Sunday, August 4, 2013

Points Per 90: an alternate look at adjusting for different numbers of games played

I was doing some research trying to pick my players for gameweek 24 and noticed Lamar Neagle's points per game was a mere 4.4. Something seemed very wrong and that this measurement was extremely under-valuing his production. I looked at some other players: Camilo, Villareal, Rodney Wallace, and all of them seemed to have PPG much lower than what I expected them to be. Most of the players who I found to have a large difference between their PPG and their PP90 were players who have had several appearances as substitutes.

So, I decided to nerd out about it and put all of the points and minutes for all players in the game with 500+ minutes into a spreadsheet. I calculated how many points per minute a player scored up to the all-star game (so only results up through week 23 are included here). I simply multiplied those by 90 to find how many points they would score if the player scored at that rate over an entire game. The tables below show the results by the three outfield positions.

There's a few things I want to talk about as potential uses of this data.

First, we can see that simply judging a player by their total points might not be the best way to judge a player's scoring potential because they might simply have played more minutes than players below them in the total score rankings. Higuain drops 8 ranks when comparing his total score to his PP90 and 4 ranks when comparing his PPG to his PP90 (ignoring players with fewer than 500 minutes played). Okugo drops 15 ranks and 10 ranks for the respective methods of ranking. Michelle drops 11 and 2. There's a lot of players that have higher scores simply because they have played more minutes. This could be because some of other players that show highly in my PP90 are subs (and shouldn't be considered for fantasy unless they lock down a starting role), it could be that a team has played fewer games than other teams (Seattle played 4 fewer games than Colorado), or a player could have missed games due to injury or national team duty.

Second, we can use the PP90 to try to find players flying under (or unrightly in) the radar. Players like Agudelo and Osorio have the potential to be great differentials for us. On the flip side, Okugo and Bieler are not nearly as good as their overall scores make them out to be.

Third, injuries to players ahead of them might lead to the opportunity for some of these players to be sweet differential picks. Hector Jimenez, Soony Saad, Kalif Alhassan, Olmes Garcia, Warren Creavalle, all scream "PICK ME! PICK ME!" should they lock down a starting role. Saad is the closest of that bunch to be able to lay claim to that title and might already have that position in lockdown.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Historical goal trends over the season: why the goals are about to temporarily dry up

A few weeks ago I espoused that the end of the goal drought was here and we would be seeing plenty more goals in the coming weeks. Well, I was right – in the short run. I want to give an updated and more informed idea of what the historical trend is.

I have gone back through this season and each of the six previous seasons and separated the games out into what would be considered a “normal” week for fantasy, meaning I generally grouped games Wednesday through Tuesday into one week (note: some instances required grouping multiple Wednesday through Tuesdays together to get a reasonable amount of games played). These breakdowns won’t be perfect, but they are decent enough for what I am looking to accomplish. I then looked at how far away that week was to the end of the season to adjust for the seasons that have had different numbers of actual games and gameweeks. From there, I created a 5-week moving average for the average number of goals scored for that week based on how many weeks it was until the end of the season. I chose a 5-week moving average for the sake of eliminating the variability from a single week’s potential for all favorable or unfavorable matchups, injuries, international duty, etc.

This graph shows the gist of what has happened, on average, over the last six seasons (excluding 2013). We are currently at 18 weeks remaining in this season, or exactly where the peak is in the middle of the graph. Historically, the goals tend to dry up over the next 5 weeks or so, to the lowest scoring rate we observe. I expect to see a similar decrease in goals for the next couple weeks as our current point for the last several weeks is way above the norm for having this much time left in the season. However, I don’t expect to reach the lows we see from a couple weeks ago, as that was also extremely irregular based on the other six seasons’ data.

I also did the same procedure looking at the 5-year moving average from the start of the season, instead of games until the end of the season. It produces the same general trends: mediocre start, a dip around the middle of the season, and then a rise as the playoff-battle heats up.

Looking at where we are in the cycle yields different results based on whether we want to look at things from the start of the season or work backwards from the end of the season. This is partially a result of the fact that none of the previous 6 seasons gave me more than 30 fantasy weeks, compared to this season’s 36. So, it makes sense to shift both of our current season lines two or three weeks in the proper direction, which would put us right on the first part of the downward slope for goal production.

Of course, this season could continue to be completely nuts and disregard the general trends that the last six seasons experienced. However, there is a significant enough system of peaks and troughs that I want to at least consider that in my transfers and setting my rosters. If my choices are playing my budget forward or my budget defender, I am going to choose the defender every time over the next couple weeks until we can expect production to increase during the final run-in.

