Quality Starts - Tight Ends
By Jeff Pasquino
July 25th, 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 give you a consistent performance week after week can 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 TE for the year (Brandon Pettigrew, 97.2 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 TE12 seems a bit arbitrary, but if you are looking for a bare minimum of quality, the 12th TE 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 tight end has given us a quality performance? Here is where it gets a bit murky, but looking at the distribution of TE performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th TE average and adding or subtracting a percentage gives us a good range for a TE Quality Start.

Using the TE 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:

TE Start Type
Fantasy Points
Bad Start
0 to 4.5
Quality Start
4.6 to 7.5
Excellent Start
7.6+

Table 1: 2010 TE Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - Standard Scoring

Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all the Top 36 TEs and how many of each type of start resulted for each:

Tight End
Type Of Start
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Jason Witten - DAL
9
4
3
16
Antonio Gates - SDC
8
1
1
10
Vernon Davis - SFO
9
2
5
16
Marcedes Lewis - JAC
7
4
5
16
Rob Gronkowski - NEP
5
3
8
16
Chris Cooley - WAS
5
8
3
16
Kellen Winslow - TBB
5
2
9
16
Tony Gonzalez - ATL
5
3
8
16
Zach Miller - OAK
5
3
7
15
Dustin Keller - NYJ
4
4
8
16
Aaron Hernandez - NEP
6
2
6
14
Brandon Pettigrew - DET
5
5
6
16
Ben Watson - CLE
5
3
8
16
Jacob Tamme - IND
5
3
8
16
Todd Heap - BAL
4
4
5
13
Joel Dreessen - HOU
2
5
9
16
Kevin Boss - NYG
5
1
9
15
Anthony Fasano - MIA
4
3
8
15
Brent Celek - PHI
5
2
9
16
Tony Moeaki - KCC
2
6
7
15
Jermaine Gresham - CIN
4
2
9
15
Greg Olsen - CHI
4
2
10
16
Jimmy Graham - NOS
3
4
8
15
Visanthe Shiancoe - MIN
3
1
12
16
Heath Miller - PIT
2
4
8
14
Owen Daniels - HOU
4
0
7
11
Jeremy Shockey - NOS
2
2
9
13
Daniel Fells - STL
2
1
13
16
Bo Scaife - TEN
3
1
10
14
Dallas Clark - IND
3
1
2
6
Fred Davis - WAS
2
3
11
16
Jared Cook - TEN
1
3
12
16
Tony Scheffler - DET
1
1
13
15
Delanie Walker - SFO
2
0
12
14
John Carlson - SEA
1
2
12
15
Evan Moore - CLE
3
1
8
12
 Totals
145
96
288

Table 2: 2010 TE Start Types Sorted By Top 36 TEs - Standard Scoring

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that there are about as many Excellent Starts (145) as Quality Starts (96), and the numbers are similar to 2009 (141 and 87), so that gives me a good idea that the ranges are in line. Yes there are a large number of Bad Starts (288) but we are only looking for the best here, plus a "start" is not as definitive for a positional player that may just see partial playing time. The net results look like a good trend, which means that our distribution is close to normal and that our baseline point range does make sense.

Now, to dig deeper, let's look at the numbers distributed in two different ways. First, I need to define a valuable starting tight end in this system. We want a TE 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 NFL tight end. Here is the formula:

Starting Fantasy TE Value = Excellent Starts - Bad Starts

We neglect to look at Quality Starts because they neither win games nor lose them on average - they are just average TE 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:

