I’ve been playing rotisserie baseball for darn near 20 years at this point, but as I write this article, I’ve never before played a day of daily fantasy sports.
I’m generally familiar with the concept. I’ve read many strategy articles on the topic. But I’ve never put together an effort to dive in and develop a formal plan about how I’m going to attack this new game.
In this series of posts I will document my journey and the resources I’m using to get myself familiar with the game. I must repeat that I have never done this before. I can’t sit here and promise you daily fantasy riches. But my goal is to find a way to play this daily game smartly, efficiently, and strategically.
Be Careful. Be Smart.
I know we’re not playing poker here. But because I’m an ultra-conservative accountant that hates giving away money, I’m reminded of this famous quote from the movie Rounders.
I’m not about to jump in the DFS waters without getting a plan together. While there are probably a ton of new players jumping into daily fantasy baseball when the season starts, I know there are a lot of sharks swimming in those waters.
I can’t go in blindly. I can’t go in lazily. And I can’t assume my knowledge of baseball will be enough to win.
Many readers of this site probably know A LOT more about the topics and tools for this game than I do. I’m going to share the resources and articles that seem helpful to me, but I’m sure there are other (and better) resources out there. Please share those tools and resources you find most helpful in the comments below so we can all do this more effectively. And if you think I’m wrong in something that I’ve said or if I’m leading people in the right direction, let me know. Let’s have a cordial debate.
I’m excited and nervous… Let’s go!
How Have You Never Played DFS Before?
Good question. I suppose I should address this before we get started.
I’ve mentioned many times on this site before that I’m married and have two daughters, I work full-time, and try to run this site on the side. From what I do know about daily fantasy baseball, my impression is that it takes a good amount of effort and time to play effectively. I know that weather can be a big factor in games. Lineups may change late in the afternoon. And I work until 6PM EST most nights. I can’t get on many of the DFS sites at work. So if I get home at 6:30, that doesn’t leave much time to eat dinner with my family, set a lineup, check the weather, make late lineup swaps, etc.
So that’s the angle I’m operating from. I’m not only looking to learn the most effective ways to play. I also I need to find ways to play this game well in that environment. It might mean coming up with lineups the day before. It might mean finding services or apps that can notify me of lineup or weather problems. Or it might mean only playing on the weekends. I don’t know yet. But if I can’t find a way to play on a level playing field during the week, I won’t do it.
There has to be a way.
A lot of the introductory material about getting started with DFS baseball assumes you come in without any advanced (or even moderate) knowledge of baseball statistics.
My first thought about that is it’s actually intriguing that there’s a need to explain some of those statistics. See the Matt Damon video quote above. Maybe I won’t be the sucker at the table.
I don’t mean that you can rattle off the exact formula for wOBA or even know the specific differences between SIERA and FIP, but just that you have a rough concept of what those terms are. If those terms are Greek to you, I might suggest digging around the Fangraphs Glossary for a while to acclimate yourself to the sabermetric terminology.
I’m going to start on this journey by reading up on as much strategy as I can. I’m not talking about player-specific information. Just general strategies at how to win at this new game. I’ll try to summarize my findings here and then I’ll link to the articles I’ve read at the bottom of this post.
My notes are below. I want to reiterate that I am just compiling this information from the web and summarizing my thoughts. Credit for these original works goes to the authors mentioned later in this article.
|Topic||My Reactions, Notes, Take Aways|
|The Basics||DFS is a point-based game. This is good. We might be able to leverage the basic design of the spreadsheet from the “How to Create Your Own Points League Rankings“. Point-based scoring greatly simplifies the process of ranking players and determining their value. A good starting point would be to figure out where to get daily projections and then multiply those projected stats by the scoring system of the DFS site in question.
Each site is going to have a different scoring system, meaning players will be valued differently on one site than on another. This means that any “player-specific” DFS advice you see on the web better be listing site prices. Advice needs to be both player- and site-specific to really be applicable.
|Use of Vegas Lines||This is very interesting to me. A highly recommended strategy for generating a lineup is to use Las Vegas lines as a key input into your analysis.