Here's what the graphs look like for each individual year.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Goals for/against projections - weeks 18-21

Nothing too insightful this go around. Here's some tables that show each team's projected goals scored and projected goals conceded for the next couple of gameweeks. There's no doubles to worry about for the time being but plenty of blanks to work around.

 Projected goals conceded:

Projected goals scored:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Differential discussion: weeks 16-21

Alright, so we’re at a point in the season where almost all of us need to make up some ground on whoever we’re chasing. We won’t do that by making the safe play with all 11 of our starters. It’s time to take some risks, but who stands to benefit from their upcoming schedule? I’m going to explore potential differential picks for weeks 17-22. Keep in mind that these are potential differentials – they are designed to be high-risk / high-reward picks.

1. Camilo – At time of writing, Camilo was owned by just 3.8 percent of managers. Vancouver are projected to score the most goals in week 16, fifth most in week 18, third most in week 20, and second most in week 21. Going into the season, Camilo was rated as the 8th best value for all forwards, and I think he represents amazing value (priced at $7.8 at time of writing) over the next 6 weeks.

2. Graham Zusi – How the hell can he be a differential, everyone and their mother will pick him back up after the back-to-back blank? Exactly, EVERYONE will be grabbing him again, despite the fact that SKC is projected almost exactly average goals scored from weeks 17-21. What I’m proposing (and am going to do for my own team), is to ignore Zusi and spend the money elsewhere.

3. Patrice Bernier / Justin Mapp – Montreal are projected to score the highest average goals per game from weeks 18-22 (Note: blank in week 17). Neither are owned at more than 10 percent at time of writing. Both have had stretches of the season where they were fantastic, and they could both easily return to that form over this span.

4. David Ferreira / Blas Perez – Owned by 5 and 0.5 percent respectively of all managers. Dallas are projected to score the third most total goals from weeks 17-21. These are the engines of the Dallas attack, despite everyone clamoring about Michel (mostly because he’s playing out of position). Michel will be owned by tons of managers, but Ferreira and Perez won’t be.

5. Robbie Keane – As of week 15, only 15 managers in the top 1000 owned Keane. I imagine plenty will be bringing him back over the next several weeks, but plenty won’t be able/willing to do so. Lots of people have significant gains tied up in Jac Mac (who is still a good choice over weeks 17-21), and lots of people will be using their transfers to fix their teams after week 16 as every week from 17-21 has 3 teams missing a game each week. Keane won’t be as large a differential as those above, but enough to be mentioned because of how incredibly good LA’s attacking returns are projected to be through week 21 (most goals scored weeks 17-21, with most goals scored in week 17 and 20 and 5th most in week 19).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Goals scored and clean sheets: comparing historical averages to the season so far

The trend of scoring well below the historical average finally ended. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, defenders were king and forwards were more or less ignored. Many players opted to play 5-4-1 or 4-5-1 formations and lamented the fact that defenders were scoring far too many points relative to forwards. Three weeks ago, that all changed.

There were 2.86 goals scored per game over the last three weeks. (If we scored at that rate over all games this season, there would be 44 more goals scored this season than what have actually been scored). That brings the season average up to 2.48 GPG, still below the historical average. Over the last four years, we saw 2.57 GPG. If we simply apply the historical GPG to this season’s games played, we would have 303 goals - 10 more than we experienced. That isn’t too large to suggest any huge shift for our strategy. However, if we ignore the last three weeks and just look at how far behind we were during the first 10 weeks, we really see why I think it is time to divest from our defenders.

Over the first 10 weeks of the season, there were a measly 2.33 GPG (193 goals in 83 games). If we apply the historical rate of 2.57 GPG to those 83 games, we would have had 213 goals – 20 more than what we saw. That’s 100 points from goals alone and about 150 if you include assists at the historical rate. Most of those points would go to forwards. We’ll assume that about 60% (90 points) of them will go to forwards, 30% to midfielders, and 10% for defenders.

A mere 150 points doesn’t seem like it would make much a difference… and it really isn’t a colossal change. The big change comes when we look at the clean sheets. For this portion, I will assume teams use 4 defenders and a goalie, for 5 total “defenders”. 

