Strong Starters, Fast Finishers

Two of the most talked-about Wide Receivers of this offseason have been Patrick Jeffers and Marvin Harrison.

Harrison, of course, is a fantasy stud in almost everyone's book. In fact, his 1999 total of 239 fantasy points is the most by a wide receiver in the last four years (fantasy points, as always, defined as yards/10 + 6*TDs). He's still in his prime and playing for a team that looks to be an offensive force for years to come. So why isn't he an automatic no-questions-asked #1 on everyone's WR list? Primarily because of his relatively unimpressive second half. He did not score a TD in his last six games. His season broke down like this:

Weeks         Avg. PTs per GM
-----------------------------
1 -  8              19.1
9 - 17              11.7
This has caused some to speculate that defenses have figured out a way to shut Harrison down. Others feel that it's merely a bad stretch, and everybody has bad stretches now and then -- nothing to worry about. I've always leaned toward the "nothing to worry about" camp, but it is at least a little bit bothersome that Harrison never came out of his bad stretch. Probably this is just because the season ended and he didn't get the chance, but there is some doubt.

And of course, even in a bad stretch, Harrison is pretty darn good. Even with the TD drought, Harrison outproduced all but 11 WRs from week 9 on (in terms of fantasy scoring average). Everyone knows Harrison will be a solid fantasy producer this season. The only question is whether he'll blow everyone away, or merely be a run-of-the-mill top 5 receiver.

Patrick Jeffers represents the other side of the coin. After a mostly-unimpressive career and a mostly-unimpressive first half of 1999, he turned up the juice in a big way:

Weeks         Avg. PTs per GM
-----------------------------
1 -  8               8.7 
9 - 17              16.3

Is his second half performance indicative of things to come? The general question is: can we learn more about a player by breaking his stats into the two halves than we can by simply looking at the overall numbers?

Let's give it a whirl. I looked at all WRs and TEs from 1995 to 1998, who met the following criteria:

I looked at each player's average fantasy production in each half, and computed the difference for each player. The top first-half player on the list was Herman Moore 1996, who was 8.6 points per game better in the first half of the season than in the second. The best finisher turned out to be Cris Carter 1995, who was 7.8 points per game better in the second half of that season. You can find the complete list at the end of the article. (Technical details: I'm defining "first half" to mean weeks 1-8, and "second half" to mean 9-17. I'm using averages rather than totals to remove some complications caused by the bye weeks.)

There were 104 players on the list and exactly half of them had a better first half and half had a better second half. Now, as usual, we look at what these players did the next year.

                               AVG in     AVG in 
Group              Number      Year N    Year N+1    CHANGE
-----------------------------------------------------------
Strong Starters      52          150        145       -3.3%
Fast  Finishers      52          161        147       -8.7%

A different look:

                             Improved in   Declined in   
Group              Number      Year N+1      Year N+1  
-------------------------------------------------------
Strong Starters      52           23            29
Fast Finishers       52           18            34
So the Strong Starters of the world have, in the past, been more likely to improve on the previous year's numbers than the Fast Finishers have. That's interesting, and a little surprising. It might be an indication that some Fast Finishers are piling up numbers in meaningless games against rookie corners who are just out there to get some experience. Or it might not mean anything.

As usual, I'm going to warn you not to read too much into this. I would not interpret this to mean that you should upgrade strong starters, but it certainly does appear that there is no reason to downgrade strong starters or upgrade fast finishers. In other words, unless you have a very good specific reason for doing so, don't worry about half-seasons.

One final note: this was a general study. It should be noted that Harrison and Jeffers are both extreme cases. Harrison would rank as the 2nd strongest starter, and Jeffers the 2nd fastest finisher of the last five years. As such, there may be something significant about their splits that this study didn't catch. Personally, I'm not convinced. My hunch: if Harrison isn't the #1 receiver this year, it won't be because defenses have figured him out. It'll be because of Randy Moss.



DIFF = 2nd half average - 1st half average

(so a negative number indicates a better first half, and a positive
number indicates a better second half)

