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9 Tips For Playing Baseball DFS: Basic To Advanced

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Photo Credit: Kashe ghan

I have already won money this season playing Fantasy Baseball DFS.

That’s right, I was actually wagering money on what certain players were doing in Cactus and Grapefruit League games. Yes, that probably makes me nuttier than a Baby Ruth bar. I prefer however to look at it as proof that I enjoy it and I know what I’m doing.

Yet not everyone does. I admit when I first started baseball DFS I was pretty clueless. Some of you might be trying it for the first time. Some of you are seasoned pros just looking for confirmation or additional ideas. Therefore, this article is aimed more at the former group but I will try and provide some tips for everyone, but I will be starting with the most basic.

Playing Major League Baseball DFS: The Basics

As stated, for some this will be review and unnecessary. I will leave roster restrictions and so forth to the various websites, but let’s start with one of the most basic tenets of Major League Baseball DFS:

Chicks dig the long ball

Yup, this commercial says it all…

Irony aside, chicks might dig the long ball, but as a DFS player, you had better too. You want players that are going to hit the four-bagger. In addition to points for the hit, run, and RBI generated, most sites give a disproportionate amount of points for homers as well. On nearly every site, you are better off with a player who goes 1-for-4 with a homer than a hitter who hits a perfect four singles in four at-bats that day. So if you are going to err, err on the side of power hitters.

But don’t think you can spend all your salary on big boppers. You better save some funds for pitchers, whom you are likely to notice are often the most expensive position. Here’s why:

K is King

Homeruns are key, but Ks are king in DFS. Despite what Crash Davis says, strikeouts are not boring nor fascist. They are necessary. Wins not only require run support, but a pitcher has to pitch at least five innings. And likely much more. With so many pitchers these days on limited pitch counts, chasing wins is dumber than Nuke LaLoosh.

Strikeouts, however, are more predictable. A pitcher who averages 3.0 K/9 is not suddenly going to strike out a dozen and a pitcher averaging nearly 10.0 k/9 is likely to strike out at least five batters. Most sites reward for outs or innings pitched. Yet strikeouts rack up points quicker than any other baseball DFS stat.

A hitter that goes 2-for-4 with two doubles is obviously a decent day at the plate. But he is not going to see the number of points that a hurler is going to see when he strikes out ten hitters. Throw in various bonuses like shutouts and complete games, your pitchers should be scoring the biggest percentage of your points. And strikeouts is the easiest way to do that. Grabbing pitchers with high K rates is not just sound strategy, it’s practically a necessity, especially in cash games. Speaking of cash, let’s talk about stake management briefly.

Swim at your own level

So now that you know the basics, you are ready to dive in and swim with the big dogs, right?

Well….keep this video in mind:

Because the answer is no, you’re not. You might have some success playing the upper levels of Baseball DFS. But just like the goldfish above, there’s always bigger fish who will swallow you alive. Start small. Build your stake.

On a related note, don’t get cute. I know when I first started playing Fantasy Baseball DFS, I tried looking for value and contrarian plays such as a pinch hitter who might come in and get in a base hit which would set my lineup apart. Remember, the failure rate of even some of the best hitters is 70%. Go with a guy who will get at least three chances over a guy that will get only one.

And if you’re not sure who is starting that day, look at the game previews. They offer starting pitchers and lineups as well as other details we will discuss shortly.

 

Playing Major League Baseball DFS: Intermediate

When I first started playing baseball DFS, I understood the scoring, but admittedly I really didn’t know what I was doing.

Here are some tips that are not exactly mind-blowing, but I wish someone had explained them to me at the very beginning.

Whether the Weather

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There is nothing worse than checking out your lineup after is locked only to see you have multiple players whose game that night has been postponed because of rain.

Now, I’m not saying you need to always choose players playing in domed stadiums that night or warm weather sites. But check out the forecast for each game. If your player’s game is rained out, how big is the opportunity loss?

