Quality Starts - Quarterback
By Jeff Pasquino
June 27th, 2011

There are some fantasy football players that believe that the lineup you pick can lose you a game just as much as it can win a contest. Having a player that can give you a consistent performance week after week should be considered more valuable than a player who goes off every third week and then takes two weeks off between those fantastic performances. Consistency has a value, and it does not take much of a leap to understand that players that you can rely on for solid games when you need them (such as in your postseason) are a huge advantage.

Baseball has a term called "Quality Starts" for pitchers, which is a statistic that represents how often a starting pitcher will put up a good (not great, just good) performance in a given game. The bar is set neither high nor low (six innings pitched, three earned runs or fewer) so as to gauge a decent performance. The theory behind it is that if your pitcher gives you a Quality Start, your team has a fighting chance to win a given game.

So now we need to translate this to football. What is "quality" for each position? How do we define a "Quality Start" for quarterbacks or running backs or any other position? Looking back at the 2010 season, I decided to take the #12 QB for the year (Joe Flacco, 285.5 fantasy points) and take that fantasy total and divide it by 16 for a per game average. Now a case can be made to argue against doing this. I did not account for missed games or a per-start performance metric, but I believe that the numbers will get averaged out by doing this method. Also, taking QB12 seems a bit arbitrary, but then again the Top 10-12 QBs are all within about 15 points of one another, but an even better reason is that if you are looking for a bare minimum of quality, the 12th QB should be the "worst starter" in your fantasy league.

So now we move on to the next question - one of quantifying the quality. At what point do we decide whether or not a quarterback has given us a quality performance? Here is where it gets a bit murky, but looking at the distribution of QB performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th QB average and adding or subtracting a percentage gives us a good range for a QB Quality Start.

Using the QB Quality Start range, we can also define a bad performance or an excellent performance as either falling below or exceeding the Quality Start range. Table 1 gives us the fantasy points that it takes to fall in each of the three areas:

QB Start Type
Fantasy Points
Bad Start
0 to 13.4
Quality Start
13.5 to 22.4
Excellent Start
22.5+

Table 1: 2010 QB Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges

We have one more issue in this study, and that is we need to sift through all the quarterbacks and only look at QBs that started an NFL game. That means if Kevin Kolb started Week 1 last year but gets hurt, Kolb is subject to the study (in Week 1) and Michael Vick (in Week 1) is not. That's an important distinction, as several QBs had great games in relief yet they should not get counted. Before we decide on a fantasy lineup, we usually only know the starters for each week, not who might come in if there is an injury.

Pouring over the games week by week, we find 512 starting QB games spread across 62 NFL quarterbacks from 2010. Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all 512 starts and how many of each type of start resulted for each:

