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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The 25 Best NFL Draft Picks of the Last Decade


"We feel very strongly that our best policy is to draft the best player. This isn't fantasy football." -Ted Thompson, Green Bay Packers GM

There have been 2,552 players drafted in the last decade (2001-2010), most of whom we've never heard from again. As you can imagine, paring that list down to the 25 best selections was a daunting task, but someone has to do it.

Why? Because we love lists. Because we're bored with the CBA. Because the draft is fast approaching, and I'm a glutton for punishment.

How? That's the $9 billion question. How does one accurately compare the value of a seventh-round sleeper to that of a No. 1 pick?

Click here to read the rest of the article at Bleacher Report.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Boser's Tweetbeat


The NFL’s decision to move kickoffs up from the 30 to the 35-yard line has been widely criticized by coaches, players, and fans alike. Touchbacks are boring, and more importantly, they deprive us of fantasy scoring opportunities. Last season roughly 16 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks — that number is expected to double in 2011. Furthermore, it’s been speculated that there will be an emphasis on kickoff height, giving coverage units extra time to swarm. So how exactly will this rule change affect fantasy football?

Click here to read the rest of the article at Lester's Legends.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Minnesota Vikings' 7-Step Draft Stragegy


From the moment the Brett Favre experiment began in Minnesota, we knew this day would come. When a team goes into "win now" mode, there are only two possible outcomes. The Vikings pushed their chips all-in. They neglected the future. They crashed and burned.
No regrets.
Click here to read the rest of the article at Bleacher Report.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The People's Choice: Jake Locker Leading the Way With 18 of 100 Fan Votes






Apparently Vikings fans like the way Jake Locker looks in purple. On January 24th I posted the poll in the right column, which includes opening day ages and valuation. Nearly two months later, my appraisals don't seem far off (with the lone exception being that I probably undervalued Cam Newton), and Jake Locker has risen to the top of your wish list. His stock has been erratic -- he's been most often linked to Seattle at No. 25, but he's ranging from an early first rounder to a late second rounder. With the Combine behind him and individual workouts in full effect, he's gaining steam -- he's currently thought to be in the mix for both Washington (No. 10) and Minnesota (No. 12). In fact, he's in town today working out for the Vikings.

In short, Locker is an outstanding duel-sport athlete with a big arm and loads of moxie. The Angels' 2009 10th round outfielder actually tied Cam Newton's 4.59 40 time at the Combine. Had Locker entered the 2010 NFL Draft after his Junior season, he may have been the No. 1 overall pick the draft. However, he returned to the University of Washington for his final year, and his stock took a hit as he struggled with accuracy and mechanics on a losing team. By most accounts he's made strong offseason impressions on scouts and front offices, restoring his reputation as a potential NFL star.

The next five fan picks shake out like this:



I must admit I'm a bit shocked. Draft experts have elevated Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton into their own tier, and many have Ryan Mallett (and others) ahead of Locker as well. Yet not only is Locker leading the overall poll, but he's thumping his fellow rookies among Vikings fans.

Joe Webb has surprisingly strong support coming off a small sample size, and it's become obvious that fans have no interest in Band-Aids like Donovan McNabb or Matt Hasselbeck.

With the ongoing labor negotiations killing trades and free agency, it's looking more and more like the Vikings will set the quarterback crosshairs on April's draft.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

10 Reasons the Vikings Should Trade Adrian Peterson




Now that I've got your attention, let me explain myself before you go medieval on me in the comment section below. It's not going to happen. This is purely hypothetical -- NFL trades are rare, and the ongoing labor negotiations have put the world on hold anyways. Moreover, Vikings' ownership is well aware that Adrian Peterson is the only thing standing between a full house and a sea of empty blue seats. Or maroon bleachers. But just because it won't happen, that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. The idea of taking a step backwards is obviously discouraging, but it may be necessary to reach the ultimate goal. Believe me, I've suffered through 29 years of Vikings-induced heartache, and I want nothing more than to see my team win a Super Bowl.

There's no denying that Peterson is a class act and a transcendent talent. I'm proud to have him on my favorite team. However, this franchise is headed in the wrong direction, and the "asset" of Adrian Peterson provides the Vikings with a unique opportunity to rebuild faster than most teams in their dire situation.

On the surface, trading one of your franchise's all-time greats is lunacy. In the next 2,000 words, I'll do my best to convince you that it's not.


