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Chat: Aaron Schatz

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday August 21, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Aaron Schatz.


Aaron Schatz, author of Pro Football Prospectus 2008, stops by to talk about fantasy football as draft day approaches.

Aaron Schatz: Hello, Baseball Prospectus and Football Outsiders readers! Once again, I'm here from BP's sister site FootballOutsiders.com to promote our book Pro Football Prospectus 2008 and take your questions about objective analysis of the upcoming NFL season. The focus of this chat is going to be primarily on fantasy football questions, although I may take a few other questions as well. A new KUBIAK fantasy football projection update went up on FootballOutsiders.com just this morning, so I'm in a fantasy football mindset. I know a lot of people have drafts this week and next, so let's get cracking.

Gray (Chicago): I hate to give away sleepers, but no one in my league reads this site...what are your thoughts on Tim Hightower in AZ? Could steal goalline carries from Edge from what I have read and let's be honest, Edge isn't getting any younger.

Aaron Schatz: Speaking of players added in recent KUBIAK updates... Tim Hightower seems to be a talented guy. There's no question Edge is on the downside of his career. That being said, I've found that rookies who are touted in the preseason as "touchdown vultures" almost never actually turn out to be touchdown vultures, the big exception being Brandon Jacobs.

Mike (Florida): Are the auction values going to be posted before my league auction on Sunday, August 24?

Aaron Schatz: We are working hard to finally incorporate auction values into the KUBIAK spreadsheet. It took a while because it can certainly be hard to figure out how much to suggest people spend on their bench players, and we kept ending up with projected dollar values not adding up to the actual league budget. Anyway, we've got something now that incorporates a "league aggressiveness" question for users (like PECOTA) and Sean McCall is trying to get a BETA version out there by this weekend. We hope.

Hold on... must grab lunch and toss in some music... anyone know an NYC band called Tigercity? It's like disco never died, it just gained songwriting skills!

Scrapper (Illinois): How come PFP 2008 lists expected wins for each team but does not list each teams' expected DVOA for the upcoming season? By showing expected DVOA, readers would know exactly how PFP really views each team, as opposed to expected wins (which is heavily influenced by a team's schedule).

Aaron Schatz: Well, I think running a projected DVOA might lead people to believe that our projections are built with less variation than they really actually have. There's a reason we run the "win categories." However, we always run mean DVOA projections on the FootballOutsiders.com website right before the season starts. Those projections will incorporate changes since the book, like Michael Strahan retiring and Brett Favre un-retiring and joining the Jets.

Pete (Dallas): What has been the injury with the most impact on fantasy football from the preseason?

Aaron Schatz: The injury with the most impact is the one that happened before the preseason: Peyton Manning's knee surgery. At first, it seemed like it was no problem at all. Manning would be back before the season started, and it isn't like he needed a ton of practice with guys like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. However, reports out of Indianapolis are starting to get a little strange. They disagree with each other. Mike Lombardi is reporting on his new website (National Football Post) the following: "I talked to several people in the NFL yesterday who know things and they assure me that Peyton Manning's knee is a huge concern for the Colts... they cannot control the swelling in Manning's knee and any physical movement causes MORE swelling." I have no idea who Lombardi is talking to and who to believe, but remember, the Colts have a medical staff with a poor record, and after what happened with Marvin Harrison last year, it is hard to believe anything they say about injuries. Obviously, any missed time for Manning is huge. Not only does it take away one of the top two fantasy quarterbacks, it also affects a number of very important players like Wayne, Harrison, Joseph Addai, and Adam Vinatieri. Today I officially downgraded the "Risk" variable of everybody on the Colts who wasn't already "Red."

Drew W (NoVa): Even if McNabb is healthy and stays healthy, aren't his best days behind him? Or does he have a great season or two left in him?

Aaron Schatz: I don't see any reason why McNabb's best days are behind him. Quarterbacks peak later than other "skill" players because the importance of knowledge makes up for the start of the drop in physical skills. The problem for McNabb is that once again, the Eagles have a big pile of question marks at wide receiver, especially now that Kevin Curtis has a sports hernia and is out for 6-8 weeks, perhaps more.

Shalom (NJ): I'm in a league with standard scoring except return yards (1 point/20 yds). How high should I think about drafting MJD? How about Hester? Ginn? anyone else I should try to grab?

Aaron Schatz: This is one of the two things we're still trying to build into KUBIAK for 2008 (the other being auction values, as noted earlier). I've actually done the projections, so I'll give everyone a gift with the top return projections. These were done prior to the injury to Josh Cribbs, with the top guys who are also "skill position players." Yards and touchdowns.

