If you caught our ‘Q&A Mailbag’ in pre-season you will remember us being pretty down on budget strikers in Fantasy Premier League. We received some great feedback on this and in particular want to thank Woody and Pete for pointing out players like Andy Carroll with Newcastle, West Brom’s Odemwingie and Steven Fletcher for Wolves all in 2010/11 (a vintage year for budget strikers!), Fletcher again in 2011/12, and more recently Jay Rodriguez at Southampton. All these players started FPL life at £6M or less and all did extremely well.
The position we were coming from with our dismissal of budget strikers in general was more the overall structure of a GW1 team rather than seizing a cheap opportunity once the season has started. Our general policy is that the three forward slots in your team are precious, and the probability of a sub-£6M forward doing well is low. There’s certainly the possibility of one or two raising their heads above the parapet but, in general, budget forwards don’t score very well. The biggest problem we have with budget forwards is one of flexibility in your team and overall balance. If you plump for a real cheap striker in your GW1 team the odds are it won’t work out. With little budget invested in this player you then have to take a chance on another budget forward where, the odds suggest again, it won’t work out. Or else you use up two transfers to raise some funds for an upgrade.
Typical Budget Forwards
By our count so far in 2014/15 there are 18 forwards in FPL at or under £6M who will see some regular game time. Players like Weimann, Agbonglahor, Nugent, Chamakh, Ings, Jelavic, Ulloa, Vaz Te, Campbell, Jutkiewicz, Austin, etc. So far, these 18 players have scored 7 goals in the equivalent of 32 games, a rate of 0.2 goals per game. And 4 of these 7 goals have been scored by just 2 players! (Naismith and Berahino).
Using last year’s game as an example, a ’typical’ budget forward will score 3.4 points per game, this is based on players who played 1000 minutes or more in 2013/14 such as Crouch, Jerome, Anichebe, Campbell and Odemwingie. The standout last season was Jay Rodriguez with a PPG of 5.0. Odemwingie was next best with a PPG of 4.0, in third came Steven Naismith with 3.4 PPG.
Point Per Game Targets
Our benchmark for a £6M player in our team is 4.0PPG. This is what your typical good £6M defender will score. We are generally looking for any player in our team except the captain options to score 1 point per game per £1.5M spent. We set the same targets with midfielders. A £6M midfielder needs to score 4 PPG. A £9M midfielder - 6PPG. This is based on hitting a 55 point gameweek average before captain points, which in turn should be enough for a 63 point average gameweek and ‘winning’ 2400 point total at the end of the season.
Our research suggest £5.5-6.0M forwards rarely meet this points target whereas same priced defenders and midfielders regularly do; where only Odemwingie and Rodriguez hit this threshold last year there were 9 similarly priced midfielders and 17 defenders to do so. In summary, it’s not easy to find a successful budget forward, and if you fail to do so it can leave your team unbalanced up-front.
So, what about Steven Naismith?
Anyway, saying all that, and as earlier examples like Andy Carroll and Jay Rodriguez clearly show, you can hit gold with a cheap striker, so let’s turn our attention to the first contender to step up to plate this season in Steven Naismith. We’ve already mentioned his points per game last season was 3.4 PPG. Howeever, as you can see from the chart below he only really got a consistent run in the side for the final 8 games of the season and over this spell hit a points high for the season of 4.9 PPG, scoring 3 goals and picking up 3 assists.
Last season Naismith was predominantly used as a sub or for cover. He got a break when Lukaku was injured midseason but only really get regular starts and 90 minutes at the end of the season. Interestingly, this was at the expense of either Mirallas or Ross Barkley. It seemed he’d impressed Martinez sufficiently enough to earn a start in the side on merit. The pre-GW1 injury to Barkley this season has firmly jammed the door open for the Scotsman this time around and he's looking in a lot better shape physically than he was this time last year.
Expected Goal Stats (Goal Threat)
So far this season he’s scored 2 goals from 2 shots on target and 4 shots in total. This would ordinarily be described as an unsustainable rate but it’s revealing to see that 2 of his 4 shots have been in very good central positions in the penalty box. In the two games so far Naismith has averaged 0.4 ‘expected goals’ a game (what are expected goals?). Taking a quick look at the end of last season we can see more of the same; over those final 8 games he average 0.47 expected goals per game. These are stats that suggest close to a 1 goal in 2 game strike rate.
All the signs point to Naismith being a very valuable player in FPL this season. It’s worth noting that his £5m price tag was based on a lack of expected gametime rather than the “budget” potential. Barkley’s injury certainly guarantees Naismith an extended run in the side but it’s possible that Naismith is more important to the first team plans than many people would first think. Martinez is already purring over the Scot’s displays this season but in an interview with Naismith from last year he reveals how Martinez was a big fan of his game and extremely keen to sign him for Wigan.
After going over the history and stats we’re pretty keen on Naismith right now, even with Chelsea next up at Goodison Park. The only watch out is the point we laboured at the start of the season. Just be aware that if he gets injured or something it won’t be straightforward to shift a £5m player out of your front line, especially if you've built up team value in an otherwise settled side. But maybe you won’t have to and it looks like it could be well worth it anyway.