10. A Decline Appears Imminent
Due to circumstances beyond his control, Peterson is set up for a drop-off in production. Without a legitimate threat under center, he'll regularly face eight and nine-man boxes, neutralizing his effectiveness. He was able to overcome this in his first two seasons (he averaged a combined 5.2 YPC in 2007 and 2008), but he was aided by an offensive line that featured Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and All-World left guard Steve Hutchinson. Birk departed before the 2009 season, and the 33-year old Hutchinson's play has deteriorated rapidly. Despite the offensive line's backslide, Brett Favre was able to keep defenses honest enough for Peterson to churn out a respectable 4.5 YPC over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, there's not a quarterback in the draft or on the open market capable of diverting defensive attention away from Peterson in 2011. Hence, opposing defenses will be afforded the luxury of pinning their ears back and swarming to Peterson, with little resistance from an increasingly permeable offensive line.

9. He's Being Wasted
Piggybacking off my last point, Minnesota's once-feared offensive line has become a liability. Right tackle Phil Loadholt regressed in his sophomore season. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie plays when he wants to play. Left guard Steve Hutchinson, when healthy, is a shell of his former self. Center John Sullivan has been overmatched every step of the way, and right guard continues to be patched together by backup-caliber talent. Games are won in the trenches, so what's the point of shelling out top dollar for an elite running back when your offensive line is constantly moving backwards? Perhaps Barry Sanders could best answer that question -- it's nonsensical. The Vikings have put the cart before the horse.

8. Sell High
It's a basic economic principle. Peterson's put to rest the injury concerns that followed him from the University of Oklahoma to Minnesota, and last season he righted his fumbling woes. He has four Pro Bowl seasons under his belt, and plenty of good football ahead of him. His value has never been higher, so trading him now would maximize his return in a trade. The timing is perfect -- next season he'll be a year older, and as I previously speculated, he'll be coming off a down year (by his standards). If his value is peaking, as I suspect, then it has nowhere to go but down.

7. The Green Bay Packers
I realize it's difficult to accept for Vikings fans, but the Packers are the best team in the NFL. They're young, and their talent runs deep on both sides of the ball. With headliners like Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, the pieces are in place for a dynasty -- or at the very least, a long run of NFC North domination. You can say all you want about the Vikings taking the Pack down to the wire in their first 2010 meeting back on October 24, but from that night forward the teams have gone in opposite directions. It's become painfully obvious that the Vikings are no longer in the same class as Green Bay. Considering that the Packers will likely have a stranglehold on the division for the foreseeable future, and that both Chicago and Detroit are trending in the right direction, the Vikings will be facing an uphill battle just to earn a Wild Card birth the next handful of years. As it stands, the Vikings are an aging 6-10 team on the decline. Wouldn't you rather be a young 5-11 team on the rise?

6. It's a Passing League
The modern era of the NFL is all about passing. Look no further than the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks of the last eight years: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. If you can envision the names Joe Webb, Jake Locker, or Vince Young on that list, then you might as well stop reading because I can't reach you. If you're still here, allow me do drop one more knowledge bomb. In 2006, Joseph Addai rushed for 1,081 yards, good for 18th among NFL running backs. Why is this significant? Because it's the most prolific season of any Super Bowl-winning running back in the last five years. The forward pass has officially replaced "three yards and a cloud of dust" as the winning formula in the NFL.

5. Wrong Recipe
Dating back to the early 1990's, every Super Bowl Champion has achieved excellence in at least two of three areas: quarterback, coaching, and defense. Last season the Packers had all three. Looking for exceptions to the rule? The 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers won with good coaching and historically good defenses. The 2007 Giants, perhaps? Sure, they're probably the weakest champion on paper in recent memory, but they fused experienced coaching, clutch quarterbacking, and a top-level defense. Show me the team in the last 20 years that won a Super Bowl with the combination of an elite running back, a mediocre defense, an inexperienced head coach, and a gaping hole at quarterback.

4. The Window Has Closed
It's time to start rebuilding. Sidney Rice and Ray Edwards are both at risk of walking via free agency, and despite the departure of Brett Favre and Pat Williams, this is still an old team. Key contributors Antoine Winfield, Steve Hutchinson, Jim Kleinsasser, Ben Leber, Bryant McKinnie, Visanthe Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, and Kevin Williams are all on the wrong side of 30. That core feels even older when you consider that there's no true "quick fix" quarterback available -- the Vikings will almost certainly be in developmental mode at the position next season. The time has come to begin stockpiling young talent, as the Packers, Bucs, and Chiefs have done in recent years. Instead of hovering around mediocrity with an unbalanced roster, the Vikings would be wise to break it down, take their lumps, and attempt to build it back up stronger and better than ever.

