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Quality Starts: Quarterbacks - Footballguys

Quality Starts for 2017 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 2017 season, at first, I considered taking the No. 12 quarterback for the year (Jared Goff, Derek Carr, 307.4 fantasy points) and dividing his total by 16 for a game average, just like I have used as a baseline in previous years. This approach was flawed, because it might be overlooking some quarterbacks who had a better per-game performance but missed playing time due to injury. As luck would have it, sorting the quarterbacks by weekly performance average also put Goff at QB12, while also including two elite options (Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers) who missed action due to injuries. Both methods led to Goff, so there was no disputing the decision to use his numbers at QB12 as the baseline for the 2017 season. While some of these decisions (targeting QB12 based on two different ranking methods) may seem a bit arbitrary, many second-tier quarterbacks (QB6 to QB17) all fall into a similar range between 19-22 points per start, and a similar range of quarterbacks (QB7-13) exists when you rank them by total points for the season (between 328.8 and 307.4 points). The best reason of all to use the average of these two methods for 2017 is because of those two elite quarterbacks that missed time due to injuries. If we do not consider the average method, both Rodgers' and Watson'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 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 Range
Bad Start 0 to 15.4
Quality Start 15.5 to 25.6
Excellent Start 25.7+

Table 1: 2017 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 Tom Savage started Week 1 last year and gets benched at halftime (and this did happen), Savage is subject to the study (in Week 1) and Deshaun Watson (in Week 1) is not. That's an important distinction, as several quarterbacks 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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