Mo Rules

I'm sure you have all read Jeremy's seminal post on the set of rules that we here at the blog tend to adhere to in guiding our picks throughout the season (and seasons).  [If you haven't, here's the link]  The problem is that for season after season Jeremy and I have both been very good at the Yahoo! game but neither of us have ever really reached the highest of heights - finishing in the single digits.  In an effort to do what Arsene Wenger seems unwilling to do, learn from past mistakes, I embarked on a bit of a research project as the season came to a close. 

With a Saturday morning available without matches to focus on, I compiled the week-to-week activities of our favorite blog ringer Mo [Team Name = Egypt] who finished 7th overall in an effort to figure out what he is doing differently than I am doing (and recommending).  The answers certainly challenged a few of the preconceived notions I had about how to succeed in the game.  They also convinced me that I have not gone far enough in exploiting some of the tendencies that I DO try to exploit (and pass along) as part of building my team. 

With that introduction, and apologies to Mo who doesn't know that I've been working on this, here are the things I've learned from going over how he assembled his team over the past season.  I'm not saying that this is the ONLY way to win and it may be that it isn't always a winning strategy.  Mo has consistently been very good at the game though so we should all learn the lessons that he has to teach.

Love the Sure Thing
I know this is actually a repeat of one of Jeremy's Rules but it came out SO clearly here that I thought it was worth backing up that rule with some statistics (and not the kind that are being made to lie).  Outside of Week 18 when we all unexpectedly lost matches to snow-outs after the deadline, Mo only had 11 slots go fallow all season out of 418 possibilities.  Of those 11, at least two were due to holding on to a player at a major discount (more on this later).  That means that out of 418 possible chances, he only lost opportunity to rotation, late injuries, etc. 9 times or about 2% of the time.  I'd say that was pretty important then.

Love the Double More
Of the 8 weeks where there were players playing two matches in the second half of the season, Mo took those opportunities as often as possible. Over 8 weeks, that's 88 possible selections of "two-gamers".  Here's how his choices broke down: 67 of his 88 selections ACTUALLY played two matches across those 8 weeks.  What of the other 21 you ask?
  • 11 COULD have played two matches but were either rotated, injured, or suspended (meaning he really picked 78 of 88 two-gamers and just got unlucky on 11 of them).  
  • 3 of them were kept for discounts (again, more on this later).
  • 5 of them were enablers.
  • Exactly TWO of them were kept because he thought that their one match would be an improvement on the two-match alternatives and here's how those worked out...
    • Lamps at home to Wolves yielded almost nothing (2 points)
    • Der Hammer at home to Blackburn worked out reasonably well (19 points)
The lesson? Pick the two gamers.

Home Sweet Home
When I start analyzing the schedule each week, I have traditionally ranked my options in the following way:
  1. "Big Team" playing at home against an also-ran.
  2. "Big Team" playing away against an also-ran.
  3. Mid-table team playing at home against an also-ran.
  4. "Big Team" playing away against a mid-table team.
  5. Mid-table team playing away against an also-ran.
  6. Etc. 
As I looked at Mo's choices throughout the season.  My first realization was that he almost inevitably took a players who were playing at home.  I'm talking 85% of his choices were either playing at home exclusively or had two matches with at least one of the two being at home.  My intuition to value home matches was correct but I'm certain that if I looked at similar statistics for my own team I'd have a lower percentage.  The lesson, home team trumps just about any other designation. 

Just to give you a sense of the average difference in the (final) standings between the players he selected and their opponents - the number was 5.7 places.  That is a fairly high number but in my mind not as significant as the difference between home and away players that he selected.

Go Beyond the Badge
When I tabulated the teams that Mo got his players from, I was guessing that the frequency of selection would show an inverse relation to the team's position in the final table (i.e., the top teams would show the most selections and the relegated teams the fewest).  While there was a very minor correlation, it wasn't nearly as heavy as I'd imagined.  Mo picked Birmingham players (31 times) almost exactly the same number of times as he picked Manchester United players (32).  Bolton (12) as frequently as WHU (also 12).  You get the idea.  Interestingly, Arsenal (47) and Liverpool (46) were the two most frequent choices and Sunderland (5) was his least frequent. 

I don't know if this necessarily pushes us in any specific direction going forward but it will certainly help me break out of ruts where I start over-valuing players on the Top 6 teams.  There's always value to be had elsewhere so long as you know where to look.