Quarterback
Team
Type Of Start
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Matt Ryan
ATL
4
11
1
16
Joe Flacco
BAL
4
9
3
16
Carson Palmer
CIN
4
7
5
16
Matt Schaub
HOU
6
6
4
16
Peyton Manning
IND
7
7
2
16
Tom Brady
NEP
6
8
2
16
Drew Brees
NOS
5
10
1
16
Eli Manning
NYG
5
8
3
16
Mark Sanchez
NYJ
5
3
8
16
Philip Rivers
SDC
8
7
1
16
Sam Bradford
STL
1
11
4
16
Josh Freeman
TBB
1
14
1
16
Jay Cutler
CHI
6
5
4
15
Aaron Rodgers
GBP
8
5
2
15
Matt Cassel
KCC
5
5
5
15
David Garrard
JAC
5
6
3
14
Chad Henne
MIA
1
6
7
14
Matt Hasselbeck
SEA
1
8
5
14
Ryan Fitzpatrick
BUF
3
7
3
13
Kyle Orton
DEN
7
4
2
13
Brett Favre
MIN
2
0
11
13
Donovan McNabb
WAS
1
9
3
13
Jason Campbell
OAK
2
7
3
12
Ben Roethlisberger
PIT
6
4
2
12
Michael Vick
PHI
10
0
1
11
Jimmy Clausen
CAR
0
0
10
10
Shaun Hill
DET
3
6
1
10
Alex Smith
SFO
2
4
4
10
Derek Anderson
ARI
0
4
5
9
Jon Kitna
DAL
3
4
2
9
Colt McCoy
CLE
0
5
3
8
Vince Young
TEN
0
4
4
8
Kerry Collins
TEN
3
2
2
7
Tony Romo
DAL
2
3
1
6
Troy Smith
SFO
1
2
3
6
Matt Moore
CAR
1
0
4
5
Kevin Kolb
PHI
1
2
2
5
John Skelton
ARI
0
1
3
4
Seneca Wallace
CLE
0
1
3
4
Jake Delhomme
CLE
0
1
3
4
Bruce Gradkowski
OAK
0
3
1
4
Max Hall
ARI
0
0
3
3
Tim Tebow
DEN
3
0
0
3
Drew Stanton
DET
0
2
1
3
Matthew Stafford
DET
2
0
1
3
Trent Edwards
JAC
0
0
3
3
Rex Grossman
WAS
2
0
1
3
Tarvaris Jackson
MIN
0
0
1
1
Charlie Batch
PIT
0
1
1
2
Dennis Dixon
PIT
0
0
2
2
Charlie Whitehurst
SEA
0
1
1
2
Brian Brohm
BUF
0
0
1
1
Brian St. Pierre
CAR
0
0
1
1
Todd Collins
CHI
0
0
1
1
Stephen McGee
DAL
0
1
0
1
Matt Flynn
GBP
1
0
0
1
Todd Bouman
JAC
0
1
0
1
Brodie Croyle
KCC
0
0
1
1
Tyler Thigpen
MIA
0
0
1
1
Chad Pennington
MIA
0
0
1
1
Joe Webb
MIN
0
1
1
2
Rusty Smith
TEN
0
0
1
1
Totals
137
216
159
512

Table 2: 2010 QB Start Types By Player Sorted By Total Starts

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that 216 of 512 starts fall in the middle - "Quality Starts" - and there are about the same number of Excellent Starts (137) as there are in the Bad Start category (159). In years' past, the three categories were more balanced in the first two years of the study - (157-211-144 in 2008, 158-186-168 in 2007), while 2010 looked more like 2009 (132-195-185 in 2009). The difference has to be that the higher score needed for an Excellent Start went up in 2009 - and remained there in 2010. In Table 1 we saw that Excellent Starts required over 22.5 points, whereas in both 2008 and 2007 the line was just over 20 points. So now we are starting to show a two-year trend away from a normal distribution ("Excellent" and "Bad" about equal, with "Quality" more than either) with the last two seasons of "Lesser Excellence" as "Bad" topped "Excellent" by a good margin and "Excellent" Starts barely topped 25% of quarterback starts in the last two years. That is an important distinction, and all the more reason to go after the players with the best chance of putting up Excellent starts when we build our fantasy teams for 2011.

Now, to dig deeper, let's look at the numbers distributed in two different ways. First, I need to define a valuable starting quarterback in this system. We want a QB that will win more fantasy games than lose them, so we want either "Quality" or "Excellent" starts. Using a simple formula of scoring each type of start, we can define the value of a given starting NFL quarterback. Here is the formula:

Starting Fantasy QB Value = Excellent Starts - Bad Starts

We can afford to overlook the "Quality Starts" category because they neither win games nor lose them on average - they are just average QB performances. We only really care about how often he helps our team vs. how often he hurts it. Giving a "-1" value to bad starts and "+1" to excellent ones does this for us.