3. Running Backs Don't Last
According to the NFLPA, running backs have the shortest average career of any position in the NFL (just 2.57 years). Due to excessive wear and tear, 30 tends to be the magical age that a running back falls off the cliff. If leaned on heavily early in his career, a back can flame out even sooner. Take Clinton Portis, for example. The University of Miami burner (he once ran a 4.26 40) took the NFL by storm in 2002. By his sixth season, he was noticeably slowing down. By his eighth season he'd become a plodder. Now, heading into his 10th season, he's been cut by the Redskins. Sarcastically dubbed Clinton "Tortoise," his burst is long gone and he's running on fumes. Clinton Portis is 29 years old. How did he get so old so fast? Portis toted the rock 1,308 times (including postseason) in his first four seasons. Adrian Peterson, who turns 26 this month, has logged 1,271 carries in his four-year career. As a violent runner who actively seeks out contact, Peterson's career as an elite-level back is probably somewhere around the halfway point. By the time the Vikings are able to surround him with the right pieces, he'll likely be washed up.

2. Running Backs are Replaceable
Sure, elite-level talents don't grow on trees. However, more so than any other position, a successful running back can be turned up out nowhere. Oftentimes it's because their specific running style is appropriately matched to a team's rushing scheme. Don't believe me? Of last season's 1,000-yard rushers, seven out of 17 (41%) were drafted in the third round or later. In fact, none of last season's top three rushers were draft day darlings -- Arian Foster was undrafted, Jamaal Charles was a third rounder, and Michael Turner was a fifth rounder. Furthermore, the majority of teams have wisely adopted the "running back by committee" approach -- that is, a rotation of good, fresh running backs can be as effective as one great workhorse. Last season Adrian Peterson, who's set to make nearly $13M in 2011, racked up 1,639 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. In New England, the undrafted tandem of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined for 2,019 combination yards and 19 scores, and together they'll bank less than a quarter of Peterson's 2011 salary. As far as replacements, the draft includes names like Mark Ingram, Mikel LeShoure, and Ryan Williams, for starters. With regard to free agency, the ultra-talented DeAngelo Williams (27) highlights a lengthy list of veteran backs looking for work.

Perhaps the blueprint the Vikings should be following is that of the Atlanta Falcons. In 2008, the Falcons were able to turn their franchise around in just one season, going 11-5 after winning just four games in 2007. They did it with a new coach, a rookie quarterback, and a free agent running back (Mike Smith, Matt Ryan, and Michael Turner). Is it crazy to think that the combination of Leslie Frazier, Blaine Gabbert, and DeAngelo Williams might share similar success? Keep in mind, they'd be aided by Matt Ryan's former tutor, new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave. You may be asking how Blaine Gabbert entered the conversation...

1. The Haul
While NFL trades are uncommon, blockbuster moves involving running backs are not without precedent. The free agency era has ensured that a Herschel Walker-type deal (five players and eight draft picks, including three firsts and three seconds) will never happen again. In 1999, the Saints' Mike Ditka gave eight draft picks (including two firsts) to the Redskins for the right to move up and select the all-time NCAA rushing leader (at the time) out of Texas, Ricky Williams. That example doesn't really work, either, as Williams was an unknown NFL entity. However, there's one trade that is very relevant to this conversation -- it's time to revisit our old friend Clinton Portis. In February of 2004, the Broncos sent Portis (22) to the Redskins in exchange for shutdown cornerback Champ Bailey (25) and a second rounder. In the short term, the trade appeared to benefit both teams. Now seven years later, the younger Portis is all but done, and Bailey is still regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the league.

Would the Redskins' freewheeling, star chasing owner Dan Snyder be willing to sign off on another such swap? And if so, what would be considered a fair asking price for the league's best running back in the prime of his career? Maybe the conversation begins with hard-hitting safety LaRon Landry (26), Washington's first rounder (No. 10 -- Julio Jones, Prince Amukamara), and something along the lines of a 2012 second rounder. Cincinnati and Arizona both have very talented young cornerbacks, as well as high draft picks. Perhaps a deal could be structured around Leon Hall (26) and the Bengals No. 4 overall pick, or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (24) and Arizona's first rounder (No. 5). Just like that, you've solidified your secondary for the next 6-8 years, and put yourself in position to draft your franchise quarterback (whether it be Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton). Moreover, you could instantly fill the running back void with Mark Ingram at No. 12 if you so choose. Listen, I'm taking my best stab with these packages from a value perspective. I'm no Rick Spielman. The point is, the Vikings have a lot of holes, and an extra lottery pick combined with a proven young talent would go a long way towards a youth infusion.


