Michael Salfino

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Michael Salfino provides quantitative player and team analysis for the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports.

  • Pitching by the Numbers: Special-K Closers

    Aroldis Chapman helps supplement a fantasy rotation with Vitamin K. (USAT)The select few strikeout-dominant closers are too cheap in our game. The tremendous impact that they can have on the overall pitching staff in Ks seems too discounted given how the coming off the board now, even in expert leagues.

    I’ve always said that relievers are like french fries in that they are only good when they’re hot – and they don’t stay hot for long. But if you can bet on anything with them, it’s strikeout rates.

    So when I look at closers, I mainly see their surplus Ks over innings pitched because I want to take that surplus and add it to my starters’ strikeouts. The math is simple. For every strikeout my reliever is over innings pitched, I get to add one full strikeout for nine innings worth of pitching from my starters. This is critical of course in leagues like many on Yahoo that have innings caps, essentially turning the strikeout category into a K/9 category.

    Here’s an example: I roster Ernesto Frieri, who is viewed as a middle-of-the-road reliever because he lacks job

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Projecting Masahiro Tanaka

    In our first Pitching by the Numbers of '14, let’s look at the newest hot commodity, Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees.

     Here’s what Tanaka did in Japan compared to some recent imports of note:

     These stats are all pre-MLB (some pitchers went back after pitching in the majors). I’ve sorted by the most important stat, SO/BB. There’s also a good argument for strikeouts minus walks (next week’s column). But I try not to use stats that are not commonly tracked when there is a comparable one that is almost as good and easily available. The objective here generally is to provide you with projecting models that you can easily use yourself.

     Now let’s use Rotochamp.com to pull some Tanaka projections for 2014.

    My major quarrel here is mainly with the strikeouts. I think they’ll be considerably higher.

    Notice the Japan K rates of recent pitchers with decent MLB samples – Darvish, Iwakuma and Kuroda. They have actually beaten their combined K/9 in Japan (7.4) while in MLB (7.8). Add in

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  • Scouting Notebook: Final take

    Calvin Johnson was more Mini-tron on Sunday. (USAT)Calvin Johnson came up empty in the biggest moment for his owners, but it's amazing what he’s been able to do all year with his knee obviously remaining an issue. So rather than this disappointment contradicting his greatness, I think it actually confirms it because his injury probably would have rendered mere mortal wideouts useless long ago.

    Late in the Packers game on an otherwise pretty meaningless play, we saw some very high-level NFL WR receiving action by Le’Veon Bell, turning three quarters of the way around to catch a bullet with his outstretched hands. There is a lot of untapped receiving potential here and I really like Bell a lot in 2014.

    Arizona allowed its league-worst 17th touchdown pass to tight ends, which is a weird stat. Why would a team be that bad against all tight ends? I think teams are just targeting that position more near the end zone because of that stat. It’s feeding on itself, basically.

    This game illustrated what I meant when I said last week that the

    Read More »from Scouting Notebook: Final take
  • Splitsville: Kill the kicker

    Justin Tucker delivered numerous bad beats in Week 15. (USAT)Every movement has its moment and, in fantasy football, the moment has come, my fellow Americans, for "Kill The Kicker." So let’s start Splitsville here this week. I don’t think I need to detail the impact that Justin Tucker had on many leagues in our Week 15 playoffs, as it’s already bad-beat legend. And Tucker wasn’t even the highest scoring kicker last week (Dan Bailey).

    Let’s take the arguments against killing the kicker on one by one.

    “Kickers are a part of real football and we should be as much like real football as we can be.” Huh? This is fantasy football. Kickers are never a part of any football fantasy. No cheerleader has ever even fantasized about marrying a kicker, for cryin’ out loud. We have the power to make our fake game anyway we want. We can play with two quarterbacks, three running backs and, clearly, no kicker.

    “We need kickers because we should play with as many players as possible. More is always better than less.” I’m not saying to get rid of kickers and not replace

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  • Scouting Notebook: Quality over quantity for Charles

    I think any commentary right now would be crass without first giving the NFL a virtual standing ovation for outdoing itself every week with games that are simply astounding while setting new standards for pulse-racing excitement. Nothing else comes close.

    Did you get Charles'd in Week 15? (USAT) Layering in our fake games just dials everything up to 11. And with epic games we get epic fantasy football scoring, too.

    Like many who were still alive, I was "Charles'd" out of the playoffs, as in Jamaal Charles. But I tip my cap to Andy Reid and the Chiefs for realizing that piling up meaningless touches with him was doomed. The “less is more” approach, especially getting him in space on Sunday in the passing game, is clearly the way to go with this undersized but dynamic weapon. He’s gone from the high 20s to the low 20s in touches of late and Sunday he had just 16 for 215 total yards and four receiving touchdowns (five total), the first time in history a running back has done that.

    We are biased toward offense. And irrespective of

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  • Splitsville: Diving deep into wide receivers

    Let’s start with wide receivers in this week’s Splitsville with a stat that I’ve been tracking for years, receiving yards per target.

