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:
A wise man once said it is better to be part of the solution than it is to be part of the problem. Actually, it was an old boss, and what I believe he said was to get the eff out of my office unless you have an effing solution and not another effing problem, but I digress.
Last week, I went off on a mini-rant, expressing my discomfort with the anecdotal nature of most fantasy football analysis. And truth be told, this was only exasperated this week as I continue to read and hear advice based primarily on what happened last week, mostly with respect to strength and weakness of opposing defenses.
So what I decided to do was crunch a few numbers in an effort to determine when a defense stabilizes, at least in terms of yardage allowed. The idea being we can get a better feel for how many weeks we need to wait before we can look at the yearly performance to date and get a true feel for the quality of the rush defense and of the pass defense.
The study was done by comparing the 2011 season ending averages for passing yards and rushing yards allowed to a rolling average. The rolling average is the average after week 2, then week 3, then week 4 etc. Different ranges were investigated (+/- percent from the seasonal average) to frame the data a bit.
The following displays how many teams fell within the specified performance ranges after the designated weeks. By means of example, if a team’s average rushing yards allowed was 120, then the ten-percent range is 108-132 (+/- 12). If the rolling average was between 108 and 132, then that team was a “yes.” The study counts up the “yeses.”
Here is the data:
It appears passing defense stabilizes a bit faster than rushing defense. Using three-quarters of the teams and 15% as targets (admittedly arbitrary), after week 5, there is a good chance a passing defense “is what it is”, while it takes until after week 7 for the rushing defense to stabilize.
If you want to tighten the constraints to 10%, you have to wait until week 10 for passing and week 9 for rushing. On the other hand, if you open it up to 25%, then most defenses establish themselves pretty quickly.
Admittedly, this little study does little to help quantify the impact of an opposing defense, but it does suggest it is a bit perilous to make a quantitative judgment on a defense until at least week 6 or so. As such, when I embark on my lineup decisions, unless the defense is an extreme like the San Francisco 49ers, I will put more weight on the talent of the player than the quality of opposition. Later in the season, I may try to get a little cuter when I have a better idea of the true quality of opposing defense.
Speaking of matchups, we’ll soon table four theoretical lineup decisions like we did last week but first, let’s take a peek at how we did last week.
Peyton Manning (4 votes) over Joe Flacco (0 votes) – Unless your league gives negative points for picks, this was basically a wash. Each QB threw for a score; Flacco went for 232 yards against the Eagles while Manning totaled 241 versus the Falcons. Of course, Peyton threw the three early picks to only one for Flacco. Flacco did what we thought he would, my guess is the voters expected a little more out of the elder Manning. Truth be told, this was more about Manning himself and not about the matchup, so in retrospect it was probably a poor choice if the thought process was intended to include the opposition. However, it does highlight the fact that the jury is still out on Manning. The party line was we learned he could take a hit after week 1. However, the scuttlebutt following the Monday Night affair is Manning’s arm strength is such that backup Brock Osweiler is the designated “Hail Mary” guy. On the surface, this does not seem all that important but it does suggest opposing defenses can shorten up the coverage without fearing Manning has the ability to go over the top deep downfield.
Stevan Ridley (3 votes) over Ahmad Bradshaw (1 vote) – I’ll call this incomplete as Bradshaw left the game early due to a neck sprain. Ridley had a decent day with 18 rushes for 71 yards along with 3 catches for 24 yards against Arizona. He did not make it into the end zone. Bradshaw only toted 5 carries for 16 yards facing Tampa. Chances are, there yardage totals would have been close and it would have come down to whether Bradshaw scored.
Those voting apparently knew the results of the above study already since little heed was paid to the strength of rushing defense after week 1. The Cardinals held the Seahawks to 45 yards on the ground in week 1 while the Bucs surrendered a healthy 130 to the Panthers. Even so, Ridley was given the nod despite facing, at least in paper, a better rush defense.
Brandon Lafell (3 votes) over Santonio Holmes (1 vote) – Lafell took this one with 6-90 with no TD while Holmes went 3-28 with 1 TD. In a non-PPR it was pretty much a wash. That said (and yes, I was the dissenter with Holmes), the Jets wide out was targeted 11 times to only 8 for the Panther. That makes me feel OK about my decision, even though Lafell scored more points.
The reason I mention this is the primary reason the others chose Lafell was the perceived better matchup against New Orleans and their sieve like secondary. On the other hand, I cited the fact Pittsburgh defense does not scare me and I prefer the team’s #1 pass-catching option as opposed to the third option (Steve Smith and arguably Greg Olsen ahead of Lafell, not to mention Cam Newton’s legs). For me, it is more about the process than the results, so even though “I lost” this one, I am OK with it, feeling if I use the same process later, the odds are with me.
