MLB DraftKings Daily Fantasy Strategy

DraftKings MLB Course 101

DraftKings is one of the major Daily Fantasy Sports platforms, and they run a wide variety of MLB contests. This ranges from single game contest to large 15-game slates. Like other sports, you have a designated roster to fill, which features two pitchers, and your standard infield and outfield positions. Each player is tied to a specific salary, and you have 50,000 to split up between all positions. No position can be left blank. Once you have a team set, your roster will accumulate points and compete against other user’s lineups. When the final out on the recorded, your payout will depend on where you finish. Contests will show you where you need to finish for winnings.

DraftKings Scoring

Scoring is rather simple, especially for hitting. Total bases will matter on each hit. A single would be +3 for your individual hitter, where a home run would be +10. A double is +5 and a triple is +8. This is where getting players that hit for power can be important, which we will get into later. Walks, RBI, Run, and Hit By Pitch are all worth +2. A stolen base is an overlooked part of scoring, where you get +5 for a SB.

Pitching scoring is where we start to get negatives worked in. An earned run allowed is -2. Where walks, hits against, and walks are all -0.6. Strikeouts and wins are the driving factor for pitching scoring. A win is worth +4, and a strikeout is worth +2. Now there are some added bonuses for complete games, and complete game shutouts. They are worth 2.5 points each. A no hitter is worth +5.

Where To Start If You Are a Beginner

 There are plenty of ways to go before you start entering money contests. You can play free head-to-head games, and also enter free rolls where there is no risk. This negates you from entering money without feeling comfortable with your game, yet you are still able to learn and try different strategies.

Using these free contests to study your game is important to growing as a player. On DraftKings you are able to view live money tournaments and cash games where you can compare your scores to where they would finish in these contests. Once you get rolling, tracking your bankroll and results is extremely important. Users need to find what contests work best with their style of play, and where they are most successful.

There are notable pros out there that are very good at what they do. Their lineups provide an easy look into how they go about their business. This is one way to start to apply some of the same logic to your lineup building strategy.

Cash Vs. GPP

To understand cash and GPP strategies, you need to understand what these game styles mean. A cash game is where the field is paid out at about 45% or higher. Head-to-head, 50/50s, and double-up contests all fall under the title of cash games. This is often a safer way to build your bankroll. GPPs are large field tournaments that pay just 20-25% of the field, and often are more top heavy payouts. You will also find qualifiers under the term GPP, which are large field tournaments where the prize is an entry into a much larger tournament. Each style of games have different strategies.

Cash Strategy

When picking players in cash games, you want to find players that get on-base. Yes, it sounds simple. This provides a very good floor for hitters, because they may not hit the long ball, but they also don’t leave you hanging with a goose egg come the end of the night. Guys with low strikeout rates are a major plus, and there is a high correlation with putting the ball in play and gaining fantasy points.

Find players that are hitting 1-5 in the order. They are more likely to gain the most at-bats, therefor they have the most chances to generate fantasy points. It may not look like a huge jump below, but in the world of baseball it is.

Example – .300 hitter that bats 2nd versus bats 7th.

Hitter Batting 2nd  – 4 ABs @ .300 Avg. = ~ 1.2 Hits / Game

Hitter Batting 7th – 3 ABs @ .300 Avg. = ~.9 Hits / Game

For pitching, we want to find stable arms. You might hear the term “Pay up for pitching in cash games” this does hold true. Now on DraftKings you have to roster two pitchers. Often this is where most of your money goes, because it is where most of your fantasy points are generated. Pitchers that are consistent, pitch in big ballparks, are Vegas favorites, and are facing weak offenses are the general overview for selecting cash game arms. Do not be afraid of having an 80% owned pitcher in cash games. This is a good thing, because if that pitcher has an off night, you are in the same boat as everybody else.

Avoid games with weather concerns. There is nothing more deflating to a lineup than getting some players with zeroes because they didn’t play.