    Here’s the top 25, minimum 50 targets.

    Hakeem Nicks at 9.62 does not fit into the narrative that he’s a shell of his former self. Of course, he hasn’t scored a touchdown in more than a year and that’s terrible for his 2013 value. But looking toward 2014, I believe that this performance on all passes thrown to him is the better predictive tool. Nicks will probably have a change of scenery, too, as an impending free agent. Depending on where he lands, he could be a sweet 2014 draft-day value in the middle or even late rounds.

    Victor Cruz is 8.77 by the way, above the average of 8.25.

    There obviously are reasons why certain players lag in this category. Their quarterbacks could be terrible. They could be the first read on most plays and thus get tagged with targets on most throwaways when there is quick pressure and/or a missed assignment. But when a receiver Read More »from Splitsville: Diving deep into wide receivers
  • Scouting Notebook: Gordon the Great

    Pats DB Aqib Talib was no match for Josh Gordon on Sunday. (USAT)Rob Gronkowski’s injury is the big news in Week 14 and has his owners who survived scrambling for a waiver-wire replacement and owners of Tom Brady pondering whether he can be trusted for the remainder of the fantasy football playoff season.

    Meanwhile, Josh Gordon just keeps delighting his owners and is now as dangerous as any player in our game. No defensive back can handle him and the really good ones are dumb enough to try so you should especially look forward to days like Sunday against Aqib Talib.

    With all the volume in the Browns passing game, you should never have gotten off of the Jordan Cameron bandwagon, either. When a team is throwing over 40 passes a game and the TE is always running patterns on third down, you must start him unless you have Vernon Davis or a pre-injury Gronkowski.

    Ryan Mathews’ 29 carries were the story in the Chargers victory over the Giants. But the volume will be down again next week in Denver. More important is the status of the one of the best rookie

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  • Splitsville: Wonder-Foles

    Nick Foles, fantasy's finest? (USAT)Nick Foles is the most efficient fantasy football scorer in the league right now.  That doesn’t make him the best player because volume matters, too. But it sure puts him in the conversation.

    Yet I keep getting a lot of questions on Twitter (@michaelsalfino) about starting Foles or Fantasy QB X (who isn’t Peyton Manning). My answer is Foles. Maybe I’d change my mind if the matchup was terrible, which it is not this week against a Detroit team that has trouble stopping passing attacks. You’ll see later in Splitsville that the Lions are downright bad against the pass. They are a backwards defense: stop the run at all costs. So I think Foles and the Eagles will have a typical day and typical for them is top shelf for us.

    Here’s a chart of the quarterbacks this year sorted by Yahoo! standard fantasy points per touch (pass attempts, rushing attempts and sacks):

    Player, Fantasy Points Per Touch
    Nick Foles, 0.743
    Peyton Manning, 0.63
    Russell Wilson, 0.588
    Michael Vick, 0.556
    Aaron Rodgers, 0.553

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  • Scouting Notebook: Decker owners find justice

    Eric Decker scored four times on Sunday.(USAT)Alex Smith got some bad breaks on Sunday with dropped passes, and you can say that those who speculated on him this week deserved a better fate. But the problem with being a team like the Chiefs is that you are not in the practice of passing. So when the need arises, it’s not second nature. Great quarterback play can overcome this only so far as the receivers are on the same page and accustomed to making the tougher catches that have to be made to win against an offense and quarterback of the caliber of the Broncos and Peyton Manning.

    It’s not like Eric Decker took off the second Wes Welker’s touchdown run revealed itself to be the fantasy fluke of all time. And no one can ever see a four-touchdown game coming. But Decker owners got some justice today.

    I do not expect justice here from the people who rip me to high heaven every time I get something wrong, which is often. It’s honestly a very small price to pay for working in the Toy Department of life. No one posts saying, “Hey, you wereRead More »from Scouting Notebook: Decker owners find justice
  • Splitsville: Maximizing win probability

    The fantasy football playoffs are right around the corner, but we need to get there first. Here are some stats designed to help you mine the waiver wire and set your lineup in ways that maximize win probability.

    Let's start with the basics, the teams that pass and run the most.

    Call him "Big Play" Russell. (USAT) Most passing attempts per game thus far in 2013: Cleveland (43.4), Detroit(42.3), Atlanta (41), Denver (40.7), Houston (40), New Orleans (39.9),New England (39.1), Pittsburgh (38), Chicago (37.5), Cincinnati (37.4).

    Fewest pass attempts: San Francisco (25.1), Seattle (26), Jets (30.4),Carolina (30.6), Oakland (30.7), Philadelphia (32), Tennessee (33.1),Tampa Bay (33.3), St. Louis (33.7).

    But don't panic yet. Because big plays can make up for these volume problems and we¹re going to get to them in a bit.

    First, let's look at rushing attempts the same way.

    Most per game: Buffalo (33), Seattle (32.5), San Francisco (31.7),Carolina (31.3), Denver (30.9), Philadelphia (30.6), Washington (30.4),Jets (30), New England

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