On with the results, sorted by value:

Quarterback
Team
Type Of Start
Net Value
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Michael Vick
PHI
10
0
1
11
9
Philip Rivers
SDC
8
7
1
16
7
Aaron Rodgers
GBP
8
5
2
15
6
Peyton Manning
IND
7
7
2
16
5
Kyle Orton
DEN
7
4
2
13
5
Tom Brady
NEP
6
8
2
16
4
Drew Brees
NOS
5
10
1
16
4
Ben Roethlisberger
PIT
6
4
2
12
4
Matt Ryan
ATL
4
11
1
16
3
Tim Tebow
DEN
3
0
0
3
3
Matt Schaub
HOU
6
6
4
16
2
Eli Manning
NYG
5
8
3
16
2
Jay Cutler
CHI
6
5
4
15
2
David Garrard
JAC
5
6
3
14
2
Shaun Hill
DET
3
6
1
10
2
Joe Flacco
BAL
4
9
3
16
1
Jon Kitna
DAL
3
4
2
9
1
Kerry Collins
TEN
3
2
2
7
1
Tony Romo
DAL
2
3
1
6
1
Matthew Stafford
DET
2
0
1
3
1
Rex Grossman
WAS
2
0
1
3
1
Matt Flynn
GBP
1
0
0
1
1
Josh Freeman
TBB
1
14
1
16
0
Matt Cassel
KCC
5
5
5
15
0
Ryan Fitzpatrick
BUF
3
7
3
13
0
Stephen McGee
DAL
0
1
0
1
0
Todd Bouman
JAC
0
1
0
1
0
Carson Palmer
CIN
4
7
5
16
-1
Jason Campbell
OAK
2
7
3
12
-1
Kevin Kolb
PHI
1
2
2
5
-1
Bruce Gradkowski
OAK
0
3
1
4
-1
Drew Stanton
DET
0
2
1
3
-1
Charlie Batch
PIT
0
1
1
2
-1
Charlie Whitehurst
SEA
0
1
1
2
-1
Joe Webb
MIN
0
1
1
2
-1
Tarvaris Jackson
MIN
0
0
1
1
-1
Brian Brohm
BUF
0
0
1
1
-1
Brian St. Pierre
CAR
0
0
1
1
-1
Todd Collins
CHI
0
0
1
1
-1
Brodie Croyle
KCC
0
0
1
1
-1
Tyler Thigpen
MIA
0
0
1
1
-1
Chad Pennington
MIA
0
0
1
1
-1
Rusty Smith
TEN
0
0
1
1
-1
Donovan McNabb
WAS
1
9
3
13
-2
Alex Smith
SFO
2
4
4
10
-2
Troy Smith
SFO
1
2
3
6
-2
Dennis Dixon
PIT
0
0
2
2
-2
Mark Sanchez
NYJ
5
3
8
16
-3
Sam Bradford
STL
1
11
4
16
-3
Colt McCoy
CLE
0
5
3
8
-3
Matt Moore
CAR
1
0
4
5
-3
John Skelton
ARI
0
1
3
4
-3
Seneca Wallace
CLE
0
1
3
4
-3
Jake Delhomme
CLE
0
1
3
4
-3
Max Hall
ARI
0
0
3
3
-3
Trent Edwards
JAC
0
0
3
3
-3
Matt Hasselbeck
SEA
1
8
5
14
-4
Vince Young
TEN
0
4
4
8
-4
Derek Anderson
ARI
0
4
5
9
-5
Chad Henne
MIA
1
6
7
14
-6
Brett Favre
MIN
2
0
11
13
-9
Jimmy Clausen
CAR
0
0
10
10
-10

Table 3: 2010 QB Start Types Sorted By Value

This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. Let's start with Michael Vick. Everyone who had him on their team last year knows just how valuable he was, but the amazing part of his season is that he topped this list with 10 excellent performances despite only starting 11 games. That's an incredible performance rate, so there is no wonder that he is at or near the top of the fantasy QB shopping list entering 2011. Many of the other top names are in the Top 10 of this list, and Tony Romo gets a pass due to his injury. Brett Favre's struggles also leap off of the page, as do the woeful years of Derek Anderson, Chad Henne and Jimmy Clausen. Matt Cassel, Jay Cutler and even Matt Schaub would all be much higher if they could avoid the 4-5 bad starts that each of them had last season.