Devin Hester 1778 4.0
Josh Cribbs 1566 1.6
Yamon Figurs 1469 1.1
Darren Sproles 1458 0.9
Averion Cason 1406 0.4
Ryne Robinson 1288 0.3
Andre Davis 1252 0.6
Ted Ginn 1243 0.9
Leon Washington 1153 1.0
Dante Hall 1140 0.6
Maurice Jones-Drew 1037 0.5

athletic ((San Francisco)): How about a list of 5-10 WR's or RB's to look at in the later rounds (pick 80 and up)? Thanks and keep up the great work.

Aaron Schatz: Let's look at some players who are currently ranked much higher in KUBIAK than in the average draft position on ESPN or KFFL... DENNIS NORTHCUTT is still the number one wide receiver in Jacksonville, especially with Jerry Porter injured. I think people are underestimating the way that fear of the running game will open things up for the deep Minnesota passing game and BERNARD BERRIAN, even if Tarvaris Jackson isn't actually very good. JUSTIN GAGE was a zillion times better than the rest of the Titans wideouts last year and Vince Young can't throw a five-yard dumpoff to Bo Scaife on every play. The other guy VY will be throwing to a lot is rookie running back CHRIS JOHNSON, who may be split wide a good deal with both Johnson and LenDale White on the field together. RASHARD MENDENHALL will be the starter in Pittsburgh by the end of the year. You also may want to use one of your late picks to take a shot on the running back lottery in...

JOhn (Hou): Aaron, what do you make of the Houston RB situation in terms of fantasy? Are Brown and Slaton likely to be the two best options with Ahman Green's ever injured status?

Aaron Schatz: This is a big pile of who the heck knows, but somebody in your fantasy league is going to make off like a bandit when one of these Houston running backs establishes himself as the starter. The problem is that we don't know who it will be, or for how many weeks at a time. This is one of the hardest things about projecting fantasy football, and a big reason why KUBIAK is far better at forecasting busts than forecasting sleepers. So much of sleeper status is based on the whims of coaches and injuries that nobody can foresee in July. Anyway, my guess is that Green will be cut, Brown will be the better fantasy back in the first half of the year, and Slaton in the second half. Honestly, it reminds me a lot of last year's Green Bay situation, so for all we know the eventual stud fantasy back is some guy who will be cut by another team next week.

Elliot (Brooklyn): In PFP 2008, you are really high on Anthony Gonzalez (and down on Harrison) - most others are ranking Gonzalez above Harrison as well. Has this changed at all since Harrison seems to be recovering really well and playing strong in teh pre-season?

Aaron Schatz: Yes.

roguerouge (JP, MA): Your site has gotten the rep for being quite good at picking players that will decline. How badly do you want to shed that vulture reputation, or are you fine with it? And what will it take to shed that rep with fantasy players?

Aaron Schatz: This sort of ties in with the last question. I have no desire to shed that vulture reputation. Why is it a problem? I would definitely love to get better at projecting improvement, but I don't mind that Football Outsiders is known as "the guys who told me to stay away from Shaun Alexander the last two years."

Again, so much of predicting sleepers is about reading tea leaves in July and August, and reading the minds of coaches. Even when presented with a situation where one player is clearly better than the other, coaches will sometimes play the inferior back, and what can KUBIAK do to predict this? For example, there is no reason for Miami to start Ricky Williams over Ronnie Brown. NONE. Ronnie Brown is by far the more talented back. Ricky Williams has never, ever been as good as Ronnie Brown. If Brown's ACL injury isn't healed enough for him to be better than Ricky Williams, he shouldn't be behind Williams on the depth chart. He should be spending the first six weeks of the season on PUP so he can come back healthy.

Oh, I guess the other thing I want to be known for, besides the vulture reputation, is for being by far the most accurate predictor of kickers and defense, two positions most "experts" project with no accuracy whatsoever.

elnino (toronto): Is Josh Morgan this year's Marques Colston?

Aaron Schatz: This is another tea leaves player. Nobody has any idea who will be getting playing time in San Francisco. I doubt Mike Martz even knows at this point. Remember, by this point two years ago the Saints had officially announced that Colston would start opposite Joe Horn. In addition, the chances that the San Francisco offense in 2008 will be as productive as the New Orleans offense in 2006 are tiny.

The other thing I find strange about the Morgan-Colston comparisons is that these are very different types of receivers. Colston is significantly taller and more of a possession receiver -- remember, the reason he fell in the draft is that people thought he was a TE/WR tweener. Morgan is more of a speedy guy.