The thinking is that Vegas has A LOT on the line and they’re professionals at handicapping just about any sporting event. Rather than using a lot of your own time and resources to create your own projections (when you’re not an expert at it), you might be better off using Vegas’ information and using your time on other things (information gathering, checking weather, studying lineups, etc.).
Not only is this information accurate (if it wasn’t, bettors would be robbing the casinos blind), it’s also free! Over-under information is a great indicator of the expected offensive output for games and the betting lines are an indicator of what starting pitcher is expected to win the game. Some services even offer prop bets about the number of strikeouts a pitcher will have for a game (that’s like a free mini-projection for a player).
|The Experts||My impression of the DFS baseball landscape is that it is made up of two groups: DFS Experts and Baseball Experts.
I get a definite sense that many figureheads have earned success playing DFS as a whole, but they don’t necessarily know a ton about baseball and advanced stats. It seems like they’re teaching themselves baseball.
I could be misguided, but I get this impression by the way they explain baseball terms. Things are just a little off. Not the way I’m used to hearing things explained. Almost like a hint of a foreign accent from someone that you can’t otherwise tell speaks English as a second language.
This is not to say that these DFS Experts won’t be helpful. Quite the contrary. I can tell that their expertise from other games, understanding of DFS tactics, and game theory will be very helpful along the way. But it’s worth keeping in mind that you might have to weed through their “baseball advice”, which could be somewhat misguided and oversimplified. It’s promising to think that someone without a lot of technical baseball knowledge can succeed as long as they have a great knowledge of DFS strategy and tactics.
I think this indicates there is a great opportunity for success if you can excel (I had to get that word in here somewhere) at both the DFS game/strategy element AND the advanced baseball statistics element.
|DFS Analysts That Do Both||I find myself very drawn to the DFS personalities that have a strong baseball background, indicating they bring the “best of both worlds” I hinted at above. Two names that have earned my trust and seem very helpful so far are:
|Helpful DFS Analysts||It’s going to take a lot to earn my trust in this arena, but here are two that have done that already.
|Simplified Projections and Analysis||I still have to do some work to reconcile this, but a lot of analysts suggest focusing in on select measures, like wOBA, instead of bothering will fully projected stat lines (this hitter will have 4.2 AB, 1.3 H, 0.18 HR, 0.75 R, 0.56 RBI, and 0.12 SB).
The argument I’ve seen made against fully projected stat lines are twofold:
My problem with these two arguments is that I haven’t seen research to back up the inaccuracy claims. They make sense to me. But I can’t dismiss all the weight sabermetricians put on projections and the research I’ve previously seen that suggests we can have somewhere between 65% – 70% accuracy with projections for the entire season.
Just because they may be inaccurate on a given night, if I use something that’s 65 – 70% accurate over the course of the season, wouldn’t I be better off over the long run? It seems like wOBA is going to be inaccurate on any given night too. A player’s wOBA could be anywhere from .000 to .800 on a given day.
The efficiency argument might have some merit, but hopefully I can find some ways around it by implementing things in Excel to calculate things more efficiently.
|Importance of Starting Pitching||This is another item that’s odd to me but is universally recommended as the optimal strategy… Invest heavily in a starting pitcher.
This becomes less important for sites that have you start multiple pitchers (some sites only start one, others as many as three), but the reasoning behind investing heavily in a starting pitcher is due to the predictability of pitchers as compared to hitters.
This is the exact OPPOSITE of what we hear in rotisserie baseball. We are told that “pitchers are unpredictable, so draft reliable hitters early.” So now being told that “pitchers are reliable, spend big on them”, is a difficult pill to swallow.
