Thursday, August 18, 2016

Alex Gordon's .219 Batting Average Is Zero Cause For Concern

On January 6 of this year, the Royals announced free agent Alex Gordon would remain in Kansas City. Kansas City, a franchise with a grand history of drafting and developing players to be traded for cash every July. Kansas City, the proud owners of a 29-year playoff drought. Yes, Kansas City was resigning a franchise player following a World Series victory. And how has the man repaid the Royals thus far? With a .219 batting average through August 18 and a stint on the DL earlier this year due to a fractured wrist. So KC fans, how's that $72 million, four-year contract looking now? I say it's still worth it.

I watched my first Royals game in about a long time on Monday, and in Gordon's first at-bat he was walked. People who follow the team should know where I'm going here. After first taking a called strike, Gordo sat back and watched three straight balls go by. And when a 90 mph fastball came in, he watched that strike slide by as well. Sitting now at 3-2, Gordon fouls off two more pitches before taking a base on the fourth ball of the battle. An 8-pitch gem of an appearance, and the start to just another day at the office for Alex Gordon.

Gordon had an otherwise decent night with two hits and a run scored, but that second inning battle is what makes him the player the Royals need. While historically low enough to believe he'll bounce back, the .219 batting average is bad. How bad? Gordon hasn't played enough games to qualify for statistical comparison in the MLB, but if he did he would rank second to last in the AL - only Chicago's Todd Frazier is worse and currently sits at #77 among qualified batters with a .210 average. Yet Frazier and Gordon aren't comparable, and it's not even close.

Despite the abysmal batting average, Alex Gordon has an on-base percentage of .321 - a full ten percent greater. He ranks 37th in walks with 38 this season despite missing June. (That's 38 walks in 86 games - a walk in almost 50 percent of games played.)

Walks aren't just important because they get a player on base. Unlike a single, they don't advance a player from third to home. However, they WEAR PITCHERS DOWN. Alcides Escobar can secure the occasional first pitch hit (if you recall, the very first pitch of the 2015 World Series was a fastball over the plate that resulted in an inside-the-park home run). However, in this era of micromanaged pitch counts and overburdened bullpens, an 8-pitch at-bat is one of the best weapons a team can have.

After Gordon hit a double in the sixth inning on the sixth pitch of the at-bat after taking three balls, and Detroit's pitcher was lifted. Daniel Norris had only thrown 88 pitches, and Gordon had seen 16 of them. If you're counting at home, that's 19 percent of the team's time in the box with Norris.

Alex Gordon can snatch the occasional home run, will steal a base or two (six so far this year), and be a smart baseball player. As a four-time gold glove winner and 2014 platinum glove winner (an award whose creation I remain dubious to), his defensive skills are beyond reproach. Yet he can't be valued as just a great defensive player. His lifetime batting average is .265, and as a 32-year-old we know that number isn't going to finish anywhere close to .300 at the end of his career. Yet Gordon is not a replacement level bat. Gordon takes pitchers out of the game because he makes them tired. He doesn't jack home runs regularly, but creates the conditions under which Moustakas and Hosmer can. And that's why he's still worth every penny he's getting paid.



Oh yeah, here's that lead-off, inside-the-park home run that Escobar jacked off Matt Harvey in the World Series when the Royals beat the Mets in five games and were the best team in the world and made everyone happy.




September 9 Update: Out of curiosity I looked up Gordon's stats this afternoon. In the past thirty days he ranks seventh among all qualified outfielders (and first among left fielders) with a .394 on-base percentage. He's also 10th in both batting average (.305) and slugging (.547) among outfielders. Not MVP numbers, but certainly indicative of a player on the right track. Once again, Gordon's BA of .219 as of August 18 was zero cause for concern.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Do Running Quarterbacks Have Greater Value in 4 Point Passing Touchdown Leagues?

About once a week I listen to a fantasy football podcast, and inevitably an observation is made about Mobile Quarterback X being preferred in a league that only allows four points per touchdown pass because some of their touchdowns will come on the ground. This comment always sounded ridiculous to me - why would anyone draft according to this difference in the point system? You shouldn't be drafting one quarterback over another quarterback based on the potential that you could win by two points in a given week - you should draft the quarterback that consistently nets you the most points. And two points here or there in one system that you don't accrue in another shouldn't be enough to change that, right?