We will talk about Vegas a little bit more, but they set lines and totals for every game usually the night before or very early morning. These are some of the best predictors in the world, and we need to use them to our advantage. If Boston has a 5.8 implied total and their starting pitcher is a -220 favorite. Vegas suggests they are heavy on Boston winning, and also their offense scoring plenty of runs. Now if the opposing offense has a lower implied total, then that is suggesting their offense will struggle. This points towards taking the opposing starting pitcher against them.

To recap a bit here, we want guys in the front of the order, and we want hitters that get on base. Low strikeout bats are a great way to go, where in GPPs we can take more risk. Follow weather up until lineup lock, and avoid taking unnecessary risk. Use Vegas as an indicator but also a way to cut down your research time.

GPP Strategy

 In large field tournaments, you are going to need to diverse from your lineup from the other 1,000+, and sometimes much more. Ownership is a key factor in building GPP lineups. You want to be different. A few single digit ownership players can make all of the difference, even if you ate some high ownership guys somewhere else in the lineup. You can find lower ownership on teams that don’t have a high Vegas total, to where it is middling, and will fly under the radar. West Coast games traditionally are more low scoring, and ownership usually does not flock to those big pitcher parks out there. Odds of scoring runs are lower, but when those games go off for offense, you could be sitting pretty with a low owned stack.

Stacking is one of the more viable ways to take down a tournament. A stack is when you group anywhere from 3-5 players from a single team in your lineup. There are a few different ways you can go with this too. A double stack is when you take a collection of two teams and use their hitters to correlate with each other. A wraparound stack is more risky, but also way more contrarian. This would include taking the bottom of the lineup whether it is the 8 or 9 hitter, and combining it with the 1 and 2 hitter.

Now a chalk stack can still pay off in a tournament, with the right contrarian pieces around it. However, if that stack is 50% owned, you are now in a crowd of very similar lineups and everything has to fall your way. This is where finding those contrarian stacks or one-off pieces is important.

In tournaments you can take more risk with pitchers and hitters. Taking cheaper arms with strikeout upside but more blowup risk is an approach people tend to go towards. Mainly because this allows them to pay up for some bigger power bats. Now some bats come with more risk, as we take a look at a notable power bat with a huge ceiling, but very low floor.

Joey Gallo is one of the higher fantasy point producers in baseball, but not in a consistent way. He has over a .300 ISO in his career, which ISO is raw power for a hitter. But he also strikes out nearly 38% of his at-bats. The range of outcomes goes from 0-for-4 to 2-for-4 with 2 HR.

An example for a tournament arm would be Arizona Diamondback, Robbie Ray. He has great strikeout stuff, with over a 28% strikeout rate over the last three seasons. However, he is very home run prone, and doesn’t have great control. This often lowers his ownership a bit.

Predicting ownership can be narrowed down to a few things. Hot streaks will tend to have a majority of users jump on the bandwagon, while sharp users hop off. There are a lot of sites that can dictate ownership, as most pros have their own picks, optimizers, and podcasts. It isn’t something to drastically look into, but they can swing some ownership one way or the other. Vegas is also a huge way to gauge ownership. To take that Boston example, they are already a big market team with a lot of name value, but if Vegas is implying them for one of the highest run totals on the board, the easy way to go for people is to plug in Boston bats.

You can gain a huge advantage but dodging the high ownership bats. Do not forget, hitting .300 is great in baseball. That is just three hits out of ten at-bats, which that means seven at-bats are going for zero in fantasy. It is a high variance sport, and no matter how good a spot is, that variance will always be there.

Value In MLB DFS

Value differs from the other major sports where injuries and major lineup changes drive the value on a daily or weekly basis. Baseball is a bit different. The lineups are fairly consistent in baseball, and on occasion you do get a guy getting rest, but that doesn’t necessarily create good value.

