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Another Piece On Upside Kickers

Last week I wrote a piece about kickers. Feeling as if I haven’t alienated enough of our readers, I’m writing another one. Anytime you can devote a lot of words to the least important players in all of daily fantasy sports, you absolutely must.

To Recap . . .

In case you didn’t get the point of that header, this section is a recap . . .

Chalky Vegas

Kickers on teams implied to score a lot of points tend to provide a lot of value, per our salary-based Plus/Minus metric and our Trends tool. Of course, tons of people pick their kickers based on Vegas data, so the kickers on teams with high implied point totals tend to be chalky.

Assets, Not Liabilities

If we are in guaranteed prize pools, we have the opportunity to treat kickers not as liabilities (as they are usually treated) but instead as assets. How does one treat a kicker as an asset? By using the position as a source of differentiation and potential upside.

Whence Upside?

Differentiation you can grasp easily enough: Pivot away from the chalky Vegas kickers. But how do we find upside? As a general trend, the kickers who have high-upside games (say, games with at least five field goal attempts) are guys who play for teams that run the ball a lot, have low touchdown and turnover rates, score a high percentage of their touchdowns via the ground game, and/or end a high percentage of their drives with field goal attempts.

I think that all of that makes intuitive sense. It’s not a coincidence that last year the Vikings, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Broncos, Ravens, and Rams all had multiple games in which their kickers attempted at least five field goals. Those are teams that simply relied on their kickers a lot in 2015. That’s what teams tend to do when they are committed to the run and don’t turn the ball over but also don’t score a lot of touchdowns.

So I guess that this article is pretty much over . . .

What Did I Miss?

I missed so much. Apparently, there’s an entire ecosystem of numbers nerds who like to talk about kickers and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation — not that there’s anything wrong with that . . .

RotoViz’s Nick Giffen has recently done a comprehensive study on kickers in which he builds upon the work of three data Jedi (Torin K. Clark, Aaron W. Johnson, and Alexander J. Stimpson) who presented their research at the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

I suggest that you check out Part 1 of Nick’s kicker series. My understanding is that Parts 2-117 will be released regularly over the next 40 years. In Part 1, Nick looks at field goal distance, temperature, wind speed, field surface, altitude, precipitation, and season in order to answer the age-old question, “Am I wasting my time?” Nick was not wasting his time. These factors matter.

Now, Nick and I are looking at kickers in different ways — I’m thinking about kicking upside and Nick (in Part 2) will be presenting a kicking model that predicts the number of attempts per game a kicker is likely to get (over a full season, I assume) — but I would be surprised if Nick in his study didn’t look at least a little bit at some of the factors I’ve mentioned above.

One factor he also might take into account is defensive strength. In my previous back-of-the-envelope-esque consideration of kickers, I didn’t look at how a kicker’s defense might impact his ability to get a lot of attempts in any given game. I’m doing that now.

The Red Pill

In the fall of 2014, Fantasy Douche unleashed the correlation matrix that answers every question you’ve ever had about DFS stacking. He was being (in his words) “a little overdramatic” in suggesting that the matrix is essentially the Rosetta Stone, the philosopher’s stone, or any other kind of historico-mythical stone of NFL stacking — but the matrix is definitely a valuable DFS touchstone. Last year, FantasyLabs writer Bryan Mears used it to create NFL correlation values.

What I find really fascinating (and probably exploitable) is that, even though the kicker position is thought of by a lot of people as being almost entirely random and unpredictable, many of the strongest correlations that we see in the matrix involve kickers.

We can say with relative accuracy that if an opposing defense is doing well, a kicker won’t be productive. Also, if one kicker is doing well, the other kicker won’t be. Both of these make sense. Additionally, we can say that when a kicker’s quarterback does well, the kicker does well. I like to call this fact ‘The Stephen Gostkowski Law of Nature.’

And we can say that if a kicker’s defense does well then he also does well. In fact, a kicker is correlated to his defense more than he is to any other position on his team. The quarterback correlation is very close — but the DST correlation surpasses it by a razor-thin margin.

When a defense does well, the kicker does well. That makes the most sense in the world. If a defense is shutting down the opposing offense, a coach might be more willing to take field goals because he wants to extend the lead or because he trusts his defense or because [insert any other applicable narrative here].

Let’s dig deeper into this since you don’t have anything better to read.

Some Defensive Considerations

Here’s the magic number: 13.

In 2015, there were 17 kickers who attempted at least five field goal attempts in a game. And 13 of them (or 76.5 percent) were on teams with defenses in the top half of the league in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric. Further, 13 of them had defenses in the top half of the league against the pass. Finally, 13 of them had defenses in the top half against the run.

Across the board, defense matters. The top-eight defenses in DVOA were connected to eight of the 17 upside kicking performances from last year. In other words, the top quartile in 2015 accounted for almost half of the upside games we saw from kickers.

