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20/21 WAR Team of the Season

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Our good friends from Over Thinking Football are here with a very special article. They have used their Fantasy EPL "Wins Above Replacement" model to determine a Fantrax Team of the Season. Read below for all the details!

Our 21/22 Draft Kit will have all the pre-season information you would ever need. Draft Rankings, Team Previews, Strategy, Draft 101. Launching soon!

20/21 WAR Team of the Season

We here at the Draft Society have always aimed to assemble a team that strikes the right balance between stats and gut feeling, analytics and the eye test, however we are unanimous in our appreciation of "good data". Data that helps us understand and make sense of modern fantasy football that has more and more become like an excel sheet.

When it comes to "good data", the fellas at @ovrthnkfootball are right there at the top and that is why we asked them if they wanted to collaborate on a Team of the Season selection based on the metric, they adapted to fantasy football, WAR! So without further ado, we are grateful to have the opportunity to present to you the team that got you the most wins this season on Fantrax, brought to you by Chris, Andrew and Will!

Please follow their work on @ovrthinkfootball and Overthinking Football Blog.

WAR Refresher

To start, here is a quick refresher on how the current WAR works. WAR stands for “Wins Above Replacement,” and is heavily based off of the baseball WAR concept. In calculating WAR, we first define a set of players that are fantasy starters and waiver wire players. After assigning these player designations, we can estimate the probability of a team winning a given matchup when starting Player X compared to if Player X was replaced with a random waiver wire player. By isolating Player X’s contributions and running thousands of simulations, we can calculate just how many fantasy “wins” Player X has earned his fantasy manager compared to an average waiver wire replacement.

Enough of the theory... lets get to it! Here is your 20/21 WAR Team of the Season!

Harry Kane – Forward, Tottenham Hotspur (WAR Rank, Ovr: 2, Fwd: 1)

Harry Kane defied our pre-season expectations and took a massive step forward from the 2019/20 season. Kane’s league-leading 23 goals propelled him to the top of the WAR forward ranks, but his unlikely role as an offensive playmaker, where he provided 9 more assists than his previous best, played a huge part in his success. Kane should perhaps count himself lucky on that front, given that his 14 assists nearly doubled his 7.4 expected. Nevertheless, if Kane somehow does find his way to one of the rumored Manchester clubs this offseason, he could be in for a huge 2021/22 campaign.

Sadio Mané – Forward, Liverpool (WAR Rank, Ovr: 6, Fwd: 2)

Despite getting 3 fewer starts than his Egyptian teammate, Mané led the Liverpool attacking options in the WAR ranks. Mané provided a consistent source of points all season when starting, and added seven 20+ point matches to maximize his effect. Even with his strong output, managers may have a right to feel a little unlucky, as Mané was one of the few top players to underperform his xFpts by an average of over one point per match (15.79 mean xFpts, 14.73 mean fpts).

Son Heung-Min – Forward, Tottenham Hotspur (WAR Rank, Ovr: 9, Fwd: 3)

Harry Kane was not the only Spurs attacking asset putting up big numbers this year, as Son lit up the stat sheet throughout the season. In fact, Son’s 17 goals were the most of any season in his professional career, while his 10 assists tied his career high. Son proved to have one of the highest ceilings, putting together four 30+ point performances, second only to Bruno Fernandes’s five. Even if Kane stays put in North London, managers should be wary to expect similar offensive production from Son next season, as he overperformed his xFpts by the fourth highest margin, largely in part to his 17 goals with an xG of only 10.3.

Bruno Fernandes – Midfielder, Manchester United (WAR Rank, Ovr: 1, Mid: 1)

No one needed WAR to know that United’s playmaker and penalty specialist was the top fantasy player of the season, but the metric drives home his dominance. With his red-hot start, Bruno was on pace to give KdB’s amazing 2019/20 campaign a run for its money, producing attacking returns nearly every week. While his pace eventually slowed, Bruno still earned 1.2 more wins for his fantasy managers than the next closest player, a remarkable feat given the disjointed and unpredictable season. While Bruno did not have the highest average WAR per start, his consistent output and ever-present place in the United lineup will make him a very appealing candidate for the first overall pick in next year’s draft. Bravo on the pick this year, @FantasyGaffer, bravo.