There are a few ways value can come about in MLB. Platoon bats are one way to go. When left-handed pitchers are on the hill, you will usually see teams take a left-handed bat out of the lineup and replace him with a right-handed bat. These players usually come in with reasonable salaries, but also some strong numbers against left-handed pitching. The downside to this is they could be pinch hit for when the starter is removed, leaving you limited at-bats. Another way is when pricing is slow to adjust to player who is now starting, or a rookie making his way through the bigs. Pricing can also fluctuate with their algorithms, and on occasion a team will be lower priced that really shouldn’t be.

Dealing With The High Variance Of Baseball

As mentioned above, being a good hitter is getting three hits out of every ten at-bats. That is just 30%. Predicting baseball is insanely tough to do, and the stars can align for a good play, but the high variance of baseball can run its course. Tom Brady against a weak pass defense brings a high probability of good fantasy outcomes. The same goes for LeBron James against a team that struggles to defend small forwards. Now Mike Trout could be facing a weak right-handed pitcher, but Trout could hit two balls to the warning track, and have an extra base hit taken away by a great play by the outfielder. These things happen all the time. Sure it is frustrating, but embracing it is a way to be a better daily fantasy player.

With ownership playing factoring in, the Mike Trout play comes with very high ownership. However, going against the grain can be to your advantage. Because of the variance in baseball, there is no close guarantee like other sports. A player is going to fail more often than not. Use the variance to your advantage by fading high owned chalk plays, and pivoting to another player in a great spot hoping that he does well and Trout has that down night. The same goes for pitching, which has more weight on a lineup. Max Scherzer going up against the Marlins will bring high ownership to the field. If he struggles or doesn’t pay off his price tag, there is a huge leg up you have on the field. This is more talking GPPs, of course.

Key Batting Stats To Focus On

Baseball is leading the way in advanced stats, and the days of talking about a .275 hitter is pretty close to over. Advanced stats are a must when playing daily fantasy baseball. These stats are more telling than the classic batting average, slugging, and on-base percentage.

wOBA – Weighted On-Base Average is a stat that weights each way of getting on base differently, because a double is worth more than a single and so on. We can leave it to the computers to calculate this stuff for us. An average wOBA is around the .320-.330 mark. wOBA is going to be broken into against left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching. We can look as it as a whole, but we tend to focus on numbers against the handedness of the pitcher starting that night. Guys with over a .370 wOBA is when we starting getting into elite players. Below .310, those hitters aren’t bringing much to the plate.

wRC+ – Weighted Runs Created Plus is a stat that is an extended version of wOBA. However, it brings in Park Factors and also gives us an even league average at 100. If a player’s wRC+ is 131 they are 31% better than the league average. This breaks down offensive value for the player in the ways that they create runs. This also correlates into creating fantasy points.

ISO – ISO is isolated power, which represents a hitter’s extra bases per at-bat. ISO is critical in fantasy baseball because it is about generating power, and we want those power bats to create fantasy production.

 K% & BB% – This is a simple stat dividing walks and strikeouts by plate appearances. This is a good indicator for who is making contact and who has a tendency to strikeout more. The average strikeout rate is 20% and 8% for walks. Power hitters will have higher strikeout rates, which is where the difference between cash and GPP players will come in.

GB% LD% & FB% – Once contact is made, it is important to see what type of contact it is. Line drives and fly balls are better than hitting the ball on the ground. Player X might be a great contact bat, but if he has a groundball rate of 55%, his production is pretty limited. Finding players with high flyball and line drive rates will transition into success.

HR/FB – This is simply the percentage of flyballs a hitter hits that goes for home runs.

Hard% – Batted ball stats have become widely used in DFS, and finding hitters that are hitting the ball hard transition to more power and fantasy production. You can also see Exit Velocity as well for another representation of quality of contact. Anything over 35% is going to be above average.

Stolen Bases – There are a few ways to look for stolen bases, and this is often an overlooked aspect of fantasy because they are tougher to predict. Getting on base is the first step, because you can’t steal a base if you can’t get on. That is why rostering a guy like Billy Hamilton was next to useless because of his .298 OBP. We can look at a guy like Whit Merrifield, who has a .352 OBP and can steal bases and an excellent rate. He checks off two boxes already. The third box is getting a pitcher and catcher he can run on. Some pitchers struggle at holding runners on, and then you have catchers that are not great at throwing out runners. This info is not secret, as you can find how many SB catchers and pitchers allow.

