Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Second Act

As we all know, the fantasy season does not comprise 38 independent events. Medium and even long term plans need to be put in place based on the next 'x' number of games and over-reliance on the now can handcuff your team in the future. Though all teams are constructed differently and thus will encounter these periods at different times, there are also overarching factors which impact all (or at least most) teams in the same way.

Sometimes these are obvious, such as the opening of the second-wildcard transfer window or the real-life transfer window which potential opens the door to new options for our teams. On other occasions, however, the trends are tougher to spot, especially when we're in the eye of them (they are much easier to see with hindsight). We are potentially at a changing point for one of these period-changes.

Like any mostly free market, the demand for players will settle into something of an equilibrium, and for most managers the leading role in determining their level of demand is past performance (yes, if you're reading this you'll almost certainly place more emphasis on future forecasts, but we'd still be hesitant to back a player with a terrible points tally to date, no matter what his underlying data suggested).

Consider the below chart:

Ignoring defenders and 'keepers for a second (whose ownership numbers tend to be a bit more unpredictable), we see just eight players who've amassed 50 or more points and are still owned by less than 10% of managers. 16 such players are owned by 10%+ with half of those owned by a full 20% or more. This is always going to be the case to a degree (the best players, or at least those with the best results, attract the most managers), but it seems as though we're reaching a critical mass with regards to this trend. 

Just look at this past gameweek. Nine midfielders and forwards managed to notch double figures but four of them seemed to be owned by everyone (Suarez, Yaya, Ozil and Hazard) and four were - justifiably - owned by no one (Oviedo, Delph, Agbonlahor and Dyer) with Lampard being the sole occupier of the middle ground. Throw in decent contributions from other favourites like Aguero, Ramsey and Lukaku and you're left with a situation where unless you owned all four star performers, a couple of the middle guys and notched a couple of clean sheets, you probably ended up losing ground in the overall leaderboard this week (my own team lost over 4,000 places despite what appeared on its face to be a very healthy 88 point week). 
This all conspires to a very long winded way of saying it's time to push for differentiation.

Now, before we delve into names, let's just lay down a couple of ground rules on what we really mean by this. First, differentiation just for the sake of it should not be pursued. Sometimes there are good reasons for people to be suspicious of a given player and a need to 'stand out' shouldn't interfere with the ultimate goal of points maximisation. Second, even at this relatively early stage of the season, different teams will have different appetite for differentiation based on their league position and objectives. If you've amassed a 100 point lead in your mini league, and your ultimate goal is to win that, rather than strive for the highest overall points finish, then picking Yaya Toure - who is owned by your next three closest competitors - makes more sense than if you're in the chasing pack. I would personally caution against such 'defensive' moves this early in the season, but that's something for each manager to decide.

With the customary caveats in place, let's have a look at some of the most widely owned players right now and see if we can find some reasonable alternatives. For the sake of repetition avoidance, I'll add this disclaimer here just once. These are ideas designed to give some fresh thought to what is becoming an increasingly stagnant fantasy season. I wouldn't (indeed won't ) make the majority of them and I fully understand that they will all likely involve a lot more risk than sticking with who we "know" will have future success (this in itself is a misnomer, but that's a point for another day.

Aaron Ramsey (62% owned)
The Welshman's 62% ownership number is a huge outlier in the earlier chart, though in all honesty, this number could really have peaked higher given the way he's played to date (the 'real' ownership number is much higher, of course, as that 62% is based on a denominator which includes a lot of teams who have gone untouched since GW1 and still roll out the likes of Podolski (1%), Adebayor (0.7%) and Zaha (1.3%)). Ramsey simply leads all midfielders in total points despite opening the year with a price tag of 3.0m+ less than all his closest rivals and appears to have turned the corner from 'someday prospect' to 'everyday star'. 
The model supports Ramsey's high ownership to a degree as his 61 xP ranks 3rd among midfielders (behind the surprising Gerrard and Hazard) but it also suggests that his future forecast is closer to players available for comparable prices and thus he isn't an automatic pickup. Let's filter our data to highlight a couple of options. We're looking for a player who:
  • is available for close to Ramsey's price (we'll give ourselves a 1.0m variance, so a maximum of 8.3m),
  • gets a sufficient number of chances per game (more than 1.0 SiB per 90 minutes),
  • does something with those chances (more than 0.75 SoT per 90 minutes) without benefiting from unsustainable good fortune (SoT% of 50% or less), and
  • can also contribute in the assist department (more than 1.0 CC per 90 minutes)

There's some intrigue here for sure, with Paulinho's 1.9 SiB90 and Sigurdsson's 1.4 SoT90 jumping off the page. However, the first Spurs man seems to be taking too many ill advised shots given his 32% SoT% rate while his Icelandic teammate is hitting the target with long range efforts, but as we know, these tend to hit the back of the net with less regularity than those from close range. Mirallas is probably the safest play here given his solid returns and supporting data yet his tendency to be withdrawn early in games and a lack of explosive upside makes it really tough to part ways with Ramsey for the Belgian wide man right now. As keen as I am to suggest alternatives to Ramsey and as likely it is that he regresses in the coming weeks, no obvious one-for-one replacement is apparent. As we move into wildcard season though, alternative arrangements should certainly be considered.

