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BestBall10 Owners Are Abandoning the Best Approach to DEF, And They’re Doing It In Record Numbers

Shawn Siegele continues the Best Ball Workshop with a lesson focused on tactics for DEF. Using the RotoViz Roster Construction Explorer, Shawn provides insights  from over 200,000 historical drafts and explores the best approaches for both 2-DEF and 3-DEF lineups.

Welcome to Lesson 4 of the Best Ball Workshop. Our first three lessons found that while owners have generally learned not to make the huge blunders that crush win rates, most owners still make serious mistakes that place them at a disadvantage before the season even starts.

In today’s lesson, we focus on DEF and discover that owners are not just playing it incorrectly, they’re jumping on the losing bandwagon in record numbers.

The Big Picture: 2-DEF or 3-DEF

We can start by looking at win rates for 2015 to 2017, the first three seasons after kicker was eliminated from the format. 3-DEF held a small edge in win rate and average score,1 and yet owners preferred 2-DEF by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

Win Rates 2015-2017

It’s a little surprising to see more than 10,000 owners not finish with one of the constructions you need to be competitive, and as a result, both the 2-DEF and 3-DEF constructions have above-average win rates.

But the real surprise came in 2018 when owners fled the better construction in record numbers.

Win Rates 2018

2018 enjoyed a more than 5-to-1 ratio of 2-DEF to 3-DEF, and that’s a fairly obvious problem on its face, since it was less successful, but it’s also a big problem when we dig deeper into the key trends.2

How to Play the Onesie Positions

Because we’re dealing with a limited number of roster spots, we can expect our choices at QB and TE to interact with our defensive tactics. We get very poor results from constructions that vary from rostering either two or three players at these positions, so we can focus on those lineups.

2-DEF and 3-DEF Onesie Constructions – Overall Win Rates

Total OnesieConstructionCountWin RateAvg
62-QB, 2-TE, 2-DEF368988.72203
72-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF133229.42203
73-QB, 2-TE, 2-DEF305168.72204
72-QB,3-TE, 2-DEF4655492203
82-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF194239.42199
83-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF94658.42193
83-QB, 3-TE, 2-DEF357988.32199
93-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF90587.42187

It’s perhaps not surprising that the 7-Onesie constructions were generally superior to the 8-Onesie constructions, which makes the success of 2-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF even more surprising. When we break it down by season, the results jump out even more.

2-DEF and 3-DEF Onesie Constructions – Win Rate By Year

Total OnesieDEFConstruction2015 Count2015 Win Rate2015 Avg2016 Count2016 Win Rate2016 Avg2017 Count2017 Win Rate2017 Avg2018 Count2018 Win Rate2018 Avg
622-QB, 2-TE, 2-DEF47658.5220483638.62189101168.72099136548.72288
732-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF33369.2222339148.62188336810.1211734049.92295
723-QB, 2-TE, 2-DEF34588.3221075769.3219379578.22096115258.92283
722-QB,3-TE, 2-DEF53408.9221591809.42201146728.62100173629.12289
832-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF60158.5221664079.8219737549.7209932479.82287
833-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF18969.3221740417.6217816268.2209719029.42283
823-QB, 3-TE, 2-DEF46489.2222097218.1217781728.12089132578.12276
933-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF21758220937196.6217014037.6207717617.92283

You have to use the horizontal scroll to investigate all of these results, and there’s good news if that seems like too much work, because I’m going to break down the key takeaways.

  • We know 2-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF was the best construction overall, but it really hammers that home when you see that it was the highest-scoring lineup in three of the four seasons (2015, 2017, 2018).
  • If you’re going to avoid a 3-DEF construction, make it 3-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF. The 9-Onesie construction earned a below-average win rate in every year.
  • 2016 was a weaker season for 3-DEF overall, but it still had the top individual construction that year. 2-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF sported a 9.8 percent win rate.
  • That 2-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF construction was the most popular in 2015, but 2-QB, 3-TE, 2-DEF took the lead in 2016 and accelerated away from the pack in 2017.
  • By 2018, every 2-DEF construction was represented on over 11,000 lineups while all 3-DEF constructions were found on below 3,500.

