Pitchers have the power to sink your battleship in DFS, but the hitters in your lineup will dictate the point ceiling and often determine whether money is won or lost.
It takes a lineup full of batters to bring down your score, as anybody can go 0-for-4 and the only way for a batter to have negative points in a day is to get on base via error or fielder's choice and then get caught stealing. A bad outing by the pitcher, on the other hand, can subtract 15-20 points from your total score and essentially erase the contributions of the other hurler, digging a deep hole from which it is nearly impossible to emerge.
The situation is different in full-season leagues, where a gamer's approach to pitching is the most defining element of a fantasy roster, with extreme approaches that vary from heavy investment to utter avoidance of the men on the mound. Similar to an auction, the salary cap format of DFS allows a manager to determine how to allocate funds while adding the freedom of access to the entire player pool for that day.
Join Doug in playing Baseball Prospectus Beat the Expert League on Draft Kings
Details ($3 Entry):
The difference is overlap. It's not a factor in season-long leagues because it simply doesn't exist, but in DFS you are dealing with opposing hands that are grabbing at each player, and the smaller population of pitchers means a higher rate of overlap. You can pick the perfect pair of pitchers on any given day and your team will still be treading water with other managers who made the same choices, and one certain days the market dynamics of the available pitchers result in a lot of similar pitching tandems.
I tend to spend a lot of my budget on pitchers, often approaching (but rarely exceeding) $20k of my $50k budget devoted to arms. Some readers might assume that I parlay my pitching acumen into lesser-appreciated talents, but the risk of implosion is often too great for me to invest in the high risk/reward arms. It's part of a generally conservative approach to strategy games, as I tend to focus on avoiding disaster over hitting the nuts, though different gaming types encourage varying approaches – I will often have a “safe” lineup with high-priced pitchers for 50/50 tournaments but a “Leroy” lineup of boom-or-bust picks for the large-scale GPP games, given the differing goals of each competition. It all depends on the player pool, of course, but I always start with the pitchers when constructing a roster, as they create the baseline from which I can determine how big the lineup can go with the remaining salary cap room.
The object is to create the opportunity for a big day of offense to result in a substantial payoff, while strong performance from pitchers is necessary to open that door. Hitter performance is particularly non-linear, where one big performance can both cover for a player's cold streak or off-set a couple of duds on a DFS roster. Pitchers have a much higher point contribution on a per-game basis, and though they have wide variance, it's essentially impossible for a pitcher to score five times his per-game average whereas a handul of hitters will pull that trick in any given week.
Given this relative unpredictability of hitters (as if to prove the point, Anthony Recker hits his second homer of the game as I'm typing), I just accept that some days my lineup lotto numbers will hit and on other days they'll fall short, while the arms determine whether my team has a chance to be competitive. Only a pitcher can blow-up a DFS roster before the contest is 15 minutes deep, therefore wrecking the additional enjoyment that comes from watching the players in your Draft Kings lineup rack up the points. I seek to avoid this scenario as part of my overall enjoyment of the Daily Fantasy game.
Even with a sound process, the day-to-day variability that is inherent to the game of baseball combines with the overlap effect to leave strong gamers vulnerable to the random elements of DFS. I often talk of the thin red line, a theoretical target for formulating a profitable roster, but that line moves on a day-to-day or even contest-to-contest basis. The pitcher population kicks off the shape of the day, where winners and losers can be determined by the expensive pitchers that got lit or those who posted an outlier performance in the positive direction.
With this effect in mind, any player who has an outlier performance that generates a huge number of points is a threat to your profitability if not rostered. This is more of a problem in the GPP tournaments, where every player is on someone's roster and the goal is to strike it rich with a perfect set of players, but the overlap issue also comes into play with the bigger 50/50 tournaments and triple-up games (particularly with the pitchers). This is less of a concern in heads up games or smaller leagues, where the odds of outlier players being on an opponent's roster are minimized.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now