My assumption was this was the case, but the truth is a bit murkier. For my analysis, I used the basic scoring system (0.04 points per passing yard, 0.1 points per rushing yard, -2 points per interception)*, and opted not to include any bonuses for certain milestones (e.g., no extra points for exceeding 300 yards passing).

*I had a hard time pulling fumble data and ultimately left it out, but hopefully this shouldn't change things too much.

Here are the season and per game point totals for the top 34 quarterbacks in a 4 point per passing touchdown scoring system:

 Quarterback  End of Season Rank - 4 Pt Per Passing TD
 Total Points   Season Rank   PPG   PPG Rank 
Cam Newton 397.1 1 24.8 1
Tom Brady 344.1 2 21.5 2
Blake Bortles 324.1 4 20.3 5
Russell Wilson 342.3 3 21.4 3
Carson Palmer 313.2 5 19.6 8
Drew Brees 310.5 6 20.7 4
Philip Rivers 295.5 8 18.5 11
Aaron Rodgers 294.4 10 18.4 13
Kirk Cousins 295.4 9 18.5 12
Eli Manning 284.5 12 17.8 15
Ryan Fitzpatrick 289.2 11 18.1 14
Matthew Stafford 301.2 7 18.8 10
Jameis Winston 276.8 13 17.3 17
Derek Carr 275.3 14 17.2 18
Andy Dalton 260.5 17 20.0 6
Ryan Tannehill 241.9 19 15.1 27
Tyrod Taylor 267.2 16 19.1 9
Matt Ryan 270.2 15 16.9 20
Alex Smith 248.1 18 15.5 26
Jay Cutler 234.5 20 15.6 24
Ben Roethlisberger 212.2 21 17.7 16
Sam Bradford 200.9 24 14.4 29
Teddy Bridgewater 204.4 23 12.8 30
Marcus Mariota 205.9 22 17.2 19
Joe Flacco 163.9 26 16.4 22
Brian Hoyer 170.6 25 15.5 25
Blaine Gabbert 130.8 29 16.4 23
Andrew Luck 140.2 27 20.0 7
Josh McCown 131.7 28 16.5 21
Brock Osweiler 118.8 30 14.8 28
Nick Foles 91.4 34 8.3 34
Peyton Manning 98.1 33 9.8 33
Johnny Manziel 110.2 31 12.2 31
Colin Kaepernick 101.0 32 11.2 32

Here's that same table, with six points per passing touchdown:

 Quarterback  End of Season Rank - 6 Pt Per Passing TD
 Total Points   Season Rank   PPG   PPG Rank 
Cam Newton 467.1 1 29.2 1
Tom Brady 416.1 2 26.0 2
Blake Bortles 394.1 4 24.6 5
Russell Wilson 410.3 3 25.6 3
Carson Palmer 383.2 5 24.0 6
Drew Brees 374.5 6 25.0 4
Philip Rivers 365.5 7 22.8 9
Aaron Rodgers 358.4 9 22.4 11
Kirk Cousins 353.4 10 22.1 12
Eli Manning 342.5 12 21.4 15
Ryan Fitzpatrick 351.2 11 22.0 13
Matthew Stafford 363.2 8 22.7 10
Jameis Winston 320.8 14 20.0 20
Derek Carr 339.3 13 21.2 16
Andy Dalton 308.5 16 23.7 7
Ryan Tannehill 283.9 19 17.7 27
Tyrod Taylor 307.2 17 21.9 14
Matt Ryan 310.2 15 19.4 21
Alex Smith 298.1 18 18.6 25
Jay Cutler 276.5 20 18.4 26
Ben Roethlisberger 254.2 21 21.2 17
Sam Bradford 238.9 23 17.1 29
Teddy Bridgewater 232.4 24 14.5 30
Marcus Mariota 243.9 22 20.3 18
Joe Flacco 191.9 26 19.2 22
Brian Hoyer 208.6 25 19.0 24
Blaine Gabbert 160.8 28 20.1 19
Andrew Luck 164.2 27 23.5 8
Josh McCown 151.7 29 19.0 23
Brock Osweiler 138.8 30 17.3 28
Nick Foles 109.4 34 9.9 34
Peyton Manning 112.1 33 11.2 33
Johnny Manziel 122.2 31 13.6 31
Colin Kaepernick 115.0 32 12.8 32

