Daily fantasy gaming: Five adages

Up until this fantasy baseball season, I solely played the game in the traditional formats. While I was never a rotisserie purist, submitting myself to the variance (and fun) of head to head leagues, I just never had interest in creating a new team on a daily basis—to me, a lot of the fun in fantasy comes from managing a team as you would a real one throughout the ups and downs of the season.

This year though, that changed. After my 2012 fantasy season debacle of being an owner or co-owner in 13 separate leagues, and subsequently not having the time necessary to manage any of them to their full potential, I cut back to only five teams for 2013. To fill the void left by shedding those eight leagues, this season I have traversed into the murky, but opportunity-filled, waters of daily fantasy gaming. And I have to say I’ve loved it.

Although there’s something ideologically nice about having the same team and sticking with it all season long, the most entertaining part of fantasy to me is definitely drafting. And that’s essentially all daily gaming is: drafting a team, just for one day, at any point throughout the season.

There are many strategies for success in daily fantasy gaming, and they often mirror strategies that work in full-season leagues as well. However, because the season has already started and statistical results have started to flood in, there is more opportunity to subvert the norm and go against the grain in daily games because the public is overly inclined to change their opinion on a player in early season small samples. So, here are five rules to follow to help you win more consistently (or perhaps lose less consistently) in daily fantasy baseball games.

1) Shy Away From Pitchers with High Win Totals

In preparation for this piece, I spoke with five of my amateur (non-fantasy expert) friends who consistently partake in daily fantasy gaming. One common thread among them was the heavy use of the “Fantasy Points Per Game” statistic in their decision-making, which is available next to every player’s name on many platforms. It is a very simple calculation that takes a player’s total points and divides it by the number of games he’s played. Sounds useful, right?

Wrong. That’s because of two things: one, it is so widely available that using the stat gives you little to no statistical advantage over your competition, and; two, those results are both in a small sample, as well as extremely misleading anyway. This line of thought leads to rule number one: try to stay away from pitchers that have accumulated an inordinate amount of wins early in the year. It really boosts their “Fantasy Points Per Game” number, which subsequently leads to many more daily fantasy teams starting that player, which, when you’re in a contest against hundreds of other people, is counterintuitive to success.

2) Take Advantage of Platoon Splits

Baseball is a unique sport in many ways, one of which is the concept of platoon splits. Much value in daily baseball gaming can be derived from figuring out which guys fare better against one side of the plate, and utilizing them accordingly.

For example, Buster Posey is a great hitter no matter who he is facing, but for his career so far he is hitting .352 off of lefties with a .654 slugging as compared to a .296 average with a .444 slugging against righties. If I start a high-profile guy like Posey, it has to be in a matchup that is particularly favorable, so I look to only start him in daily games when he’s facing lefties.

On the other side of the spectrum, Neil Walker is an okay player, but seems like nothing special, and is a guy who rarely gets chosen in daily fantasy games. But, he is actually a really solid player against righties—he hits .285/.348/.445 against them versus .261/.318/.349 against lefties. These one-side-of-the-plate guys are omnipresent in baseball, and those little platoon advantages added up over a full year can make the difference between having a winning and losing season.

3) Do Not Get Fooled By Variance

When I read daily fantasy analysis, one common theme is choosing a hitter based on extreme success against a pitcher in a limited sample. While I don’t think that line of reasoning is completely invalid, I would be cautious when using it. The vast majority of the time, those results are just based on small sample sizes, and before selecting a draft pick based on that analysis, I would recommend personally going to MLB.com and watching a few of the match-ups between that hitter and pitcher. Sometimes there really is a legitimate advantage (every single time I’ve watched Ryan Braun face Octavio Dotel, Braun has looked lost) but it’s mostly just small sample size. Be wary of using small-sample matchup reasoning.

4) Always Look At The Bottom Of The List

The technology of price updates on many of the daily fantasy platforms is not 100 percent up to speed with the latest news. Sometimes, if you just scroll down to the bottom of the list where the retired, hurt or bench guys are, there happens to be a rock-bottom priced guy who should be valued as a starter. This mostly happens right after rookies get called up, or a guy comes off of the disabled list early, but even if you’re not expecting it, I’d recommend checking the bottom at every position, just in case there is a mistake. The potential value is enormous.

5) Check The Vig

This is more of a general gambling adage, but daily fantasy games run exactly the same way a casino does: the sites make money by charging you a small fee for entering a game, as a casino charges a small percentage fee when you lose a bet. The thing about daily games though is that the amount of ‘vig’ (that extra percent you pay) varies wildly from game to game and site to site.
Generally, the cheaper the game, the more expensive the vig—most five dollar fantasy games will charge a one dollar vig, which is way, way, way too much. My general advice is to never enter a contest that exceeds 10 percent, which sometimes means having to play some of the slightly more expensive games. But, in the long run, if your bankroll can take the variance, that strategy will help to maximize your profits.

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I’d like to find a competitive daily league. Seems every time I think I found one, it turns out to have 3 dead teams by May 1st. I need a league where everyone is as addicted as I am. Tough to find.