Daily Fantasy Sports…My “Take”

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I shared this earlier with some buddies in my normal, season long league.  They were asking what I do to win in Daily Fantasy Baseball, as I’ve finally “cracked the code,” at least a little bit of it.  I’m  by no means a “shark,” and I’ll still play a pitcher or player who gets rained out….but more often than not, I’m catching those now, and I’m picking based on stats and figures, not gut or some blogs daily favorites.

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You have to put your “knowledge,” or how closely you follow the sport where it belongs…in a van, down by the river!  I was picking based on reading roto blogs, and based on my own intuition as a lifelong baseball nut and stat nerd.  Turns out, this gets you NOWHERE!

The roto blogs, mostly, are written by baseball fans.  Guys that two years ago were writing for Fansided or Bleacher Report and are insanely knowledgable about baseball, but not DFS.  In this instance, A doesn’t equal B, although B, may sometimes equal A!  This is not to say they can’t be good DFS players with practice and strategy development, smart writers and beat guys could learn and become solid DFS players.  But as far as what they think about who to play for fantasy lineups, the advice you want is from the finance guys.  People that don’t know what “‘round the horn,” means, and could care less how many players are in the 40/40 club.  I had to start seeking DFS advice from unlikely sources, such as Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and Fortune.   You won’t find daily advice, or even regular advice….but what I found, was a few interviews with some of the true DFS “sharks,” the guys that are entering $10,000 per day, and winning. They play everywhere, are almost unavoidable and a night mixing it up with them is about as pleasant as waking on a Cancun beach with no memory of the night before, and as you roll over and sit up realize…well it hurts to sit. Not only that, but you notice you had slept on your stomach, and there’s deep, very deep indentions in the sand from where your knees had been.

Back to DFS, these sharks aren’t your friend.  But what do all Ivy League, Wall Street trader types have in common?  Huge Egos!  So when approached for an interview by Forbes or WSJ, and asked to spill on what they do differently, making them successful at DFS.  These huge egos betray them and they can’t help but proselytize to the world about their genius and how they’ve got everything figured out. Usually, if you’re like me, you just want to hate these guys, but in this case, they are my new friends! When they speak on DFS, I listen, and you should too.  Abandon RotoDork.com or SpazticRotoWiz.com, and study the real pros. Do you want to eat, or be eaten….there’s two types of players in DFS, and we do certainly need fish, but not me, I set out to stop the losing, and join the sharks!

As I mentioned, many of these wily brainiacs used to be Wall Street traders, only now they spend their days following sports information tickers instead of the Dow.  Oh, they bring the same tools….namely a maven’s knowledge of how to build and use Excel spreadsheets. But they have learned to apply it to what used to make them feel so inferior in high school….sports!  There are actually some sites with information on how to create reusable spreadsheets that compile data and spit out winners for you, and I attempted to make a couple, but let’s face it.  Mathematically, I’m about an 8th grade level, and I really don’t even care about it…as I simply despise math. If I stare at Excel for too long, my eyes will cross and I’ll start speaking in tongues…but I did find other ways to use what I’d learned, but dumb it down for a guy like me.  I have no doubt in the process I’m sacrificing some info,  if I could find a couple partners and we split up the number crunching duties, maybe I could even handle a full on “death by Excel,” style strategy. But it’s just not what I’m naturally good at, and I’ve always felt one of my strengths is just that…I know and utilize my strengths, and I admit, avoid or compensate for my weaknesses.  In this case, I am a good “baseball guy,” and I’ve got a knack for spotting trends.  I actually do enjoy statistics, analyzing them to figure what they can tell me…just don’t ask me use them to spit out other, more or different NUMB3RS!

So what I did do, was I started tracking which games I entered, how much I spent, and my ROI.  A month ago, I’d have told you I was winning “some,” but…turns out it was more like “barely ever,” or about 15%.  I was foolishly betting too much in the $.25/tourneys that pay out in the thousands for top finishers, even finish in the top two-hundred or so, and you’ll likely take home $10 or more.  When betting sports, I’ve always enjoyed parlays, they’re low risk, with high reward…or so I’ve always thought.  Turns out, playing in ten of those over a 48 hour period, I would win maybe one. Which isn’t “low risk,” it’s “low intelligence.”