I reconcile this in a few ways:
The bottom line is that a hitter might only put the ball into play a couple times on a given night; while the pitcher is going to throw 100+ pitches. All of those extra opportunities (larger sample size) a pitcher has on a day in which they start allow us to make more accurate projections.
|Contest Format||In traditional fantasy baseball we’re playing in leagues of 10-15 teams and our goal is to finish in first. You’d never set a goal of just finishing in 6th place in your 12-team league. Because we’re shooting for the top spot there’s a desire to take lottery ticket chances on young players and other “sleepers”.
But depending on the contest type you choose for DFS, the 6th place analogy (in a 12-team league) above is actually enough to win (50-50 games). While in the larger prize contests you do need to finish much higher in the pool cash.
If you only had to finish in the top 6 of your 12-team roto league, you would not be drafting that trendy minor league prospect in the fifth round. Instead, you would pay for the unsexy but steady veteran. You might even pursue that same approach all the way through a draft, just loading up on proven veterans and solid players. You would do this to build up a solid predictable base of statistics likely to get you into the top half of the standings. You would be less likely to chase highly variable players when you can rely upon the proven and safe investments.
If you were in a winner take all roto league, you would take more chances. You wouldn’t be foolish about it. You’d stick with the consensus rankings for the first 5-7 rounds, but after that you might begin to embrace more risk. You might sneak in a few players you expect to break out, taking them earlier than recommended. You wouldn’t ignore veterans, but you would be more inclined to gamble on youth and the unproven later in the draft, in hopes of hitting big on a potential star.
The takeaway here is that you should construct lineups considering the type of contest you’re playing. We’ll need to use this line of thinking to determine our optimal strategy for the DFS contest type we’re playing.
|Player Selection is Not Mutually Exclusive||In traditional fantasy baseball, once Mike Trout is owned by a team, no other team can own him. That’s not how things work in DFS. And while that might not seem like an important detail, it opens the door to a whole new realm of strategy we never have to face in the traditional game.
Not only do we want to choose our optimal lineup, but we also need to beat other participants. In an extreme example, assume everyone had access to a super powerful Excel spreadsheet that spit out the optimal lineup each day, and everyone chose a very similar lineup in a DFS contest… Your chance of winning would be slim. So not only do we need to pick a strong lineup, we need to be cognizant of what others might do and act accordingly.
In the season long game, the strategies of our opponents are transparent. We can go and look at their starting roster at any time and develop an expectation of our best strategy against them in the standings.
In DFS, we’re not afforded that luxury. A large part of being successful is understanding game theory (how to make optimal decisions in light of what we expect our opponents to do).
The web is flooded with DFS information and it’s becoming more and more mainstream. I mentioned Derek Carty and Todd Zola above. Their work is being featured on ESPN now! It seems like there will be an opportunity to get a sense for what the crowd will do by following the advice the most popular sites will be giving.
|Factors to Consider When Building a Roster||Please read these links below from Derek Carty’s previous work. There is no sense in recreating the wheel here. These are incredible primers and they’re a bit buried on Derek’s personal website, so they might not be getting their just due.|
|Developing a Research Routine||Make sure you read this from GrindersU first.
I’ve already mentioned a lot of my ability to play DFS is going to depend on my ability to create quality lineups in a short amount of time. I’ll try to do that by building a spreadsheet to automatically bring information I need into one centralized place, while simultaneously processing salaries, projections, and identifying good buys.
That research routine and decision making process will need to include whatever stats I decide to use (probably some sort of handedness split), ballpark factors, weather, Vegas lines, and lineup information.
On My Soap Box
Let me get up on my soap box for a minute…
It takes a lot for me to trust a fantasy analyst. There are a lot of jokers out there. There’s a very low barrier to entry to become a fantasy analyst.