Brandon Pettigrew (2 votes) ties Kyle Rudolph (2 votes) – Rudolph edged out Pettigrew as they each scored on one of their three receptions, but Rudolph totaled 35 yards to Pettigrew’s mere 18. The dynamic on this one was quite interesting. Pettigrew matched up against the vaunted 49er defense while Rudolph faced the Colts. Those selecting Rudolph did so due to the matchup while the Pettigrew choosers went with the better receiver with the better quarterback. I chose Pettigrew, so speaking for myself, I feel the defense against the tight end is overrated so I took the guy that has proven to be a red zone target and got real lucky with a garbage time score.
Granted, this is as anecdotal as the evidence I whined about earlier, but at minimum, the quality of opposing defense was at best secondary with these matchups. Let’s investigate this a little more with the choices for week 3. Like last week, I will post them in the forum and chime in with my response. Please feel free to contribute to the discussion.
Tom Brady at Baltimore or Matthew Stafford at Tennessee
DeMarco Murray versus Tampa or Frank Gore at Minnesota
Larry Fitzgerald versus Philadelphia or Dwayne Bowe at New Orleans
Owen Daniels at Denver or Jermichael Finley at Seattle
So I was making some picks for a couple of fantasy football leagues I draft by e-mail. I was in a bit of a rush so I just threw enough names in the pre-draft to make sure I got someone. My starting lineups were already picked so I loaded some names I thought had a chance to contribute, maybe not in September, but hopefully soon thereafter. I did it with a clear conscious, not caring what anyone else thought. If the picks turned out to be bad, I didn’t care. I didn’t even care if the players had been released and were not even on an NFL team – I’d drop them and get an undrafted replacement when waivers begin.
Then it hit me, an epiphany of sorts. I can put on a front and say the right thing and contend that I take off my analyst hat and put on my drafting hat when it comes time to assemble my baseball teams, but I’d be lying. And quite frankly, I think anyone else in my position would be fibbing as well. When we draft, we have millions, OK, thousands, all right, some of us have hundreds of eyes peering over our shoulders, scrutinizing every pick and auction purchase. I’m not saying all my drafts are completely shaped by those shadowing me, but there is no doubt the occasional pick has been influenced by my reputation and was more what I thought I was supposed to do as opposed to what I wanted to do. And again, other than perhaps the Zen Master himself, Lawr, I call BS on anyone else in the industry that says they are in no way affected by their so-called expert status when drafting. It is akin to home calls by umpires or referees. In our minds, we want to be completely unbiased and perhaps even believe we are just that, but the truth is the roar of the crowd influences decisions, even if subconsciously.
I know many of my brethren will take exception to this and proclaim that each draft and auction is a unique, living entity and thus are experienced at adjusting on the fly. As such, they make a pick against some advice they have previously offered, but like the official that says their calls are independent of the situation, there is a reason the term “home-field advantage” is such a staple in sports vernacular. Trust me friends, we have all made picks because we felt we had to and not because we wanted to.
I have hinted this past summer that I feel I do not take on enough risk when drafting my baseball squads and I believe the reason is related to the above. And while I don’t ever recall actually thinking “I can’t pick him, they’d rake me over the coals in the forum”, I have no doubt subconsciously done just that.
How do I know? Because when I make picks in fantasy football, I do say to myself, “Take him, who gives a shit what anyone else thinks.” This means that deep down inside, I care what people think when I make baseball picks.
With due respect to all those who have been following my work for all or part of the past fifteen years, please accept my apology in advance. I am going to make a conscious effort not to give a shit what you think come next fantasy baseball season.
Don’t worry, I’ll be more than happy to explain my actions, and actually feel you’ll get more out of that than if I follow the chalk. But when it comes time to make a pick or bid on a player, what I have previously written or advised will be thrown out the window and the moment will be the thing.
Caring hasn’t been working so well lately.
While I know the game theory involved with fantasy football and fantasy baseball is different, there are a couple of elements of fantasy football analysis that bug me. The first is how much of football advice is “what have you done for me lately.” Friends, Darren McFadden and Wes Welker are the same players they were a week ago. McFadden is not going to catch 208 passes and Welker is not going to only snag 42.
The second pet peeve I have is how much of fantasy football analysis is based on anecdotal suppositions as opposed to research that demonstrates your decision is based on probability giving you the best chance to be right. Remember, your goal is to be right, but the real objective is to choose the option that gives you the best opportunity to be correct.
