Saturday, November 22

Stat Boy Saturday: How Do Backups-Turned-Starters Perform?

Another week with our honorary stat boy, Zach Fein of Fein Sports. A contributor with as much stat muscle as anyone in the business. You may not understand what he's says and use it for your fantasy leagues, but if you're in the mood to be baffled and confused, then boy does he have you covered. Because life is one big spreadsheet. This week, with the injury of Earnest Graham, he throws out the charts and graphs dealing with a backup's performance after he gains the starting role. It's that time of year again. Remember last year? Three running backs who produced as top-15 running backs, after their incumbent running back got injured—Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman in the case of Earnest Graham (whom himself might be one of those to allow a backup major opportunities this year); Brandon Jackson and Deshawn Wynn for Ryan Grant; and LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes for Justin Fargas. As just noted, Earnest Graham was placed on the IR and Warrick Dunn was subsequently proclaimed as the next pre-2008 LaDainian Tomlinson. Even I succumbed to this, choosing Dunn as my mancrush of the week (which haven't been posted yet, by the way). Conservatives will point to Jamaal Charles, Kolby Smith, Kenneth Darby, and Antonio Pittman as reasons to why backups-turned-starters (BTS) never perform. Others will point to the three backs mentioned above, Graham, Grant, and Fargas. Who is right? And does the experience of a BTS even matter? Looking at every top-30 back's game-by-game logs from 2005-2007, I chose 22 running back whose game-by-game carries showed that they were a BTS. My criteria for choosing these 22 was that they must have single digit carries in a significant amount of games, or in three or more games. I then lowered that to 18, getting rid of those who had carry totals that fluctuated every week, and found 19 stretches of games in which they looked to go from a backup to a starter. One player had two of these, hence the 19 (which I'll simply call players and not stretches). Yes, it's selective sampling, but it beats just looking at games started or not started, because some players in timeshares tend to get a starting job midway through the year but have the number of attempts stay the same, which is not what I was looking for. Here are the charts showing the average amount of attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and fantasy points for each number game started. There were 17 players in the first game played, 17 in the second, 16 in the third, then 14, 11, 9, 7, 7, 6, 2, and finally 2 in the 11th game played. Realize that the 10th and 11th games should definitely not be looked at due to the low number of players, but I included them anyway. (For reference, the pre-starter per-game averages of these 19 players was 6.4 attempts, 30.2 rushing yards, 0.2 touchdowns, and 5.8 fantasy points.) Click on pictures for larger view. Although the graphs look inconsistent, check out what each dot actually means. The lowest average of attempts was just less than 16, yards just less than 70, and fantasy points just less than 12. I suggest a BTS's fourth game as the proving point. The fourth game had higher stats than every game before it except in fantasy points, where a BTS's second game had .13 more fantasy points than his fourth. So in conclusion, you can trust backups-turned-starters on your fantasy team. You won't know exactly what stats they'll put up, but you know that they'll put up No. 2 or even No. 1 running back numbers. That's more reason as to why Warrick Dunn will be the next pre-2008 LaDainian Tomlinson Earnest Graham. Ironic, huh? We'd take a homeless man to the movies, too.

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