I was actually winning the 50/50’s, which if I bet $1, I’d win $1.80.  Which is such little gratification for my lizard brain, that I scoffed….but would I rather win one of those 5/7 days a week, or lose 45 $.25 tourneys, and win 4 for a total loss of -$8.75? I was entering  about one 50/50 every two days, and 6-7 quarter tourneys in that same time.  So I reversed that ratio, now playing one $1 – 50/50, and maybe two quarter tourneys per night.  This not only builds up my bank, but it gives me some confidence….some SWAG! And that’s nice to have…nobody at the mall may know why I’m “pimp-walking,” but it’s that extra $3.75 in my wallet from last night’s DFS!

Also, I mix in all free games that offer an actual payout.  Usually there are 4-5 on each DraftKings, DraftDay and FantasyHub (I play those three, plus FanDuel). You can, feasibly win trips to big tourneys in NYC and San Francisco, autographed memorabilia, and a few free dollars in credit to use to enter a cash game and maybe increase your bank!

Your bank is very important….I’ve read advice and determined to not bet more than 10%, up to an absolute max of 20% on one night.  And overall, I haven’t made a deposit in a long while.  I wasn’t winning much, just barely staying alive.  But keep reading…because suddenly, my banks are growing…and my status as “guppie,” is moving out into deeper water.

I tweaked many of my strategies…or lack thereof. First, as a beginner, you have 50 games in any sport to enter “beginner,” matches.  USE THEM ALL!  Once you hit 50, you’re ineligible.  And, the low dough games are good for a pauper like me, but also, I avoid most “sharks.”  $5 and above, and you’ll run into a few Ivy League finance guys in there.

Weather and starting lineups are KEY!  I kept losing because of rainouts, and worse, because a guy gets the night off.  Obviously, catchers are a huge culprit, but every player gets a night off now and then…nothing is more frustrating than learning that the 15% of your total salary cap you spent on Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, was on a night that he stayed on the bench and ate seeds.  It’s imperative to find a site with reliable, and early lineup and weather information.  I highly recommend the following:

http://mlbstartingnine.com

They typically have lineup info posted hours before anywhere else that I can find…and it’s always accurate.  Go figure…I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!  I just put the bit in and ride the sumbitch!

Days off blow, weather too, but it’s not as bad…as you can find weather reports anywhere.  Overall, just don’t risk it if you can help it. And if you do, you better keep a close and constant eye right up until game-time. Even “a slight chance of rain early, tapering off…” is enough to make me think twice.  Easy way to settle a toss up of players in my lineup.

Next, I studied up on the differences in scoring, site to site.  Sorry, but if you’re not doing this first thing…then slap yourself, and stick a fork in your ass because your DUMB! I know, because I WAS! DraftKings, FanDuel, DraftDay, and FantasyHub all score a little differently, and when 50th (wins $10) or 650th (wins $.65) is a statistical difference of maybe 8-12 points….? Let me tell you, that on multiple nights, I’ve been one starting spot, away from winning 1st out of 5,000 guys and a $200 payday off a $0.25 bet, and instead I finish 175th and net a dime in my pocket….woot.  It’s bad enough when I considered the right pick that night, but when it’s a rain out or night off….well, I have ordered one of those spiked, leather flogging things the psycho monks always use, and that’s going to be how I learn my lesson from now on.

As much as all the above matters, the single greatest impact on a lineup is typically going to be related to pitching. Miss bad….and it’s probably not your night no matter how good your hitters do.

On DraftKings, you get two pitchers with win/loss weighted far less.  Your pitcher can lose the game, but if he strikes out a bunch of guys, doesn’t get many walks or beanballs…then you can still have a great night scoring despite the pitcher losing the game.  However, in FanDuel, it’s “Just Win Baby!”  If your guy loses his matchup, then you’re behind the 8-ball…  Oh, and FanDuel you pick one pitcher, in DraftKings..two!

