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MLS Fantasy: Difficulties of Differentials in the Current Price Structure

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, I've looked at my points and been excited to see some big numbers only to be disappointed by a lack of movement in the overall standings. This week I moved up a grand total of one spot, and from what I gather a lot of managers are found the same thing. I think understanding why that is could help us understand the game better and how we can react to get some more movement in the rankings.

On the MLS Fantasy Insiders Podcast this week, Guy Sanchez said something very interesting: "Giovinco broke the MLS Fantasy game." His argument was that Giovinco is clearly the best player, both in fantasy and in real life, and his fairly affordable price meant there is no good argument to not have Giovinco on your fantasy team. The ownership numbers bear this out. MLS Fantasy Viz shows that 100% of the Top 100 overall players own the Atomic Ant. Even stretching it out to the Top 1000,  99.5% of the players own him. That means there are 5 players out of 1000 who don't own Giovinco. That's absurd.

While Giovinco is an extreme example, there are others. In the top 100, Piatti and Steres are owned by 92% of managers. Valeri is at 89%, Rowe at 86% and Sjoberg at 82%. This creates an unfortunate situation. If Piatti does well and you have him, great. You gained points on...about 8 people. [I'm using the Top 100 stats instead of the overall ownership because a significant percentage of managers have stopped playing the game, which may skew the stats. For instance, Giovinco while being owned by nearly 100% of the active players is only owned 70% overall, suggesting that more than 30% of managers aren't still active]. Many of the teams are template teams, that look very similar, meaning the margins between green and red arrows are small.

There are a couple of reasons for why the game has turned out this way. This year, MLS Fantasy reduced the size of the bench by 2 while not reducing the size of the starting budget. This meant that fantasy managers had an extra $8.0 to spend, but this inflation was't reflected in the prices to start the year, so managers started off being able to field roughly a team of whomever they wanted. That hasn't changed as the year has progressed. While Giovinco's price has risen $2.1, only 6 players have seen their price rise more than $1.0. As such, managers generally have the cash they need to grab any player they desire.

This is exacerbated by the sorry state of defenders. Part of that is due to MLS Defenses being far worse this year than in many years past, which means less clean sheets and less points generated. But a large part is due to the pricing system being very off. A player like Steres for example was priced cheaply at the beginning of the year since it was unlikely that he would be a regular started for LA. But now he is, but he's only risen $0.5 to $5.5. Considering the strength of LA's defense, he's been a must have since he locked down the starting position. Players like Sjoberg and Campbell have contributed as well for being very cheap tickets into good defenses. On the other hand, the expensive defenders have been terrible. Ciman is the second most expensive defender, and he has put up only 79 points. He's only missed 7 games, so while his price suggests one of the best defenders in the game, he's not on the very first PAGE of the total score for defenders. Ciman is not the only one: most of the expensive defenders haven't performed. In the top 6 of overall defenders, you have Steres (5.5), Sjoberg (6.1) and Zimmerman (6.7).

There is simply no reason to bring in a defender at 8.0 or higher because the cheaper defenders are scoring MORE than the expensive defenders. That's backwards. Yet the scoring system doesn't accommodate enough price raises or drops to respond to this. [The pricing system particularly can't respond to defenders, who are more likely to suffer price drops due to negative points as a result of yellow cards, goals against, and red cards all of which are more likely against defenders]

The issues with defenders have effects on the rest of the roster. Instead of having to decide between a top defender and a less expensive midfielder or forward, the obvious play is to get the cheap defender, free up the cash and grab whichever midfielder you like. As we can see in the numbers above, that's probably also going to be the same midfielder everyone else gets as well.

My hope is that the game changes the price structure in the future to address this. If you buy the best player, you should have to make some sacrifices in other areas of your team, and if that doesn't happen your choice is made for you, which isn't as much fun. While not many managers pine for the days when pricing changed during the week according to transfers, I think the game needs to become more responsive to the changing landscape. As currently designed, the game is too reliant on the player evaluations at the beginning of the season for prices. I think that allowing prices to rise more than simply $0.2 might accomplish this; allowing a weekly rise of up to $0.5 would more easily the players who are producing to blow by the players who aren't, giving incentive in the latter parts of the season to pick up the guy who can turn his season around. You could couple this with a more liberal allowance of price drops to offset the inflation.

Of course, that doesn't help this year. So what can you do in what's left of this year to get ahead?

  • Focus on the bye weeks: We're in the midst of this now, but expect a lot of movement this week. The question of "how long should I hold this player with a bye coming up" is crucial, as well as planning well enough to field strong rosters beside the byes.
  • Pay attention to every player: Lodiero is great, but Loderio isn't going to help you as much in the rankings as your 4th or 5th midfielder because everyone who is still active will have Lodeiro. This one sounds obvious, but in practice it's harder to pull off. We're enticed by the big points of the big name players, but focusing on rounding out your roster is even more important right now with the similarity across teams.
  • Use "Going against the common wisdom as a tiebreaker": My belief is that you should always make your transfers based on what you think the best players are going to be. Others think that you should go against the grain at this point even if you think the common sense his right just to try to get lucky. You can decide that for yourself, but even for me I'm going to start using it as a tiebreaker. So if I'm trying to decide between say captaining Lodeiro and Giovinco and I see that most people are picking Gio, and I think it's a toss up, I'm going to go with Lodeiro to try to make up some ground.
  • Go for the weekly prizes: It's not going to be easy to get movement in the ranks, so if you're far back it makes some sense just to throw caution to the wind. Don't plan your transfers, just pick the 11 best players for that week and hope you get the $25.00 MLS gift card. Take all the hits you want, as that's not counted towards the score for best weekly score. Me, I like using the rest of the year as practice to help sharpen your understanding for next year, but if you're here for the goodies, now is the time to go for them.
Ok, let's get some quick picks. I covered a lot of teams last week that you'll want to look at that don't have byes in 25 and 27.

Keeper: I like Bingham this week for the matchup against offensively-challenged Houston, but for the long haul your best bet with Rowe's injury is Blake of Philly. Blake plays through 27 and Bedoya seemed to provide a lot of defensive stability that had been lost with Nogueira's departure.
Defender: Pick a Philly Defender. Rosenberry and Marquez are probably the best two options. I'm going with Rosenberry because he's a little cheaper and he had more defensive bonus points last week and I value defenders with bonus points over defenders who score goals only because the goals tend to be rare events.
Midfielders: Stevie G if you don't have him is a must. Valeri scored only a 2 and it seems like he's been moved out of the central midfield, so he's probably your guy to drop this round. In what's been a theme, I like Pontius or Barnetta here. Pontius has scored the goals, so he's probably the favorite, but Bedoya allowed Barnetta to shift back into the central midfield, so I think Barnetta will be creating a lot of chances.
Forwards: Keane was diagnosed with a concussion. While he's likely to play this week, I'm very skeptical about Bruce risking him against on short rest from Sunday to Wednesday for a road match against Chicago. I still like Ola Kamara and Giovinco to get you through this round.

Good luck!