When I was looking for correlations in 2015 data, the one that was the strongest had to do with rushing defense. Over the course of the season, the defenses that allowed fewer yards rushing tended to be on teams that attempted a relatively higher number of field goals. That’s probably not surprising.

The Primacy of Rush Defense

When I started this research, I made the simple decision to cut my target metrics in half: Teams in the top half of the league in yards allowed and teams in the bottom half, for instance. Doing that allowed me to look at a lot of data really quickly.

But the 50/50 split is fairly arbitrary. Not all 50/50 splits are distributed in the same way, and it might be the case that in some instances a 60/40 split could be more revealing.

What we see when looking at the 50/50 splits for rush and pass defenses are numbers that look identical: 76.5 percent of the cohort kickers are in the top half for both splits. But rush defense and pass defense are not equal.

If we adjust the splits, what we find is that 100 percent of the cohort kickers are on teams in the top 60 percent of rush defense. For pass defense, 88.2 percent of the cohort kickers are on teams in the top 80 percent.

For upside kickers, rushing defense matters most and it’s not even close.

A Couple More Numbers

In 2015, defenses allowed 108.8 yards rushing per game. That was the league average. In the 17 five-attempt games, the kickers’ defenses allowed 91.9 yards rushing per game, representing a decline of 15.5 percent.

That might not seem like a lot, but it’s substantial. That difference of 16.9 yards rushing per game is almost the difference between Lamar Miller last year and Ameer Abdullah. (54.5 RuYd/G vs. 37.3). Is that a fair comparison? Not at all. But it’s a d*mn effective one.

If you are looking for upside kickers — and it’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of the 2015 five-attempt kickers played for relatively boring offenses in low-scoring games — then you might want to start by focusing on defenses.

If you are analyzing a matchup and happen to say to yourself, “This defense is going to transform the opposing running back from Lamar to Ameer (metaphorically speaking),” then you might want to take a look at the kicker on the team with the stud rushing defense.

If that kicker also happens to be on a team that runs the ball a lot and attempts a lot of field goals anyway, strongly consider him for GPPs. If he’s in a game that doesn’t have Vegas appeal, all the better.

By the way, I’ll try never to write about kickers again.

———

The Labyrinthian: 2016, 84

This is the 84th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.

Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page. If you have suggestions on material I should know about or even write about in a future Labyrinthian, please contact me via email, [email protected], or Twitter @MattFtheOracle.

Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs.

Last week I wrote a piece about kickers. Feeling as if I haven’t alienated enough of our readers, I’m writing another one. Anytime you can devote a lot of words to the least important players in all of daily fantasy sports, you absolutely must.

To Recap . . .

In case you didn’t get the point of that header, this section is a recap . . .

Chalky Vegas

Kickers on teams implied to score a lot of points tend to provide a lot of value, per our salary-based Plus/Minus metric and our Trends tool. Of course, tons of people pick their kickers based on Vegas data, so the kickers on teams with high implied point totals tend to be chalky.

Assets, Not Liabilities

If we are in guaranteed prize pools, we have the opportunity to treat kickers not as liabilities (as they are usually treated) but instead as assets. How does one treat a kicker as an asset? By using the position as a source of differentiation and potential upside.

Whence Upside?

Differentiation you can grasp easily enough: Pivot away from the chalky Vegas kickers. But how do we find upside? As a general trend, the kickers who have high-upside games (say, games with at least five field goal attempts) are guys who play for teams that run the ball a lot, have low touchdown and turnover rates, score a high percentage of their touchdowns via the ground game, and/or end a high percentage of their drives with field goal attempts.

I think that all of that makes intuitive sense. It’s not a coincidence that last year the Vikings, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Broncos, Ravens, and Rams all had multiple games in which their kickers attempted at least five field goals. Those are teams that simply relied on their kickers a lot in 2015. That’s what teams tend to do when they are committed to the run and don’t turn the ball over but also don’t score a lot of touchdowns.

So I guess that this article is pretty much over . . .

What Did I Miss?

I missed so much. Apparently, there’s an entire ecosystem of numbers nerds who like to talk about kickers and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation — not that there’s anything wrong with that . . .

RotoViz’s Nick Giffen has recently done a comprehensive study on kickers in which he builds upon the work of three data Jedi (Torin K. Clark, Aaron W. Johnson, and Alexander J. Stimpson) who presented their research at the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

I suggest that you check out Part 1 of Nick’s kicker series. My understanding is that Parts 2-117 will be released regularly over the next 40 years. In Part 1, Nick looks at field goal distance, temperature, wind speed, field surface, altitude, precipitation, and season in order to answer the age-old question, “Am I wasting my time?” Nick was not wasting his time. These factors matter.

