What's the biggest difference between season-long fantasy leagues and DFS?
I threw this question at fellow Baseballholic (and co-host of the podcast bearing said name) Sammy Reid, who has been playing season-long leagues for at least as long as I have (17 years), and who more recently has been wiping the floor with the rest of us in the BP Private League on Draft Kings (see sidebar). His response:
“The main difference to me is that season-long is all about true player talent, using in-depth stats analysis to figure out if a player is likely to continue what he's doing now for the rest of the season.
That's a factor in DFS too of course, but it's much more about matchups. Specialized talent, if you will.
DFS is all about the context; in a way, season-long fantasy is all about removing the context.”
He elaborated with an example:
“In season-long, you're like the Yankees, trying to compile the best players. In DFS, you're the A's or Rays, trying to piece together a team of platoon advantages at low costs.”
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Any regular reader of this column knows that platoon splits carry the day when I'm evaluating the available hitters, particularly since Draft Kings takes opponents, recent performance, and ballpark into account when determining a player's salary, but platoon splits do not seem to be part of the equation. Similar to the techniques employed by teams like the A's, Rays, and Indians, the platoon-heavy approach has become has become an increasingly popular strategy at the big-league level, especially as teams and managers show a greater willingness to experiment with the batting order. One needs only notice the Indians' pattern of using Ryan Raburn or the Rays' use of Logan Forsythe (both of whom regularly bat cleanup against southpaws) to understand that these splits are taken into heavy account on the field.
I think that we can expand on Sammy's first point, as well, with respect to the short- versus long-term outlook of these ballplayers. A week ago, I wrote about how sabermetric patience often pays off in seasonal leagues, giving the fantasy manager time to allow for stats to stabilize and for regression to dust away some of the random variation inherent in the sport, but that the nature of DFS is to exploit the game's wild swings as much as possible, and as such the patience angle can result in a lot of low scores and a drained account.
My frustration with some stats has often been what is ignored, particularly with pitchers, where metrics like FIP selectively mute most of the plays on the field in order to simplify an equation that produces outputs that cannot be trusted. Some blame random variation, but I choose to blame the limitations of the game's bookkeeping, and DFS has helped to expose some of the outliers that stand to show that there is a deeper set of interactions beneath the surface of the game's numbers that are poorly understood by the modern baseball public.
Let's face it: to a true Baseballholic, any spin-off from the game of baseball is alluring. Ideally, DraftKings will continue to open up the realm of competitions beyond variations in player pool and profit structure, and consider changing some of the object itself. The idea would be to have a game like Razz (or lowball) in poker, in which a team is given certain conditions (ie must field a team of all players who are starting that day, and must spend at least $49000) and then attempts to construct the lowest-scoring team possible. Perhaps players are given an automatic 10 points if they don't start the game, in order to control for the possibility of rainouts and late changes and incurring a penalty without nullifying rosters. There's something there, and once again I'd like to thank Sammy Reid for the creative idea.
Checking in with my progress at the one-third mark of the season, and I'm pretty much right back where I started. I initially invested $500 into Draft Kings, and though there have been some wild swings in either direction, my account sat at $502 entering yesterday's ballgames. My goal was to play on 75-percent of game days, and thus far I have bested that number by a significant margin – out of 60 possible game days this season, I have only missed five (91.7 percent play rate), with three of those missed days coming in the immediate aftermath of the birth of my daughter.
Yesterday was also a subtle reminder of just how fickle the DFS game can be. I scored 133 points with my main lineup yesterday, and with just three innings left in the Dodger-Rockies game I was en route to a double-up day where I would more than double my investment. My roster was tapped since I had avoided the LA-Colorado tilt out of weather concerns, but when Joc the Monkey launched his home run in the eighth inning, my club quickly plummeted out of the profit zone as my competition had apparently not been swayed by the wetness. When all was said and done, my double-up day became a near-sweep, despite having a point total that is typically above the thin red line with plenty of room to spare. So I go into today's games down $50 instead of being ahead $50, but with the knowledge that it's all just part of the game.
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