So far this season, defenses have kept an astonishing 26.7% of possible clean sheets. Incredible. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, it was an even better 28.3% of possible clean sheets. Over the last four years, the rate of clean sheets is 13.7%. That means that teams so far this season are keeping clean sheets about twice as often as they have over the last four years. If we apply the historical rate of clean sheets to this season, there would be 32 fewer clean sheets this season than we’ve seen in reality (63). 32 clean sheets, times 4 points for a clean sheet, times 5 defenders = 640 more points earned by defenders this year from clean sheets than what would be expected based on historical averages. And just for fun we’ll add in the points lost (-1) for conceding two goals for each of the 20 more goals we would expect from historical rates and we get another 50 points that defenders have scored this year that they wouldn’t have. That is a total of 690 points defenders have earned this season above what is normal. That is HUGE and equates to 7.26 more points for each starting defender/keeper than what they were expected to earn.

Now I’ll apply these expected average adjustments from above (+2.37 for forwards and -7.06 for defenders) to the average score of the top 10 and top 25 for each position.

What to make from all of this? Defenders have been vastly outperforming historical averages; forwards have been slightly underperforming historical averages; and if we apply those averages to what has actually happened, top defenders should still be expected to outperform top forwards, but not by nearly as much as they have been this season. The assumption that those extra goals would be evenly distributed amongst all starting forwards is a bad assumption, because we would expect guys like Wondo, Henry, and Higuain to outscore guys like Tristen Bowen and Lionard Pajoy.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Projections week 13-17

 Projected goals against:
If you missed the explaination for these calculations the first time around, I basically just take the average of the team's goals conceded and their opponent's goals scored based on who is home and away. Those highlighted in red are the gameweeks where the team is predicted to concede less than one goal and are high chance of a clean sheet.

 Projected goals for:
Basically, the same calculation as above, only calculated for the team's goals scored. The cells highlighted in red are games where the team is projected to score more than 1.5 goals.

 Total goals scored during 5-week span:

Goals for/against home/away

We are now at a point in the season where every team has played at least 5 games at home at 5 away. That is the point where I'm going to start using data based only on this season to project goals scored and conceded. I'll share the next 5-week projections in another post, but this one will just show some raw data for each team on how many goals they score and concede per game both home and away. I've ranked them from best to worst:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Week 15: fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

The double-gameweek bacchanalia of week 11 is over and our rosters are locked for the morning-after bloody mary of week 12’s Philly/LA double. Weeks 13 and 14 aren’t anything special but weeks 15 and 16 loom on the horizon. If you happen to still have your wildcard, use it between weeks 15 and 16 and take advantage of good matchups between now and then. For the rest of us that used our wildcard early (week 3 for me), we need to start planning NOW. Week 15 has 9 teams without a game and week 16 has 5 teams without a game and 4 teams with a double. Oh yeah, then there's a bunch of players gone for international duty to boot.

Week 15 players:
·         Chicago (vs. Portland)
·         Columbus (at Philly)
·         DC (at New England)
·         LA (at RSL)
·         New England (vs. DC)
·         Philly (vs. Columbus)
·         Portland (at Chicago)
·         RSL (vs. LA)
·         Seattle (vs. Vancouver)
·         Vancouver (at Seattle)

Week 16 feast:
·         Colorado (vs. San Jose and at Chicago)
·         Montreal (at Columbus and vs. Houston)
·         Portland (vs. Dallas and at LA)
·         Vancouver (vs. New England and vs. Chivas)

Week 16 famine:
·         New York
·         Philly
·         RSL
·         Seattle
·         SKC

So, what teams do we target to bring in and when do we do it?

Targets to transfer in before week 13 deadline:
RSL and New England – both teams have 3 home games in a row in weeks 13, 14, and 15. I like New England’s defense as the best target for transfers this week as they are projected to keep 2 clean sheets out of 3 based on this season’s goals scored/conceded home and away for them and their opponents. I plan to double-up on New England defenders. RSL’s prospects on defense don’t look as good, with their only projected clean sheet coming in week 13. On the other side of the ball, RSL players are more attractive and are projected to score more goals than anyone over the coming 3 weeks (tied with LA and Columbus). RSL do have a blank in week 16, so limit yourself to a maximum of 2 RSL players. If you don’t like either RSL or the Revs, LA is where you want to invest as they don’t have a blank week during this stretch and project decent enough returns.

