One of the reasons it’s helpful to use a model in daily fantasy sports—especially in baseball—is because it’s an efficient way to help you identify value. No model is perfect—they all have biases and blind spots and other inefficiencies—but a model can just process information a whole lot faster than a human. And it can do it without error (there’s still human error in how it’s created, of course).
For the most part, my daily fantasy baseball model matches what I would have concluded on my own without it. That’s not really surprising since I’m the one who created it, so it’s basically just spitting out players I tend to like anyway.
But sometimes it gives me something weird. Sometimes it gives me Juan Lagares as a top five value, for example, as it did last night. And then I’m like…whhhhhhaaatttt?—and I have a decision to make. I have to determine if what doesn’t fit with my initial reaction is something I missed, and a potential value opportunity, or a result of the inevitable imperfection of my model.
Even if you don’t use a model, you’ve surely had to make a similar decision. Do you go all-in on the player no one is talking about who you, for whatever reason, believe is a great value? Or do you trust the crowd and forgo the odd selection in favor of the chalk?
For the most part, I think you need to definitely trust your research and pick the players you like. This is supposed to be a fun game, so go out on a limb. It’s not like the crowd is never wrong; there’s a lot of groupthink that dominates the DFS industry.
However, I will say I’m much less likely to “trust” my model in cash games, and much more likely to really load up on an under-the-radar player in tournaments. That’s a pretty standard philosophy, but I want to emphasize how valuable I think it is to act in both a contrarian and value-based way.
Typically, when we go against the grain, it’s at the expense of value; we’re giving up a bit of value in favor of lowered ownership. But when you believe you can have both—a top value at low ownership—you should really jump on those opportunities. If you’re okay with taking on the variance, I’m in favor of going all-in on those players. Over the long run, if you’re right, you should be able to maximize your tournament win probability by fully capitalizing on such “contrarian value” situations.
Washington Nationals (vs James Shields)
Fitting with the theme of the intro, I’m going to nominate some stacks and players I have rated quite highly tonight who I think fall close to the “contrarian value” designation. One of them is the Nationals.
Washington will likely be low-owned tonight against James Shields. Other than Harper, they’re ridiculously low-priced, with no other player in last night’s order costing more than $3,400. You can pretty much play whoever else you want if you stack the Nats. They’re projected at 4.0 implied runs right now and (-172) to win the game.
Arizona Diamondbacks (vs Jaime Garcia)
This is another situation in which I like an offense against a good-but-not-great pitcher. When offenses face second-tier pitchers, their ownership is often as low as if they were facing a true ace. That leads to asymmetrical payoffs for hitting on them, and I think that’s the case with both Washington and Arizona tonight.
The D-Backs’ bottom of the order sucks pretty bad, but you have to like Pollock and Goldy against a southpaw at home. It would help if they leave the roof open, although that’s not usually the case in Arizona when it’s 250 degrees.
1B Justin Smoak, Toronto (vs Derek Holland) – $2500
Smoak is my top value at first base, although I have a bunch of guys rated right near one another. I think he’s clearly underpriced—especially given the fact that he has absolutely mashed lefties—but I do love to target players who have stud teammates at the same position. Some Toronto stacks will have Smoak, but many will use Encarnacion at first base. For that reason, I think Smoak might be under-owned, especially given the upside of Toronto’s offense tonight.
2B/OF Chris Coghlan, Chicago Cubs (vs Matt Cain) – $3000
This is another clear pricing mistake, in my view, but I do think the fact that Coghlan is playing in San Fran—where his perceived upside is limited—will make him less popular than he should be. I don’t like that he’s now eligible at two positions, but he probably won’t get much of a look as an outfielder for most. Daniel Murphy is the clear-cut top second base choice, but I expect the Mets’ ownership to be through the roof given the Vegas lines and their recent play. I think Coghlan and his .518 running 12-month slugging percentage versus righties has more upside than most envision.
OF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado (vs Michael Foltynewicz) – $4600
It’s atypical to roster Rockies bats away from Coors, but I like Blackmon quite a bit in almost every game. First of all, his home run and stolen base combination upside gives him a higher ceiling than almost any player in the league. Over the past year, he has doubled his salary-based expected DraftKings points in 23 percent of games—as much as Mike Trout. He’s not completely dependent on power for production, so he can produce outside of Colorado. And because of the narrative surrounding the Rockies, he rarely sees high ownership when not at home.
P Nate Karns, Tampa Bay (vs Minnesota) – $8300
Karns has a running 12-month K/9 of 9.1 and is facing a Minnesota offense that can strike out a lot versus righties. The Twins are projected at just 3.2 implied runs, which is fewer than the Phils against Syndergaard or Marlins against Keuchel. I’d put Karns right up there with those guys in terms of his median projection tonight, yet he costs thousands less.