I have often wondered just how much a quarterback should be adjusted if he is facing a weak pass defense. Is it enough to jump a lesser one over a better one? What about playing a weaker tight end against a team that allows the most touchdown receptions to a tight end in the entire league? Is there a way to quantify this sort of thing?
So I thought a cute little series of pieces I could write would focus on different matchup. One week I would look at quarterbacks, then running backs, etc. I’d propose some theoretical lineup decisions and ask for your opinions, along with supplying my own based on “the evidence.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the rough draft. As is often the case when I embark on endeavors of this nature, I discover there are more layers than I originally anticipated. My head was full of questions and it was obvious it was going to take more than a couple of nights of number crunching to handle each position.
The basic premise revolved around taking a player’s average performance and adjusting it based on the opposition. As an example, say a QB averages 230 yards a game and was facing a defense that allows 270 yards a game (with the league average being 245). Should we anticipate splitting the difference and projecting 250? Should we come up with a defense index like a park factor in baseball, in this case 270/245 x 100 = 110 and then adjust the expected yardage to be 230 x 1.10 or 253? And then do the same for touchdowns?
The analysis could be as simple as a correlation coefficient comparing actual performance with expected performance. Whatever algorithm rendered the best correlation could be used to project player performance on a weekly basis and rankings would be facilitated based on matchups. Seems pretty straightforward, no?
Then the questions started to hit me.
Should home field advantage be factored in?
How much does an anomaly such as bad weather, an injury, having a short week to prepare or coming off a bye impact the situation, considering each contest is a fairly significant 6 percent of the season?
How far into the season must we be before the averages, for the both the player and defense stabilize so they can be used in a calculation like that described above?
How reliable are last season’s numbers when it comes to determining averages assuming it takes several weeks for the current season’s numbers to settle?
How many times will the game change direction via an early defensive or special team’s touchdown, forcing a team to alter its desired game plan?
How are averages, indices and expected performance impacted by divisional games considering the familiarity between the two teams?
How does the venue affect matters (beyond home field advantage)? Are some teams better on turf? Outdoors on grass? Better equipped to handle a noisy environment?
How does recent performance against a team alter things?
So many questions, so few answers.
Maybe just sticking with anecdotal analysis is best,
There has to be a better way. I simply refuse to start a lower tier wide receiver because he happened to catch a touchdown against that team last season. I just can’t start a marginal running back because last week, the defense he is facing allowed the opposition runner to go over the century mark and score.
It all comes back to the ultimate objective in the decision making process. There is no way we know definitely what is right. But I do think we can help increase the odds a bit by identifying some global trends. Then we season to taste and make a decision. This, after all, is the fun (though often frustrating if not maddening) part of the hobby; starting a player then watching him go off on Sunday.
So here’s what I propose. I’ll crunch some numbers and from time to time present my findings. In the interim, each week in this space I will pose some theoretical (or perhaps even real) lineup conundrums. I’ll offer my take, most likely using the same anecdotal reasoning that I am suggesting is somewhat fallacious and invite you to do the same. You can chime in down in the comments section or better yet meander on over to the forums where I will have some polls set up where we can vote on a matchup and share our reasons. Heck, if you so desire, please feel free to post your lineup dilemma and I’ll use that as the discussion point in that week’s column.
Here are this week’s theoretical lineup decisions. Let's go with a standard performance scoring format, 6 pts per TD, .1 point per yard rushing or receiving and .05 points per yard passing. I think I’ll post my opinions in the forums.
Peyton Manning at Atlanta OR Joe Flacco at Philadelphia
Stevan Ridley versus Arizona OR Ahmad Bradshaw versus Tampa Bay
Brandon LaFell versus New Orleans OR Santonio Holmes at Pittsburgh
Kyle Rudolph at Indianapolis OR Brandon Pettigrew at San Francisco
Don’t believe everything you read (except if it is posted in this site) or hear (unless a Mastersball staffer says it.) OK, maybe you can’t believe everything we write or say either, but today I am going to discuss a quartet of inaccuracies being disseminated by my brethren in the fantasy football industry. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if this should be believed or dismissed.
RATE MY TEAM
This is the time of the season message forums and radio shows are inundated with “rate my team” posts and questions. Truth be told, more often than not “rate my team” should be replaced with “tell me how great I did”, but that’s a rant for another day. The present focus will be the naïve manner many analysts answer the question. How often have you heard something along the lines of “I like your team except you don’t have a WR1”, or “your team is very strong but your QB is weak”?
Here’s the deal, using a standard 12-team league as the model. Too many analysts are programmed to scan your roster for a top-12 quarterback, a top-12 running back, another RB ranked 13-24, a top-12 wide receiver, another slated 13-24, a third placed 25-36 and a top-12 tight end.