No running back, not even Adrian Peterson, can win a Super Bowl on his own. This Vikings roster is flawed at numerous positions, and trading Peterson would allow them to plug young talent into these voids to kick-start the rebuilding process. Or, they can keep the status quo, scratching and clawing for a .500 record in a very strong NFC North. I love Adrian Peterson, and I want nothing more than to see him succeed at a high level in Minnesota. Sadly, it's impossible for me to envision him hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in purple. The supporting pieces and the timing just don't line up.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Boser's Tweetbeat

Written for LestersLegends.com.









Sifting through the hashtags to bring you the hottest trending Twitter topics in the Fantasy Football industry.


CLEARING THE COBWEBS
Austin Collie's sagging ADP has sparked an impassioned debate throughout the fantasy community. Collie's currently being drafted as the 20th wide receiver in early mocks, despite being one of the most productive per-game receivers in the league last season. Through six games, he was on pace for a tremendous 144 targets, and a 118CA/1,343YD/16TD bottom line. Obviously, such calculations must be taken with a grain of salt. But 20th? We're clearly witnessing the power of the concussion risk factor. After those first six games, Collie only set foot on the field three more times in 2010. He was forced from each of those contests prematurely with concussions. Brain injuries. Three times in a seven-week span, Collie lay prone on the field as we held our breaths in horror. And so goes the dispute: Technically, one receiver is just as likely to take a big hit as the next. Conversely, the effects of said hit on a player with past concussions, as opposed to a player with a clean slate, may be very different. What complicates matters even further is that no two concussions are the same, and that we have no clue how many concussions have gone unreported over the last handful of years. Hence, formulating an accurate study for concussion recurrence rates is impossible. Ultimately, what we're left with is a guy being drafted as a low-end WR2 who produced high-end WR1 numbers when healthy in 2010. Come draft day, how much weight should we be putting on past concussions? Is Austin Collie really more likely to suffer a concussion next season than someone like, say, Reggie Wayne? Right or wrong, our current ADP information suggests severe apprehension in drafting Collie. Personally, I haven't had the cojones to pull the trigger on Collie in any of the five mocks (@TheDraftmaster) I've participated in.


SMITTEN WITH WITTEN
Last season, Jason Witten had his most productive fantasy campaign since 2007. This offseason his bandwagon is brimming, as the common opinion seems to be that he can only get better when Tony Romo returns. Pump the breaks, folks. Somewhere near the end of Romo's 2007 breakout season, the quarterback inexplicably began to ignore Witten near the endzone. Dating back to Week 15 of 2007, the road roommates have played 37.25 games together (Romo lasted one quarter of Week 6 last season before breaking his clavicle). In those 37.25 games, Witten's scored just seven times, resulting in a disgusting touchdown rate (touchdowns/reception) of 3.5%. Enter Jon Kitna. The steam we're experiencing with Witten was not generated until the 38-year old backup took over. In those next 10.75 games, Witten's seven touchdowns equaled his total from the previous 37.25 with Romo. As a result, Witten's touchdown rate spiked from 3.5% under Romo to 10% under Kitna. And while Witten's looks (targets/game) and YPC didn't experience much change, his catch rate (catches/target) shot up from 69% to 78%. Witten clearly flourished with Kitna under center, but Dez Bryant's season-ending injury may have played an even bigger role. Witten scored five times in the Cowboys' final four games without Bryant. Perhaps you're beginning to see why I'm leery of Witten's 2011 prospects. Bryant will be back, pass-catching back Felix Jones' role is set to increase, and recent history suggests Witten is the latest in a long line of blondish southerners that Tony Romo has lost interest in.


FUTURE PHENOMS
With the fantasy baseball hot stove heating up, and the NFL labor negotiations extending extended extensions, fantasy football speculation has been a bit thin in recent weeks. Amidst the seamheads and suits, however, the NFL Combine and individual pro days have provided dynasty league enthusiasts with plenty of conjecture. Dynasty guru Bryan Fontaine (@Bryan_Fontaine) of Pro Football Focus recently pegged his top five dynasty rookies for 2011. Of course, a lot will depend on where these kids land. With that said, here are five prospects to keep an especially close eye on come April 28th (in no particular order): Georgia WR A.J. Green, Alabama WR Julio Jones, Alabama RB Mark Ingram, Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure, and Virginia Tech RB Ryan Williams.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Injury-Prone or Unlucky?

Written for fantasyfootballwhiz.com.

