Quality Starts - Quarterback
By Jeff Pasquino
Jul 18th, 2012

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 2011 season, I decided to take the #12 quarterback for the year (Michael Vick, 288.1 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 10-14 quarterbacks 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 quarterback 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 quarterback performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th quarterback 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 13.5
Quality Start
13.6 to 22.5
Excellent Start
22.6+

Table 1: 2011 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 quarterbacks that started an NFL game. That means if Michael Vick started Week 10 last year but gets hurt, Vick is subject to the study (in Week 10) and Vince Young (in Week 10) is not. That's an important distinction, as several quarterbacks 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 quarterback games spread across 57 NFL quarterbacks from 2011. 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
Drew Brees
NOS
12
4
0
16
Aaron Rodgers
GBP
14
1
0
15
Tom Brady
NEP
11
5
0
16
Cam Newton
CAR
10
6
0
16
Matthew Stafford
DET
10
5
1
16
Eli Manning
NYG
8
7
1
16
Tony Romo
DAL
8
6
2
16
Matt Ryan
ATL
7
7
2
16
Philip Rivers
SDC
6
7
3
16
Mark Sanchez
NYJ
5
8
3
16
Ryan Fitzpatrick
BUF
5
5
6
16
Michael Vick
PHI
7
3
3
13
Ben Roethlisberger
PIT
4
7
4
15
Josh Freeman
TBB
4
9
2
15
Joe Flacco
BAL
2
8
6
16
Andy Dalton
CIN
4
7
5
16
Alex Smith
SFO
2
9
5
16
Matt Hasselbeck
TEN
2
8
6
16
Tim Tebow
DEN
3
7
1
11
Tarvaris Jackson
SEA
1
7
6
14
Rex Grossman
WAS
2
6
5
13
Colt McCoy
CLE
0
9
4
13
Matt Moore
MIA
2
6
4
12
Matt Schaub
HOU
3
4
3
10
Carson Palmer
OAK
2
6
1
9
Jay Cutler
CHI
2
5
3
10
Blaine Gabbert
JAC
0
4
10
14
Christian Ponder
MIN
2
4
4
10
John Skelton
ARI
1
4
2
7
Kevin Kolb
ARI
1
4
4
9
Sam Bradford
STL
0
3
7
10
Matt Cassel
KCC
1
4
4
9
Kyle Orton
KCC
1
5
2
8
Curtis Painter
IND
0
4
4
8
Jason Campbell
OAK
1
3
2
6
Dan Orlovsky
IND
1
2
2
5
Donovan McNabb
MIN
0
3
3
6
Chad Henne
MIA
1
2
1
4
John Beck
WAS
1
1
1
3
T.J. Yates
HOU
1
1
3
5
Joe Webb
MIN
0
0
0
0
Vince Young
PHI
1
2
0
3
Jake Locker
TEN
0
0
0
0
Matt Flynn
GBP
1
0
0
1
Seneca Wallace
CLE
0
1
2
3
Kellen Clemens
STL
0
2
1
3
Caleb Hanie
CHI
1
0
3
4
Tyler Palko
KCC
0
1
3
4
Josh McCown
CHI
0
2
0
2
Kerry Collins
IND
0
1
2
3
A.J. Feeley
STL
0
0
3
3
Josh Johnson
TBB
0
1
0
1
Charlie Whitehurst
SEA
0
0
2
2
Luke McCown
JAC
0
0
2
2
Charlie Batch
PIT
0
0
1
1
Kyle Boller
OAK
0
0
1
1
Matt Leinart
HOU
0
0
1
1
Totals
150
216
146

Table 2: 2011 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" the exact same amount as in 2010. In 2011 there were about the same number of Excellent Starts (150) as there are in the Bad Start category (146). 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). Last year looks mostly like 2008 and 2007, which is an interesting finding. The difference from the first two seasons (2007, 2008) to the next two (2009, 2010) was the higher score needed for an Excellent Start went up in 2009 - and remained there in 2010. The number stayed high last year, but the talent pool at quarterback seemed to catch up. In Table 1 we saw that Excellent Starts required over 22.6 points, close to the 2010 number (2010) whereas in both 2008 and 2007 the line was just over 20 points. So now after seeing a two-year trend away from a normal distribution ("Excellent" and "Bad" about equal, with "Quality" more than either), the quarterback talent in the NFL has started to catch up and make the distribution normal again. That is an important distinction, and a strong argument to consider not reaching for a quarterback early in 2012 fantasy drafts.