Key Pitching Stats To Focus On

Pitching stats have really started to get into what pitcher outcomes should have been rather than what actually happened. We have moved to ERA estimators, and have also found batted ball stats to signify some luck or unlucky play on the mount. We have endless data now to play with, and can really analyze how a pitcher dominates or struggles.

 K% & BB% – This is also a very crucial stat for pitchers. We often have seen the K/9 and BB/9, yet those are somewhat outdated. Because if you really think about it, who is throwing nine innings regularly. Why can’t we just see the percentage of hitters a pitcher strikes out or walks? Well, that is what we have here. Strikeouts have been on the rise, and a strikeout rate north of 24% is a very strong numbers. We have seen them go into the lower 30s of late too. The average walk rate is about 8%, where anything lower is starting to get into elite control. Anything higher we are looking at a wild arm that can put himself in trouble.

xFIP – xFIP is a way of estimating a pitcher’s expected run prevention independent of the performance of their defense. It is about what they can control and cannot. It also normalizes a few stats instead of just simply saying they gave up three home runs, which isn’t going to continue. You will find some pitchers have a higher xFIP than ERA, which suggests there has been some luck involved in their recent play. The opposite can occur as well, where the ERA is higher than the xFIP, suggesting they have been a bit unlucky. This is where BABIP can tie into things too. This means batting average on balls in play. Comparing to career norms, BABIP can show a player getting unlucky or lucky.

HR/FB – Just like how we use it for hitters, this is how many home runs a pitcher allows on flyballs hit. It can be a bit noisy early on, but over larger sample sizes you start to see who is allowing the long ball.

GB% LD% & FB% – Like hitters, we want to see the quality of contact. If a pitcher is allowing a lot of flyballs and line drives, there is a possible sign of danger. If a pitcher is keeping the ball on the ground, then outcomes are usually in his favor.

Hard%– We also want to see what kind of contact a pitcher is allowing. A lot of hard-contact can mean a pitcher is serving them up. Pitchers that throw a lot of off-speed and miss a lot of bats might still allow plenty of hard-contact because when a pitch misses, it is getting squared up.

Fstrike% & Ahead%– Finding pitchers that get ahead of the count off the bat and just work ahead in the count are important. This sets them up for success rather than working behind in the count where they have to rely more on fastballs.

Contact% – Pitchers that allow a lot of contact usually don’t generate much strikeout potential. We want guys that miss bats.

Importance Of Lineups

You will find projected and confirmed lineups, and projected lineups are pretty accurate. A team will turn in their lineup, and then it will be confirmed to where we know which players are going to be playing. This is a nice advantage compared to other sports where it can be a bit blurry leading right up until game time. Lineups will come out anywhere from 3-4 hours before a game starts, and on occasion they might push a little closer to game time. This is just a good time to look overall at the weather, and keep an eye out for any injuries that might lead to a player being scratched. On occasion you will get a player that was confirmed, and had something happen in between where it leads to him being scratched. Having a Twitter can help you get this information quicker.

To review a bit more, we want to find players that are hitting 1-6 in the order. Anything after is a bit contrarian. 1-6 is where fantasy points really correlate and knowing who is in those spots will come with following the lineups. This is also where you can see which platoon bats get in the lineup because they have better splits against the opposing pitcher’s handedness. Track weather within each game to view where risky plays are, and games to avoid. Weather can also have a positive influence for hitters and pitchers. Wind blowing in or out can help pitchers and hitters. Warm weather and humidity are great for hitting environments.