Becephalus (Minnesota): Any chance the easy schedules of the NYJ and BUF leading to a rebound for these teams (Even if illusory)? More specifically is either team going to be fielding anything better than mediocre defense this year?

Aaron Schatz: Yes, and probably not. Sorry for the short answers, my computer is locking up and I need to fiddle with it before I answer more questions... be right back folks...

Trey (SD): I have been considering buying your projections for a week now, sell me on them.

Aaron Schatz: Hi everyone, I'm back.

Tell you what: this chat is linked in the Extra Points section of FootballOutsiders.com. Go to our website, and pose the question in the discussion thread, and I'll let the FO readers sell you on KUBIAK instead. They are more believeable than I am.

wammer (austin): Is Gostkowski's advantage over the field of other kickers real enough that he's worth taking before the last round of a standard draft?

Aaron Schatz: Yes. He should definitely be the first kicker taken, and XP are much easier to predict than field goals, which makes guys like Gostkowski and Vinatieri easier to predict than other kickers. Of course, I took him too early in the CBS Sportsline expert draft I did -- it's hard to figure out the expectations for a 29-round draft in an absurdly deep IDP league. Plus, I rarely do a "standard" fantasy draft. The longtime Boston league that I do with guys like Jason Beattie (the cartoonist) and Ian Dembsky (ex-Scramble writer) is an auction league.

Jim (Brick, NJ): If the top 5 RBs are gone in a league with 6 points per passing TD and 1/2 points per reception, who do you take at #6?

Aaron Schatz: Randy Moss

J.P. (Hartford): Much ado has been made of the .4 wins that Brett Farve is going to add to the Jets, but clearly what everyone wants to know is how many more wins J.T. O'Sullivan will give the Niners this year?

Aaron Schatz: This question caused Excel to crash my computer 10 minutes ago.

Neal (Joliet, IL): Of all the non-Run DMC rookie backs like Forte, Kevin Smith, Ray Rice, Slaton, Felix Jones, Stewart, Mendenhall, amongst others: Who are you targeting in drafts for your third and 4th RB spots?

Aaron Schatz: Stay away from Kevin Smith. You think the Curse of 370 is bad? Try 450! Mendenall and Stewart are the best of those guys. Slaton could end up being very good or useless; as noted above, Houston's RB situation is a bit of a lottery. Ray Rice probably isn't going to get that much playing time, despite Willis McGahee's early injury. Same with Felix Jones. Forte is in a horrible offense with no offensive line or passing game. Of course, that last part means he should get lots of receptions, making him better in PPR leagues.

Matt ((Minneapolis)): No one hit 370 carries in 2007, but are there any running backs you recommend avoiding at all costs this year (other than Larry Johnson)?

Aaron Schatz: Willie Parker, because of everything I've been saying about Rashard Mendenall. Parker just isn't that good, and his primary attribute (speed) is much more useful on a team with quality run blocking. Mendenhall is a better back for a Pittsburgh team where the offensive line is weaker than it has been in a decade.

Jason (Detroit): Can you explain the KUBIAK love for Big Ben? 3rd highest QB? Really?

Aaron Schatz: Depends on the rules of your league, I guess. In almost every normal league setup, with Risk adjustments ON, the third quarterback will be Drew Brees and the fourth will be Donovan McNabb.

nibiyabi (Santa Clara University, CA): Hi there Aaron, Do you forsee any more updates to the KUBIAK spreadsheet before, say, Sunday afternoon (barring freak injuries or DUIs, of course)?

Aaron Schatz: As noted earlier, there is an update that just went up this morning, and I realized that it doesn't account for the Kevin Curtis injury, so there will be another one this afternoon... plus we are trying to get the auction values and special teams return yardage in before this weekend.

Brian (Richmond, VA): Aaron, Enjoy your work, great stuff. Would love to hear your thoughts on Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall? Are these two headed for big things this season? Can Cutler rise to superstar level this year? Are 30 TD's out of the question for Cutler?

Aaron Schatz: In the NFL, hardly anything is ever "out of the question" but look at all the problems in Denver. Marshall is out two, maybe three games. The offensive line, like in Pittsburgh, is weaker than it has been in at least a decade. The other wide receivers there are just AWFUL. Eddie Royal seems like a talented guy with more technique than the scouts thought before they drafted him, but he should not be an NFL starter this early. Darrell Jackson has lost it. Keary Colbert and Samie Parker never really had it. Obviously we have no idea what the ramifications of Cutler's diabetes will be (i.e., now that he has been diagnosed, will his treatment improve his stamina and thus performance) but that just seems like an awful situation for a talented and improving young passer.