Think of it this way–you are giving up typically around 10% of your total points for each player who doesn’t play that night, or about a letter grade. So, two guys out you are pretty much starting with a C+ lineup at best. And unless your opponents make the same stupid mistake, you are not winning with a C+ lineup. Yet weathering the weather is not the only requirement to come out on top.

 

Straight to the Top

In a nine-inning game, there are 27 outs. If it’s a perfect game, each hitter will see three ABs. However, pitchers will often have at least couple pitches they want back. So, the first mistake by a pitcher (a walk, a hit, etc) means the lead-off hitter just earned his 4th at bat.  The more mistakes, the more hitters earn 4th at-bats.  Divide the number one by nine and you get 11%.  For each spot, your hitter is below the leadoff position in the batting order, his chances of getting an extra at-bat drop by 11%.  That’s a lot!  If you take the 7th hitter over the 2nd hitter, there is a 55% less chance he will see that fourth at-bat compared to the 2nd place hitter.

So if a player has been hitting near the top of the order and is suddenly near the bottom, that’s a player you might want to “fade”, i.e. not select. Conversely, a player who is priced low due to the fact that he has been hitting near the bottom and suddenly finds himself hitting high in the order is worth a good look.

Batting Order Examples:

Let’s look at A.J. Pollock, for example, a popular pick in baseball DFS games last year:

 
Lineup PositionGGSPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSTB
1st4742203189325616351514214340.2960.3450.4920.83793
2nd3028129116212910239338170.250.3260.4480.77452
3rd141463581214212910570.2410.3020.4140.71524
6th1010413657202320470.1940.2930.4170.70915
7th662421373021301330.3330.4170.7621.17916
8th1011000000000000000
9th4054000000001300.200.20

Sure enough, Pollock’s batting average declines as we move deeper in the lineup, specifically among his four most common lineup positions. But let’s just compare batting first to batting second. He played 56% more games batting first than second but his ABs were more than 62% higher. That’s an index of approximately 110!

Of course, there are always exceptions, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Joey Gallo, for example, hit from every spot in the lineup last year and look at his splits:

Lineup PositionGGSPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSTB  
1st100000000000000
3rd1021000000001100.500.50
4th614421100000030.250.250.50.752
5th2525105861621417161216380.2440.3810.5580.93948
6th242496851113106121011400.1530.250.3760.62632
7th393715313030316015243019460.2380.3530.6310.98482
8th2928105901720528231015430.2220.3330.5890.92253
9th202067539810551013250.1510.3280.4530.78124
Gallo obviously liked hitting in the 7th and 8th spots. Of course, it does help that he was a part of the loaded Rangers offense. Which brings us to loaded offenses and creating what is known as stacks.

Stacks Whack

Now the first time I heard about stacks, I couldn’t help but think of Goodfellas and things didn’t work out too well for Samuel Jackson’s character, Stacks:

And stacking often leads to carnage, admittedly sometimes my own. However, stacking can also lead to the big payday too.

Every site has a different restriction when it comes to stacking in their baseball DFS game. Yet simply put a stack is creating a lineup with multiple players from the same team. It can often be very expensive, but if you can get say the two through five hitters on the same team playing in Colorado that night? Let’s just say when that team explodes for a number of runs, you will get points for both the RBIs and the runs scored, and you can be a made man.

And in a GPPP, you need more than enough points just to finish in the top half, you need that top bounty of points!

 

Playing Major League Baseball DFS: Advanced

Here are some tips that some seasoned players know but you may not.

Like Obi-Wan but the wOba is even more powerful

Weighted On-Base Average, or wOBA for short, offers more weight to a home run than it does to a double than it does to a single or a walk.  All hits are not created equal.  Yes, you could use the easier to calculate OPS, as OPS and wOBA will provide similar results more often than not, but wOBA is a more accurate representation. OPS undervalues getting on base relative to hitting for extra bases and does not properly weigh each type of extra-base hit (is an HR worth exactly twice as much as a double?).

As stated earlier, a home run is more valuable to us than a single.  High wOBAs attempt to show us who does the most damage with their at-bats. As stated previously, we want the home runs. And no stat does more to tell us who has done so.