I started being really selective about pitching.  In DK, I try to pick one top dollar guy, a Scherzer or Kershaw, and one “wildcard.”  Thing is, if I can pick a wildcard…my odds of winning are like 150% better. But you better know what you’re doing…cause if you go with that random rookie from the Giants, Chris Heston, and he’s on the road at the Mets at Shea….well, just pick him on the night he throws the no-hitter…mmkay?

If you can hit a wild card, and leave a big gun who you actually think is not in a good spot. “Yeah buddy!”  That’s a night that you may break your own record and actually make an entire $5!  For example, when “King,” Felix Hernandez got shelled in 1st inning on Friday night at Houston, I just had a bad feeling about that matchup.  So I go elsewhere, and hit on a random wildcard…not insane points, but 20-25.  Once a matchup starts, you can see the percentage of DFS players from that site who selected any given player.  On Friday, almost 80% of guys picked King Felix!  So after one inning in Houston, my chances of winning had just increased like 5,000%…..and I did go on to win 4/5 games I entered that night.

Now, realizing pitching is such an essential.  Do I have any advice you ask?

Vegas BABY!  Pull up the Caesar’s or another sportsbook, and look over the gambling lines.  Most will be expected…but usually, I identify 2-3 games standing out as “what do they know I don’t?”  And being Vegas….there’s a reason they can pay all those giant electric bills for those strip based casinos.  Let’s just say it’s not because they don’t know how to set betting lines on sporting events. Overall, using Vegas odds to select my pitchers, particularly on FanDuel, where wins are everything…it’s been the single biggest help to my scores.

Now selecting a lineup of batsmen….as I said above, I used some Excel “Super-Devil,” spreadsheets, and if I had a few buddies to share the duties with and all work as a team, maybe it could be done and I’d get even more refined data.  But by my lonesome it’s just too much info for me to process.  The Wall Street Wunderkinds who quit their day jobs and play DFS fulltime…they spend 10+ hours a day prepping.  That man, is like, not going to happen right now man.  No can do….

But I did what I could, and after pitching…it was time to find out more about the scoring in each site.  Much to my surprise, hitting stats are also quite different, which really I didn’t expect. In Fanduel, a walk, hit by pitch, stolen base, or a lowly leadoff single, score EXACTLY the same as a run scored, or an RBI….1 lousy point. Don’t ask me, but that’s one big flaw in scoring, and just another reason I have to say I prefer DraftKings. One other big consideration is FanDuel, unlike DraftKings, deducts 0.5 points for every out!  As far as hits, add one point for each base, starting with the aforementioned 1 point for a single, and you can count on 2 points for a stolen base, with no penalty for being caught thieving bases.

DraftKings, is more typical….or less insane whichever you prefer! A walk is 2 points, which is still the same as an RBI, or run scored..and hit by a pitch…gets you only an “e-bruise,” on the offended body part, but no point.  Singles are 3 points, doubles are 5 points, triples are 8 points, and a HR is 10 points!  Also, a stolen base is 5 points, for the mathematically challenged like myself, that’s half the points of a HR, and more than a double or an RBI! But beware, if you are caught stealing, it’s minus 2 points.

Think about Billy Hamilton last night, with 5 SB, plus a single and a double!  So 33 points, with no RBI, only one run scored, one extra base hit (a double), one single, but 5 stolen bases!  Talk about a lot of stat padding…but hey, 34 points is 34 points.

Finally, I developed four primary categories to check daily to select my hitters.  I use my ESPN season fantasy league’s “player,” page and sort all players in the league by position.  Focusing on “BVP,” (batter vs. pitcher) and “7 days,” (his numbers in the past week).  I also check a couple other boxes that I’ll explain below, but they’re not really statistics.