If you are have 2 top-12 RB or 2 top-12 WR with another in the 20’s, you are deemed strong at that position. If you don’t have a RB with the top-12, you are weak at the position, etc. And in a vacuum, they are correct. But the problem is they should be looking at your roster as a whole and its potential to score fantasy points. For every position you are “strong”, you can be “weak” at another and still have a perfectly competitive roster. It’s just that this is not usually communicated properly and the take home message is “you’re weak at WR” instead of “your WR are weaker than average, but you make up for it with a top-3 QB and top-3 TE.”
The way to approach this is not to label players as RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, WR3, etc., but rather to fill all the skill position roster spots with players expected to produce a target number of points. I discuss this concept in detail in my Guide to a Successful Draft, available along with the rest of our free fantasy football content.
The down and dirty way of thinking about it is to start with the foundation of aiming for a QB1, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, WR3, TE1 and flex but for every tier you double up, you can aim for a tier down on another position. For QB and TE, consider the top-4 to be the top tier and 9-12 as the bottom tier with the minimum goal as getting one in the 5-8 range.
If you draft two RB1 (defined as two ranked in the top-12), you can now target 2-WR2 and a WR3 or a WR1 and 2-WR3, etc. If you draft a top-4 QB or TE, you can drop another position down a tier.
Here are a several example teams to illustrate this point:
|ROUND||Team 1||Team 2||Team 3||Team 4||Team 5|
|Team 1 is standard|
|Team 2 has two RB1 but no WR1|
|Team 3 has a top QB but no RB1|
|Team 4 has a top TE but no WR2|
|Team 5 has two WR1 but no RB1|
Of course, the goal is to BEAT the standard team, but the main point is there are infinite means to construct your roster. To at minimum “break even”, track your squad using this tier method and you’ll have the confidence to go off the chalk and still assemble a points-producing machine. Then ignore it when someone chides you for being weak in an area. Your goal is to build a strong team.
It is paramount to know your scoring and understand how it impacts the relative potential across positions, but too many advise-givers forget that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. That is, when a quarterback scores six points for a passing touchdown, all quarterbacks score six points. So while it is true that this impacts the raw point totals, it does not skew relative rankings as much as many suggest. Remember, bottom QB’s also enjoy a bump, albeit a bit moderate. The best thing to do is set up a value based drafting adjustment (discussed in Guide to a Successful Draft) by subtracting the points from the lowest ranked, but still starter-worthy player at each position. You will likely find the adjustment is not nearly as steep as anecdotally implied by those spreadsheet averse. In fact, there is more flip-flopping within the position as compared to elevating QB’s up the overall list.
The same is true for points per reception leagues. The potential of certain RB and WR increases, while others fall - but the position as a whole is distributed similarly with or without PPR. At the very least, the impact is not as pronounced as those allergic to math.
Our baseball readers know we follow average draft position, or ADP a lot less than most. I personally admit that I still use it as a tool, albeit a secondary tool, but I’d be lying if I said I completely ignore ADP when I assemble my baseball teams. However, when it comes to football, I don’t blink an eye I am not privy to an ADP. While it is true that in both baseball and football, it is all about the strategy and intrinsic potential to your team, in baseball there may be once, perhaps twice a draft I opt to wait a round on a player based on ADP. In football, I could give a rat’s ass what others think. In baseball, you are balancing hitting and pitching, speed and power, strikeouts and saves not to mention filling six or seven different positions. In football, you want points – that’s it. If I draft Arian Foster, shame on me for getting cute and waiting too long to get Ben Tate. Ditto for Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashard Jennings. If you feel Stevan Ridley is going to break out, don’t try to time your pick via ADP. If the one-game suspension to Kenny Britt doesn’t scare you, don’t assume he will fall because others will shy away. Football is so much about in-season management that you should do all you can to start the campaign with “your guys” and ignore the incessant references to ADP.
I'll make this one short and sweet, though it has wriggled way up on my pet peeve list. It is perfectly fine to draft two players from the same team, outside of the standard QB-WR hookup. The expectation for LeSean McCoy is the same, regardless if you have Michael Vick as a keeper or wish to draft Matt Ryan or Tony Romo later. If you own Ray Rice and Torrey Smith is the highest ranked WR on your board, don’t pass on the greater potential. His expected points are the same as if you owned Darren McFadden. Too many advise to opt for less potential in case both players have off games. Hogwash. Potential is potential.
There you have it, my four fantasy football fallacies. Good luck in your drafts and may all your studs remain healthy and your sleepers wake up.