Look at least year’s top ten wOBA leaders:

Name wOBA
Mike Trout 0.437
Aaron Judge 0.430
Joey Votto 0.428
Charlie Blackmon 0.414
Giancarlo Stanton 0.410
Freddie Freeman 0.407
Jose Altuve 0.405
Paul Goldschmidt 0.400
Justin Turner 0.400
Kris Bryant 0.400

Think some of these players might be worth playing?

If you want to get to know wOba a little more, here’s a basic rule of thumb:

Rating wOBA
Excellent .400
Great .370
Above Average .340
Average .320
Below Average .310
Poor .300
Awful .290

A good blaster by your side is handy, but the force is strong with wOBA.

On the Contrary

I mentioned cash games earlier, but as experienced players know, the headline money is in GPPs. And the best way to win a GPP is with a few contrarian plays that pay big.

While over a season, baseball tends to regress to a player’s true ability that year. However, baseball, on any given night, is much more random than any other DFS sports. The more randomness there is, the more value there is in being contrarian. It is counter-intuitive to find value in randomness. It is not how you predict things as much as how much you leverage predictability. The more randomness, the bigger the edge.

The above is just a fancy way to say that baseball DFS provides the greatest value for making contrarian picks. And one of the highest risk, highest reward ways to go is bet against a top line pitcher. The biggest payday I had last year was in August when not only did I fade Cy Young candidate Chris Sale, but I went heavy with the opposing hitters in that day’s lineup. It helps that I noticed some of the Indians facing him that day had experienced some success against him. But who goes against a pitcher who already had 14 wins at that point, was sporting a 2.62 ERA, and had 34 strikeouts in his last three games?

The answer is someone who wants to win and did as Cleveland tagged Sale for seven runs in three innings. The fact that I remember it helps highlight how unlikely it was. And more often than not, that kind of gamble will not work. But if you want to win the big GPP, you are going to be contrarian.

 

3 Is a Magic Number

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So as a more experienced player, you are probably putting in multiple lineups in your baseball DFS entries, likely into large slate GPPs, right? And the best way to make a profit is to submit a bunch of totally different rosters, right?

Wrong.

You are diversifying risk, yes, but you are are also limiting your winnings. You can submit 20 completely different rosters on a given night and not have a single one cash for you. That’s extreme but possible. The more likely scenario is that you see three or four cash but fail to make a profit due to the cost of the multitude of entries. So here’s what I like to do:

The 3×3 Play

You are better off having a “core” of players that you like. Therefore, if your core goes off, you collect on a majority of your rosters. But the mixing it up on the remainder of your rosters enables you to diversify and perhaps capture the player that does go off that night. It’s what I like to call my “3 by 3” strategy. For every three entries, have at least three players that are on all three entries, three players that are unique to that entry, and three players that might appear on any two but not all three entries.

Of course, I call it “3 by 3” because it’s a lot catchier and easier to remember than say “3 here, 4 there, 2 there but only on a slate of three games where there are no weather worries and there’s a good value at catcher….” And I do realize that many sites and games have ten or more roster slots. Some have less. So feel free to tinker with it depending on that night’s slate. Smaller slates are going to dictate more overlap, larger slates will beg for less.

And Finally….

One last tip that players of all DFS levels, basic to advanced often neglect to do–a post evaluation. Why did you cash? What were the factors that led to your losses? Did one random player truly have a once in a career night? Or did you miss out on lineup changes that a manager made that are paying dividends? Has a pitcher discovered a new pitch that enables him to navigate even the toughest lineups? Figure out why you won and why you lost. Before you know it, you’ll be figuring out a lot more wins than losses when it comes to playing baseball DFS!

Mark Strausberg

Mark Strausberg

Mark Strausberg remembers making Jerry Rice his first round selection as well as taking a flyer on a young pitcher named Doug Drabek. His Fantasy analysis has spanned multiple sports including football, baseball, basketball, and even golf. A FSWA finalist, his fantasy analysis has been featured in various outlets including but not limited to SI.com, USA Today national magazines, Yahoo! and RotoExperts.
Mark Strausberg

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