Why defensive midfielders are the least matchup dependent MLS fantasy plays

It is a common understanding that many MLS fantasy players have is that defensive midfielders have a higher floor and a lower ceiling. But just how much can we expect a defensive midfielder’s score to change week to week based on their matchup?

In analyzing several years of historical MLS fantasy data, it turns out that defensive midfielders only get 0.25 more points than average at home. Furthermore, playing against the worst defenses, defensive midfielders only score 0.25 more points than average, if they are averaging over 5 points per game. This number increases to 0.75 more points than average for defensive midfielders scoring 4 or less points per game. This is likely due to the fact that defensive midfielders scoring 4 or less points per game are more reliant on offensive fantasy points. These variance numbers are lower than any other position.

In general, defensive midfielders do little scoring or assisting. Their fantasy points are more reliant on defensive bonus points and passing bonus points, which tend to be matchup proof. A defensive midfielder is a much better choice in a double game week for a team that has two away games than an attacking player with a similar amount of points per game.

Dax McCarty, Weeks 1-10, 2019 MLS Season

A good example of this from 2019 is Dax McCarty. He is averaging 5.31 points per game this season. In his first 5 games, he scored exactly 5 points, despite playing 3 home games and 2 away games. In fact, McCarty earned his highest point total in the game you might least expect it. He scored 7 against in an away game against LAFC a team that keeps a lot of possession, doesn’t turn the ball over, and has stingy defense. His worst game, a 3 pointer, was against NYCFC, another team that keeps a lot of possession and has a good defense.

Wil Trapp, Weeks 1-9, 2019 MLS Season

Another example this year is Wil Trapp. He is scoring 4.27 points per game so far. There is very little variation in his score, getting 4-6 points in about 90% of his games. His lowest score was in a home game, but it was against the Red Bulls, who high press opponents and force them into more turnovers than usual. His highest score was in an away game against the Impact, who are not as aggressive. So the sample from these two defensive midfielders show it is hard to predict when a defensive midfielder will score the most points and that their points remain relatively consistent from game to game.

Obviously these are specific examples, but they illustrate the larger point backed up the data that defensive midfielders are essentially matchup proof. On the other hand, defensive midfielders do not benefit from “good matchups” either. Their opponent and whether they are playing home or away matters little when predicting their score.