Don't Get Defensive
Just to give you a sense of how Mo lined up on average and how many points he yielded from each position, here's the rundown:
  • Number of Weeks Using 4 Defenders: 6 out of 38 - As you'll see from the average scores per position below, Midfielders and Forwards are about equally productive (just over 10/match/player) while Defenders and Goalkeepers were less valuable.  That he selected 4 defenders even as often as 6 times means he probably dropped points those 6 weeks.
  • Average Points from Goalkeeper: 6.32
  • Average Points per Defender: 7.35
  • Average Points per Midfielder: 10.6
  • Average Points per Forward: 10.46
These numbers should also help you guide what you're willing to pay for the various positions.  After looking at these numbers I'm going to think REALLY HARD about going 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 again.

Don't Fall in Love
I've saved the one that shocked me the most for last.  We spend a lot of time talking about keeping players at a discount and in some cases doing so for large chunks of the season (see Kolarov).  The biggest revelation from Mo's team selection analysis was that he didn't fall in for this sort of player love.  Despite the ability to keep players at a discount he turned over his team with stunning regularity.  He didn't hold any player for more than 11 total weeks (Reina) followed by two that he had on 10 occasions (Brunt and RvP).  His longest streak of holding any one player consecutively was RvP for 9 weeks and after that the numbers fell off sharply with most "streaks" being no more than a couple of matches at a time. 

The biggest lesson for me in all of this analysis has been not to get too attached to players at discounts under anything but the most extreme of circumstances - an exceptional player like RvP at a great discount.  Saving 2.00 to 4.00 on a player is probably not enough to justify keeping him in a week where he is playing away and isn't likely to be very productive.


  1. FK Suduva6:11 PM

    love the scientific approach Neal! definitely something to think about next season. cheers!

  2. Chris Jones6:11 PM

    Super investigational journalism Neal! Good to see I'm on the right track!


  3. Totally agree with the two biggest points: Don't carry 0's, and don't fall in love with discounts. Unless you have a player like an RVP or a Bale at a ridiculous discount (10.00+) AND that player is on a terrific production streak, you have to sell players on off weeks.

    I notice that I almost always have excellent end of the season results, and correspondingly poor results in the begininng. A LOT of that is due to holding new players for too long because of their start of season low price-- but by the end of the season I'm turning over my entire roster almost every week. But like most things, it's easy to SAY that... and tough to pull the trigger when it's time to sell.

  4. so he loves AND can hit the two gamers. Impressive, MOST Impressive. Oh, and you are both huge geeks!!!

  5. Anonymous8:24 PM

    who's the biggest geek, he who wrote it or he who read it??
    very surprised midfielders scored the same as strikers, must have picked some good midfielders.

  6. Anonymous9:21 PM

    Hey Neal ! that was quite a good detailed analysis of my performance through the season :) got some interesting stuff that i noticed :) btw regarding the last 3 seasons in the yahoo,i finished 2nd,23rd and 7th so i guess that is quite good so maybe maybe i am doing something correct :)


  7. Wow, simply wow. Great bit of analysis BUT, none of this is really new though is it? I knew it, you knew it, everyone knew it.

    DOING IT is another problem.

    Convincing myself to let Gyan go when he's worth 10 and I have him at 5 is a completely different prospect. Getting over my own hatred of Liverpool and City to pick their players in a "sure thing" week is another problem.

  8. I agree - nothing here is REALLY new but I'd never seen the evidence quite this clearly before. As I stated, I'd had feelings but never the data to confirm where I was shooting myself in the foot. Not saying there isn't an element of luck in there but as you can see above from Mo's final positioning over the last three seasons, it is more than just the luck of picking the right ones. It is about being disciplined about sticking to what works...and reading the blog regularly ;-)

  9. Dan C5:04 PM

    This is great, Neal.

    I know that what kills my team is something that isn't in the analysis - the fact that on Saturday afternoons I often miss the Barn Door due to... being out at the football.

  10. I finished 11th overall last season and agree with so much of this. Especially the holding onto discounts part. Rotate rotate rotate.

  11. This is good but the unclear lingo confuses me Who the hell is Der Hammer (are you talking about a player or a team?).

    Great tips though.

  12. Brilliant post Neal.

  13. Excellent. Thank you!

  14. On no.5 (dont fall in love with players). I have always viewed this as risky:

    To finish in the top 10 you must rotate heavily, but this is also the way to do badly if you can't pick the best players week in week out. Holding onto players has won my private league for 3 consecutive years, by having VdV, Bale, Adam, Nani at low prices and just sticking with them you have a consistent base and more cash to spread around on the weekly picks, and to me, you are more likely to get a top 1000 finish. If you are very good at picking on a week by week basis then you can surpass this with heavy rotation. I may be wrong (or just bad at picking for match ups) but there you go.

  15. Anonymous4:33 PM

    I'd be interested to know how many times Mo had a negative score with his GK. That was a real killer for me last season, to the point where I "took a zero" for several weeks when Kirkland was priced 1.05 and on the bench (or injured). IMO GKs go far beyond the other positions in the likelihood of going negative numbers. Any thoughts?