The debate is older than Al Davis. Are certain players more prone to the pine, or have they simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time in an unforgiving collision sport? Does an injury increase the odds of a repeat? Are certain injuries more recurring by nature? The truth is, there's no formula for this kind of exercise. Every human heals differently, and everybody has different pain thresholds. I can't crawl into Maurice Jones-Drew's knee, or Ricky Martin's bed, to tell you what bone-on-bone feels like. And the closest I've come to a Percy Harvin migraine or an Austin Collie concussion was my first morning as a 22 year-old. At the end of the day, it's up to you to decide if you're going to paint injury risk with a broad brush, or if you're going to approach it like a Bob Ross "happy tree."

This is far from a perfect experiment, but it's not without merit when you look beyond the numbers. In addition to crunching the raw data, I've analyzed individual circumstances to compliment the "play rate" for 2011's top draft picks. By tabulating injury-caused DNP percentages, I've removed opinions and speculation from the equation. I did not account for games left early, as these instances would not have factored in to your original lineup decisions. And it would have been a colossal pain in the ass. Should this information be considered a valuable tool come draft day? I'll let you be the judge.


QUARTERBACKS

1. Aaron Rodgers - 97.9%
Rodgers has missed one game (47/48) due to injury since becoming the Packers' starter in 2008. He suffered two concussions but missed just one game in 2010.

2. Michael Vick - 81.3%
Vick has missed 18 games (78/96) due to injury since becoming the Falcons' starter in 2002. His 2001 rookie season and his 2009 season have been omitted from this exercise, as he was not a regular starter. He's missed single games with minor injuries to his shoulder, ankle, and leg. He also missed 11 games in 2003 with a fractured fibula, and three games in 2010 with an injury to his rib cartilage. In six years as a starter, he's played a full 16-game slate just once.

3. Drew Brees - 100%
Brees was benched in 2003, and was rested for the postseason in both 2004 and 2009, but he has not missed a single game due to injury (139/139) since becoming the Chargers' starter in 2002. He went through offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum before joining the Saints in 2006, but he's clearly shown no ill effects.

4. Peyton Manning - 100%
In his 13-year career, Manning has started a remarkable 208/208 games.

5. Tom Brady - 90.5%
Brady missed 15 games after he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the 2008 season opener. They remain the only games he's missed due to injury (143/158) since becoming the Patriots' starter early in the 2001 season.

6. Philip Rivers - 100%
Since becoming Drew Brees' successor in 2006, Rivers has started 80/80 games.

7. Tony Romo - 82.4%
Romo has missed 13 games (61/74) due to injury since becoming the Cowboys' starter part way through the 2006 season. He missed three games in 2008 with a broken pinkie on his throwing hand, and the final 10 games of 2010 with a broken clavicle.

8. Josh Freeman - 100%
Since becoming the Bucs' starter midway through 2009, Freeman has started 25/25 games.

9. Ben Roethlisberger - 94.1%
Roethlisberger has missed five games (80/85) due to injury since becoming Steelers' starter. He missed four games in 2005 with injuries to both knees, and one in 2009 with a concussion. To our knowledge, he's tallied four concussions (three on the field and one on a windshield). Note: Games missed due to motorcycle accidents, postseason rest, and rape suspensions were not factored in.

10. Matt Schaub - 84.4%
Schaub didn't become a starter until he was traded to Houston in 2007. He missed five games in each of his first two seasons, with a concussion and a separated (left) shoulder in 2007, and a knee injury in 2008. He's rebounded with back-to-back full seasons (54/64).

Analysis
We all know the risk we're incurring when we select Michael Vick, and seeing this data only heightens the anxiety. I'm not sure "injury-prone" is technically the right word here -- he's not necessarily more breakable than the rest of the bunch. However, his style of play invites extra contact, and his fantasy owners have paid for it again and again. The next four guys on the list are much safer choices, still carry outstanding upside, and will cost you much less on draft day... Speaking of safe, there's no denying it: Peyton Manning is the safest pick in the history of fantasy football... Tom Brady was clearly "unlucky" with the knee injury. It's an isolated incident on an otherwise spotless resume, and it could have happened to anyone... Tony Romo is more mobile than most quarterbacks, but his two injuries feel a bit flukey, as they were both bone breaks that occurred inside the pocket... As far as injuries are concerned, I no longer hesitate to draft Matt Schaub... For what it's worth, the top-10 drafted quarterbacks have a combined play rate of 93.7% (915/977), which equates to exactly 15.0 (of 16) games played per season.



RUNNING BACKS
Tabulating running back play rates is a muddy proposition. Quarterbacks are cut and dry -- they're starters or they're not starters. There's a lot of gray area for running backs, as many are eased into action early in their careers. I've used my best judgement to provide a fair outlook for each back.