Now, Nick and I are looking at kickers in different ways — I’m thinking about kicking upside and Nick (in Part 2) will be presenting a kicking model that predicts the number of attempts per game a kicker is likely to get (over a full season, I assume) — but I would be surprised if Nick in his study didn’t look at least a little bit at some of the factors I’ve mentioned above.

One factor he also might take into account is defensive strength. In my previous back-of-the-envelope-esque consideration of kickers, I didn’t look at how a kicker’s defense might impact his ability to get a lot of attempts in any given game. I’m doing that now.

The Red Pill

In the fall of 2014, Fantasy Douche unleashed the correlation matrix that answers every question you’ve ever had about DFS stacking. He was being (in his words) “a little overdramatic” in suggesting that the matrix is essentially the Rosetta Stone, the philosopher’s stone, or any other kind of historico-mythical stone of NFL stacking — but the matrix is definitely a valuable DFS touchstone. Last year, FantasyLabs writer Bryan Mears used it to create NFL correlation values.

What I find really fascinating (and probably exploitable) is that, even though the kicker position is thought of by a lot of people as being almost entirely random and unpredictable, many of the strongest correlations that we see in the matrix involve kickers.

We can say with relative accuracy that if an opposing defense is doing well, a kicker won’t be productive. Also, if one kicker is doing well, the other kicker won’t be. Both of these make sense. Additionally, we can say that when a kicker’s quarterback does well, the kicker does well. I like to call this fact ‘The Stephen Gostkowski Law of Nature.’

And we can say that if a kicker’s defense does well then he also does well. In fact, a kicker is correlated to his defense more than he is to any other position on his team. The quarterback correlation is very close — but the DST correlation surpasses it by a razor-thin margin.

When a defense does well, the kicker does well. That makes the most sense in the world. If a defense is shutting down the opposing offense, a coach might be more willing to take field goals because he wants to extend the lead or because he trusts his defense or because [insert any other applicable narrative here].

Let’s dig deeper into this since you don’t have anything better to read.

Some Defensive Considerations

Here’s the magic number: 13.

In 2015, there were 17 kickers who attempted at least five field goal attempts in a game. And 13 of them (or 76.5 percent) were on teams with defenses in the top half of the league in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric. Further, 13 of them had defenses in the top half of the league against the pass. Finally, 13 of them had defenses in the top half against the run.

Across the board, defense matters. The top-eight defenses in DVOA were connected to eight of the 17 upside kicking performances from last year. In other words, the top quartile in 2015 accounted for almost half of the upside games we saw from kickers.

When I was looking for correlations in 2015 data, the one that was the strongest had to do with rushing defense. Over the course of the season, the defenses that allowed fewer yards rushing tended to be on teams that attempted a relatively higher number of field goals. That’s probably not surprising.

The Primacy of Rush Defense

When I started this research, I made the simple decision to cut my target metrics in half: Teams in the top half of the league in yards allowed and teams in the bottom half, for instance. Doing that allowed me to look at a lot of data really quickly.

But the 50/50 split is fairly arbitrary. Not all 50/50 splits are distributed in the same way, and it might be the case that in some instances a 60/40 split could be more revealing.

What we see when looking at the 50/50 splits for rush and pass defenses are numbers that look identical: 76.5 percent of the cohort kickers are in the top half for both splits. But rush defense and pass defense are not equal.

If we adjust the splits, what we find is that 100 percent of the cohort kickers are on teams in the top 60 percent of rush defense. For pass defense, 88.2 percent of the cohort kickers are on teams in the top 80 percent.

For upside kickers, rushing defense matters most and it’s not even close.

A Couple More Numbers

In 2015, defenses allowed 108.8 yards rushing per game. That was the league average. In the 17 five-attempt games, the kickers’ defenses allowed 91.9 yards rushing per game, representing a decline of 15.5 percent.

That might not seem like a lot, but it’s substantial. That difference of 16.9 yards rushing per game is almost the difference between Lamar Miller last year and Ameer Abdullah. (54.5 RuYd/G vs. 37.3). Is that a fair comparison? Not at all. But it’s a d*mn effective one.

If you are looking for upside kickers — and it’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of the 2015 five-attempt kickers played for relatively boring offenses in low-scoring games — then you might want to start by focusing on defenses.

If you are analyzing a matchup and happen to say to yourself, “This defense is going to transform the opposing running back from Lamar to Ameer (metaphorically speaking),” then you might want to take a look at the kicker on the team with the stud rushing defense.

If that kicker also happens to be on a team that runs the ball a lot and attempts a lot of field goals anyway, strongly consider him for GPPs. If he’s in a game that doesn’t have Vegas appeal, all the better.

By the way, I’ll try never to write about kickers again.

———

The Labyrinthian: 2016, 84

This is the 84th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.

Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page. If you have suggestions on material I should know about or even write about in a future Labyrinthian, please contact me via email, [email protected], or Twitter @MattFtheOracle.

Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs.