Quality Starts: Running Backs

Quality starts for 2019 for running backs using standard scoring

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 2019 season, the first attempt was to use the #12 RB for the year (Todd Gurley, 189.4 fantasy points) and take that fantasy total and divide it by 16 for a per game average. The next step, however, was to take all of the Top 50 running backs from 2019 and sort them on a per game average. That method can account for missed games or a per-start performance metric, which is how most fantasy team owners would decide their roster for the week. The RB12 on a per-game average basis last season in 2019 was also Todd Gurley, which is rather unusual - but easily explained. The Top 12 running backs from last season played 180 combined games out of a possible 192 - meaning that the fantasy RB1s averaged only one game missed. The only Top 12 running backs to miss more than one game were Saquan Barkley (13 games played), Dalvin Cook (14) and Josh Jacobs (14). As the saying goes, the best ability is often availability, and these elite backs not only performed well but also stayed healthy. So for 2019, Todd Gurley - the RB12 by either his season-long numbers or his per-game average (12.63 points), will be the baseline for evaluating quality running back performances for last season. Now it is reasonable to also acknowledge that 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 an RB1 and a great RB2.

Next, we move on to the more meaningful question - one of quantifying the quality. At what point do we decide whether or not a running back has given us a quality performance? Here is where it gets a bit murky, but looking at the distribution of running back performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th running back average and adding or subtracting a percentage gives us a good range for an 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 9.4
Quality Start
9.5 to 15.7
Excellent Start

Table 1: 2019 RB Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - Standard Scoring

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

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