WHAT IS DAILY FANTASY BASEBALL?
Let’s be honest: NFL football might be the most popular sport on Daily Fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, but are those really daily sports? They’re weekly sports, right? So when we’re talking about a daily fantasy contest, we’re really talking about Major League Baseball. That is truly our daily game.
And in DFS, baseball is a staunch rival of football in terms of strategy and excitement. You think watching your favorite player hitting a walk-off home run is exciting? Now imagine the feeling knowing that homer, and all the DFS points that go with it, putting extra money in your wallet.
Like all Daily Fantasy contests, the goal is simple: Draft a lineup under a salary cap and collect the most points. All sites have different parameters for roster construction – some sites require two pitchers, some just one, but for our purposes here, we’ll focus on the DraftKings model: 2 pitchers, 1 catcher, 1 player at each infield position and 3 outfielders.
“Cash” games refer to contests that primarily include head-to-head play or double- and triple-up type games, where a 27-40 percent range of participants win the same amount of prize money. For instance, in a $5 double-up, 100 out of 229 entrants will win, and all 100 get the same $10 – the “double” amount of the entry fee. A triple up might have 9 of 31 entrants winning three times the entry, and so on.
What makes this type of game paramount is making sure all your selections collect points. Unlike the boom-or-bust world of large-entry tournaments (GPP), in cash its safety first. Ownership is not nearly the concern – indeed, if there’s a can’t-miss play, you almost have to use him, lest he go off for 40 points that you can’t make up somewhere else on the roster. It’s not uncommon to have players with 80 or 90 percent ownership in a cash lineup.
Concurrently, it is not the optimal choice to stack players from the same team in a cash game, as opposed to tournaments. It’s the same theory that you don’t want to risk a zero from your players. If you use three players from the same team and they don’t produce, now you’re left in an enormous hole you won’t dig out of. Safety first is the name of the cash game.
Large-field tournaments are slates with huge entry levels, in the tens of thousands. There are some that can feature over 100,000 entrants. They are known as GPP tournaments, because the prize pools in these behemoths are guaranteed by the sites. If you are playing in large-field GPP you are doing everything you can do be different and unique from enough people to fill several Major League stadiums.
This can be done by not using all of your salary cap; teams that leave between 300-500 in salary tend to not be duplicated by others, as the default for the great majority of players is to use the entire salary cap. Another way to differentiate a lineup is finding the low-owned sleeper plays that score big and vault a lineup up the leaderboard. Finding those players requires some work, but research well worth the effort when it hits.
Since January, 2018, the major DFS sites have introduced across all major sports a “showdown” contest which consists of drafting players from one game. In the past, sites like DraftKings and FanDuel required users to incorporate players from at least two games on a slate. With the 6-player Showdown contest, all the players come from the same game. Salaries are adjusted, as well as the scoring values, but the concept is the same as a regular slate: Build a team under your salary cap that scores the most points.
In some Showdown contests, there is a single “Captain” slot, where both the salary and the point values are increased by 50 percent, adding an extra bit of strategy to the game. Unlike regular slates, Showdowns also encourage the use of relief pitchers, which are all priced at the site minimum ($3,000).
INCORPORATING VEGAS ODDS
Daily Fantasy is illegal in Nevada (and a few other states), but the marriage between Vegas odds-making and Daily Fantasy success is critical. In the world of DFS, the moneyline and, most important, the run line, are road maps to find the offenses most likely to have success, making individual players in potential shootouts far more valuable than guys likely to take part in a pitchers’ duel. Grabbing as many pieces from a game that breaks out is the fastest route up the leaderboard.
Pitchers get .75 per out and two points per strikeout on DraftKings. Being able to lock in a high-strikeout pitcher – or even better, a low-priced pitcher not known for big strikeout numbers facing a team that strikes out a ton – is a huge upside play. Ideally, you try to avoid (fade) high-priced pitchers in tough matchups, or against teams that make contact.
In a perfect world in GPPs, you find two low-priced hurlers that can navigate a decent 5- or 6-inning outing against their opponent, giving you decent scores and saving you salary to load up on big bats. In cash games, where guaranteed points are premium, get that ace (or two aces) and lock him in.
Anyone can play Mike Trout or Nolan Arenado or Mookie Betts. And depending on your pitching choices, you might be able to fit 2 or 3 high-priced hitters. The key is finding those lower-priced guys who actually find themselves in a great hitting spot. A lefty fly-ball hitter going against a right-handed homer-prone pitcher can break a slate. Value bats are the name of the game, and understanding when an otherwise nondescript player is in an All-Star hitting environment is a half the battle in DFS.
Stacking in baseball is unlike any of the other sports in DFS. This isn’t about matching a QB with his top WRs. This is finding the right combination of hitters strung together in a lineup – say the 3-through-6 hitters – that are all likely to go off in the same game. You can play up to five hitters from the same team in a given lineup, so finding that combination of four or five guys in a lineup often is the difference in a large GPP. If a team has five lefties stacked at the top of the lineup against a shaky right-hander, go ahead and jam all five in the lineup and hope they have at least one or two turns through the order where they all rake and drive each other in. Those points add up real fast.
CONFIRM LINEUPS AND LATE SCRATCHES
Both sites will indicate whether or not a player is in the starting lineup with a small numbered designation next to their name in the player pool, representing their slot in the batting order, but it is still a good idea to track lineup announcements, either at a site like baseballpress.com, or on Twitter. Sometimes a West Coast lineup isn’t released until just before East Coast games are locked in at 4 p.m., so being aware of those lineups in real time can save you from playing someone not in a lineup, which is a killer before a single pitch is thrown. It is also wise to check to make sure a player wasn’t scratched last minute.
CHECK THE WEATHER
This cannot be stressed enough. Sites do not give you mulligans for having rained-out players in your lineups. If there is a threat of a delay, it could negatively impact your starting pitcher. If the wind is blowing in hard, it could lower the effectiveness of your hitters, and vice-versa. Sometimes, many times, the weather situation in a certain city is unsettled right at game time (think: pop-up thunderstorms), and if you have the intestinal fortitude, you can gain a huge advantage by playing hitters in that environment, hoping the masses are scared off by the uncertain forecast, creating low ownership.
As the season progresses, taking advantage of statistical trends helps identify those players who are primed to exceed expectations. As we noted before, there are always certain hitters that excel against certain pitchers, whether literally in head-to-head appearances, or because the hitter always succeeds against right-handers that tend to allow fly balls more often than grounders. The trends are what will make or break your weekly matchup, and those types of stats are all readily available on baseball-reference and other stat-driven sites. Bringing a little Moneyball to DFS never hurt anyone.
Tracking ownership numbers is another key data point in determining which players to use in certain contests. In cash games, ownership percentage is not nearly as important, but in large-field tournaments, with so many entrants and a myriad of possible lineup combinations, identifying players who will be lesser owned can be critical to success. To wit: A pitcher that is 35 percent owned and does poorly will bring down 1/5 of the pool, while using another hurler that is 2 percent owned who hits for a big number will shoot those owners ahead of the field. The optimal outcome is using several low-owned players who exceed salary expectations while several high-ownership players bust.