If you waded through that for more than 30 seconds, good on you I guess. I can't/hate doing tables in html and simply copy/pasted those into blogspot's unforgiving system (when I was publishing regularly we used Wordpress, which was actually user-friendly on this front). Here's one more table for you, which is the one you want:


 Quarterback   Differential 
Season Points  PPG   Season Rank   PPG Rank 
Cam Newton 70 4.4 0 0
Tom Brady 72 4.5 0 0
Blake Bortles 70 4.4 0 0
Russell Wilson 68 4.3 0 0
Carson Palmer 70 4.4 0 -2
Drew Brees 64 4.3 0 0
Philip Rivers 70 4.4 -1 -2
Aaron Rodgers 64 4.0 -1 -2
Kirk Cousins 58 3.6 1 0
Eli Manning 58 3.6 0 0
Ryan Fitzpatrick 62 3.9 0 -1
Matthew Stafford 62 3.9 1 0
Jameis Winston 44 2.8 1 3
Derek Carr 64 4.0 -1 -2
Andy Dalton 48 3.7 -1 1
Ryan Tannehill 42 2.6 0 0
Tyrod Taylor 40 2.9 1 5
Matt Ryan 40 2.5 0 1
Alex Smith 50 3.1 0 -1
Jay Cutler 42 2.8 0 2
Ben Roethlisberger 42 3.5 0 1
Sam Bradford 38 2.7 -1 0
Teddy Bridgewater 28 1.8 1 0
Marcus Mariota 38 3.2 0 -1
Joe Flacco 28 2.8 0 0
Brian Hoyer 38 3.5 0 -1
Blaine Gabbert 30 3.8 -1 -4
Andrew Luck 24 3.4 0 1
Josh McCown 20 2.5 1 2
Brock Osweiler 20 2.5 0 0
Nick Foles 18 1.6 0 0
Peyton Manning 14 1.4 0 0
Johnny Manziel 12 1.3 0 0
Colin Kaepernick 14 1.6 0 0


The top four QBs last year were ranked the same regardless of the scoring system. This is unsurprising - Newton, Brady, et. al. were putting up such gaudy numbers that a couple points here and there didn't matter. As the seventh best quarterback, Philip Rivers was ranked one position lower over the season, and two positions lower in points per game played, in a four point scoring system. Rivers did not have any rushing touchdowns, so a QB with rushing touchdown potential had a marginally better shot at surpassing him. Kirk Cousins, with his five rushing touchdowns actually finishes a tenth of a point behind Rivers in this system. However, in a six point per touchdown league, Rivers finishes 22 points ahead of Cousins.

Among the largest changes, Matt Ryan is ranked five spots higher in a six point per passing TD league (however, you should still never draft Ryan). Derek Carr and Andy Dalton both drop three spots in this system. This underlines a more important aspect that's never discussed: four point leagues don't simply place a premium on rushing touchdowns, but overall yards also become more important. Both Carr and Dalton had a low passing yards:passing touchdowns ratio compared to other quarterbacks, and their low yardage made them less valuable in four point leagues.

So should the scoring system impact your draft strategy? Possibly, but only on the margins, and not like you may think. It should only used to differentiate similar quarterbacks in the same tier (you can use it as an excuse to give Tyrod Taylor a bump over a Jay Cutler. Not a Drew Brees). And while mobile quarterbacks may be more important, equally if not more so is a quarterback that projects for a lot of yards (possibly QBs on bad teams that won't necessarily get you touchdowns, but will pass a lot trying to overcome deficits, a la Blake Bortles last year).

More important than those points is when you should draft a quarterback at all. QB1s scored 50-70 points more in six point TD leagues over the course of the season. The question isn't whether you should draft Brees or Newton based on the scoring system - it's whether you should draft a QB or snag a running back. Because in a four point per passing touchdown league, that question pushes both players back about two rounds for me.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Fantasy Football Running Back Success by Division

Fantasy football is a simple game that too many people over-complicate in trying to get clever. One of the most egregious examples of this (and one that I, too, fall victim to) is playing the match up rather than the player. Great players will typically get theirs, so sitting a running back just because he has to go to Seattle will only leave you saddened by trying to guess some level of production from the committee in Tennessee. Even so, it's worth taking a look at the match ups in 2016 to gauge the marginal worth of players against each other.

