Now that spring has sprung and March Madness is winding down after a front-heavy first weekend, the focus of the daily fantasy sports (DFS) landscape turns to baseball. While way behind the NFL in terms of popularity, MLB has consistently gained DFS market share over the past few seasons.
In the 2016 season, many baseball fans will be trying out DFS for the first time, and those converting from the season-long fantasy world will quickly discover that the same strategies that ship the office fantasy pot don’t necessarily translate into daily success.
Season-long leagues disguise the effect of daily variance, as would be logically expected when reducing sample size of a season of 700 plate appearances to a set of five in one park against a couple of pitchers, under one set of weather conditions.
There are tools and basic approaches to begin with, however, that will allow you to work with that variance, and to make it your friend instead of foe. Some of the basic tools in your arsenal should include knowledge of the game’s expected weather conditions, the expected run totals for each team as dictated by Las Vegas’ lines, and by further understanding what the pitcher/batter matchup of that night means specifically to each player in terms of how it suits their specific strengths or weaknesses.
The first thing an MLB gamer should be aware of going into the slate is the expected run totals for each game. In this regard, there is no reason to re-invent the wheel, as the work is already done for you. Las Vegas posts betting lines that are available each morning, and these lines give the gamer many pieces of information including the total runs scored line, the runs for each team, as well as the ‘money line’.
For non-sports gamblers, ‘money line’ is expressed as a negative number for the favorite and a positive number for the underdog, and is based on a $100 bet. For example, NY Yankees -230 would mean that you would have to bet $230 on the Yankees to win $100. Toronto +165 would mean that a bettor would win $165 if he bet $100 to win on the Jays.
Beyond the run totals for the game, Las Vegas posts ‘player props’ as well; the odds of specific players reaching certain totals. If you are back and forth between two players at similar salaries at the same position, you might want to look at the props and see which player Vegas is projecting as having the better night. Do you want Bryant, or do you want Sano? Check the Vegas props and see if they have one as a shorter price to hit a home run tonight.
In terms of where a DFS gamer can find the Vegas lines for the games, a very good resource is Vegas Insider, which presents game lines and money lines listed at each casino as well as a consensus which combines them all.
Once you’ve taken a look at the Vegas lines for the night, the next stop should be to check the weather at a site like Weather.com. Weather is an incredibly important factor in MLB DFS and you should have an idea of what the outdoor venues should be expecting. There’s nothing worse than having your pitcher mow down the first nine batters in order only for the skies to open up and lead to a 90-minute rain delay.
It can be argued that wind is actually a more significant factor in performance than rain. You will often see run totals increase or decrease by a couple of runs on a game at Wrigley Field when the projected wind changes in direction. A couple of useful tools for the weather forecasts are sites such as RotoGrinders and Rotowire, which will list expected temperatures, chance of rain, and expected wind speed and direction on their projected lineup cards.
Going back to Vegas Insider later in the day to see the current run projections is very useful and something that much of your competition will not do. In a game of incomplete information, that extra leg work will serve you well over the course of a season.
A topic that we will explore a little further in future articles, but is an essential part of your daily research, is the use of advanced statistics. The baseball public has been fed the standard batting average, home runs, RBI, and ERA as the gold standard in understanding where a player stands in comparison to others, but these statistics fall short when attacking a DFS card.
One advanced statistic which you will want to become familiar with is known as BABIP – Batting Average on Balls in Play. This is a statistic that, at a quick glance, will help you spot a player who has been on the positive or negative side of variance. The standard is .300, so when you see a player with a BABIP of .240, you can discern immediately that he has been on the wrong side of variance, aka unlucky, and his numbers can be expected to improve from where they are.
In DFS, this is invaluable knowledge, as it represents a likely value price-wise on the salary posted by the site. On the other hand, a batter with a BABIP of .396 is getting very lucky and can be reasonably expected to level off.
The pitcher version of this statistic would be FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching. This is what their ERA would look like independent of the performance of their defense and involves events that cannot be controlled by defense in any way, such as strikeouts, walks, home runs, and HBP. When you see an FIP of 2.18 on a pitcher with an ERA of 4.12, you know he’s pitching better than his standard number shows, and vice-versa.
There are a number of other important advanced stats that we will explore along the way that will help you put up a better lineup and there are many places to find these statistics. A few good resources for this information are Fangraphs, Rotowire, Baseball Reference, and RotoGrinders.
DFS baseball is a game that is just as exciting as the NFL product, and the daily aspect of it can quickly make it an essential part of your summertime entertainment. Once you enter your first lineup, you’ll wonder what took you so long to get in the game.
Now, take what you’ve learned and sign up for DraftKings. DraftKings offers a 100% up to $600 sign-up bonus that’s released as you play. Use the code P5S when you create your account.