First, I check the BVP, which probably I weigh most heavily.  What’s the history of this hitter vs. this pitcher?  More often than not, this holds well, but there can be outliers like Chris Coghlan on Saturday night…he was 12/15 vs. Mike Leake, and only got on base once and scored one lousy run. Still, that’s a great statistic, and with him being over .400 the past 2 weeks….and he being a left-handed hitter, and Leake a right-handed pitcher…I felt great about the matchup. Like I said…best laid plans don’t always work out, but I’ll remember that and play him again next time vs. Leake.  That’s a great stat, and he just had an off night.

But, I also picked Aramis Ramirez that night, and as a Cubs fan I know him very well. I saw he had almost a .600 average vs. the pitcher he was facing (I think Gio Gonzalez?) and my memory of watching him daily for a decade, is that when he had good numbers against a guy, that seemed to ALWAYS hold true.  He’s just one of those guys that you don’t even have to watch him to know exactly what he’s doing in the game…you will usually know in advance!  Is he hot of late…then he’ll rake.  Cold?  He’ll stink.  Is he at a favorite ballpark to hit at, against a favorite pitcher to face, or a time of year that he prefers (notoriously slow starter)? If he’s any of those traditionally, then it’s likely he’ll be that in the game today. So this is one place, where my unquestioned, epic “fandom,” helped me out in DFS!
Next stat, after BVP, as I said is the past week.  Is he generally hot?  Most guys I’ll ride with if I don’t have anything to tell me not to, as Ramirez, etc because of him being a longtime Cub.

Final two factors…one is the ballpark.

Playing at Petco?  Forget it, unless it’s a late start slate of games only, and I really want to play because of another matchup and I like some other number that I think could override that cavernous outfield. By the way, games start and are setup by time of day, with “All Day,” being easily self-explanatory,  “Early,” indicating games starting around noon, up until 3-5pm, “Evening,” which are approximately 7pm starts, and finally “Late,” which is west coast, etc. I hate late games, because it may only be 2-3 games total…or less. But if there’s a pitching or other matchup I have to be in on, then I hold my nose and dive in.

Back to ballparks, which I try to avoid the likes of San Diego, Seattle, Kansas City or Miami. Conversely, I try to play a team hitting in Colorado, Arlington, Baltimore, Houston, Yankee Stadium, Fenway and Wrigley (if the wind is a non-factor or blowing out, be careful early in the season….it’s a tough place to drive the ball with the icy wind blowing in off Lake Michigan). Keep in mind other factors at the ballpark too, such as a speedster like Hamilton or Dee Gordon playing on Skydome turf, or similar…..I see them on turf…I want them in my lineup….most likely, unless the BVP or other stat says “stay the hell away!”

The last factor is R/L matchup.  And you’d think “who cares,” because I’m already watching BVP.  But there are small sample sizes, and no sample sizes.  Plus think of R/L as more of a corollary that just strengthens the BVP numbers.  If BVP is good, and the hitter is a lefty, pitcher a righty….the trend is about 50% more likely to hold that day, than if a good career BVP is facing R/R or L/L matchup. Hey, I don’t make up these stats! But yeah, I do try to exploit them, AND YOU SHOULD TOO! ;).

Now, a few others, try to find those cheap guys who have numbers that say “big game.”  If he can check all 4 categories….”Good BVP, 7 days of hot hitting, game in a backyard of a ballpark, and pitcher throws from his opposite side,”  well you’ve likely got a pretty darn safe pick for your lineup; and likely at 1/3 the cost of a guy like Rizzo, Stanton, Trout, Harper or Cabrera.

Same thing with  a pitching mismatch.  The other night I went with CJ Wilson in DraftKings, and even though they lost.  It was a close 1-0, and with him costing $6,500 instead of the $11,000 guys were spending on Matt Harvey or Corey Kluber.  Well, identify a few of those, and you’ll really have something and can pick the best and most likely hitters for all the other roster spots. Newbies, like I recently did, will just pick the top two pitchers, call it money well spent, and move on.  And it is likely money spent on a high scoring pitcher…but…if I can identify the pitcher that is underrated, like the aforementioned rookie Chris Heston vs. the Mets at Shea, who last week would throw a no-hitter and cost half or less than Kluber and Harvey.  I can take that difference and apply that savings to invest in Giancarlo Stanton for the outfield, instead of my opponent who blew his wad on obvious Kluber, and then had to settle for Alexei Amarista, in the same roster spot that I have Stanton!  Pitching is ultra important…but it’s also IMO, the easiest spot to predict an under the radar scoring stud.   And why is this so important you say?  Well, because my friend, Giancarlo Stanton is what we refer to as a ‘difference maker,’ and, well…we like those.

