Quality Starts - Running Back (Standard Scoring)
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 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 2011 season, I decided to take the #12 RB for the year (Reggie Bush, 179.8 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 RB12 seems a bit arbitrary, but if you are looking for a bare minimum of quality, the 12th RB should be the "worst starter" in your fantasy league as a RB1 and a great RB2.

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 RB performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th RB average and adding or subtracting a percentage gives us a good range for a RB Quality Start.

Using the RB 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:

RB Start Type
Fantasy Points
Bad Start
0 to 8.4
Quality Start
8.5 to 14.0
Excellent Start
14.1+

Table 1: 2011 RB Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - Standard Scoring

Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all the Top 50 RBs and how many of each type of start resulted for each:

Running Back
Team
Type Of Start
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Ray Rice
BAL
13
1
2
16
LeSean McCoy
PHI
11
3
1
15
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
9
7
0
16
Arian Foster
HOU
9
2
2
13
Darren Sproles
NOS
9
5
2
16
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
9
2
4
15
Michael Turner
ATL
5
6
5
16
Adrian Peterson
MIN
5
5
2
12
Ryan Mathews
SDC
7
3
4
14
Michael Bush
OAK
6
4
6
16
Steven Jackson
STL
4
7
4
15
Reggie Bush
MIA
6
4
5
15
Frank Gore
SFO
5
5
6
16
Matt Forte
CHI
5
5
2
12
Fred Jackson
BUF
6
3
1
10
Beanie Wells
ARI
5
3
6
14
Chris Johnson
TEN
3
5
8
16
Shonn Greene
NYJ
3
4
9
16
Mike Tolbert
SDC
2
6
7
15
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
5
5
2
12
Rashard Mendenhall
PIT
4
5
6
15
Willis McGahee
DEN
5
3
6
14
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
4
4
8
16
Cedric Benson
CIN
4
3
8
15
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
3
7
6
16
DeAngelo Williams
CAR
4
2
10
16
Pierre Thomas
NOS
3
4
8
15
C.J. Spiller
BUF
4
0
12
16
Ben Tate
HOU
3
4
7
14
Brandon Jacobs
NYG
3
3
8
14
DeMarco Murray
DAL
3
2
8
13
LeGarrette Blount
TBB
3
3
8
14
Roy Helu
WAS
2
4
9
15
Dexter McCluster
KCC
2
2
12
16
Darren McFadden
OAK
4
1
2
7
Donald Brown
IND
2
3
7
12
Toby Gerhart
MIN
2
4
9
15
Ryan Grant
GBP
2
2
11
15
Kevin Smith
DET
2
2
3
7
LaDainian Tomlinson
NYJ
1
3
10
14
Peyton Hillis
CLE
2
3
5
10
Felix Jones
DAL
1
3
8
12
Leon Washington
SEA
1
1
14
16
Jahvid Best
DET
2
3
1
6
James Starks
GBP
0
5
7
12
Kendall Hunter
SFO
0
4
12
16
Jackie Battle
KCC
0
3
12
15
Marion Barber
CHI
1
4
6
11
Mark Ingram
NOS
1
5
4
10
LaRod Stephens-Howling
ARI
2
1
11
14
Totals
197
178
316

Table 2: 2011 RB Start Types Sorted By Top 50 RBs - Standard Scoring

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that there are almost as many Excellent Starts (197) as Quality Starts (178), but given some injuries and more committee backfields it does make sense that there would be fewer elite performances. In comparison to 2008 and 2009, the numbers are not too far apart (186 Excellent Starts in 2008 as compared to 184 Quality Starts, while 2009 was 173 and 192). We had a nice upswing in Excellence (197 in 2011, compared to 2010's 154, 2009's 173 and 2008's 186) but that is not a complete picture. The Excellence line was significantly lower in 2011 (14.1+ points) than in 2010 (16+) and 2009 (15.3) so the bar was lowered, so it makes sense that more running backs attained more excellent ratings. While in the big picture it may not matter we do want RB12s and higher, regardless but it does show how much RB value has declined with the passing game taking off in today's NFL.

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 RB 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 running back. Here is the formula:

Starting Fantasy RB 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 RB 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:

