Quality Starts - Running Back (PPR 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 (Michael Bush, 224.5 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 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 10.5
Quality Start
10.6 to 17.5
Excellent Start
17.6+

Table 1: 2011 RB Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - PPR 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
14
2
0
16
LeSean McCoy
PHI
11
3
1
15
Arian Foster
HOU
10
2
1
13
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
8
7
1
16
Darren Sproles
NOS
8
6
2
16
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
8
3
4
15
Ryan Mathews
SDC
6
4
4
14
Michael Turner
ATL
5
7
4
16
Chris Johnson
TEN
4
7
5
16
Steven Jackson
STL
4
7
4
15
Matt Forte
CHI
7
4
1
12
Michael Bush
OAK
7
3
6
16
Reggie Bush
MIA
5
5
5
15
Fred Jackson
BUF
6
4
0
10
Adrian Peterson
MIN
5
4
3
12
Mike Tolbert
SDC
3
5
7
15
Frank Gore
SFO
4
6
6
16
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
4
6
2
12
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
2
8
6
16
Shonn Greene
NYJ
3
5
8
16
Pierre Thomas
NOS
2
8
6
16
Rashard Mendenhall
PIT
4
4
7
15
Chris Wells
ARI
3
5
6
14
Roy Helu
WAS
3
3
9
15
Willis McGahee
DEN
2
6
7
15
Cedric Benson
CIN
2
4
9
15
C.J. Spiller
BUF
4
0
12
16
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
2
5
9
16
DeAngelo Williams
CAR
2
4
10
16
DeMarco Murray
DAL
3
2
8
13
Dexter McCluster
KCC
2
4
10
16
Ben Tate
HOU
2
4
8
14
LeGarrette Blount
TBB
4
1
9
14
Brandon Jacobs
NYG
2
4
8
14
LaDainian Tomlinson
NYJ
1
5
8
14
Darren McFadden
OAK
2
3
2
7
Donald Brown
IND
1
3
8
12
Ryan Grant
GBP
2
1
12
15
Toby Gerhart
MIN
3
2
10
15
Felix Jones
DAL
2
4
6
12
Kevin Smith
DET
3
1
3
7
James Starks
GBP
0
5
8
13
Jahvid Best
DET
2
3
1
6
Peyton Hillis
CLE
2
4
4
10
Kendall Hunter
SFO
0
4
11
15
Mark Ingram
NOS
0
5
5
10
Maurice Morris
DET
2
1
10
13
Isaac Redman
PIT
1
2
12
15
Marion Barber
CHI
1
1
9
11
Jackie Battle
KCC
0
3
12
15
Totals
183
199
309

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

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that there are not quite as many Excellent Starts (183) as Quality Starts (199), but given some injuries and more committee backfields it does make sense that there would be fewer elite performances. In comparison to the last three seasons, the numbers are not too far apart (221 Excellent Starts in 2008 as compared to 210 Quality Starts, while 2009 was 183 and 229 and 2010 was 146 and 218). There are a lot of Bad Starts (309), 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 interesting part in 2011 is that Excellent Starts expanded once again to 183, a much sharper rise than 2010's 146 total, or less than 10 per week. That seems to be related to the higher threshold for excellence in 2010, as it took over 19.2 points that year to qualify while it was just 17.5 or more in 2009 and a similar total of 17.6 or more points in 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 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
14
2
0
16
14
LeSean McCoy
PHI
11
3
1
15
10
Arian Foster
HOU
10
2
1
13
9
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
8
7
1
16
7
Darren Sproles
NOS
8
6
2
16
6
Matt Forte
CHI
7
4
1
12
6
Fred Jackson
BUF
6
4
0
10
6
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
8
3
4
15
4
Ryan Mathews
SDC
6
4
4
14
2
Adrian Peterson
MIN
5
4
3
12
2
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
4
6
2
12
2
Michael Turner
ATL
5
7
4
16
1
Michael Bush
OAK
7
3
6
16
1
Jahvid Best
DET
2
3
1
6
1
Steven Jackson
STL
4
7
4
15
0
Reggie Bush
MIA
5
5
5
15
0
Darren McFadden
OAK
2
3
2
7
0
Kevin Smith
DET
3
1
3
7
0
Chris Johnson
TEN
4
7
5
16
-1
Frank Gore
SFO
4
6
6
16
-2
Peyton Hillis
CLE
2
4
4
10
-2
Rashard Mendenhall
PIT
4
4
7
15
-3
Beanie Wells
ARI
3
5
6
14
-3
Mike Tolbert
SDC
3
5
7
15
-4
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
2
8
6
16
-4
Pierre Thomas
NOS
2
8
6
16
-4
Felix Jones
DAL
2
4
6
12
-4
Shonn Greene
NYJ
3
5
8
16
-5
Willis McGahee
DEN
2
6
7
15
-5
DeMarco Murray
DAL
3
2
8
13
-5
LeGarrette Blount
TBB
4
1
9
14
-5
Mark Ingram
NOS
0
5
5
10
-5
Roy Helu
WAS
3
3
9
15
-6
Ben Tate
HOU
2
4
8
14
-6
Brandon Jacobs
NYG
2
4
8
14
-6
Cedric Benson
CIN
2
4
9
15
-7
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
2
5
9
16
-7
LaDainian Tomlinson
NYJ
1
5
8
14
-7
Donald Brown
IND
1
3
8
12
-7
Toby Gerhart
MIN
3
2
10
15
-7
C.J. Spiller
BUF
4
0
12
16
-8
DeAngelo Williams
CAR
2
4
10
16
-8
Dexter McCluster
KCC
2
4
10
16
-8
James Starks
GBP
0
5
8
13
-8
Maurice Morris
DET
2
1
10
13
-8
Marion Barber
CHI
1
1
9
11
-8
Ryan Grant
GBP
2
1
12
15
-10
Kendall Hunter
SFO
0
4
11
15
-11
Isaac Redman
PIT
1
2
12
15
-11
Jackie Battle
KCC
0
3
12
15
-12