I’m still tweaking the setup daily, but so far this has worked well.  And say with 7 day numbers, once I do it every day for a week or so, I get the hang of who’s hot, and can save some time there.  For example, if the Blue Jays are active, and Russell Martin is in the lineup, he’s getting selected!  He’s been scorching for the past 2 weeks.  Same with Giancarlo Stanton, so I go into my lineup construction looking to save elsewhere so I can get them in.  I hit over this weekend with dirt cheap, “veteran minimum,” type players like Eddie Rosario with the Twins, Delino DeShields Jr. with the Rangers, and John Mayberry Jr. with the Mets.  I was able to identify, select and hit on each of them and they all produced as well or better than other players in the outfield who literally cost 10x more.

If you want to “stick your toe,” in the water, I recommend accounts at DraftKings, FantasyHub, and DraftDay.  They will let you play for free, with no deposit, and offer at least 3-5 free entry contests every night…that pay out cash or credit for cash games. At DraftDay, and FantasyHub, they offer a really unique gameplay and interaction, both with their different strengths.  DraftDay has some unique and different types of lineups to offer, two in particular I’ve not found anywhere else. Both are free and you can win cash and tickets to big tourneys.

One is “Perfect Team,” with no cap. You just pick the best players at every spot that night. Next morning they calculate and post the actual perfect lineup: and whoever got closest, wins.  The second is picking from 8 blocks of players. No cap, just a list of 5 guys, different positions (except pitchers) and you pick one.  Usually you’ll have two blocks of separate pitchers, then 6 different blocks of 5 positional players each. For example:

Martin
Cabrera
Springer
Pederson
Tulowitzki

So you pick one of this group.sane deal with several other groups.

I just began play on FantasyHub, and I’m really impressed so far. For one, I opened a FREE account, no deposit, and I now have $4.75 in my account! I placed in one game, but I also got $1 for a “hot streak,” which can be logging in every day, selecting a lineup every day, and other reasons.  They literally pay you just to keep coming back!  Which worked well, because I’ve been on FanDuel and DraftKings and am happy with those, but if DraftDay and FantasyHub will let me play for free, and fill up a bank for me for just coming back (at FantasyHub), then I will indeed keep coming back!  Now, I can play all four sites, and decide where I want to spend my actual money!  Who knows, maybe I’ll keep winning and won’t need to spend anything, but either way, I’m hooked!  Indeed, there’s likely to be more money deposited eventually, and I’d say FantasyHub or DraftKings are neck and neck for my favorite sites for DFS.  One factor hugely in the favor of FantasyHub, is they donate to charity, and allow you to select a large or small portion of your winnings to donate as well.  Is that a smart platform or what?  They probably do enough to get non-profit status which will likely bring out the cynics among us…but really who cares!? I think it’s cool, that I get to give a bit to charity for playing DFS. And it’s a great way for them to differentiate, and probably yes, to get a nice break at tax time! But hey, you gotta love playing DFS and feeling philanthropic…is this a great country or what!?!?  ‘Merica!

Fantasy leagues have changed the game and how we follow sports.  Stats and numbers are huge! But in DFS….they’re twice as HUGE!  They’re literally EVERYTHING! Take a little time, and toss your “gut,” out the window. Try some different sites, and try different techniques.  Don’t ever lose sight that it is gambling, you’re not always going to win and anyone that says they do (at least anyone who didn’t go to an Ivy League school, major in science or math and formerly worked on Wall Street) is full of it.  It’s like Vegas…everyone I know “wins,” in Vegas.  Really?  Interesting…..  Same idea on DFS….it’s the ego talking man!

Good luck, and most important, have fun!

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