Yaya Toure (38%)
Here we're looking for reliability. Yaya has about as high of a floor as you can find and can contribute solid value over virtually any stretch of games. To replace him, we're therefore looking for the below attributes:
  • ability to score with some consistency (more than 0.75 SiB)
  • maximises his opportunities (more than 0.75 SoT)
  • strong chance at assists (more than 1.1 CC)
  • plays consistently (more than 900 minutes played or return from injury will guarantee playing time)
  • less than 10% ownership (if we're sacrificing his consistency we need to make gains on a lot of other managers)

Of all the alternatives looked at today, this is probably the one that makes the most sense. Some of the best options here currently carry injury concerns so may not considered immediately (Walcott, Michu and Silva) but Coutinho looks well healed and took up some very promising positions in Sturridge's absence, behind the all conquering Suarez these past couple of weeks. Though it's a tiny sample size and too much weight shouldn't be placed on this data set, the fact that Walcott has tripled Toure's SiB90, doubled his SoT90 and doubled his CC90 suggests he could offer significant upside when healthy and should be monitored closely for signs that he's back in Wenger's first team plans. Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't draw some attention to Frank Lampard who in many ways looks exactly like Yaya Toure, just with a lower G/SoT rate. Lampard's currently sits at 33% versus a 42% career rate while the Ivorian's is hovering around 64% compared to a career rate of 30%. If it's reliability you desire, it seems that Lampard should be able to fill a similar role for 2.0m less and with a quarter as many managers sharing in your spoils.

Luis Suarez (39%) / Sergio Aguero (33%)
We're not looking for much here. We just need someone who is averaging over three shots a game, with two on target and . . . ok we can stop now because we've already filtered the entire league. Only five other regular starters (Lukaku, Sturridge, van Persie, Grioud and Remy) are able to average as many SiB as this pair have averaged SoT and none of that group come close to boasting the assist potential of this elite duo. I hate the label "must own" and for the most part this has been wrongly attributed to various players over the years but right now the only real argument against owning this duo is one of value as you could go with a Lukaku-Giroud-Remy trio and save at least 4.0m, but then it isn't really clear who you'd then spend that surplus on. The return from injury of Benteke, Sturridge and van Persie will at least swell the pool of players who could threaten this pair's dominance but of of now, the only reason to look elsewhere would be injury to either of these forwards.

Olivier Giroud (34%)
Given what we've said about Suarez and Aguero above, Giroud is essentially competing with every other forward in the league for the right to be your third front man. Though Giroud does offer some assist potential, we can't be too choosy as we slide down the price list, so to fill this role we're merely looking for a player who:
  • offers a consistent goal threat (over two SiB per 90 minutes),
  • costs the same or less than Giroud (with Suarez and Aguero we're already in danger of committing too much cash to our front men with Giroud),
  • is owned by less than 12% managers (that cut off is clearly fixed so I can include Benteke
  • offers some threat of assists (more than 1.0 CC per 90 minutes)

Giroud has enjoyed a great season to date but all of the above options either strong differentiation potential, cost savings, or both, and given Arsenal's fixtures in the immediate future, this is one move that could be considered for sooner rather than later.

Ross Barkley (28%)

I would imagine a fair number of Barkley's owners still hold him due to more pressing issues in their teams eating up weekly transfers, but still, he's held by an awful lot of managers and with wildcard season approaching, we should be considering everyone's place in our respective squads. There are several options to really like here with Arnautovic particularly catching the eye. The Stoke man has taken a very healthy share of shots given his price bracket, even if the number of target somewhat disappoints. However, his 20% SoT% rate is well below the 33% rate he posted in the Bundesliga while at Bremen and so if that number starts to track back towards his expected average, it should give him a profile to far exceed the somewhat mediocre prospects of the majority of his peers. Digging deeper we have Redmond who is enjoying his prolonged run in the Norwich side following their rash of injuries, and even deeper we have the highly rated Jonny Williams who has finally returned for Palace and could offer intriguing value at just 4.3m. In short, this is a category with a good number of alternatives and if you've transfers to spare, Barkley's waning fortunes should really be taken notice of.


Karl said...

Another great read, Chris. I've been following your blog since last year, and while I know you probably don't have as much time to dedicate to it, your analysis and insight is always informative and is a huge help to FPL addicts everywhere!

A couple of questions:

1. Any reason why Stevie Gerrard isn't included as an option to replace Yaya Toure? While he is under an injury cloud at the moment, he does have less than 10% ownership (just) and I can't imagine his SiB90, SoT90 and CC99 being below the thresholds you've set, at least not drastically.

2. Would you consider transferring out Ozil in an attempt to differentiate, given his almost 28% ownership and the options available around 8.5 to 9.5 that may provide similar returns at a slight discount?

3. Any chance of updating the player dashboards and the 8GW forecasts? I think they would tie in well this article and provide people with another piece of information to help decide between potential differentials.

Thanks again and keep up the great work!

Kick Some Goals said...

Great to see you posting again Chris. The weekly recaps and Fanning the Flames articles from last year are missed!

Looking at Norwich midfield options, is there anything in the stats to suggest that Fer is a better option (at 1.3m more) than Redmond?