Table 3: 2011 RB Start Types Sorted By Value - PPR Scoring

This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. For example, the Top 10-12 names should come as no surprise except for Darren Sproles, a surprising entry from last season with a great year with the New Orleans Saints. Ray Rice was atop the list in part because he had zero bad starts, but so did Fred Jackson, who could represent great draft value for 2012.

Much more can be learned by looking at the players in the negative value range. Frank Gore was clearly wearing down as he moved closer to the end of his career. LeGarrette Blount and Cedric Benson were solid fantasy backs, but they could not crack into the Top 12 due to their lack of involvement in their respective passing games. Rashard Mendenhall gave clues to problems in his production even before his knee injury, so Isaac Redman should be a valuable draft pick either way this year.

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
14
2
0
16
14
2
LeSean McCoy
PHI
11
3
1
15
10
3
Arian Foster
HOU
10
2
1
13
9
1
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
8
7
1
16
7
5
Fred Jackson
BUF
6
4
0
10
6
37
Darren Sproles
NOS
8
6
2
16
6
32
Matt Forte
CHI
7
4
1
12
6
15
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
8
3
4
15
4
17
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
4
6
2
12
2
36
Adrian Peterson
MIN
5
4
3
12
2
18
Ryan Mathews
SDC
6
4
4
14
2
7
Michael Bush
OAK
7
3
6
16
1
89
Jahvid Best
DET
2
3
1
6
1
76
Michael Turner
ATL
5
7
4
16
1
41
Reggie Bush
MIA
5
5
5
15
0
52
Steven Jackson
STL
4
7
4
15
0
30
Darren McFadden
OAK
2
3
2
7
0
11
Chris Johnson
TEN
4
7
5
16
-1
8
Peyton Hillis
CLE
2
4
4
10
-2
86
Frank Gore
SFO
4
6
6
16
-2
38
Beanie Wells
ARI
3
5
6
14
-3
56
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
2
8
6
16
-4
69
Mark Ingram
NOS
0
5
5
10
-5
83
Willis McGahee
DEN
2
6
7
15
-5
77
Shonn Greene
NYJ
3
5
8
16
-5
63
DeMarco Murray
DAL
3
2
8
13
-5
16
Ben Tate
HOU
2
4
8
14
-6
84
Roy Helu
WAS
3
3
9
15
-6
55
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
2
5
9
16
-7
62
DeAngelo Williams
CAR
2
4
10
16
-8
80
C.J. Spiller
BUF
4
0
12
16
-8
74
Isaac Redman
PIT
1
2
12
15
-11
71

Table 4: 2012 Top Drafted RBs Sorted By 2011 Value - PPR 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 is in the ADP Top 36 but he finished outside of the Top 50 RBs last year (RB74).

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. Redman's worth cannot be fairly judged based on 2011 numbers as he is being earmarked as the Pittsburgh starter for this coming year. 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.

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