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Something weird happened on Tuesday night. I'm playing in a 20-team, 10-dollar Triple Up with all of the Usual Suspects, and it was a really low-scoring day – I was in 10th place with 76.95 pts, and some of the guys behind me included: Birdwings (15th at 69.10 points), youdacao (17th, 66.95), underjones (19th, 55.1), and PetrGibbons (20th, 45.75). I scoped out the rosters of these regulars, whom I see constantly through the daily grind of finding tournaments to play, and overall there was nothing daunting about their roster construction. They had certain overlap players that were otherwise unrostered, as these regulars clearly use THE BAT (the brainchild of BP alum Derek Carty) or some other projection system to guide decision-making and roster construction, and the fact that the regulars tend to cherry-pick many of the same names tells me that they're largely using the same system.

Then it dawned on me. These systems exist because, flat-out and ego aside, they are better at filtering data than any one person's brain, and though the fleeting nature of baseball leaves open the inevitability that they will have good days and bad days (such as Tuesday), over the course of the long haul these systems will beat the large majority of DFS players. The key to beating the regulars then, is to discover their particular trends and habits that go beyond the extremes in the system. Basically, it means scouting the pros.

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The other part of the realization was that I had been blindly avoiding the pros, as if all of them were the same entity, but despite the tendency for overlap they each have particular nuances in how they setup a DFS roster. Tuesday was a good test case, with several high-profile arms taking the hill (including Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Gerrit Cole, and Johnny Cueto), and yet the overwhelming majority of these players chose a very specific combination of Sale and Cole. Both pitchers were hit hard, which led to the overall scores being very low, but the commonalities between individual rosters boiled down to these two pitchers and a couple of bargain bats. It was telling that studs such as Miguel Cabrera ($4700), Starling Marte ($4300), and Adam Jones ($3800) were barely owned (all three were owned by this guy, who was the only manager to enlist their services despite reasonable price tags). The intrigue was in how the regulars filled out the rest of the roster, whether preferring a stack or going with individual values, and any frustration over “losing to a computer” was lifted due to the realization that A) I could purchase one of these systems if desired, and B) scouting these pros revealed some of their individual tendencies toward roster construction.

My desire to avoid the pros still has merit, under the assumption that system such as THE BAT are better than I am at honing in on the best values on a day-to-day basis. As a DFS writer and regular player, this is a hard pill to swallow, but the systems wouldn't exist if they weren't good at what they are designed to do. I have seen the results of some of these systems, and what was once a skeptical view of their merits quickly became appreciative of the value inherent in such a system, as time and time again it would recommend a player (a pitcher especially) who had a big day despite my own doubts. However, it's not an end-all be-all, and though any system is bound to have flaws, the best that one can do is to understand how those systems are being implemented and to respond accordingly.

Maybe you see particular values on that day which disagree with the consensus (projection systems love to rank players with a heavy emphasis on opponents, for example), or maybe you scout out a pro who's game appears to be relatively weak beyond the outlier suggestions within the system, and this latter point is where I realized there was money to be made. Despite some of the overlap and commonalities in approach, I did notice some stark differences in that day's roster construction, and further study of their lineups revealed some potential trends. Perhaps these were small-sample blips, but part of the realization was that these regulars offer the most profit potential due to the sheer volume of games that they play, and though it is safe so assume that they are above-average players, perhaps there was a way to exploit their availability by pinpointing those opponents that have a different approach than myself (I have found the toughest opponents to beat are those that approach roster construction the way that I do, thanks to the frequency of overlap). These guys are all over the place, so acquiring the sample size necessary for study is easy, and tournaments like the 20-team triple-up allow one to see the rosters of many of these players at once.

Perhaps one method of profitability on DraftKings isn't just to avoid the pros altogether, but to identify those which offer potential matchup that works in your favor. It can take a long time to avoid these players blindly, and the list of regulars that I was avoiding seemed to be growing by the day, hence making it tougher to find games that were supposedly profitable. Other times I faced opponents with sound strategies whose names didn't happen to ring familiar, but who quickly became subjects of avoidance after viewing their rosters.

The beauty of DFS is that any strategy can be the “right” one on any given day, such that it takes months to see if a particular strategy is profitable or merely a blip on the radar of variation, but with one month to go in the DFS baseball season I have shed the avoidance tag from many players and am back to playing my roster and scouting all opponents, regardless of familiarity. I have to admit that the scouting process is half the fun, while acknowledging that there are probably flaws in my own process of roster construction, but down the stretch I hope to take on more of the regulars in order to take advantage of our differences rather than ignore them. Ignorance may be bliss, but my overly analytic approach to – well everything – will leave me sad and sweaty if not looking out for some of these strategic elements to DFS gaming.

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markpadden
9/04
I'm a long-time baseball handicapper and a reasonably avid full-season fantasy player. For whatever reason, DFS has never quite appealed to me (which is a bit odd, considering that 20+ years ago, I tried [and failed miserably!] to run a one-month salary-cap fantasy league via a 4" x 6" print ad in Baseball Weekly). Anyway, while reading this article, I was struck by how similar the landscape sounds to that of the online poker world in the early 2000s: a bunch of sharks gradually weeding out the easy prey by player profiling, etc. until the game became too difficult to warrant the hassle/time/risk involved (for most players). I realize that's a cynical view and that people play the game for more than money -- and also that the US govt. played a large role in the decline of online poker. However...I can't help thinking that we are within a couple years of "peak DFS." Who knows what's next, but I'm just not sure the current ecosystem is self-sustaining long term, esp. considering the amount the sites are raking off the top. Would you agree, or do you think this style of competition will last for decades?
tombores99
9/06
I agree with the poker analogy, and I think that DFS will see a similar spike before dropping into something more sustainable, as with all new things that catch fire. I do think that there's some staying power - "last for decades" is a bit extreme - but that adjustments will need to be made in order for individual sports to remain viable. Baseball is uniquely susceptible to the day-to-day variations of the sport, with 180 days of regular season gaming (as opposed to football which is essentially limited to 17 different weekends of play), so systems like THE BAT have a much larger sample size to play out and the sharks thus have an easier feeding schedule. Basically, I think that DFS football will be very popular and has a lot of staying power, but that baseball is at risk of turning into a pool full of sharks if the sites don't make the necessary adjustments. Once again consider the online poker analogy - I could pay a lot of money to play Phil Ivey if I so desired (I didn't), but I never had to worry about dodging him at the cheap tables; DFS baseball presents the exact opposite scenario.
markpadden
9/08
Actually, a lot of the best online poker players would play a ton of small to mid-range tables simultaneously -- both to ensure weaker competition and to reduce variance...at the expense of a lot of manual labor and boredom, of course. Out of curiosity, how much of a role (if you happen to know) does weather analysis play in tools like the BAT? I'm sure it's factored in to some extent. Wondering how much room for further edge there is on that front. IMO, btw, weather is still not being valued properly for baseball totals betting -- particularly dissecting what conditions produce what results at the most susceptible stadiums, such as Coors and Wrigley.