1. Arian Foster - 100%
Foster was first worked into the Houston running back mix in Week 14 of 2009, and since then he's played in 20/20 games.

2. Adrian Peterson - 95.3%
Peterson has missed three games (61/64) due to injury since entering the league in 2007. He missed two games in his rookie year with a minor knee injury, and one in 2010 with a thigh injury.

3. Jamaal Charles - 100%
Charles has never missed a game (47/47) due to injury since entering the league in 2008. However, it's important to note that his "fantasy" service clock didn't technically start until Larry Johnson was cut midway through the 2009 season. Prior to that, Charles didn't receive enough work to incur equal injury risk, and he was irrelevant for fantasy purposes. Since Johnson's release, however, Charles has played in 25 straight games.

4. Chris Johnson - 100%
Johnson has never missed a game (47/47) due to injury since entering the league in 2008.

5. LeSean McCoy - 100%
McCoy has never missed a game (31/31) due to injury in his two seasons in the NFL. He accumulated 195 touches as Brian Westbrook's backup in his 2009 rookie season. In 2010, he played through a broken rib.

6. Ray Rice - 93.8%
Rice was used sporadically in his 2008 rookie season, and missed the final three regular season games due to a shin contusion. The ailment also severely limited him in two postseason games. This remains the only injury that's caused Rice to miss action (45/48). It's worth noting that he played through a knee contusion in 2010.

7. Maurice Jones-Drew - 97.5%
MoJo started out his career with a sparkling streak of 77 straight injury-free contests. However, after playing on an damaged right knee throughout the entire 2010 season, he was finally forced to the sideline for games No. 78 and 79. He underwent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus after the season, and his progress will need to be monitored very closely into 2011.

8. Frank Gore - 87.5%
Gore's injury history (84/96) is enough to cause a national shortage on red markers. He missed two games in 2005 (groin/hip), one game in 2007 (ankle), two games in 2008 (ankle), and two games in 2009 (ankle). He also spent the final five weeks of last season on I.R. with a fractured hip. In his six-year career, he's played 16 games just once, and he's developed a knack for getting injured very early in games (after one carry in Week 3 of 2009, and after five carries in Week 12 of 2010). His play rate equates to a career average of 14.0 games per season.

9. Rashard Mendenhall - 75.0%
Mendenhall's 2008 rookie season ended when a fractured shoulder that cost him his final 12 games. Since then, he's played in 32 straight (36/48).

10. Matt Forte - 100%
Forte has never missed a game in his three-year career (48/48).

Here's a couple interesting bonus backs who fell just below the fold...

11. Darren McFadden - 79.2%
Darren McFadden has missed 10 games (38/48) due to injury in his three-year career. He battled turf toe in both feet throughout most of his 2008 rookie season, and although he only missed three games due to the ailment, he was completely phased out of several others. He missed four games in 2009 after undergoing surgery to repair knee cartilage. Last season, McFadden missed two games with a hamstring injury, and another with turf toe.

12. Steven Jackson - 89.3%
Steven Jackson has missed 12 games in his seven-year career (100/112) due to laundry list of injuries: hip, thigh, groin, knee, and back. Last season was just the second 16-game campaign of his career, although he was hobbled by a severe groin injury for much of the year.

Analysis
Despite the solid number behind MoJo's name, he scares me as much as any back on this list... The lowest two rated backs in this study provide us with a perfect example of "injury-prone" vs. "unlucky." Rashard Mendenhall (75%) was welcomed to the league with a bone-shattering hit by Ray Lewis. It could just as easily have happened in Week 14 as Week 4, and he's rebounded with back-to-back full seasons. He was clearly unlucky. Conversely, Darren McFadden (79.2%) actually holds a better play rate, but he's appears to be significantly more injury-prone. Drafting McFadden is a bit like dating a prostitute -- you're paying a steep price for damaged goods and loads of baggage. In three seasons, he's missed games for four separate injuries that have included knee, hamstring, and turf toe... I typically try to avoid Frank Gore, but I was a bit surprised to see how close Steven Jackson came to matching Gore's dismal play rate... For what it's worth, the top-10 drafted running backs have a combined play rate of 93.9% (496/528), which equates to exactly 15.0 (of 16) games played per season.


WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Andre Johnson - 89.8%
Johnson has missed 13 games (115/128) due to injury in his eight-year career. He missed three games in 2005 and seven games in 2007 with knee injuries. He also missed three games last season with an ankle injury.

2. Roddy White - 100%
White has never missed a game (96/96) in his six-year career.

3. Calvin Johnson - 95.3%
Johnson has missed just three games (61/64) due to injury in four years, but he's been noticeably limited in several others. He missed one game in 2007 with a back injury, and two in 2009 with a knee injury.

