FPL: Luck vs Skill

Earlier this season, I posted an article titled, Luck in FPL? The topic is vehemently debated with no discernible outcome. The question of skill versus luck reared it’s head again on Twitter and as discussion raged on, the conclusion was, there is no right answer. If you playing well or have played well over a few season, you could finger skill as the reason for your success. However, if you have been spinning your wheels or struggling, you could say it was a run of bad luck.In 36 years of fantasy NFL football, I’ve been lucky more than good. At the height of my interest in the NFL, I was very knowledgeable, knew the players and team tendencies. This is similar to many, better than I, when it comes to knowing the Premier League. While I’ve only played FPL for 6 years, my level of knowledge is a fraction of where it was when I was all in on the NFL. Over that time I’ve won the league I started in 1983/84 just four times. That’s winning just 11% of the time, in a league with 10 teams. Does that make me a poor owner?

Now the fantasy NFL game is played more like the FPL Draft game, where each team is unique and none of them can have the same player. Does that make the game easier or more difficult to navigate? Arguably I am having my best FPL season with 1794 points, but well off the 2070 points of the overall leader. Compare that to the 1306 points in draft with a 18-0-12 record, in second place but now 74 points off the leader (1420 pts). Have I been lucky in draft and unlucky in the fantasy game?

The draft game carries more skill than the fantasy game, having the ability to chop and change players using the waiver wire and free agency will allow you move on, in form players. The FPL game gets challenging as your squad will be comparable to many others in the game of over 6 million managers. Watching the most owned players in the top 1000 shows that in Gameweek 30, Mo Salah was owned by 87.8% of managers. While three goal hero, Raheem Sterling is now  owned by 30.4% of the top 1000, and 20.2% across FPL, captained by 5.1%, but less than 7.9% of the top 1000. The skill comes in finding non-premium players who perform, while minimizing investment to maximizing budget elsewhere in your squad.

Being engaged in the FPL community, running a website or hosting a podcast won’t make you a better fantasy manager. There is no correlation between time spent “doing FPL” equaling success. If that were the case, then we would be FPL experts, like Holly. There is something to be said about gaining more knowledge when it comes to managers, players and teams in the Premier League. However, none of can get inside the mind of a manager like Pep Guardiola. Even during the weekly pressers, managers speak with a forked tongue and doesn’t give us the complete story. As Josh and Brandon, of Always Cheating brought up in episode #160, there is no official injury report, like we see in for the NFL. Where is the skill in selecting Leroy Sane as your triple captain for DGW25, only to see the City midfielder play 58 minutes and score one point. Bad luck?

Fantasy managers have strong convictions for each side of the luck/skill coin. Gareth Marshall, @FPLBrit on Twitter and host of What the FPL Podcast posted a poll question.

Based on the limited results, there was no definitive answer, which correlates with opinions voiced in Twitter. Both skill and luck play a part in being successful in fantasy sports, not just FPL. We can look at two situations from last weekend. Take Sead Kolasinac in GW 26, on 12 points, Arsenal are 2-0 up against Huddersfield into 90’+1. Then an “oh shit”moment, he nets an own goal and gets a yellow card in the span of 60 seconds! His 12 point returns disappears to just 2 points.

Take Wolves in the same game week, going in 90’+4 are losing 1-0 at Molineux to Newcastle. Wily Boly goes up high, both arms around Magpies goalkeeper Martin Dubraka, with no foul called by official, Graham Scott as Boly nets to draw the game level. Was it the skill of Boly and the bad luck of Kolasinac? Ahead of the Huddersfield game, Kolasinac, based on form and fixtures appeared to be a great call, as managers moved off Marcos Alonso. The point is no one wearing their FPL cap could have predicted either late outcome. So where do we draw the line? Even Aguero’s second hat trick in two games could be seen as luck. We know he’s a highly skilled player but the probability to score a three goals in consecutive weeks. That’s about as rare as Leicester City winning the Premier League.

Julio geordio FPL legend says, “Luck won’t prevail through the course of a season.” Over 38 weeks of the Premier League, the law of fantasy football averages will come into play. This is a theory developed by Russ Bliss, sports talk host and former owner of Fantasy Football Starters out of Phoenix, Arizona.

“The Fantasy Football Law of Averages is a theory I came up with many years ago that dictates you need to recognize the fact that every player will have “spikes” (commonly referred to as peaks and valleys) in their fantasy production from week to week throughout the course of an entire season.

Barring injury, there will be a common average a player will usually hover around in terms of the amount of fantasy points he should score each week. If a player is failing to meet his average production, it stands to reason that if his projection was realistic in the first place, the player will have to have weeks where he exceeds his average to even the discrepancy out. It also applies in reverse to players who are exceeding their average; they’ll have to have weeks where they fall short of their projected average. It’s hardly an extreme idea and if you recognize it, it can help you in making sure you’re smart in your fantasy football management skills.

Understanding the Fantasy Football Law of Averages will allow you to optimize your fantasy football trades by knowing who has under-performed but probably will have more spikes in his production going forward and who you should be thinking about trading away while his stats are higher on average right now than what he’ll probably finish the season with and his value in a trade is therefore higher now than what it probably will be down the road in a few weeks.”

In conclusion, more knowledge you hold, the better your chances for success, however luck will always be assisting. You can cite statistics and manipulate them however you see fit to support your point. The fact will remain luck is a part of fantasy sports, which swings like an open gate. We give too much credit when we are successful, but jump to “bad luck” when things don’t.

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