Running Back
Team
Type Of Start
Net Value
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Ray Rice
BAL
13
1
2
16
11
LeSean McCoy
PHI
11
3
1
15
10
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
9
7
0
16
9
Arian Foster
HOU
9
2
2
13
7
Darren Sproles
NOS
9
5
2
16
7
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
9
2
4
15
5
Fred Jackson
BUF
6
3
1
10
5
Adrian Peterson
MIN
5
5
2
12
3
Ryan Mathews
SDC
7
3
4
14
3
Matt Forte
CHI
5
5
2
12
3
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
5
5
2
12
3
Darren McFadden
OAK
4
1
2
7
2
Reggie Bush
MIA
6
4
5
15
1
Jahvid Best
DET
2
3
1
6
1
Michael Turner
ATL
5
6
5
16
0
Michael Bush
OAK
6
4
6
16
0
Steven Jackson
STL
4
7
4
15
0
Frank Gore
SFO
5
5
6
16
-1
Beanie Wells
ARI
5
3
6
14
-1
Willis McGahee
DEN
5
3
6
14
-1
Kevin Smith
DET
2
2
3
7
-1
Rashard Mendenhall
PIT
4
5
6
15
-2
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
3
7
6
16
-3
Peyton Hillis
CLE
2
3
5
10
-3
Mark Ingram
NOS
1
5
4
10
-3
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
4
4
8
16
-4
Cedric Benson
CIN
4
3
8
15
-4
Ben Tate
HOU
3
4
7
14
-4
Chris Johnson
TEN
3
5
8
16
-5
Mike Tolbert
SDC
2
6
7
15
-5
Pierre Thomas
NOS
3
4
8
15
-5
Brandon Jacobs
NYG
3
3
8
14
-5
DeMarco Murray
DAL
3
2
8
13
-5
LeGarrette Blount
TBB
3
3
8
14
-5
Donald Brown
IND
2
3
7
12
-5
Marion Barber
CHI
1
4
6
11
-5
Shonn Greene
NYJ
3
4
9
16
-6
DeAngelo Williams
CAR
4
2
10
16
-6
Roy Helu
WAS
2
4
9
15
-7
Toby Gerhart
MIN
2
4
9
15
-7
Felix Jones
DAL
1
3
8
12
-7
James Starks
GBP
0
5
7
12
-7
C.J. Spiller
BUF
4
0
12
16
-8
Ryan Grant
GBP
2
2
11
15
-9
LaDainian Tomlinson
NYJ
1
3
10
14
-9
LaRod Stephens-Howling
ARI
2
1
11
14
-9
Dexter McCluster
KCC
2
2
12
16
-10
Kendall Hunter
SFO
0
4
12
16
-12
Jackie Battle
KCC
0
3
12
15
-12
Leon Washington
SEA
1
1
14
16
-13

Table 3: 2011 RB 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 4 names should come as no surprise, but a non-PPR stud like Darren Sproles is right there with some of the bigger names. If New Orleans operates their offense similarly to last year, Sproles could be a great value for 2012. Marshawn Lynch is also right up there, so if you get a late first round pick you can do much worse than picking him this year. Two surprises come shortly thereafter as both Darren McFadden and Reggie Bush are solid values one due to injury risk (McFadden) and the other (Bush) because he is usually not considered too valuable in non-PPR leagues.

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 36 RBs on the 2012 ADP list.

Running Back
Team
Type Of Start
Net Value
ADP
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Ray Rice
BAL
13
1
2
16
11
2
LeSean McCoy
PHI
11
3
1
15
10
3
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
9
7
0
16
9
6
Arian Foster
HOU
9
2
2
13
7
1
Darren Sproles
NOS
9
5
2
16
7
31
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
9
2
4
15
5
13
Fred Jackson
BUF
6
3
1
10
5
34
Ryan Mathews
SDC
7
3
4
14
3
7
Matt Forte
CHI
5
5
2
12
3
15
Adrian Peterson
MIN
5
5
2
12
3
26
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
5
5
2
12
3
37
Darren McFadden
OAK
4
1
2
7
2
11
Reggie Bush
MIA
6
4
5
15
1
47
Jahvid Best
DET
2
3
1
6
1
76
Steven Jackson
STL
4
7
4
15
0
27
Michael Turner
ATL
5
6
5
16
0
35
Michael Bush
OAK
6
4
6
16
0
80
Frank Gore
SFO
5
5
6
16
-1
39
Beanie Wells
ARI
5
3
6
14
-1
52
Willis McGahee
DEN
5
3
6
14
-1
70
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
3
7
6
16
-3
71
Peyton Hillis
CLE
2
3
5
10
-3
79
Mark Ingram
NOS
1
5
4
10
-3
84
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
4
4
8
16
-4
62
Ben Tate
HOU
3
4
7
14
-4
89
Chris Johnson
TEN
3
5
8
16
-5
8
DeMarco Murray
DAL
3
2
8
13
-5
19
Shonn Greene
NYJ
3
4
9
16
-6
63
DeAngelo Williams
CAR
4
2
10
16
-6
77
Roy Helu
WAS
2
4
9
15
-7
54
C.J. Spiller
BUF
4
0
12
16
-8
75
Isaac Redman
PIT
1
2
12
15
-11
71

Table 4: 2012 Top Drafted RBs Sorted By 2011 Value - Standard Scoring

Note that two rookies in the Top 36 ADP list (Trent Richardson, Doug Martin) are absent for the simple reason that they did not start any games last year, while Jamaal Charles is missing due to his knee injury just before last season. New England's Stevan Ridley and Pittsburgh's Isaac Redman are both in the ADP Top 36 but both finished outside of the Top 50 RBs last year (RB62 and RB52, respectively).

Judging from 2011, it seems that Fred Jackson and Darren Sproles would appear be great values, but there is no guarantee that they see the same workloads for this coming season. If Matt Forte holds out in Chicago, Michael Bush has great value as a later round running back to snag who could prove to be a stud starter. A healthy Jahvid Best in Detroit would also represent strong value. Chris Johnson looks to be a disappointing pick for 2012, but he has rededicated himself to having a much better 2012 season. 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 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