I was in a season-long fantasy football draft this year in which I made the somewhat unconventional selection of Antonio Brown at No. 1 overall. I don’t actually think that pick is unwarranted, especially in an expert PPR league with a flex spot, but it’s probably not the standard pick.

 
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I thought the value was there to justify the pick, but even if it weren’t, Brown would have been my selection. The primary reason for that is because of his week-to-week consistency. Traditional fantasy football is really a series of one-week contests, just like daily fantasy football. And in a head-to-head format, we’re more or less trying to score a healthy number of points as consistently as possible—to narrow the range of potential outcomes for our teams.

Brown helps to accomplish that task more so than any other player in the NFL. With the number of targets he receives, especially quick screens, he’s just so incredibly safe from game to game. I think you could make a legitimate argument that he’s the most consistent receiver ever.

I think this practice of visualizing a player’s distribution of potential outcomes is generally a smart one for daily fantasy players, and it can and should be applied to all sports. In baseball, it has a major impact on salary cap allocation since we have two different player types—batters and pitchers—that couldn’t be any more different from one another. Batters are extremely volatile and difficult to predict, whereas pitcher performances are steadier. It’s rare to see Clayton Kershaw blow up, for example, which is why he tends to be worth the steep price tag.

This is one example of how a strict dollar-per-point system is flawed; it doesn’t give any insights into players’ ranges of outcomes and how much exposure they give your lineup to excessive risk/upside. By thinking about players in a probabilistic manner, I think we can overcome most of the problems that plague dollar-per-point calculations and really create optimal lineups.

 

The Teams

Minnesota Twins (vs Carlos Rodon)

I really like the Twins as an under-the-radar stack tonight. They face a decent left-hander at home, and I’d expect their ownership to be quite low. Vegas has them at 4.1 implied runs right now, which is a decent number given the matchup, and it’s likely because the Twins crush southpaws.

Overall, Minnesota batters have underachieved against righties relative to what we’d expect given their cost, but scored 0.53 points above salary-based expectations (per batter per game) against lefties.

 

Kansas City Royals (vs Randy Wolf)

Kauffman Stadium is hardly a hitter’s park, but it’s quite a bit better for batters in mid-summer with high temperatures. Vegas likes the Royals a whole lot, projecting them at 4.8 implied runs, so it’s not like they’re doing to be super low-owned since the Vegas lines are predictive of ownership to an extent. Still, with a game at Coors and Toronto once again projected very well, you probably don’t need to go completely off the map to put yourself in a semi-contrarian spot tonight. An Escobar/Zobrist/Cain/Morales/Perez stack makes a lot of sense to me and has a good amount of upside relative to the cost.

 

The Players

C Hank Conger, Houston (vs Taijuan Walker) – $2800

Conger is someone who will probably be in fewer than one percent of lineups tonight. Everything lines up well for him other than his spot in the batting order, which is sort of what you need to accept given the price tag. He has a .384 wOBA and .257 ISO versus righties over the past 12 months, and he’s doubled his salary-based expected DraftKings points in 23 percent of games this year—a high rate.

 

OF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh (vs Zach Davies) – $5200

I think the Pirates are a fine stack tonight—not really contrarian, but still probably under-owned. I like McCutchen outside of the stack, specifically because he’s facing a right-hander, on the road, in a hitter’s park. The right-hander thing might seem odd, but McCutchen hits both hands of pitchers well, yet sees lower usage versus righties. The park shift to Miller Park is beneficial, and the line just keeps moving up in this game.

 

OF Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City (vs Randy Wolf) – $5000

Cain might be my favorite outfielder to roster other than David Peralta. He costs a lot—usually around as much as Jose Bautista, Mike Trout, and those types of guys—so he’s rarely rostered at a high rate with most users choosing the bigger names. However, Cain has doubled his salary-based expectation in 23 percent of games this season and he’s much better against lefties with a running 12-month wOBA of .428. That’s an insane number and one of the main reasons I almost always have a ton of Cain exposure versus lefties.

 

P Kevin Gausman, Baltimore (vs Tampa Bay) – $6200

If you’re going to stack an expensive offense tonight, you’re going to need to roster at least one cheap pitcher. I think Gausman should be that guy. He’s certainly been up and down this year, scoring at least 20 points on five occasions, but also fewer than 8.7 points just as many times (and in between those numbers just once). So you’re obviously taking on risk, but perhaps not as much as normal tonight given the matchup against a Tampa offense that whiffs a lot and is projected at only 3.3 implies runs.