4. Hakeem Nicks - 84.4%
Nicks has missed five games (27/32) due to injury in two season. He missed two games in 2009 with a sprained left foot, two games in 2010 after undergoing emergency surgery for compartment syndrome (extreme swelling) in his right calf, and the final game of 2010 with a broken toe.

5. Greg Jennings - 94.9%
Jennings has missed four games (75/79) due to injury in five seasons. He missed two games in 2007 with ankle injuries, and two more in 2008 with a bad hamstring. He's since completed three straight 16-game seasons.

6. Reggie Wayne - 98.1%
Wayne missed the first three games of his career with a high ankle sprain. He hasn't missed a game due to injury since (157/160).

7. Larry Fitzgerald - 96.4%
Fitzgerald has missed four games (108/112) due to injury in his seven-year career. He missed three in 2006 with a hamstring injury, and one in 2007 with a groin injury.

8. Mike Wallace - 100%
In his two years, Wallace has never missed a game (32/32) due to injury.

9. Miles Austin - 91.7%
Because of his unconventional rise to stardom, tracking and calculating Austin's injury rate wasn't easy. In his first two seasons, he was primarily a special-teamer who saw spot duty at receiver, totaling just 10 targets. Therefore, I didn't start his "fantasy" service clock until 2008, when he became slightly more involved in the offense. While he was still a fantasy non-factor, we can't ignore the four games he missed with a lingering MCL sprain that he originally suffered in the preseason. Austin emerged as a star in 2009, and has played back-to-back full 16-game seasons (44/48).

10. Dwayne Bowe - 98.3%
Bowe has missed one game (59/60) due to injury in his four NFL seasons. He missed five total games in 2009 -- one with a leg injury, and four for a league suspension.

Analysis
If you're choosing between Roddy White and one of the Johnson's, perhaps this data should be used as a tie breaker... I love Hakeem Nicks, but if you miss games for three separate injuries in two seasons, you're really pushing the "injury-prone" envelope... Over the last nine seasons, Reggie Wayne has been as reliable as Peyton Manning... We're officially in the clear with Greg Jennings and Miles Austin... For some reason, I had it in my head that Larry Fitzgerald was more fragile. I must have owned him in multiple leagues in 2006... It's no coincidence that the thrice-concussed Austin Collie, one of 2009's most productive per-game receivers, was nowhere close to the top-10 (20th)... For what it's worth, the top-10 drafted wide receivers have a combined play rate of 95.4% (774/811), which equates to 15.3 (of 16) games played per season.


Admittedly, there's a lot of useless information here. But weeding through piles of useless information is how we find the good stuff, and I truly believe there are some gems here. If nothing else, look at this as an informational piece -- a comprehensive injury directory for 2011's top draft picks. Whether you use this material to assess injury risk is certainly your call. For me personally, I've tagged Michael Vick, Frank Gore, Darren McFadden, Steven Jackson, and Hakeem Nicks as players carrying a legitimate risk of missing games. No surprises there. Several other players toe the line between "injury-prone" and "unlucky." That's where you have to trust your gut.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sabermetrics Q&A


I'm happy to welcome another guest to the site, as 1500 ESPN's Phil Mackey checks in from a dugout in sunny South Florida to help bridge the gap between traditional statistics and sabermetrics for the casual fan.

OML: Which do you consider the most overrated traditional statistic for both hitters and pitchers?

PM: For hitters, it’s definitely batting average. For pitchers, wins are mostly irrelevant in today’s game.

Batting average doesn’t take into account walks or power, which are two huge ingredients in run creation. The goal in baseball, at least offensively, is to generate as many runs as possible. Runs are created by A.) getting on base, and B.) moving those guys around. That’s why on-base percentage (which includes walks) and slugging percentage (power, moving guys around) are far more relevant than batting average.

The Royals (.272) had the second-highest team batting average in baseball last season, yet they scored the 20th-most runs. The Phillies hit just .260 last season, but they scored 100 more runs than
Kansas City. Why? On-base percentage and slugging percentage.

As for pitcher wins, they obviously favor pitchers who have better run support. It just doesn’t make sense to keep track of a stat that is so heavily influence by run support and bullpen support. In the days where pitchers threw 8-9 innings every night, wins were slightly more relevant.

OML: OPS (on-base plus slugging) and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) have trickled into mainstream statistical analysis. Which sabermetric measurement should be next?