Josh (New Orleans): Can you give some brief advice as to how a newbie can best use KUBIAK on draft day (especially how best to take into account what positions get taken or are likely to get taken when)?

Aaron Schatz: The KUBIAK sheet tries to account for this by boosting the top bench running backs and dropping tight ends, kickers, and defenses based on the idea that backups will be free agents, not kept on other teams' benches. Otherwise, use the Average Draft Position (ADP) data to see where players are valued by the conventional wisdom of fantasy football players nationwide.

beedubyuh (Chicago, IL): Aaron, as a long time reader I know you won't mince words: The Bears aren't just going to be bad on offense, they are going to be historically bad, like '05 49ers bad, right?

Aaron Schatz: No, I don't think they will be that bad. They do have two good tight ends, their offensive line is better than that 49ers team, and unless Matt Forte has the same crisis of confidence that Kevan Barlow had back then, they'll have a better running game.

Phil (NJ): Which individual non-QB player *must* stay healthy for their team to succeed?

Aaron Schatz: The answer, as always, is Indianapolis safety Bob Sanders. After last year, you can probably add Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. There's also St. Louis tackle Orlando Pace, but frankly I doubt the Rams will succeed even if he does stay healthy. If he gets injured again, however, abandon hope.

JWR (Chicago): Great work with this year's book! PFP 2008 projects the Packers for 11 wins, the Vikings for 10 wins, the Bears for 7 wins and the Lions for only 4 wins. Do you still stand by those projections or has the last 60 days changed things?

Aaron Schatz: I'm starting to get a little worried about Aaron Rodgers's preseason performance, but you really have to have the discipline to forget about that stuff. It almost never means anything. So yes, I'll hold to those projections except that Kyle Orton at quarterback makes the projection for the Bears lower.

RDon (Boston, MA): Has Football Outsiders ever researched how contract holdouts affect player performance? I'm anticipating that I'll be in a position to draft Steven Jackson and I'm wondering if I should avoid him and instead go with Brady, Moss or Portis.

Aaron Schatz: Nope. This is on the "to study in the future" list.

Pete (Dallas): Any chance you'll put out a strength of schedule update soon with ff playoff weeks in mind as well. I recall you did one last year and it was greatly appreciated.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, I need to put that together, but I've been busy with a number of things like finishing up our big redesign (coming soon!) and shopping for a new computer to replace the FO mainframe. After running tons of big regression sheets on a two and a half year old laptop, that sucker is begging for mercy. You could fry eggs on it.

dianagramr (NYC): Have you read Stefan Fatsis' "A Few Seconds of Panic" yet? Opinions?

Aaron Schatz: Great book. I got an advance copy and read it on the beach in Cape Cod last month. I healped Stefan do some of the research for it -- he references some stats that don't say "Football Outsiders" but FO reader will recognize them. He does a great job of exploring the personalities of players without doing a hatchet job on anyone. Even his material on Todd Sauerbrun is pretty even-handed.

Jim (I City): Based on the PFP expected wins, Baltimore should be the favorite to win the AFC North. Do you feel comfortable with that prediction? (This is a team that Miami beat last season).

Aaron Schatz: Yes. Very, very comfortable. There are a lot of strong trends here. Just a few:

1) Baltimore's offense recovered only 5 of 25 fumbles last season.
2) You know the concept of "bend but don't break" defense? Baltimore last year had the league's worst "break but don't bend" defense. As Ned Macey and Jim Armstrong explored in an article in PFP 2007, teams that give up lots more points per drive than you would expect from the rest of their performance tend to improve the next year.
3) VERY high injury rate in secondary in 2007.
4) Our projections see Pittsburgh and Cleveland both declining. Cleveland in particular -- remember the Bill James "plexiglass principle?"
5) The teams of the AFC North play a very difficult schedule, with only two games different between each team. Pittsburgh gets New England and San Diego. Baltimore gets Miami and Oakland. That's the division title, right there.

OK, let's go into speed mode and finish up...

Pete (Dallas): Have you incorporated Chris Henry into the Cin Offense yet for Kubiak?

Aaron Schatz: Not yet, but remember, he's going to miss five games with a suspension (I may be wrong, it could be four) and then he comes back to be the third receiver. He's not a guy you draft, he's a guy you pick up on waivers because of injury or a late bye week.

neal (joliet, il): The book is quite positive about Earnest Graham rom a fantasy perspective while other sites may not be as optimistic. Given the backfield stituation there with Cadillac, Bennett, etc. are the feelings about Graham still the same?

Aaron Schatz: Yes. Do people realize just how bad Warrick Dunn was last year? Some people still think Cadillac may never play again, and it isn't like Jon Gruden used Bennett a lot instead of Graham last year.

AT-415 (San Diego): With QB situation for the 49ers sounding anywhere from grim to unsettled, should Frank Gore fall out of the first 10 picks?

Aaron Schatz: Yes, unless it is a PPR league.

Jim (Brick): Given Peyton's injury.... Who do you take first, Manning or Brady?

Aaron Schatz: Honestly, probably still Manning, but it is starting to get iffy.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Are Ahmad Bradshaw or Derrick Ward good vulture TD candidates? Do you expect the Giants to keep Jacobs out of some goal line downs to keep the wear down? Thanks!

Aaron Schatz: Given that Brandon Jacobs is a bowling ball, I doubt he's coming out of the game at the goal line.

Favre (Favre): Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre Favre. Oh, and Favre Favre.

Aaron Schatz: Speaking of which, I got to enjoy breakfast with Peter King last week, he stopped by my house on his way from Foxboro to Albany (for Giants camp). We went to Starbucks, of course. Look for some PFP material in next week's MMQB.

Brian (Brooklyn NY): If gambling were legal, some over udners you would be interested in are?

Aaron Schatz: Gambling *is* legal! In Canada, anyway...

Pete (Dallas): On your CBS Sportsline experts league, that is insanely deep, did you draft straight with KUBIAK suggestions? How do you think that team will fare with the other expert teams?

Aaron Schatz: I mostly used KUBIAK suggestions but I forgot to mark a point per reception before I ran the spreadsheet and I reached a little bit for defensive players because the IDP that Mike Tanier and I drafted last year were terrible.

vtrain03 (San Francisco): What about the Projections in the NFC East? Is Philly still on top and do you expect Dallas to be lucky to get a WC?

Aaron Schatz: I would still put Philadelphia on top but for some reason our projection system the last couple years just seems to always underproject Dallas. If you asked my subjective opinion, rather than asking me what the numbers say, I would tell you I expect Dallas to win a wild card rather than the teams that our DVOA projections have ahead of them (Saints, Giants, Panthers).

elnino (toronto): Who are your top 10 Kickers and Defenses for the upcoming season?

Aaron Schatz: Pro Football Prospectus 2008, page 430. I'm trying to make a living here, man!

Fred (NJ): Portis/Lynch/Barber III. Which RB would you take first?

Aaron Schatz: Lynch. One of the few RB guaranteed to not be in a committee, and the Bills play an easy schedule of run defenses unless the Jets and Dolphins improve significantly.

Matt ((Minneapolis)): To Trey from South Dakota...I actually bought the 2007 KUBIAK just to check out how well it did in predicting last year's actual points. I ran some regressions, and it accounted for 37% of all variation (R-squared value). That was the best of any projection/cheat sheet I've come across. Again, they aren't trying to be dead-on accurate, but it's nice to know that statistics back up the fact that KUBIAK is closer than anyone else.

Aaron Schatz: Whoo-hoo! We rule!

Matt ((Minneapolis)): To Trey from South Dakota...I actually bought the 2007 KUBIAK just to check out how well it did in predicting last year's actual points. I ran some regressions, and it accounted for 37% of all variation (R-squared value). That was the best of any projection/cheat sheet I've come across. Again, they aren't trying to be dead-on accurate, but it's nice to know that statistics back up the fact that KUBIAK is closer than anyone else.

Aaron Schatz: Whoo-hoo! We rule!

Phil (NJ): Let's say the Eagles and Cardinals come to their senses and swap Sheppard for Boldin. In your opinion, how would that change each team's expected win total?

Aaron Schatz: Wait, Lito Sheppard is going to the St. Louis Cardinals? The official DVOA projection system says that losing a 1,000-yard receiver is a much larger negative than adding one is a positive, so it would lower Arizona's projection and not really improve Philadelphia's projection. My subjective feeling is that the Eagles need to get a go-to receiver for McNabb and this trade makes a ton of sense, although I don't claim to be an expert on the salary cap ramifications.

Aaron Schatz: OK, everyone, thanks for all the great questions, and thanks again to BP for hosting us. Please check out Pro Football Prospectus 2008 in bookstores and buy KUBIAK fantasy football projections in a customizable spreadsheet at FootballOutsiders.com. We'll probably be back for one more chat before the season starts September 4.

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