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Quality Starts: Quarterbacks

Quality Starts for 2016 Quarterbacks

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 2016 season, at first I considered taking the #12 QB for the year (Derek Carr, 321.55 fantasy points) and dividing his total by 16 for a game average, just like I have used as a baseline in previous years.  I saw immediately that this approach was flawed, if only for the fact that Carr missed a game in Week 17 last year.  To rectify this dilemma, I considered two options - Carr's numbers divided by 15 games (since no one would have started him in Week 17 anyway) and also ranking all the quarterbacks with at least 12 starts by weekly average, then using QB12 based on that sorting method.  Both ways gave me roughly the same answer (Option 1, Carr over 15 games, works out to 21.4, while the 12th average score was 20.9), so I chose this year to baseline on the average of those two answers (21.15).  While some of these decisions (targeting QB12 based on two different ranking methods) may seem a bit arbitrary, but many second tier quarterbacks (QB8 to QB18) all fall into a similar range between 20-22 points per start, and a similar range of quarterbacks (QB10-19) exists when you rank them by total points for the season (between 328.1 and 307 points).  The best reason of all to use the average of these two methods for 2016 is because of Tom Brady, who only played 12 games due to a suspension but was the second-best quarterback on a per-game basis (just behind Andrew Luck).  If we do not consider the average method, Brady's strong numbers are not even considered, so a blended average is definitely the best option.  Lastly, overall we are targeting QB12 as a bare minimum of quality, as 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 15.6
Quality Start 15.7 to 26.1
Excellent Start 26.2+

Table 1: 2016 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 Marcus Mariota started Week 16 last year but gets hurt (and this did happen), Mariota is subject to the study (in Week 16) and Matt Cassel (in Week 16) is not. That's an important distinction, as several QBs have had great games in relief yet they should not get counted, simply because no one would have started them on their fantasy roster that week with them expected to do nothing but hold a clipboard on gameday. 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.

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