Targets to transfer in before week 14 deadline:
RSL and New England players are still fine targets here. However, the best targets at this point are Columbus attackers. Columbus have two home games surrounding an away trip to face a leaky Philly defense. Seattle are projected to score the most goals in weeks 14 and 15 combined and are projected to keep a clean sheet in week 15 so they are worth a look - beware of their blank in week 16. Aside from that, there really aren’t many favorable matchups. You could look at Vancouver who are the only team who play 4 games during weeks 14-16 (two home games in week 16 look tempting). My plan for week 14 is to make just a single transfer and roll the other over into week 15. There aren’t many players I’m excited about in week 14 who play in week 15, and it also allows us the flexibility to shift money around in week 15 and helps avoid potential injury/suspension issues.

Targets to transfer in before week 15 deadline:
At this point, a lot depends on who you have and how you’re set up for week 16. Portland and Vancouver are the only two teams to play in week 15 and have a double in week 16. Vancouver does have a blank in week 17, so I’m not crazy about them as transfer targets after this week. Portland and Colorado are the teams with doubles in 16 and no blank in 17, so Portland players are where I’d look to first – might even triple up on Timbers by week 16. Columbus is projected to score the most goals during this week and don’t have a blank in 16 or 17 – not the most exciting picks going forward, but good enough to fill some roster slots if needed for week 15. If you want to start building again for after week 15, then LA are your guys as they have no blanks and project well going forward.

Top individual transfer targets by week:
Week 13: Morales, Goncalves, Schuler, Farrell, Shuttleworth, Donovan, Keane
Week 14: Higuain, Rosales, Morales, Goncalves, Farrell, Shuttleworth, Oduro
Week 15: Wallace, Valeri, W. Johnson, Higuain, Oduro, Donovan, Keane

My plan:
Week 13: Ashe to Farrell and O. Gonzalez to Goncalves
Week 14: R. Johnson to Oduro
Week 15: Holgersson to Wallace, Hedges to Lee, save third transfer to bring in a player with a double week 16

My spring coaching season officially ends this weekend, so expect a couple posts over the next couple weeks as I will suddenly have free-time on my hands.

Friday, March 1, 2013

new fantasy resources

a couple more useful resources have cropped up in the last few days that can help us maximize our decisions.

corners, PKs, and free-kicks
this is far more comprehensive than my page (now deleted)

fantasy overlord
this is a mathematical projection tool that was developed from the same math behind a tool that picked the fantasy team over the season and placed in the top 500 for EPL fantasy. I have a lot of reservations about how it translates to MLS, knowing how much a team can change from year to year. That said, I think their team projections are likely to be more valuable than what I have used for my projected goals scored and projected goals conceded. The player projections are useful for players that played a lot of minutes last year, but are useless for players who missed time due to injury or came in mid-season (bernardez, ferreira, zakuani, higuain, o. gonzalez, etc.). this tool should improve it's predictive ability as more of this season's data is entered.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Which stats REALLY matter for a position?

I have been wondering for a while which stats are the most important to target and what type of players are most likely to produce high quantities of those stats. My main purpose for this is to find individual players who underperformed for us in fantasy last season that might be able to give us better returns this season if they have similar performances. In other words, what players got screwed over last season because their teammates didn't live up to average?

What I've done is look at the correlation between PP90 and every statistic that provides fantasy points and a couple that don't provide points such as shot conversion percentage and key pass conversion percentage. I've done this on a positional basis only, so we know which stats are most important for each position.


Defenders are the most inconsistent group of players in terms of finding a stat that highly correlates with PP90. CBI had the highest correlation at 0.34. Goals and assists follow with correlations of 0.29 and 0.28 respectively. The big shocker, is that a team's clean sheets has a surprisingly low level of correlation - a mere 0.19 - with a defender's PP90.

So, what does this mean? It's tough to draw any firm conclusions about what defenders we should choose. Since CBI and goals are the two stats with the highest correlation with PP90, I am inclined to say that we want to pick center backs who get forward on set-pieces. This is fairly accurately reflected in the players found at the top of my defender projections. We see center backs like Collin, Bernardez, Ianni, Taylor, Berry, Olave, and McDonald all feature as good targets according to my PP90 projections.


There are a couple stats with much higher correlation with PP90 for our midfielders. Assists correlate with midfielder PP90 at a strong 0.77. However, there are several other stats that correlate at better than 0.5: key passes (0.72), goals (0.68), and crosses (0.62).

There's a couple things to take away from this. First, is the reason there is such high correlation for several statistics is that there are some midfielders (pretty much every defensive midfielder in the league) who simply don't rack up any of the above categories. Even with the added defensive points for CBI and recoveries available, defensive midfielders simply don't score enough of them to make them viable alternatives to their attacking counterparts.

We know we want attacking midfielders, but do we want wingers or central midfielders? Both versions of an attacking midfielder has about equal opportunity for goals, assists, and key passes. It isn't until we get to the fourth most highly correlated statistic where we find our answer. A decently high correlation with crosses and PP90 means we want wingers. Zusi, Rosales, Davis, Pontius, Chaves - all are in the top level of my midfielder projections and all are wingers. It should be noted that there are several central playmakers who also rank high in my projections (Morales, Ferreira, DeRosario) who take freekicks, corners, and/or PKs and are also valid targets.


Surprise, surprise, goals is the stat that best correlates with PP90 for forwards at 0.77. Assists (0.69) and key passes (0.64) also had high levels of correlation with PP90.

In our forwards, we are looking for goalscorers. I'm sure everyone who has even heard the term "fantasy soccer" could have told you that. However, I was surprised at how highly correlated both assists and key passes were with PP90 which gives me second thought about choosing guys who are poachers (Bengston, Bruin, Cooper and to a lesser extent, Wondolowski) instead of more well-rounded players (Higuain, Henry, Keane).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Alternate method for finding value

This time instead of looking at how much overvalued or undervalued a player is, I looked to see how much value they give in terms of projected season points per $million spent (PPM). Generally, this returns the same players near the top of the rankings as my previous method. This might be a simpler way for people to understand exactly how much return they can expect from their investment.

Here's the takeaways:
  1. The best use of these charts is to find cheap players who have the potential to give us decent returns when they are called upon to come off the bench.
  2. Another use for these charts is to find the expensive players who offer a decent return on investment.
  3. Defenders tend to have a higher PPM than midfielders who have a higher PPM than forwards.
  4. It looks as though there are several cheap options in defense that have a good PPM. This leads me to believe this is the area we should look to save a bit of cash for some attackers with lower PPM but higher season points. Look to pick up at least two of Woolard, McCarthy*, Tierney*, Korb*, Hedges, Hurtado, and Parke.
*May not be starters




Saturday, February 16, 2013

Finding players who are undervalued: Part 4 - forwards

And finally we look at pricing inefficiencies of our forwards. Again, I have grouped the top couple prices into a single "elite" bracket. For those of you who are contributors to r/mls, this highlights exactly why I was trying to convince people that Henry was a better choice for MVP than Wondo... but that's a different blog post. There has been a lot of movement for these players' supporting players this offseason with the exception of Wondo. Henry lost Cooper to Dallas, Saborio lost Espindola to New York, Johnson lost Montero to the allure of Libertadores soccer, and Keane lost Donovan to an existential crisis. It will be difficult to say exactly how all these moves will affect the elite strikers, but my guess is every one of them has a worst season than last except for Johnson and Saborio. That doesn't mean they're not worth owning, however, and we have to go with one or two of them simply for good options to captain when they have easy gameweeks.

Higuain - the most undervalued player in the entire game who is guaranteed to start (Gordon ranks above him, but is not a locked-in starter). Higuain - the player projected to score the most points out of anyone in the entire game at any position. Higuain - the guy who only has one home game (against San Jose nonetheless) in the first five gameweeks. No player has been in and out of my lineup more. He's only owned by a mere 10% at the time of writing, so has potential for significant price rise if he starts hot and not much danger of significant price fall if he doesn't.

Not quite elite options here, but still pricy enough to make it feel like they should be producing more than these guys did last season. Espindola is an interesting option for me. Assuming he'll be playing a similar role as Cooper did last season, he should get plenty of quality chances, though his historical shot conversion rate is lower. Hassli is another player who I think will greatly benefit from his transfer to Dallas. 

The players we want to have that breakout season that can make our friends wonder, "how the hell did you know he was going to score so many goals this season!?" I actually made a bold prediction that Arrieta is going to win the golden boot this year so long as Higuain remains healthy. I would still pick Higuain and try to find somewhere else to save the money. Ryan Johnson and Juan Agudelo are two players I think will overperform these predictions simply due to changes in playing style and new coaches. At this point, Estrada looks to be Seattle's second striker, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Martinez eat some of those minutes.

Again, the budget options here are not locked-in starters. MacDonald is the only one who seems to be the first choice for their team. Mwanga might be with the injury to Dike and Oduro has seen time with the first squad in the preseason for Columbus. If Gordon does end up being a starter (because of running a 4-3-3 or Wondolowski dropping to a midfield role) he becomes the best value in the entire game. It will be tough to be as efficient as last season, but still has plenty of room to deliver adequate returns for his price.