Last Name    First Name        YEAR 1     DIFF      FPT1     YEAR 2     FPT2
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
MOORE        HERMAN             1996      -8.6       184      1997      177
MORTON       JOHNNIE            1996      -7.4       112      1997      145
LEWIS        JERMAINE           1997      -6.4       116      1998      116
CONWAY       CURTIS             1995      -5.6       183      1996      158
PICKENS      CARL               1998      -5.0       133      1999      110
REED         ANDRE              1997      -4.9       119      1998      110
EMANUEL      BERT               1995      -4.4       134      1996      128
MATHIS       TERANCE            1996      -4.2       119      1997      120
MARTIN       TONY               1996      -4.1       201      1997      126
SHARPE       SHANNON            1996      -4.1       166      1997      129
ELLARD       HENRY              1995      -4.1       131      1996      112
MOORE        HERMAN             1997      -3.9       177      1998      128
SCOTT        DARNAY             1995      -3.8       113      1996      114
BROWN        TIM                1997      -3.7       173      1998      155
MCCARDELL    KEENAN             1996      -3.5       131      1997      146
HARRISON     MARVIN             1998      -3.4       120      1999      239
MORTON       JOHNNIE            1998      -3.4       116      1999      143
OWENS        TERRELL            1997      -3.4       142      1998      205
MCCAFFREY    ED                 1997      -3.3       107      1998      165
MCDUFFIE     O.J.               1997      -3.3       107      1998      148
COATES       BEN                1997      -3.2       122      1998      103
ENGRAM       BOBBY              1998      -3.0       129      1999      120
SMITH        JIMMY              1997      -2.9       156      1998      166
MUHAMMAD     MUHSIN             1998      -2.8       130      1999      173
ALEXANDER    DERRICK            1996      -2.1       158      1997      155
CARTER       CRIS               1997      -2.0       185      1998      173
ISMAIL       RAGHIB             1998      -1.9       155      1999      163
MARTIN       TONY               1997      -1.9       126      1998      154
CALLOWAY     CHRIS              1997      -1.9       133      1998      118
PERRIMAN     BRETT              1995      -1.7       208      1996      133
SCOTT        DARNAY             1996      -1.7       114      1997      110
BRUCE        ISAAC              1995      -1.6       258      1996      176
FRYAR        IRVING             1995      -1.6       139      1996      185
MCCARDELL    KEENAN             1998      -1.5       125      1999      119
RICE         JERRY              1998      -1.5       170      1999      114
BROWN        TIM                1996      -1.5       168      1997      173
IRVIN        MICHAEL            1997      -1.5       172      1998      112
JOHNSON      KEYSHAWN           1996      -1.4       127      1997      132
PICKENS      CARL               1995      -1.3       226      1996      190
IRVIN        MICHAEL            1995      -1.2       220      1996      108
SCOTT        DARNAY             1998      -1.2       125      1999      144
WALLS        WESLEY             1996      -1.1       131      1997      111
CARTER       CRIS               1998      -1.0       173      1999      202
JACKSON      MICHAEL            1995      -1.0       125      1996      204
GALLOWAY     JOEY               1996       -.9       160      1997      184
EMANUEL      BERT               1996       -.8       128      1997      153
MILLER       ANTHONY            1995       -.6       192      1996      101
WESTBROOK    MICHAEL            1998       -.5       111      1999      177
MCCAFFREY    ED                 1998       -.5       165      1999      144
ALEXANDER    DERRICK            1997       -.5       155      1998      123
MARTIN       TONY               1998       -.2       154      1999      133
GRAHAM       JEFF               1995       -.1       154      1996      115
EARLY        QUINN              1996        .3       105      1997      115
JETT         JAMES              1997        .4       152      1998      125
SMITH        ROD                1998        .4       171      1999      126
JOHNSON      KEYSHAWN           1998        .5       185      1999      166
COATES       BEN                1996        .5       122      1997      122
MOORE        ROB                1996        .5       132      1997      209
REED         ANDRE              1996        .5       142      1997      119
CARTER       CRIS               1996        .5       176      1997      185
FREEMAN      ANTONIO            1997        .5       198      1998      227
SMITH        ROD                1997        .6       190      1998      171
MCDUFFIE     O.J.               1996        .8       131      1997      107
SMITH        JIMMY              1998        .9       166      1999      200
REED         JAKE               1996       1.1       174      1997      149
RICE         JERRY              1995       1.2       290      1996      187
JOHNSON      KEYSHAWN           1997       1.4       132      1998      185
SMITH        JIMMY              1996       1.4       172      1997      156
EARLY        QUINN              1995       1.5       156      1996      105
FREEMAN      ANTONIO            1998       1.5       227      1999      143
MOULDS       ERIC               1998       1.7       191      1999      142
MORTON       JOHNNIE            1997       1.7       145      1998      116
MOORE        ROB                1995       1.8       118      1996      132
MARTIN       TONY               1995       1.9       158      1996      201
JACKSON      MICHAEL            1996       2.0       204      1997      116
CARRIER      MARK               1995       2.1       118      1996      117
HARRISON     MARVIN             1997       2.1       122      1998      120
SANDERS      FRANK              1997       2.2       126      1998      133
FRYAR        IRVING             1996       2.2       185      1997      168
MATHIS       TERANCE            1997       2.3       120      1998      179
MCDUFFIE     O.J.               1995       2.4       131      1996      131
MORTON       JOHNNIE            1995       2.8       110      1996      112
GALLOWAY     JOEY               1995       2.8       173      1996      160
MCCARDELL    KEENAN             1997       2.9       146      1998      125
MOSS         RANDY              1998       3.0       234      1999      212
MATHIS       TERANCE            1998       3.0       179      1999      138
GADSDEN      ORONDE             1998       3.1       113      1999      116
BROWN        TIM                1995       3.2       194      1996      168
MOORE        HERMAN             1995       3.4       253      1996      184
SHARPE       SHANNON            1997       3.6       129      1998      137
SANDERS      FRANK              1998       3.7       133      1999      101
REED         JAKE               1995       3.7       171      1996      174
SANDERS      CHRIS              1995       3.9       134      1996      112
COATES       BEN                1995       4.0       128      1996      122
MATHIS       TERANCE            1995       4.3       158      1996      119
MOORE        ROB                1997       4.5       209      1998      128
BRUCE        ISAAC              1996       4.7       176      1997      112
BROWN        TIM                1998       4.8       155      1999      171
HARRISON     MARVIN             1996       5.3       133      1997      122
SCOTT        DARNAY             1997       5.3       110      1998      125
HASTINGS     ANDRE              1996       5.6       113      1997      106
FREEMAN      ANTONIO            1996       6.1       147      1997      198
GALLOWAY     JOEY               1997       6.4       184      1998      167
CARTER       CRIS               1995       7.8       239      1996      176