MLB Rookie - Lesson 01 - Welcome to Daily Fantasy Baseball

Jonathan Bales is the author of Fantasy Baseball for Smart People—a 197-page book created to help you win playing daily fantasy baseball on DraftKings. 

I’m known for being the best fantasy football writer one of the top 1,000 fantasy football writers in the world, but daily fantasy baseball is actually my favorite sport to play. I produce a ton of daily fantasy baseball advice and strategy columns throughout the season and am an avid player at DraftKings. I only ever casually got into season-long fantasy baseball because the day-to-day grind is pretty miserable, to be honest, but daily fantasy baseball is a completely different animal; with one swing of the bat, your fortunes can change in an instant.

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There are lots of intricacies to daily fantasy baseball advice that are specific to MLB—and I’ll touch on many of them in this series—but the basic foundation components of a sound approach to daily fantasy sports remain intact.

Scarcity Is King

In any market, value is dictated by scarcity; the scarcer the resource, the greater the value. DraftKings tries to account for this with player salaries, of course, but each individual player’s scarcity within his particular position is important, too. You have to start a second baseman, a shortstop, and so on, so identifying potential outliers in terms of positional production is crucial.

In certain situations, it’s okay to “overpay” for scarcity. That’s true in football, too, with a player like Rob Gronkowski; even if the value isn’t there in terms of dollars-per-point, Gronk can still be a game-changer because you can’t reproduce his production.

With any player selection in any sport, you should always ask yourself, “How easily can I reproduce this expected production at a cheaper price?” The harder that task, the more valuable the player.

Position Predictability

One of the components of player selection that is fundamentally tied to scarcity is predictability. If we can’t consistently predict player performances, scarcity is irrelevant. If performances were almost totally random, for example, it would never make sense to pay up for any high-priced players.

Of course, performances aren’t random, but there’s more variance for certain players and positions than others; the ability to predict batter performances is much harder than that for pitchers, for example. Because there’s so much less night-to-night consistency for batters, it’s more challenging to identify scarcity.

Pitcher production, on the other hand, is pretty consistent; the top-priced pitchers are the guys usually turning in the league-winning performances and the bottom-barrel arms are the ones who often stink it up.

There are certain stats that are more consistent than others, too; strikeouts are extremely predictable over large samples, and they’re even consistent in the short-term for pitchers. If your goal is to reduce variance, it can make sense to pay—even overpay—for dominant high-strikeout pitchers.

Emphasize the Long-Term

Suppose that I’m a huge Josh Harrison fan—such a huge fan that I decided to roster him in every single game last year. You did the same with Nelson Cruz.

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Harrison ranked in the top 10 in batting average last season—well ahead of Cruz and his .271 average—but in terms of raw power and daily fantasy upside, Cruz was a much better player. While Harrison went deep once every 11 games, Cruz did it in one-in-four contests (on average).

In any given night, the most likely outcome for Harrison and Cruz in terms of home runs was the same: no dingers. Even though Cruz crushed Harrison over the course of the season in terms of homers, he still averaged only 0.25 or so home runs per game.

Baseball is such an event-based sport—it’s either a hit or not, either a home run or not, either a steal or not—so there are a ton of short-term fluctuations. Cruz is more likely than Harrison to go deep in any given game, but we still can’t ever expect a home run from Cruz in any contest.

By emphasizing long-term stats, however, we’ll eventually get “what’s coming to us,” so to speak. Over the course of an entire season, the variance begins to even out and the daily fantasy players who are continually putting themselves in good spots are the ones who are profitable.

The important thing to keep in mind is that, in the face of the inevitable ups-and-downs of a baseball season, it’s vital to understand long-term trends—much more so than in any other sport. It’s also important to realize that you can do everything the right way and sometimes things just won’t pan out.

Less Value-Based

All of this adds up to a daily fantasy baseball strategy that is far less value-based than in other daily fantasy sports. Consider a sport like basketball, for example, in which performances are far more predictable. We know that a given NBA team is likely to score between 90 and 110 or so points in a given game. We also know that every possession ends in fantasy points for someone, whether it’s via a made basket, a missed shot and a rebound, or a turnover. Because of that, players have high floors on which we can count; we know that Anthony Davis isn’t going to give us zero points.

But we don’t know that in baseball; Mike Trout can be in a great matchup and still go 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. It happens. And it also means that daily fantasy baseball, particularly in tournaments, isn’t as much about finding value as many other sports.

That’s not to say that value doesn’t matter and that you shouldn’t be price-sensitive at all. Again, in most situations, you should side with long-term trends to help you uncover value. But the lack of consistency from game to game also means there’s extra value in paying for the production on which you can actually count—namely that from the top pitchers.

Further, daily fantasy baseball is perhaps the best sport to be a contrarian thinker. Because the game is so event-based, the public is wrong more often than in a sport like basketball. You’re always trying to balance value with ownership in daily fantasy tournaments, and that’s especially true in baseball since value is more difficult to identify.

The Day-to-Day Thrill

If you’re a DraftKings NFL player and you’re considering playing daily fantasy baseball, I think you’re going to be in for a pleasant surprise. The day-to-day nature of the sport makes the game exhilarating to follow and play.

There are a lot of positives that come with a true daily game. One is that if you can find an edge, you can use it to really profit in a big way; even if you have a 5% ROI, think about the upside of that return when it’s compounded every 24 hours instead of once per week.

Second, you don’t need to worry about waiting seven full days to get back into the action. “There’s always tomorrow” in daily fantasy baseball.

Finally, it’s a perfect sport for a novice to begin to play. For one, baseball is very standardized. There are no schemes, no massive personnel changes, and so on; it’s a very binary sport in which the basic pitcher versus batter relationship is always the same. It’s not like football—a game in which watching and understanding the sport in great detail is crucial to your success. And because baseball is less about value—at least in GPPs—you can find success by implementing concepts you’ve learned from playing other daily fantasy sports—things like going against the grain, predicting player ownership, using Vegas lines to your advantage, and so on.


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Continue Reading for more Daily Fantasy Baseball Advice

MLB Rookie – Lesson 01 – Welcome to Daily Fantasy Baseball
NEXT LESSON MLB Rookie – Lesson 02 – Stats to Start for Batters
MLB Rookie – Lesson 03 – Stats to Start for Pitchers
MLB Rookie – Lesson 04 – Scoring Tips and Tricks
MLB Rookie – Lesson 05 – Using Player Cards to Build Lineups

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