the exact advice we preach in baseball but a trade should be looked at as lineup before versus lineup after and not just “upgrade my running backs.” What counts are the potential points from the players (and lineup) with and without the trade. In other words, don’t rob from Peter to pay Paul unless owning Paul improves your overall points potential.
OK, let’s review our theoretical lineup choices from last week and pose some new ones. I actually forgot to chime in myself but will share my choices retro. Hey, I’ve got no reason to lie and being truthful -- either way -- only adds to the utility, validity and credibility of the discussion.
Tom Brady (2 votes) versus Matthew Stafford (2 votes) – this matchup went against the ground rules I originally set up and that is I would table practical lineup decisions as opposed to “Aaron Rodgers versus Drew Brees.” Unless you went by a draft list and left poor instructions for the proxy making your picks, you would not own both Stafford and Brady, However, with the proliferation of the daily games, these decisions are apropos. The underlying question here is how much would matchup distinguish a couple of guys fairly close in potential, with Brady ranked a bit higher but Stafford with the juicy opponent. On the surface, Stafford’s numbers versus the Titans fell a tad short of what Brady did versus the vaunted Ravens, but of course Stafford left the game and if you include Shaun Hill’s numbers, the Detroit duo outpointed the New England heartthrob suggesting that in this instance, when the skills were close, the matchup prevailed.
DeMarco Murray (3 votes) versus Frank Gore (1 vote) – I was the lone dissenter here, feeling Tampa’s run defense was sneakily good and may slow down Murray and have been impressed with the jump in Gore’s early season step. I also thought a close game against the Vikings would keep Gore active. The others cited the easier matchup for Murray as their primary reasoning, which makes sense since from a talent standpoint, the pair are pretty similar. Largely the result of finding the end zone, the Murray backers took this one, though Gore ran for a far superior yards per carry. The issue was the Niners fell behind early and Gore is not involved in the San Fran air attack while Murray is somewhat involved with the Cowboys’ passing game. The matchup discussion aside, the take home lesson for me here is if he can stay healthy, Gore looks to be running with a purpose and should please his owners more than he disappoints.
Dwayne Bowe (3 votes) versus Larry Fitzgerald (1 vote) – Dang, I really regret not getting this one out there before the games as my vote was for Fitz. When a stud like Fitzgerald has a dud like the game he had versus the Patriots the previous week, the team usually tries to make up for it and that’s what happened here. I purposely chose Bowe as the opponent, since the “Kolb Sucks” argument is not quite as strong since Bowe has the near equally sucky Matt Cassel sending the spirals his way. Fitzgerald indeed got off the schneid, though Bowe had a very good game as well.
Owen Daniels (4 votes) versus Jermichael Finley (0 votes) – This was actually my toughest decision as I came close to choosing Finley but opted for the steady and more reliable numbers from Daniels as opposed to the higher reward of Finley. This is actually a good lesson as you need to balance the risk versus reliability in your lineups. If you feel you are pretty solid and just need something, then Daniels is the call. If you think you’re in need of a little help, perhaps due to injury or having a solid RB or WR on bye, then maybe it is better to shoot for the upside. Finding the end zone barely garnered Daniels this matchup as Finley was 4-60 while Daniels was 3-26 with the score.
Here are this week’s hypothetical lineup decisions for discussion in our message forum: