Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting defensive

Attack-minded defenders have long been considered one of the key ingredients to a successful fantasy team, and while I may personally suggest this quest is sometimes overpursued, there's no arguing with the overall premise that such a player can be extremely valuable.

Two issues arise though.

First, managers tend to overvalue this threat, paying huge premiums which simply cannot be justified. The most obvious example of this in recent times has been Leighton Baines (who has rarely justified the huge premium required to get him) though we've seen similar trends in the past with the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Nemandja Vidic and even Joleon Lescott.

Second, managers tend to overvalue past success, which can be ill advised at the best of times but is particularly dangerous with defenders. With a few notable exceptions, defenders tend to enjoy limited chances to earn points and the sample sizes involved are generally very small. Thus, a player with the odd goal coming from a handful of shots is no more likely to score again than any number of comparative players who haven't yet registered a goal this season. Of course, we're not saying those "unlucky" few are any more likely either, but the latter are almost certainly held by fewer managers and probably come with a lower price and thus deserve our attention.

The chart below can be sorted by team and plots a player's price against his expected points purely from attacking means (xP). We're trying to identify players whose production exceeds or matches those available in his price bracket and this is best done on a team by team basis (as otherwise you are trying to compare too many variables at once). Once you identify the 'best' options from each team, you can then move on to comparing them all considering other factors.

A note on expected points. In the model, two bonus points are awarded for each goal, based on a approximate study of how these are generally handed out. Hence, if a player has racked up enough shots to score exactly one goal, his xP would be eight rather than the six you might expect.

Sagna and Mertesacker have produced the same attacking points to date with the Frenchman ahead by a couple of points in xP. Given this fact alongside Mertesacker's much higher ownership number (15% vs 1%) and Sagna's slight discount, Sagna looks like the better pick if you were choosing one today, though Mertesacker owners shouldn't feel overly rushed to move him.

Aston Villa
There's really nothing to see here and if you want to invest in this back line you should do so based on playing time and price tag. That could lead one to settle on Baker given his 3.9m price, assuming you are confident on him holding off the challenge of Clark when Luna resumes his left back duties. This isn't a great defense but they've been reasonably good both at home (-1% SiB +/-) and away (-3%), but don't expect to get much on the attacking side of the pitch from your Villains.

Caulker is the only defensive player to notch any points, and coupling that with his name recognition leads to a potentially dangerous situation. Four total attempts, with two on target strongly suggests that his two goal haul to date has been fortuitous and thus that 0.9m premium over Ben Turner looks unjustified.

Ivanovic leads all defenders in xP to date with a very impressive 17 and managers have done well to recognise this, with a 25% ownership already racked up. With a risk rating of 1.2, he looks as safe as anyone in this team and the other 25% of managers who currently own Terry, or particularly Cole and Luiz, should strongly consider making a move to Ivanovic next time they have a spare transfer (or use their wildcard).

Crystal Palace
Delaney owns a slight advantage in xP here, but not enough to justify his higher price tag. If you are interested in this defense (hot tip: you shouldn't be) then Moxey - who boasts a perfect risk rating of 1.0 - is your man.

To date, this one is a no brainer. Coleman trails Baines in actual points by five but that total is far from enough to justify the extra 2.2m required outlay. Add in the fact that Coleman actually tops Baines in xP and you see that the young Irishman should be the pick here. One caveat which the model doesn't account for is Baines' threat from the spot but it's highly unlikely that Everton will earn enough spot kicks for Baines to deliver superior value to his cheaper colleague. The 17% of owners still holding Jagielka - who offers a reasonable though unexciting attacking threat - should consider a move to Coleman when re-shuffling their pack.

You really don't want to touch this entire team right now and there's nothing here to change that well reasoned opinion. Riether enjoys a marginal advantage in the attacking threat column but is well overpriced at 5.0m, even if he does carry a low risk rating. Just don't bother, please.

Davies boasts by far the best xP and actual points to date but seeing as you're surely only employing a Hull defender as a minimum price bench filler, 4.6m seems too steep a price to pay for only a marginal attacking advantage. This isn't a bad defense (SiB +/- of -2% at home and away) and they certainly hold value as 5th defender types but I'd personally lean towards one of the 4.0m options with Rosenoir looking nicely settled in this lineup at right back with Elmohamady moving further upfield.

Glen Johnson has been the best attacking threat to date, yet hasn't been rewarded for his efforts so far. Purely on this added threat, he doesn't appear to justify the extra cost, but given his added security in the first team (he's yet to be benched and his risk rating is only impacted by injuries) it might just be worth looking at Johnson if you either don't have Mignolet or want to double down on this useful unit. If Cissokho really locks down that left back spot it becomes arguable that Johnson's superiority in xP is insufficient to justify the extra 0.7m outlay but for now the Englishman just about holds the edge.

Man City
Not unexpectedly, Kolarov leads this team in xP yet - again, as expected - it's his risk factor (2.8) which renders him very hard to own unless your team budget has swelled to the point when you can routinely sit a 5.3m player. Even then it would be hard to own him as you're never quite sure who will start but if you feel you have a good read on Pellegrini's team selections, it's hard to argue with Kolarov's upside. Elsewhere no one really excels and you're faced with a contest between Nastasic and Zabaleta who are closely matched in terms of risk factor and attacking points potential.

Man Utd
Purely on attacking threat, Evra is just about worth the extra expense over his cheaper colleagues, but when you factor in his risk rating, he becomes even more attractive. Jones' occasional deployment in midfield has been something of a non-issue to date with the utility man failing to offer much going forward even when deployed further upfield. At 0.5m cheaper than Evra he's a tempting proposition though with Rafael on the mend to vulture a large slice of the right back minutes, the ever reliable Frenchman remains a solid investment.

Putting this week's poorly timed suspension aside (the Magpies get Norwich at home next), Debuchy is the clear pick here and is one of the more extreme outliers in this piece. He enjoys a perfect risk rating, leads the team in actual attacking points which are totally supported by his xP, yet he's owned by just 1% of owners, only good for 3rd on his own team. This isn't a great defense so if you're planning on benching a Newcastle player most weeks then perhaps Yanga-Mbiwa at 4.4m makes some sense, but if you plan on starting him, Debuchy's high floor and ceiling make him a useful pickup.

No one really stands out here and thus it seems prudent to defer to risk rating rather than attacking potential, which would point us towards Turner as the best investment here. Whittaker's owners - presumably not paying attention or putting out other fires - should obviously look to divest with their man offering neither security nor upside.

Lovren's 11 attacking points are nice, but his price is getting dangerously high and if you're looking to buy now, you're too late. Clyne should be a consideration given his significantly lower price tag and increasing security (he's played every game since GW4), ahead of Shaw who seems to face a more sustained threat from Fox. At 5.4m, Fonte might be the 'Goldilocks' option with a nice balance of security, price and upside, though if pushed I would personally lean towards the potential value of Clyne.

Huth and Shawcross just about justify their half million premium over Cameron and Pieters, though it's probably close enough that you wouldn't rush to make a move if you owned either of the full backs. Fans of differentiation will want to note Huth's 2% ownership versus Shawcross' 10%.

Bardsley's heroics this past weekend catapult him atop these rankings, yet his risk rating suggests he's all but impossible to buy into. Sunderland have been a very solid defensive unit at home and there's room to add a Mackem as a 4th / 5th rotation type defender, yet it's hard to really pinpoint anyone who offers too much excitement. Looking purely at this team, O'Shea's low risk profile looks appealing, but higher upside can be found on other teams in his price bracket and thus if you want to buy in, you might need to take a calculated risk that Brown or Bardsley can lock down their places at a reduced cost.

Chico's position on this chart will surprise many (include your humble blogger) as Davies and Rangel often impress going forward for Laudrup's team. This isn't the solid unit we saw for much of the last couple of seasons, but at 5.0m Chico's attacking upside, playing time and at least some promise of defensive value make him an intriguing option.

This one isn't so much obvious who we should pick as much as who we shouldn't. At 7.2m Vertonghen is valued as a defensive player who contributes big time attacking scores on a regular basis yet he's not managed to achieve that in either the actual (3) or xP (5) columns. He's essentially offered the same profile as Dawson at a 1.8m premium which is essentially the same as choosing a 5.4m scrub over Rickie Lambert.

West Brom
With Jones' injury McAuley's overall profile now looks quite promising and he just about deserves consideration despite some discomfort in paying 5.4m for him. West Brom have a good defense though, especially at home (-16% SiB +/-) and McAuley offers a sufficient upgrade over his peers to make that 0.5m worthwhile.

West Ham
Reid leads the team in xP and ownership (6%) but it doesn't look like the former justifies the latter. We saw plenty of early turnover in this team which has limited the risk rating of some players, but with Rat and Tomkins playing the last six games, they can probably be considered to be reasonably safe in Allardyce's first team and thus their lower price tags make them more attractive compared to the comparatively pricey Reid. Collins - who has yet to be voluntarily benched - looks to be the best value of all, assuming he can put his injuries woes behind him for a sustained period, though be forewarned that you are signing up for very little attacking threat.


Mitchell Stirling said...

I played five at the back last week, despite feeling disgusted with myself I got three clean sheets and ended up with 76 points.

Unknown said...

Comprehensive stuff as ever Chris.

Sagna and Debuchy look just as impressive on the pitch as they do in your tables. Sagna's crossing has become a constant flow of excellent chances including two on a plate in the United game. Debuchy raids forward as well as any fullback in the league and I think you're actually downplaying him as Newcastle's defence has tightened up, possibly related to their belated refusal to carry Ben Arfa and Cisse as non-defending passengers in the team. Is this because their stats don't support the recent clean sheets?

Fate has intervened with the West Ham defence as Reid is out for the foreseeable future and this really downgrades the defence for me as he was the organizer. They duly conceded three to one of the worst attacks, Norwich. I'm staying away from my Rat target until things are fixed. Also there was talk he would offer attacking threat but not really seen anything special.

Finally GJ and Kolarov's failure to match expected points so far does neatly relate to your earlier piece about whether certain players consistently underachieve. Having watched both as an owner on many occasions they seem wild in their shooting. However, I guess you already have included their historical SoT% in your expected points so they should genuinely be set for positive regression?

Tony S said...

Brilliant article,
This helps me to settle on my 5 big team defenders to rotate until the winter wildcard. All the defenders I had on my short list get a positive comment in your article.

I think a combination from Coleman, Dawson, Sagna, Jones, Johson, Natasic could pay dividends over the winter and their ownership is not that high. Since I have Migs so I might leave out Johnson but he is very tempting if Liverpool play 4 at the back (better cleansheet potential IMO).

I just can't convince myself to pay 6m+ for Evra .... but I said that last year and he was top scoring defender :(

But again, thanks for the article .... any chance of a table of the teams +/- SIB scores to date?


CDI said...

Chris do you feel the switch in BP this season is enough to take into account what type of defender you look at? When a team gets a CS the CB are the ones who seem to be gaining the most BP and this has been the trend over the last 11 weeks.

The reason Vert was priced so high at the start of the season was because he would have been 3rd overall in total BP earned last season under the new system. Being shifted over to LB has hurt him so far but that is temp. When looking at defenders isn't this a more stable means of points to consider or at least factor in now that the system has changed to favor one type over another?

I Love your posts as always but was just hoping to get some discussion going.

Turd said...

CDI hits the nail on the head for me.

I know this analysis focuses solely on attacking returns, but this leads to a distorted view when you take the bonus points into consideration, now that centrebacks have a clear advantage in this area over fullbacks.

I don't think it's helpful to suggest Ivanovic owners transfer their allegiances to Terry, or from Jagielka to Coleman, without a wider consideration of the pros and cons of making such moves.

Take the Jagielka/Coleman comparison as an example.

Jagielka currently leads Coleman by 14 bonus points to 6, or by 12 to 3 if you take out bonuses from attacking returns.

A simple extrapolation implies that becomes a 31 point gain for Jagielka by the end of the season, which would mean that to compensate, Coleman has to come up with 10 assists or 4 to 5 goals, or a combination of both *over and above* whatever Jagielka produces by way of attacking returns.

Is that possible or likely? well every FPL manager will have to form their own opinion on that, but personally I'd rather stick to Jagielka's slow and steady returns rather than hope that Coleman comes up with the attacking goods.

Chris Glover said...

A couple of people have mentioned the bonus point issue and it's a point well made. I haven't really looked into them and I should have added that caveat at the start of the piece.

I'm not sure they'd have a material impact on most teams, but yes, sure, if you feel a certain player is going to continue to attract BPs then act accordingly. I would have some concerns about forecasting BPs compared to attacked points as I'm not sure how repeatable they are but it is an issue.

This seems like it would be more of an issue when comparing a FB with a CB as Jagielka looks like the only CB to crush his partner in BPs, after you account for playing time (Vertonghen at 6 pts is also a relatively large gap).

It's something to look at, and if you guys think BPs are now a repeatable skills, I will try and be more cognizant of them in the future, though I still feel that apart from a few idiosyncratic situations, they go to the players who are already excelling in other categories (G and CS) and thus don't change the comparability of players within the model too much.

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Gummi said...

Great piece and great comments, as usual. One more issue is lack of production from midfielders this season.

This has had the effect that many are going for budget picks (e.g. Brady, Morrison, Barkley) which leaves an added budget for forwards and defenders. Even factoring in getting both Suarez and Aguero, many are still left with extra dough that could be better served on upgrading the defence.

That's the position I'm in and this article served as a reminder of not to trust the "attacking" defenders.

FPL Aaron said...

Not much room to work with as far as Manchester United goes.

What are their title retaining chances?

stooshermadness said...

Chris - great stuff as always. I have always been a believer in theory on buying defenders but I broke the mold this year and have gone with Baines from GW1. I probably will keep him all year on the theory that he is a bit like have an additional midprice midfielder in your side. No matter the numbers this year which have good, not great so far, his history is 2 170+ point seasons in the last 3, and average of 150+ points over the last 4 FPL seasons. Your comments here on Coleman are persuasive - and at some point I may need to cash the England man out, but with his share of set pieces, pens, and this year's BP system, I am keeping.