As I sat here updating this article so we could call it the 2022 MLB DFS primer, the same thought kept occurring to me: Can we ever have just a "normal" baseball season?
When was the last "normal"--i.e. standard length with no cancellations for Covid-related reasons, baseball season we had? 2019 probably. And given that 2022 is going to be a shortened season, it will be at least four seasons of non-normal baseball. Despite that, the number one takeaway is still the same: winning money every day playing MLB DFS is next to impossible.
I am often asked how the various DFS sports compare and nearly every time I rank baseball near the bottom. The reason is simple. You can enter a complete baseball lineup of All-Stars who give you zero points. Sure, Nikola Jokic, Austin Matthews, or Patrick Mahomes can have disappointing games, but if they play, those studs have a very high floor. In baseball? Not so much.
Yes, the likelihood of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Trea Turer, and Juan Soto going 0-for-13 is lower than any random three players. However, their floor is exactly the same as Bob Uecker's, or yours, or mine.
This makes winning baseball a much more quixotic enterprise.
However, that doesn't mean we can't try to use the various tools at our disposal to try and win some money. And some of the tools I use now are far different than when I first started writing this primer. I have since added SwingingStrike% and Barrel% into my repertoire for example. If you want to know what those are, feel free to DM me on Twitter. But I realize that some of you have been playing MLB DFS for years and others will be trying MLB DFS for the first time this season. Therefore, I have broken this MLB DFS Primer into basic, intermediate, and advanced. Hopefully, no matter what level you are at, you might get something out of it.
While I have not included every single thing DFS players use to win (like the stats I mentioned above), if you think there is something I am missing from this MLB DFS Primer, please feel free to comment below.
I won't go into detail below, but one tool of course I recommend is our very own Daily Fantasy Sports Projections tool.
With that in mind let's play ball!
2022 MLB DFS Primer: The Basics
As stated, for some this will be a 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
HRs 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 a sound strategy, it's practically a necessity, especially in cash games. Speaking of which pitchers to grab, I want to be sure to mention something I accidentally left out of the MLB DFS primer a couple of years ago.
Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right, But Three Lefts Do
Embed from Getty Images
I'll keep this one very simple: Consider lefty-righty hitter and pitcher matchups.
Batters tend to perform better against opposite-handed pitchers. There's a reason why the right-handed 2021 Cy Young Winner Corbin Burnes saw left-handed hitters hit 41 points higher against him than right-handers. Or his left-handed counterpart in the AL, 2021 Cy Young winner Robby Ray saw right-handed hitters hit 31 points higher against them left-handers.
Even the always attractive switch-hitters should be examined how they perform from each side. For example, take our classic example of Asdrubal Carrera. He had a 3-year hitting average of .274. However, throughout his career, he's typically had a better average batting righty but more power as a lefty.
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 eye-opening video in mind:
Because the answer is no, you're not. You might have some success playing the upper levels of Baseball DFS. Like both of the fish above, you might not even be a guppy. But you never know when all of a sudden you will be swallowed alive. Start small. Build your stake. When you have enough that you can afford to lose a huge amount, go ahead, start diving. Just know that you might go from feeding to feed instantly.
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.
2022 MLB DFS Primer: 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
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. And of course, park factors are important too, but that's no different from playing seasonal fantasy baseball. But unlike seasonal, you need to 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 a couple of pitches they want back. So, the first mistake by a pitcher (a walk, a hit, etc) means the lead-off hitter just earned his fourth 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 that 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 seventh hitter over the second hitter, there is a 55% less chance he will see that fourth at-bat compared to the second-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. Of course one of the reasons it can be hard to win money in DFS is there is a counterargument to the above. And that is because unsurprisingly no single swing of the bat can result in more DFS points than a grand slam.
Grand Slams: More Filling Than What Denny's Offers
If your DFS lineup can hit a couple of grand slams in one night, your odds of cashing go up at an exponential rate. Grand Slams obviously will provide your hitters more points than any other scoring play. First off, some sites reward additional bonus points for grand slams. Even those that do not, however, will still give your player not only points for the HR, but also for the hit and the run, as well as the four RBI. I am likely to choose far more players near the top of the order on any given night due to the high floor. However, if there's a gas can on the mound, I'm likely to choose the opposing sixth batter. Here's why:
As you can see from the above, the sixth batter is more than 10% more likely to see a bases-loaded situation than any other lineup spot. And as we can see above, the third spot in the order has one of the lowest frequencies. I do presume you are aware however that the third spot is often a team's best hitter, i.e. some of the more expensive options on any given night. You can draw your own conclusion.
However, it is also worth noting that the lead-off batter has a higher frequency than the two through four batters. This is why I like to choose players that bat lead-off more often than not. In addition to the extra at-bats, the situations are typically more optimal.
Case Example: Anthony Rizzo
I present to you the case of Anthony Rizzo from 2020. I chose Rizzo for multiple reasons.
One, I wanted someone who had at least 100 ABs in three different lineup positions last year. That alone limited a huge amount of the field.
Two, I need someone who did see ABs in the leadoff spot.
Three, I wanted someone that we might choose for DFS on any given night. There might be some platoon players who look like a decent option on a specific night, but Rizzo is a potential option every night he plays.
Finally, and this might be the most important, unlike some of the other regular considerations, Rizzo was not a lock to leadoff.
But let's look at Rizzo's hitting stats from last year, broken down by line-up spot:
|Lineup Slot 1
|Lineup Slot 2
|Lineup Slot 3
|Lineup Slot 4
|Lineup Slot 9
Rizzo was one of his team's best hitters, so he naturally saw a lot of ABs in the three-hole, as well as clean-up. However, his OPS was higher across the board when batting leadoff.
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 a 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 overflow of points!
2020 MLB DFS Primer: Advanced
Hopefully, you are still with me and it has not been an information overflow. But there's more to go. We will now get into the more advanced stages of playing MLB DFS. 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.
Here at your 2021 top ten wOBA leaders:
- Bryce Harper - 0.431
- Juan Soto - 0.420
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - 0.419
- Fernando Tatis - 0.403
- Shohei Ohtani - 0.393
- Joey Votto - 0.391
- Nick Castellanos - 0.391
- Aaron Judge - 0.387
- Trea Turner - 0.386
- Bryan Reynolds - 0.385
Think some of these players might be worth playing? There are a few new members to this top ten list, but players like Bryce Harper and Juan Soto are regular members on this list.
If you want to get to know wOba a little more, here's a basic rule of thumb:
Rating - wOBA
Excellent - 0.400
Great - 0.370
Above Average - 0.340
Average - 0.320
Below Average - 0.310
Poor - 0.300
Awful - 0.290
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 sport. 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 to bet against a top-line pitcher. The biggest payday I had was a number of years ago 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 win I 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 will need to be a successful contrarian.
Three 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?
You are diversifying risk, yes, but you 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 3x3 Play
You are better off having a "core" of players that you like. Choose maybe three players that you really like that are the core of every team. Therefore, if your core goes off, you collect on a majority of your rosters. However, you will also mix up the remainder of your rosters enabling you to diversify and perhaps capture the particular 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 saying "three here, four there, two 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.
2022 MLB DFS Primer Final Note
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!
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