Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Coast Guard: Steven Jackson v. Frank Gore

The Coast Guard: policing the police. I judge writers' fantasy football arguments. I am assessing the quality of the argument, not the quality of the player being argued about. I keep my assessments of players closer to the 100% polyester vest, because those lascivious Hazelweirders read this blog.

At Yahoo!, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski debate the merits of Steven Jackson (Funston) and Frank Gore (Pianowski). I think Funston makes the better argument.

Pianowski's case for Gore over Jackson rests largely on a shaky argument: that "Fantasy production from running backs is generally tied to winning clubs, something the Niners have a good shot at being this year." I think it's a weak argument to tie an individual player's fantasy prospects to his team's prospects; furthermore, it's a double-weak argument to predict individual success based on a prediction of team success. If Pianowski is wrong about the Niners, he's wrong about Gore. It's not wrong to examine a player's team context when projecting his fantasy production; it's tenuous, however, to make the predicted team context your central argument.

Funston brings stronger statistical evidence to his argument. He shows a table listing Jackson's rankings among RBs in fantasy points per game the last four seasons, and also lists the Rams' records in those seasons. He shows that Jackson's productivity is not tied to the success of the Rams' team. While Pianowski bases his argument on his prediction that the Niners will be good, Funston shows that the quality of the Rams is irrelevant to Jackson's productivity. Funston is also able to note that "not once in those four years did Frank Gore average more fantasy points than Jackson."

Funston is able to base his argument on track record; he examines the past, shows Jackson's strong production in fantasy points per game, and argues that since Jackson is good no matter how bad the Rams are, we can expect further production in 2009. It's stronger, I think, to base projections on past production; while Funston can argue that things will be the same for Jackson in '09, Pianowski has to argue that Gore is preferable because something will be different in '09. It's a safer pick to take the player who has proven he's better in the past. And it's a safer pick to take the player whose production is (based on Funston's and Pianowski's arguments) dependent on himself, not on his team.

The argument for Gore over Jackson that both writers acknowledge is concern over durability. I'd give the edge to Pianowski on that fair argument, but it's not a weighty argument. Considering that all running backs have a high injury risk, when you're guessing at a RB's 2009 durability, you're judging relative durability, and you're still relying on luck.

Jackson v. Gore is a very close fantasy argument, and on the merits of the two players, I'm not convinced (yet) which player is preferable. As players, I like both Jackson and Gore. But based on the respective arguments, I give the win to Funston.

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