It really just takes the willingness to crank out a few thousand words several days a week. For less than $50 you can buy a domain name, click a few buttons, and have “RotoDingDong.com” online in about 30 minutes. Then you can start over-hyping prospects, speaking in generalities about players without giving any statistical support, cranking out “10 Under the Radar Sleepers You Need to Know About” articles, and polluting my Twitter feed. (I’m really turning into a bitter old man…)
On top of that, I think DFS has exacerbated the problem. There is NOT a lot of money to be made by running a rotisserie baseball site. DFS gives a much clearer path to making money in this industry through the affiliate promotions that they offer. You know what affiliate offers are, you see them all the time.
“Deposit $50 at NewDFSWebsite.com and we’ll give you our draft guide for free!”
That’s an affiliate offer. You deposit $50 into your account and NewDFSWebsite.com pays a percentage of that deposit to the site giving away the draft guide.
It’s not a bad thing. It is what it is. I participate as an affiliate in several programs. If you use a link on my site and buy a book at Amazon, I get a small percentage of the sale price. It doesn’t cost you a thing. You get a book you’re interested in. You pay the same price you would have if you didn’t use the link on my site. Amazon gets what they want (a sale). I probably get about 50 cents. Everybody wins. I’m an affiliate for “Projecting X”, an awesome product I use myself and would recommend to anyone. Again, affiliate programs are not bad things.
The reason I point this out is that I think it’s important to be aware of. There’s a reason DFS is exploding. There’s a reason it’s getting a lot more coverage. It’s because of the money! There is money to be made by referring people to DFS sites.
Am I going to participate in the DFS affiliate programs? Yes, I probably will.
But I only tell you these things to be up front about it and to let you know that I think you need to be careful out there. Do your research. Figure out who you can trust (there are thousands of DFS experts out there and I’ve only given you four that I feel confident in so far!). Make sure to read Derek Carty’s primers on pitcher and hitter stats so you know which stats to ignore. If you see an analyst telling you about batter-versus-pitcher splits, cross them off your list.
Learn how to play this game on your own. You can use it as one weapon in your arsenal, but don’t be dependent upon player specific advice. Don’t trust “DFSDingDong.com” to make your picks for you. Make your own educated decisions.
What’s To Come
I started this site because my approach to things tends to be “do it yourself”, “get your hands dirty”, and “use data to make informed decisions”. And that’s the approach I’ll be following here. I like to call that the “SFBB Way”. I can’t say exactly where I’ll end up on this journey, but I envision building an Excel file that will help make more informed decisions in a timely manner. Over the course of time, that decision making process should hopefully prevent me from losing my ass in DFS… But I can’t make any promises!
Resources You Should Read if You’re Just Getting Started Like Me
Here are the best readings I’ve been able to find in getting started with daily fantasy baseball:
- RotoGrinders “GrindersU” – If you’re a beginner, like myself, I’d start here. This is a nice comprehensive introduction to MLB DFS. The image to the right shows the various topics covered, and I don’t show all the topics expanded yet. There are three or four more subtopics under each of the orange items.
- Derek Carty’s “DFSEdge Archive” – Whether you’re new to DFS or have been playing for a while, you’d be making a mistake if you don’t go through all of Derek’s archive. I know they’re not on a major site. I know his website doesn’t look modern. But at one point they were modern and were on a popular daily site that no longer exists. Derek has just moved them to his own site.
This information is top notch. You should read through all the articles and make notes of things you need to keep in mind when making lineup decisions and on how to get incremental advantages over others.
- Part I, Part I, Part III of Renee Miller’s MLB DFS Introduction at ESPN – This is another nice introduction. I don’t put Renee in the class of Carty or Zola for her knowledge of MLB (I’m pretty sure MLB is her second or third priority), but this primer is good. I do plan to keep an eye on her because she brings an interesting wrinkle to DFS… She is knowledgeable in cognitive biases and decision making flaws that can hinder us.
Let’s Work Together
Please let me know what resources you use and trust in the comments below. What sites do you go to for projections, weather, Vegas lines, park factors, etc.? What kinds of things have you built into your daily MLB spreadsheet? What would you like to see?