Lastly I will sift through all the numbers for you and get right to the heart of the matter with our final table. Here we have the results sorted by value for the Top 30 QBs on the 2011 ADP list.

Quarterback
Team
Type Of Start
Net Value
ADP
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Michael Vick
PHI
10
0
1
11
9
16
Philip Rivers
SDC
8
7
1
16
7
30
Aaron Rodgers
GBP
8
5
2
15
6
9
Peyton Manning
IND
7
7
2
16
5
20
Kyle Orton
DEN
7
4
2
13
5
170
Tom Brady
NEP
6
8
2
16
4
27
Drew Brees
NOS
5
10
1
16
4
23
Ben Roethlisberger
PIT
6
4
2
12
4
60
Matt Ryan
ATL
4
11
1
16
3
59
Tim Tebow
DEN
3
0
0
3
3
133
Matt Schaub
HOU
6
6
4
16
2
53
Eli Manning
NYG
5
8
3
16
2
76
Jay Cutler
CHI
6
5
4
15
2
96
David Garrard
JAC
5
6
3
14
2
154
Joe Flacco
BAL
4
9
3
16
1
80
Tony Romo
DAL
2
3
1
6
1
40
Matthew Stafford
DET
2
0
1
3
1
97
Josh Freeman
TBB
1
14
1
16
0
69
Matt Cassel
KCC
5
5
5
15
0
111
Ryan Fitzpatrick
BUF
3
7
3
13
0
153
Carson Palmer
CIN
4
7
5
16
-1
221
Jason Campbell
OAK
2
7
3
12
-1
174
Kevin Kolb
PHI
1
2
2
5
-1
143
Donovan McNabb
WAS
1
9
3
13
-2
166
Mark Sanchez
NYJ
5
3
8
16
-3
131
Sam Bradford
STL
1
11
4
16
-3
95
Colt McCoy
CLE
0
5
3
8
-3
202
Matt Hasselbeck
SEA
1
8
5
14
-4
246
Vince Young
TEN
0
4
4
8
-4
243
Chad Henne
MIA
1
6
7
14
-6
219

Table 4: 2011 Top Drafted QBs Sorted By 2010 Value

Note that several new quarterbacks are absent from the above list for the simple reason that they did not start any games last year. Judging form last season, it would appear that whoever wins the Denver starting job will present as a nice value against the rest of the Top 10 QBs going off the draft board, but expectations for a Broncos quarterback have to be tempered due to John Fox becoming the new head coach in Denver. While both Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger are barely inside of the Top 10 QBs on the ADP list, both have very strong cases for an even higher finish in 2011. Atlanta added Julio Jones (and also Jacquizz Rodgers) to give Ryan even more targets as the Falcons make a playoff push, while Big Ben had Quality Start numbers comparable to Drew Brees and Tom Brady despite a four-game suspension to start the season. Both quarterbacks represent solid values.

On the other side of the coin, there is even further evidence that Joe Flacco is yet again not quite worth a Top 12 selection, so his ADP of QB13 is justified. The newest draft darling tends to be Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, who is QB11 on the ADP chart yet his 2010 screamed "Joe Average" with 14 of 16 starts right in the middle. Both Freeman and Sam Bradford (QB14) have solid reasons to believe in upside for this coming year, but both quarterbacks and their receiving corps must improve along with them to justify their ADP. One of the best upside quarterbacks is Matthew Stafford (ADP of QB16) who had just three starts but posted Excellent Starts in two of those three performances. With the added weapons in Detroit, Stafford just needs to stay healthy for a change to push for a Top 10 season. Of course all of these predictions and indications are based solely on 2010 numbers. That's the biggest warning here - there is no reason to believe all of these numbers as indications of 2011 performance, but having this information available should give you more to think about when deciding who you will have leading your fantasy team this year.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.

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