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 quarterback 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 quarterback 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
Aaron Rodgers
GBP
14
1
0
15
14
Drew Brees
NOS
12
4
0
16
12
Tom Brady
NEP
11
5
0
16
11
Cam Newton
CAR
10
6
0
16
10
Matthew Stafford
DET
10
5
1
16
9
Eli Manning
NYG
8
7
1
16
7
Tony Romo
DAL
8
6
2
16
6
Matt Ryan
ATL
7
7
2
16
5
Michael Vick
PHI
7
3
3
13
4
Philip Rivers
SDC
6
7
3
16
3
Tim Tebow
DEN
3
7
1
11
2
Mark Sanchez
NYJ
5
8
3
16
2
Josh Freeman
TBB
4
9
2
15
2
Matt Flynn
GBP
1
0
0
1
1
Vince Young
PHI
1
2
0
3
1
Carson Palmer
OAK
2
6
1
9
1
Joe Webb
MIN
0
0
0
0
0
Jake Locker
TEN
0
0
0
0
0
Josh Johnson
TBB
0
1
0
1
0
John Beck
WAS
1
1
1
3
0
Josh McCown
CHI
0
2
0
2
0
Chad Henne
MIA
1
2
1
4
0
Matt Schaub
HOU
3
4
3
10
0
Ben Roethlisberger
PIT
4
7
4
15
0
Charlie Batch
PIT
0
0
1
1
-1
Kyle Boller
OAK
0
0
1
1
-1
Matt Leinart
HOU
0
0
1
1
-1
Kellen Clemens
STL
0
2
1
3
-1
Dan Orlovsky
IND
1
2
2
5
-1
Jason Campbell
OAK
1
3
2
6
-1
John Skelton
ARI
1
4
2
7
-1
Kyle Orton
KCC
1
5
2
8
-1
Jay Cutler
CHI
2
5
3
10
-1
Ryan Fitzpatrick
BUF
5
5
6
16
-1
Andy Dalton
CIN
4
7
5
16
-1
Charlie Whitehurst
SEA
0
0
2
2
-2
Luke McCown
JAC
0
0
2
2
-2
Seneca Wallace
CLE
0
1
2
3
-2
Caleb Hanie
CHI
1
0
3
4
-2
Kerry Collins
IND
0
1
2
3
-2
T.J. Yates
HOU
1
1
3
5
-2
Christian Ponder
MIN
2
4
4
10
-2
Matt Moore
MIA
2
6
4
12
-2
A.J. Feeley
STL
0
0
3
3
-3
Tyler Palko
KCC
0
1
3
4
-3
Donovan McNabb
MIN
0
3
3
6
-3
Kevin Kolb
ARI
1
4
4
9
-3
Matt Cassel
KCC
1
4
4
9
-3
Rex Grossman
WAS
2
6
5
13
-3
Alex Smith
SFO
2
9
5
16
-3
Curtis Painter
IND
0
4
4
8
-4
Colt McCoy
CLE
0
9
4
13
-4
Joe Flacco
BAL
2
8
6
16
-4
Matt Hasselbeck
TEN
2
8
6
16
-4
Tarvaris Jackson
SEA
1
7
6
14
-5
Sam Bradford
STL
0
3
7
10
-7
Blaine Gabbert
JAC
0
4
10
14
-10

Table 3: 2011 QB Start Types Sorted By Value

This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. Let's start right at the top, where we find the first four quarterbacks all listed with zero bad starts from 2011. That's an incredible feat, and one of the reasons why the best 4-5 quarterbacks are all being selected relatively early in fantasy drafts this year. Many of the other top names are in the Top 10 of this list, and Peyton Manning gets a pass due to his injury. Sam Bradford's struggles also leap off of the page, as do the woeful years of Blaine Gabbert and Colt McCoy. Joe Flacco looks like he had a terrible season as well, but his late season surge of 11 touchdowns in his final six games shows upside. Matt Hasselbeck was also low on the list due to Jake Locker entering several contests late.

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 quarterbacks on the 2012 ADP list.

Quarterback
Team
Type Of Start
Net Value
ADP
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Aaron Rodgers
GBP
14
1
0
15
14
4
Drew Brees
NOS
12
4
0
16
12
10
Tom Brady
NEP
11
5
0
16
11
9
Cam Newton
CAR
10
6
0
16
10
18
Matthew Stafford
DET
10
5
1
16
9
20
Eli Manning
NYG
8
7
1
16
7
48
Tony Romo
DAL
8
6
2
16
6
53
Matt Ryan
ATL
7
7
2
16
5
72
Michael Vick
PHI
7
3
3
13
4
40
Philip Rivers
SDC
6
7
3
16
3
51
Josh Freeman
TBB
4
9
2
15
2
122
Tim Tebow
DEN
3
7
1
11
2
189
Mark Sanchez
NYJ
5
8
3
16
2
200
Carson Palmer
OAK
2
6
1
9
1
135
Matt Flynn
GBP
1
0
0
1
1
175
Matt Schaub
HOU
3
4
3
10
0
85
Ben Roethlisberger
PIT
4
7
4
15
0
103
Jake Locker
TEN
0
0
0
0
0
218
Jay Cutler
CHI
2
5
3
10
-1
96
Andy Dalton
CIN
4
7
5
16
-1
125
Ryan Fitzpatrick
BUF
5
5
6
16
-1
140
Christian Ponder
MIN
2
4
4
10
-2
237
Alex Smith
SFO
2
9
5
16
-3
174
Matt Cassel
KCC
1
4
4
9
-3
252
Joe Flacco
BAL
2
8
6
16
-4
138
Sam Bradford
STL
0
3
7
10
-7
151

Table 4: 2012 Top Drafted QBs Sorted By 2011 Value

Note that Peyton Manning is absent from the above list for the simple reason that he did not start any games last year, while all four rookies (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden) are also not listed.

Judging from last season, it would appear that Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and Matt Ryan are the best value picks amongst Top 10 ADP quarterbacks. Coaching changes in Atlanta are also hinting at a more wide open passing attack, giving more upside to Ryan for 2012. Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler appear to be being overdrafted until you factor in Schaub's injury time last season as well as the addition of Brandon Marshall in Chicago, giving upside for both quarterbacks. Carson Palmer has very good upside and sleeper quarterback value given he only had nine starts last year and will now have a full offseason under his belt for this year. Alex Smith and Joe Flacco look as though they do not belong in the next tier of quarterback off the board unless you believe Randy Moss and Torrey Smith will bring upside over last year's numbers. That's the biggest warning here - there is no reason to believe all of these numbers as indications of 2012 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.

© 2012 Footballguys - All Rights Reserved