Are goalies undervalued?

7 10 2008

Every fantasy season I build a model in Excel to evaluate draft choices.  It’s a simple model that uses some dubious assumptions, that’s generally proven pretty useless for fantasy baseball and football, but highly effective for fantasy basketball.  Last weekend I built the model for both hockey and basketball.  I’ll discuss my basketball findings in a later post, but right now I’m more interested in the very surprising results from the hockey model.

When I ran the calculations, and built a draft board, the model said that the top 10 picks–that is, the 10 most valuable fantasy players–are all goalies.  This clashes with conventional wisdom from the fantasy community, where you generally see just a couple goalies in the top 10.  I was concerned about an error in the model, so I started thinking about what it was doing, and whether its results made any sense.

The model I use compares players to a replacement-level player at their position, a projection of the best guy available on the wavier wire.  There are 30 teams in the NHL and as best I can tell, you only want to start the primary goalie on each.  So there are potentially 30 possible starters.  In our 12-team league, each team starts 2 goalies, for a total of 24 starters.  Additionally, teams will draft backups.  This doesn’t allow for much flexibility.  If you don’t land two top goalies, you’ll be stuck playing a bad one, or a backup, or only starting one goalie.  These all seem like really bad ideas.  Category math also works in goalies’ favor.  Fantasy teams start 2 goalies and 10 skaters.  The goalies account for 4 statistical categories, the skaters for 6.  So with two top picks, you can gain a huge edge in 40% of stats. 

In my draft this weekend, I drafted Evgeni Nabokov 9th overall, the second goalie off the board.  I followed with Niklas Backstrom (no, not Nicklas Backstrom) at 33 overall and Pascal Leclaire at 112.  According to the model, all three of these guys should have gone in the first round.

I’ll reevaluate this strategy as the season plays out.  There are a couple points against it.  For one, it’s a head-to-head league and one of the goalie categories is shutouts.  Shutouts are very rare, so I suspect many matchups will end 0-0, 1-0 or 1-1, meaning it’s a bit of a crapshoot anyway.  I accounted for this by devaluing shutouts by 50% in the model.  A second downfall is it’s hard to predict which goalies are actually the top goalies.  I went entirely based on last year’s numbers, since I don’t know enough about hockey to predict anything.  This article seems to support my thinking, and argues against this objection.  Greg Gibeault: “I can’t say that I’ve grabbed a sleeper goaltender and had him actually perform in recent memory…I don’t have enough fingers to count all of the random players who I’ve grabbed at other positions who have performed well.”

Overall, I’m really skeptical about my chances in fantasy hockey, but I’m optimistic about my goalies.

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2 responses

8 10 2008
Joe

I think you’re the only one in the league with better goalies than me. Maybe one other person. I drafted mine 2nd and 4th, but apparently no one should get Luongo in the 2nd round.

We’ll see about your strategy of drafting defense so high, though. I didn’t see much reason to do that.

10 12 2008
Greg Gibeault

Just curious how the strategy worked for you. It has worked decently well for me although Nabakov’s injury has hurt me a bit (as with you I assume). I am in second in all four of my leagues so I can’t complain.

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