You Really Need to Roster 3 Defenses

We can drive home just how catastrophic these ownership trends are when we look at the top individual constructions over the four-year period.

Top 5 Individual-Season Constructions By Win Rate

YearConstructionCountWin RateAvg
20172-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF336810.12117
20182-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF34049.92295
20182-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF32479.82287
20162-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF64079.82197
20172-QB, 3-TE, 3-DEF37549.72099

The top-five individual constructions were all of the 3-DEF variety and although 2015 doesn’t show up on the list because win rates were more tightly clustered that year, the two best constructions in 2015 were 3-DEF.

The good news for 3-DEF drafters is that this advantage likely won’t go away any time soon. The four most popular 2018 constructions were of the 2-DEF variety, and only one of them (the 8-Onesie construction) had a below average win rate due to the large number of owners rostering only a single defense. So even though these constructions all had win rates below the 7- and 8-Onesie constructions with three defenses, the feedback wasn’t poor enough to cause a sea change in tactics.

Moreover, 2-QB, 3-TE, 2-DEF was easily the most popular construction in 2018, and with a win rate of 9.1 percent, owners will likely continue to pursue this approach in droves. Consider that this construction trailed our preferred 3-DEF construction3 by a 17-point margin in 2017 and with a big win rate gap of 10.1 percent to 8.6 percent, and yet the increase in the less successful construction was almost equal to the total number of owners using the more successful one.

2017 2018
Construction Count Win Rate Avg Count Win Rate Avg
2-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF 3368 10.1 2117 3404 9.9 2295
2-QB,3-TE, 2-DEF 14672 8.6 2100 17362 9.1 2289

The most popular construction, using only four spots at QB and DEF while selecting three, usually later-round TEs, is an approach that features RBs and WRs early and often. Experts have been pushing this in all formats for years, and it’s become so embedded in the culture that owners are less willing to deploy strategies that are more controversial even when they’re more successful.

The Structure of BestBall10s Favors 3-DEF

It’s always nice when the results match the logic. In fact, the format sets up so favorably for 3-DEF that I’m surprised the results don’t skew even a little more that direction.

Defenses don’t put up a lot of fantasy points unless they fall into a defensive touchdown. Having a third DEF in this environment plays strongly into a best ball format that optimizes starting lineups. The opportunity cost of drafting a third defense is minimal. We found in the QB and the TE lessons that if you’re going to draft a third player at those positions, you need to do it earlier than most owners believe, otherwise you’re wasting the value of that third player. The same is not true at DEF.4

Stay Tuned for Lesson 5 where we take a brief intermission before moving on to the glamour positions – RB and WR. In Lesson 5, we’ll combine the lessons learned at QB, TE, and DEF to show that you really can win your best ball leagues simply by dominating the Onesies.

  1. The average score is a little misleading since 3-DEF was more heavily represented in 2015, which was a higher-scoring year overall than 2016 and 2017.  (back)
  2. We also see a large chunk of the 1-DEF constructions again last season, probably the result of owners playing for the first time and perhaps owners who timed out in Round 20.  (back)
  3. 2-QB, 2-TE, 3-DEF  (back)
  4. That said, the cost of that third defense certainly isn’t zero. The value of hitting on a swing-for-the-fences RB or WR is substantial. In last year’s MFL10 of Death, three of my last five picks were defenses, but I selected Austin Ekeler in Round 17 and Chris Carson in Round 20. Those players were key cogs in my Zero RB lineup, and it’s easy to imagine a scenario where I took a slightly different path, drafted a bust in Round 19 at RB – instead of drafting a DEF – and then came back with a DEF in Round 20, losing a very key player in Carson.  (back)
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