Tight End
Type Of Start
Net Value
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Antonio Gates - SDC
8
1
1
10
7
Jason Witten - DAL
9
4
3
16
6
Vernon Davis - SFO
9
2
5
16
4
Marcedes Lewis - JAC
7
4
5
16
2
Chris Cooley - WAS
5
8
3
16
2
Dallas Clark - IND
3
1
2
6
1
Aaron Hernandez - NEP
6
2
6
14
0
Brandon Pettigrew - DET
5
5
6
16
-1
Todd Heap - BAL
4
4
5
13
-1
Zach Miller - OAK
5
3
7
15
-2
Rob Gronkowski - NEP
5
3
8
16
-3
Tony Gonzalez - ATL
5
3
8
16
-3
Ben Watson - CLE
5
3
8
16
-3
Jacob Tamme - IND
5
3
8
16
-3
Owen Daniels - HOU
4
0
7
11
-3
Kellen Winslow - TBB
5
2
9
16
-4
Dustin Keller - NYJ
4
4
8
16
-4
Kevin Boss - NYG
5
1
9
15
-4
Anthony Fasano - MIA
4
3
8
15
-4
Brent Celek - PHI
5
2
9
16
-4
Tony Moeaki - KCC
2
6
7
15
-5
Jermaine Gresham - CIN
4
2
9
15
-5
Jimmy Graham - NOS
3
4
8
15
-5
Evan Moore - CLE
3
1
8
12
-5
Greg Olsen - CHI
4
2
10
16
-6
Heath Miller - PIT
2
4
8
14
-6
Joel Dreessen - HOU
2
5
9
16
-7
Jeremy Shockey - NOS
2
2
9
13
-7
Bo Scaife - TEN
3
1
10
14
-7
Visanthe Shiancoe - MIN
3
1
12
16
-9
Fred Davis - WAS
2
3
11
16
-9
Delanie Walker - SFO
2
0
12
14
-10
Daniel Fells - STL
2
1
13
16
-11
Jared Cook - TEN
1
3
12
16
-11
John Carlson - SEA
1
2
12
15
-11
Tony Scheffler - DET
1
1
13
15
-12

Table 3: 2010 TE Start Types Sorted By Value - Standard Scoring

This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. For example, the Top 6 tight ends blew the competition away. Not only did Antonio Gates lead all tight ends, it is remarkable in that he only appeared in 10 games. Dallas Clark (+1 Net Value) should also not be overlooked since he was a top tight end despite just six games played last season.

Lastly I will sift through it 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 TEs on the 2011 ADP list.

Tight End
Type Of Start
Net Value
ADP
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Antonio Gates - SDC
8
1
1
10
7
34
Jason Witten - DAL
9
4
3
16
6
50
Vernon Davis - SFO
9
2
5
16
4
58
Marcedes Lewis - JAC
7
4
5
16
2
97
Chris Cooley - WAS
5
8
3
16
2
118
Dallas Clark - IND
3
1
2
6
1
46
Aaron Hernandez - NEP
6
2
6
14
0
157
Brandon Pettigrew - DET
5
5
6
16
-1
124
Todd Heap - BAL
4
4
5
13
-1
218
Zach Miller - OAK
5
3
7
15
-2
94
Rob Gronkowski - NEP
5
3
8
16
-3
107
Tony Gonzalez - ATL
5
3
8
16
-3
119
Ben Watson - CLE
5
3
8
16
-3
220
Jacob Tamme - IND
5
3
8
16
-3
254
Owen Daniels - HOU
4
0
7
11
-3
80
Kellen Winslow - TBB
5
2
9
16
-4
110
Dustin Keller - NYJ
4
4
8
16
-4
158
Kevin Boss - NYG
5
1
9
15
-4
270
Brent Celek - PHI
5
2
9
16
-4
164
Tony Moeaki - KCC
2
6
7
15
-5
170
Jermaine Gresham - CIN
4
2
9
15
-5
202
Jimmy Graham - NOS
3
4
8
15
-5
83
Greg Olsen - CHI
4
2
10
16
-6
215
Heath Miller - PIT
2
4
8
14
-6
201
Visanthe Shiancoe - MIN
3
1
12
16
-9
256
Jared Cook - TEN
1
3
12
16
-11
181
John Carlson - SEA
1
2
12
15
-11
264

Table 4: 2011 Top Drafted TEs Sorted By 2010 Value - Standard Scoring

Note that rookies Kyle Rudolph (MIN) and Lance Kendricks (STL) are missing from the list for the simple reason that they have not played an NFL contest yet. Jermichael Finley is also conspicuous by his absence, but his injury kept him from being anywhere close to the Top 36 last season Judging form last year, it would appear that Chris Cooley is the best value amongst the Top 12 TEs going off the draft board. Todd Heap and Ben Watson are interesting value tight ends once the Top 12 names come off the board. Most fantasy players have jumped on the Jimmy Graham hype train (and inflating his value), but savvy drafters who latch on to a lesser known Jared Cook late in a draft could be richly rewarded despite terrible value last year (with Bo Scaife as the starter in Tennessee). That brings up an important point, which is that this is based solely on last year's results. There is no reason to believe in 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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