Why picking MLS fantasy defenders against weak defenses is a fallacy

A common logical fallacy many MLS fantasy players have is to pick defenders that are going up against poor defenses in hopes of their defender getting a goal or an assist in the game. However, the strength of the opposing team’s defense matters little when projecting how many points a defender will score.

In analyzing several years of historical MLS fantasy data, it turns out that the worst defenses only allow 0.25 more points to defenders, while the best defenses only allow 0.25 less points to defenders. Defender point scoring is far more dependent on the player’s average points per game, whether the defender is playing home or away, and also whether the defender is playing against a poor offense.

This trend applies generally to both centerbacks and fullbacks, practically no matter how many assists or goals the defender has on the year. In general, defenders do little scoring or assisting, and if they do it is less dependent on the opposing defense than it is for attacking midfielders and forwards. A better strategy is picking the defender playing a poor offense or picking the defender that is simply getting more points per game.

Sporting KC 7, Montreal Impact 1

A good example of this from 2019 is the Sporting KC 7-1 win over Montreal. Despite scoring 7 goals, not a single Sporting KC defender got a goal or an assist. One would have at least expected Graham Zusi, one of the best attacking fullbacks in the league to be on the scoresheet somewhere. Only fullback Daniel Lovitz assisted on Montreal’s only goal (Lovitz also ended up getting a grand total of 3 points in the game). So the total number of offensive fantasy points scored by defenders in a 8 goal game was just 3. 3 points distributed among the 8 defenders that played that game ends up being less than 0.5 points per player.

New York City FC 5, FC Cincinnati 2

Another example this year comes from the NYCFC 5-2 win over Cincinnati. Anton Tinnerholm had two assists in the game, the rest of the defenders did not score or assist. 6 points distributed among the 8 defenders is still less than 1 point per player. So in two of the highest scoring games of the year, the average defender still only scored less than 1 offensive fantasy point per player.

Obviously these are specific examples, but they illustrate the larger point that you should not count on a defender to have an assist or a goal just because it might be a high scoring game.