PM: I think you’ll definitely see BABIP (batting average on balls in play) become more relevant, in analyzing both pitchers and hitters. It tells you a lot about how lucky or unlucky players are. Hitters can have higher or lower BABIPs depending on how fast they are, or how many fly balls vs. groundballs a player hits. For pitchers, because they all face the same pool of hitters (for the most part), their BABIP against will almost always be between .280 and .310. Anything above or below (Liriano’s .335 mark last year, for example) will almost always come back to the middle.

OML: How is WAR (Wins Above Replacement) tabulated, and why/how does it matter?

PM: WAR is basically a one-stop value stat, because it includes a player’s offense, defense, baserunning, everything. “Replacement level” is defined as “widely available talent,” meaning guys you can pull off the scrap heap from AAA -- think Matt Tolbert, Willie Bloomquist, Jeff Francoeur, Mark Teahen, etc. Based on years of data, a team full of “replacement-level” players would win approximately 40 games (see: 2003 Tigers).

To put WAR into context, playoff teams generally need to win at least 90 games. Since a team of replacement players would likely win 40 games, GMs need to find 50 extra Wins Above Replacement. Take that 50 WAR and divide it by 25 (number of players on a roster) and each player is worth an average of two wins above replacement.

The best players in baseball are usually worth 7-10 WAR in any given MVP season. In other words, not even Albert Pujols is worth 20 extra wins to the Cardinals.

OML: So PECOTA isn't about saving dolphins?

PM: PECOTA is a complicated set of formulas created by the guys at Baseball Prospectus to project future performance. PECOTA is also used to compare current players to the career paths of former players.

Interesting stuff for geeks like me.

OML: Can you explain UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) in 140 characters or less?

PM: Hmm… I’ll try.

UZR basically tells you how many plays a fielder made compared to the average baseline. It then converts that number to "runs saved.”

If I had more than 140 characters, I’d tell you that UZR is much more important than errors and fielding percentage, because it accounts for everything. If an outfielder lets a fly ball fall in front of him for a hit, he obviously isn’t charged with an error (if a tree falls in the forest…). But he would be “charged” with not making the play, according to UZR, because a ball fell into his zone that another player may have caught.

OML: Billy Beane is considered one of the pioneers of sabermetrics. Outside of the obvious (Joe Mauer), which Twins would he covet?

PM: Actually, Beane isn’t necessarily a pioneer of sabermetrics. He’s the pioneer of Moneyball -- a theory that revolves around capitalizing on the market. Ten years ago, Beane noticed that on-base percentage was cheap to acquire, so he loaded up. Over the last five years, defense has been the new Moneyball (see: Red Sox, Rays, others).

Outside of Mauer, I’m not sure there are any sabermetric sleepers in the Twins’ lineup. Guys like Jason Kubel and Delmon Young are probably overvalued because they don’t play very good defense.

OML: Off the top of your head, which players would you consider the most overrated and underrated in the league, according to sabermetrics?

PM: Off the top of my head, Chase Utley, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria might be slightly underrated, because people don’t realize how highly they rate defensively. Anyone with a high OBP that doesn’t get much recognition is probably underrated.

Alfonso Soriano is overrated, because of his lower OBP, and Jermaine Dye was one of the most overrated players in baseball during his last few seasons because he was a statue in right field.

OML: The Athletics, Rays, and Red Sox have obviously done it -- do most Major League teams have sabermetrics consultants? Does Bill Smith have anyone in his back pocket?

PM: I would estimate most teams at this point have engaged in some type of stat work. Even if teams don’t use it much for their own player evaluations, they should be aware of what other teams are doing.

As far as I know, the Twins don’t have any significant sabermetric influence. They may or may not have a guy crunching numbers somewhere, but the Twins rely almost entirely on traditional scouting. And until they suffer through a 90-loss season, it probably won’t change much.

OML: Do sabermetrics carry much weight at the negotiation table?

PM: That’s a great question. I’ve always wondered that, especially in arbitration cases. I’m guessing it’s just like any other negotiation or argument -- if one of the parties can use sabermetrics to their advantage, they probably do.

OML: At the end of the day, how should the casual fan balance traditional statistics and sabermetrics?

PM: Some people say they don’t pay attention to sabermetrics because they enjoy watching games too much -- they don’t want to be so caught up in numbers.

As a guy who covers the Twins on a daily basis, talks to people in the organization every day, and watches live games every day -- but who also has a very rich sabermetric background -- I find baseball a lot more interesting when I have information from both sides; traditional and saber.

If it was possible to evaluate players with ONLY the naked eye, we wouldn’t have invented batting average. Sabermetrics are just the next evolution, and they are far less complicated than people think.

Follow Phil Mackey's Spring Training updates on Twitter at @PMac21.