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Monday, April 6, 2015

DFS Strategy: The Daily Fantasy Sports Brain

Daily Fantasy Sports, or "DFS" have exploded in popularity in recent years.  It was absolutely huge in football last season and I anticipate even more growth in 2015.  For football but also for baseball.  In fact, since there are about ten times as many baseball games as football games the aggregate revenue for the companies in this space should be much higher for our national pastime.

So, I'm intrigued by how strategy changes for these games as well as trends in the market and the legality of it all.  I'll dive into strategy here in a moment, but I want all of you Brainiacs to be aware of what is out there and what you can participate in.

If you look up DFS at Wikipedia the first sub-section is about legality.  The US government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act in 2006 but DFS is exempted from the law.  In fact, all fantasy sports have been determined to be games of skill and not games of chance.

I cannot speak for other nations or other parts of the world, so please understand your local laws and how they are enforced. (What you do is up to you alone.)  In fact, even though the US government has said that fantasy sports are legal there are several states that have greater levels of restriction like Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, and Vermont.  It's a crazy world out there, so be careful.  If you happen to be in a part of the world that has laws allowing for sites like the sports betting page at William hill more power to ya.  But please make sure you manage your bankroll responsibly and stay on top of your finances... This is just for fun, folks.  I've heard some terrible stories of people playing DFS games way too much and losing way too much money.  And, with baseball season upon us and 15 games being played almost every day for six months... Well, it can get out of control.  If you suspect you might need help, I found an official-looking website with a number you can call: 1-800-522-4700.  (It looks official but I don't have any special knowledge about it... Bottom line: Keep it under control and get help if you need it.)

I got love for you Brainiacs... Fools be crazy.  

On to the strategy!

1. Bankroll Management - Your 'bankroll' is the amount of money you've decided to spend on this hobby.  Yes, I said 'decided.'  That's the first thing: identify ahead of time an amount of money that you can afford to lose if you lose it all, and don't go over it.  Deposits on the site of your choice make this easy.  When it's gone, it's gone.  You can play daily games for 25 cents, so your bankroll could be a very small amount like $5 and away you go.  The websites will tempt you with deposit bonuses, but it their minimum is above what you decided don't go for it.  Control thyself.
One basic thought on bankroll, and gambling in general:  It feels great to win $10, but if you spend $15 in order to 'win' $10 all you really did is lose $5.  It can be like playing slot machines in that way...  Your brain gets those happy chemicals associated with winning while you are really losing on the aggregate.  (By the way, people, seriously... those slot machines are programmed to pay out something like 97% of what's put in...  They always make money off of you over time.  Always!  Always, always, always.  Always.)

2. Don't Play it Safe - By all means be safe with your bankroll, but not with your roster.  I like to anchor my team with a stud or two which spends me up to the limit but I like to take chances when filling out the roster.  The rationale is simple: If you field a reasonable roster you will finish in the 'mushy middle' and you won't win much (or anything).  Now, taking chances is highly risky so you are likely to lose... but if you hit, you win.  No one else will have your risky lineup, so if you pick some great matchups you'll rocket to the top.

3. Study the Matchups - Which leads me to the next bit... Study the matchups.  This is important in football but critical in baseball.  And not just hitter vs. starter but look at the texture of the bullpen and which arms have been used recently.  For example, I may not mind starting a good lefty hitter against a decent lefty starter if their best in the league LOOGY has pitched on back-to-back nights coming in.  They can't bring in the assassin to get my guy in the 8th inning which means he might be able to get an AB against a mediocre righty late in the game.  That AB has value but it is hidden since it is unknown.  The hitter's value is largely based on the matchup with the starter and if it is a lefty-lefty matchup the hitter's value will be depressed.

4. Park Factor - Okay, I think about park factor entirely too much.  Guilty.  But the real value here is understanding the parks that seem to favor pitchers or hitters overall but have one factor that goes against the grain.  Fenway is known as a hitter's park allowing 7.2% more runs than the average, but that is not due to more home runs.  There are actually 28% fewer home runs there.  Meanwhile there are 52.3% more doubles due to the Green Monster, and those doubles tend to clear the bases which increases the number of runs.  So, when picking a matchup in Boston don't go for a big right handed masher hoping for a homer.  Just one example.

5. Stacking - The concept of stacking is big in football since you want to have a shot at big points.  If you pick the right matchup and Cecil Shorts catches three TD's from Blake Bortles, you'll win the week if you stacked both of those guys on your roster.  It's high risk, high reward... which is what you are looking for.  You'll lose a lot, but when you hit you win.  There's not very much "mushy middle" here.  In baseball it's harder to do, but if you like Gregory Polanco against a mediocre righty maybe you stack in Pedro Alvarez and hope for the left-handed rout of the right-handed pitcher.  You may also stack a starter in a good matchup with his team's closer.

Alright, that's all I've got for now folks.  I'd love to hear from you about your successes in DFS... Keep an eye on the big picture over the long haul and be careful out there, Brainiacs.