Park Factors

Unlike other sports, the stadium has an influence on the game. Each stadium is unique, and also the location plays a factor. Take the holy grail of hitter’s parks, Coors for example. It is in high elevation, and the altitude makes the ball fly. When you look at other hitter friendly ballparks, you have unique dimensions that make it easier to hit home runs or extra base hits. Yankee Stadium is an above average park for left-handed hitters, as the right field wall is one of the shortest in the league. Fenway Park is good for right-handed power, but the dimensions make it tough for left-handed home runs.

The West Coast is loaded with pitcher parks. Petco Park and Oracle Park are two friendly pitcher parks. The outfield dimensions make it tough to allow home runs, and you also have Oakland where the foul grounds are large allowing outs that usually wouldn’t be in other stadiums. Working these into your lineup building process is wise. When Vegas works their numbers, park factors are included, so it isn’t something to spend a ton of time on. Over time, knowing where the advantages and disadvantages are will come natural.

Dealing With Hot & Cold Streaks

Going through a slump is part of the game, and it is also a good chance to buy low on a player. Ownership and salary will likely be down, providing you a good chance to plug him in with the right matchup and get a chance to get him when nobody else is paying attention. Hot streaks will generate higher ownerships because the average user will look at recent games. The recency bias will also drive up ownership and salary. Hot streaks are tricky, but most of the time it is a good way to avoid chalk and have that down game occur when everyone is on him.

Utilizing Vegas

Vegas is one of the first places to start research. It helps you cut down on research time. If you are looking for offense, you can weed out some of the lower total games. If you are looking for pitchers, you want to find heavy favorites against teams that have low implied totals. Bookmakers are very good at what they do, and are going to produce lines and totals that indicate their predictions. There is still always going to be the variance that ruffles things, but Vegas will point you towards where to go on the hill and at the plate. Look for implied totals above 4.5 for offensive production. For pitchers, look for offense that have under a four implied total, but are also at high odds for their team to get a win.

Late Swap

Late swap in baseball is used a bit differently in baseball, and more so for weather. Because injuries and lineups are brought out before game starts, you will rarely need to swap out a player unless he is scratched. A player will lock when the scheduled time of the game hits. If a contest starts at 7:05, but a few players don’t start till 8:30 or later on, you have the option to swap him out for other players who have not started. This helps if you want to roll the dice on a game with rain, but the offenses have big potential. You can manage this situation up until the game was expected to start.

Late swap also has an advantage for game theory plays. Here is how you can use it to your advantage. In the midst of a tournament, you might find yourself at the top of the leaderboard, or within striking distance of the top. Using late swap can be to your advantage. If you are at the top and have a player that is more boom or bust, you can swap him to someone a bit more stable and has a safer floor. If you are in striking distance or in need of being different from users around you, you can swap a player to a more contrarian upside play.

Bankroll Management & Tracking Results

Ultimately you want to play within your means, but it can be difficult to figure out what that exactly is. This is where tracking your results comes into play. You need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and that relates to what styles of contests you are playing. If you are tracking a positive ROI in certain areas, continue to focus on what is working. Lay out your ROI and win rates by entry fees and contest styles. 10-20% is a good starting point for what you should put down from your bankroll on a given slate.

Using Optimizers & Generating Lineups

Over the last few years, lineup optimizers have been growing within the industry. For those unaware of what they do, lineup optimizers take the player pool with projections from a source, and optimize based on performance and salary. Now using an optimizer without any input can be helpful, but nobody is going to churn out millions by just running an optimizer and playing it every night. User input + lineup optimizers is the route needed to be a more consistent if you are looking to incorporate them within.

Optimizers will allow you to narrow down your own player pool for the tool to generate lineups from. This is a crucial aspect for having success while using an optimizer. We all have an outside life, where the optimizer can cut down some time. Within the tool you will find stats and information to help navigate you towards players in good spots.

  
Jason Guilbault has been writing and podcasting in the fantasy sports world for over five years. You can find his work at Daily Fantasy Cafe. He is an avid Tottenham fan, and follows the Boston sports teams. When he isn’t diving into stats, he is enjoying the outdoors or down at the local brewery.

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