Kevin De Bruyne – Midfielder, Manchester City (WAR Rank, Ovr: 3, Mid: 2)

It feels strange to say a player had a disappointing season when he finished 3rd overall in WAR and 1st in xFpts per game, but KdB owners all likely hoped for a little bit more out of the player taken 1-1 in most drafts. That being said, KdB may have still been the most impressive player this season when he was able to make it onto the field. He outperformed Bruno in average WAR per start (0.153 vs. 0.135), and finished with nearly 3 more xFpts per match than his United counterpart. Had KdB gotten the same number of starts as Bruno – not likely given his previous injury history and Pep roulette – his extrapolated WAR would have stood at 4.91 WAR, top of the charts and 0.6 ahead of his rival. While the debate over the first overall pick will surely rage on through the offseason, KdB may have still done enough to retain his place at the top of our draft board.

Jack Grealish – Midfielder, Aston Villa (WAR Rank, Ovr: 4, Mid: 3)

Oh Jack, what could have been. One of our favorite players to watch in fantasy was on a mission at the beginning of the season, running nearly on par with Bruno in the first half. A mysterious training ground injury put a halt to his season, and many fantasy managers felt the hurt. Even with his spell on the bench, Grealish finished 4th in the overall WAR ranks, a testament to his early season success. He boasted the 3rd highest average WAR per start (0.012) and would have finished with 3.91 WAR had he had Bruno’s 32 starts. While Jack will be a priority target in next year’s draft regardless, keep an eye on the potential introduction of fouls suffered as a Fantrax scoring category to assess whether he’ll gain an even bigger boost in value.

Mason Mount – Midfielder, Chelsea (WAR Rank, Ovr: 5, Mid: 4)

Not only did Mason Mount cement his spot in the Chelsea lineup, but he also announced his place in the upper echelon of fantasy midfielders during the 2020/21 season. A surprisingly consistent member of both Lampard’s and Tuchel’s teams, Mount was buoyed by 30 fantasy starts across which he amassed 2.45 WAR, good enough to land him the 5th overall spot. At only 22 years old, Mount looks to be a premier creative midfield asset (87 KPs, 7 fantasy assists) for Fantrax owners for many years to come.

Joao Cancelo – Defender, Manchester City (WAR Rank, Ovr: 8, Def: 1)

Joao Cancelo, Manchester City’s flexible right back/left back/central midfielder/winger, finished the season as the number one overall WAR defender in 2020/21, and 8th best player overall in just 26 starts, once more demonstrating the value that can be found at the oft-ignored defender position. Even with a horrific week 37 performance (-7 fpts, -0.13 WAR) he averaged more WAR per week (0.084) than all but six players in the top 25 (Fernandes, KdB, Grealish, Kane, Gundogan, Foden). Perhaps even more impressive, Cancelo underperformed his xFpts (15.43) by 1.5 points per start. Having finally cemented* his spot in the Pep rotation, he looks to be an underrated asset in the upcoming season.

* where cemented should be taken with the largest grain of salt you can find. #PepRoulette

Lucas Digne – Defender, Everton (WAR Rank, Ovr: 12, Def: 2)

Despite a rollercoaster season with terrible lows (-9.5 points; -0.1768 WAR in week 6) and tremendous highs (39.5 points; 0.2386 WAR in week 26), Lucas Digne lived up to his preseason 2019/20 WAR billing (6th overall), finishing the season at a very respectable 12th overall. The introduction of James Rodriguez and the resurgence of Gylfi Sigurdsson in the Everton lineup surely reduced Digne’s attacking output, but the defender still managed to post seven 20+ point performances. It remains to be seen how Ancelotti’s departure will affect Everton, but Digne will almost certainly continue to maintain round two or three fantasy value going into next season.

Trent Alexander-Arnold – Defender, Liverpool (WAR Rank, Ovr: 13, Def: 3)

After TAA and Liverpool got off to a slow start, managers had a right to be concerned about one of their prized assets. We had previously warned that Trent might be due to come back to earth given his overperformance of expected assists last season, but even we did not anticipate his early-season slump. Luckily for TAA owners and Liverpool, Trent salvaged his fantasy season and his team’s Champions League hopes with a strong finish that saw him earn over 1.5 of his season total 2.1 WAR in the last 10 matches. In fact, Trent’s average WAR per start over the final 10-match stretch would have been nearly identical to KdB’s league-leading average WAR. Sleep on Fantrax defenders’ value at your own peril.

Emi Martinez – Goalkeeper, Aston Villa (WAR Rank, TBD!)

You may be thinking, wait, you don’t include keepers in your WAR and xFpts rankings, and you would be right! We are excited to spend the upcoming offseason diving into keepers’ value in the draft fantasy game, and come next season will be able to truly analyze how keepers stack up against their outfield teammates. In the meantime, we are left to rely on total points and average points per game, where Aston Villa’s shotstopper led the competition almost all season. No, Emi did not score any last second winners, but he did put up 19 double-digit performances from a position group where many simply keep their fingers crossed for positive scores.

Honorable Mentions

Raphinha – Forward, Leeds United (WAR Rank, Ovr: 15, Fwd: 4)

One of the most exciting new additions to the Premier League this season, Raphinha quickly found his footing in an attacking Leeds squad and cemented his place in fantasy lineups. Raphinha’s output was buttressed by his coveted set-piece role, which contributed to him finishing 10th in key passes behind the league’s best creators. Had Raphinha gotten a few more matches under his belt, he would have ended up in our WAR team of the season, as his average WAR per start (0.081) was better than Son’s 0.066.

Jack Harrison – Midfielder, Leeds United (WAR Rank, Ovr: 7, Mid: 5)

Slotting Harrison into the Honorable Mention slot was difficult given that he actually earned more WAR (2.261) for his teams than Son Heung-Min (2.166). Ultimately, Son’s far superior total point output (480 vs. 387) and the clear benefits of a 3-4-3 formation resulted in Harrison’s exclusion from the Team of the Season, but that does not take anything away from this season’s diamond in the rough. Despite an Average Draft Position of 127, Harrison had a higher WAR average per start (0.069) than the likes of Riyad Mahrez (0.068) and Mohamed Salah (0.062)

Phil Foden – Midfielder, Manchester City (WAR Rank, Ovr: 18, Mid: 9)

Phil Foden finds himself lower on the overall WAR ranks than many of the other players on this list, but only Pep is to blame. Foden’s average WAR per start (0.012) was 4th highest among all players, trailing only KdB, Bruno, and Grealish. While his playing time was inconsistent, his on-field performances were not, as Foden put up double-digit points in all but 5 of his 16 starts. It is always a risk to gamble on City assets, but Foden will be a tempting pick in the first few rounds of next year’s draft.

Andrew Robertson – Defender, Liverpool (WAR Rank, Ovr: 20, Def: 4)

While the top three defenders stood out from the field, there were a number of players in the defender ranks that provided significant value. Robbo was one of these defenders, who finished 20th overall in our WAR rankings, ahead of attacking players like Marcus Rashford, Pascal Gross, and Ollie Watkins. Despite the perception that he had an underwhelming season, Robertson’s decent points output and consistent starts earned him more WAR than some of the better performing defenders who had fewer starts (e.g., Coufal, Chilwell, Shaw).

Nathaniel Phillips – Defender, Liverpool (WAR Rank, Ovr: 46, Def: 11)

Managers could have found better overall defender value than Liverpool’s aerial-winning CB, but his impact at the end of the season may have clinched the title for many fantasy teams. Nat started only 14 matches – most of them in the final stretch of the campaign – but managed to earn the 11th most WAR of any defender. This remarkable total is a testament to the quality of his performances, as Phillips boasted an average WAR per start of 0.084, 2nd highest of all defenders and nearly identical to that of the defensive WAR leader, Joao Cancelo. It remains to be seen whether Nat will have any meaningful role in Liverpool’s defense next season, but if he finds himself in Klopp’s starting XI, he should find himself in yours as well.

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