The AFC North was far and away the toughest division to start running backs against. And when you look at the defenses in the North (Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh), even the casual fan is left unsurprised. Similarly, the NFC East was awful, and running backs scored more fantasy points per game against the likes of the Giants and Redskins.

The chart below contains the average rushing, receiving, and total scores a defense gave up against all running backs, as well as the net scores (which accounts for fumbles). Fumbles are not included in the rushing and receiving columns - simply yardage and touchdowns. The net score is what determines your final score at the end of the day, so that's the number we're primarily interested in.

Running Back Points Allowed, by Division (Standard Scoring)
Division
Rushing
Receiving
Gross Average
Net Scores
AFC North
11.2
5.0
16.2
13.9
NFC West
12.0
5.6
17.6
15.4
NFC North
12.8
5.2
18.0
15.7
AFC East
11.8
5.5
17.4
15.7
AFC West
12.4
5.5
17.9
15.7
AFC South
12.8
5.2
18.0
15.8
NFC South
13.1
6.6
19.6
17.2
NFC East
14.8
6.2
21.0
18.7

I don't play in a ppr league and typically ignore these stat lines, but some people do, and there are some major differences once receptions are accounted for. The AFC East drops from number 4 against running backs to dead last, which shouldn't come as a complete surprise us as we see the division did well against the run but gave up more points to running backs through the air. 

The NFC West also takes a tumble, dropping from number two to number six. The knock against the Cardinals (and to an extent, the Seahawks) all season was that although they defended the run well, they couldn't contain screen passes, and this seems to reinforce that notion. Otherwise, the AFC North is still the best, the NFC South is still awful, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

Running Back Points Allowed, by Division (1 PPR)
Division
Rushing
Receiving
Gross Average
Net Scores
AFC North
11.2
9.7
20.9
18.7
NFC North
12.8
10.6
23.4
20.3
AFC East
11.8
9.9
21.8
20.5
AFC South
12.8
10.4
23.2
20.5
AFC West
12.4
11.1
23.5
21.1
NFC West
12.0
11.3
23.3
21.1
NFC South
13.1
12.2
25.3
23.3
NFC East
14.8
12.0
26.8
24.3

What are the practical impacts of this? Running backs matched up against NFC East opponents should, as a general rule, fair better than those pitted against the AFC North. Here are the intra- and interleague match-ups for 2016:

Intraconference
Interleague
AFC North vs. AFC East
AFC East vs. NFC West
AFC South vs. AFC West
AFC North vs. NFC East
NFC North vs. NFC East
AFC South vs. NFC North
NFC South vs. NFC West
AFC West vs. NFC South

Using standard scoring, it's immediately obvious which two divisions are going to run into brick walls this year: AFC East teams are matched up against the #1 and #2 divisions from 2015. Given the uncertainty at the position in the East anyway (is Forte entering into a shares situation in New York? What will McCoy's legal status be? Can Ajayi establish himself in Miami? Have you been satisfied drafting a Patriots running back), I'm steering clear. NFC East teams aren't much better, going against the #1 & #3 divisions from last year. That division has almost as much uncertainty (frankly, I'm not touching the backfields for the Giants, Dallas, or Washington this year), and the sledding is equally rough.

Conversely, the NFC West, AFC North, AFC West, and NFC North all avoid the top tier of divisions while being paired with at least one of the two worst. Not that I think you should should buy into the running back situation in Detroit, but I'm a little less frightened of Eddie Lacy.

Division
Intraleague Opponent
Interleague Opponent
Combined Ranking
AFC East
1
2
3
NFC East
3
1
4
NFC South
2
5
7
AFC South
5
3
8
NFC West
7
4
11
AFC North
4
8
12
AFC West
6
7
13
NFC North
8
6
14

If you've gotten this far, you may be asking why I looked at divisional strength, rather than just examining strength of schedules. SOS demonstrates the difficulty of every team on the schedule and should be the way we determine these matters. The first answer is that I was interested in looking at Divisions, because they're easier to manage than a list of 32 teams. The second is I didn't realize that would have been smarter until an hour into this analysis, and by then I was too far gone. You're welcome.