Daily fantasy baseball strategies, tips
Many fantasy baseball owners supplement season-long leagues with daily fantasy baseball leagues (and if you haven't played it before, be sure to try out FanNation's daily games when they kick off on Monday). There aren’t many parallels between the two, but both require a plan of action. The following principles can lead you to success in daily leagues all season long.
Consult platoon splits
This is the single most important statistic when choosing your hitters. A batter’s performance against right-handed or left-handed pitching is generally consistent, though it does take about 1,000 plate appearances to reach the stabilization point. We know that a hitter will typically perform better when he has the platoon advantage, and that is true for even superstars. Andrew McCutchen has a career slash line of .328/.416/.574 against lefties, and .291/.377/.476 against righties. He’s one of the best players in the game because he hits all pitching well, but he’s even better when he’s facing a lefty.
The difference is even more dramatic when looking at the entire league. Last year, righties hit .247/.303/.381 without the platoon advantage, and .260/.324/.407 with it. For lefties, their slash lines were .240/.302/.345 against southpaws, and .254/.322/.391 against righties.
This is not to say you need to stack your lineup only with hitters who have a platoon advantage. Guys like McCutchen and Mike Trout are pretty good no matter the handedness of the pitcher (in fact, Trout has better splits against righties for his career). The point is that this is a bankable advantage for hitters, and one that daily fantasy owners should try to exploit wherever possible. It can be useful for pitchers, as well, but really only when the opposing lineup is stacked with hitters from the same side of the plate.
Location, location, location
Where games are played matters. Coors Field boosted left-handed homers by 18% and right-handed homers by 15% last year. AT&T Park, on the other hand, suppressed lefty power by 16% and righty power by 12%. Run scoring at Coors Field was 17% better than average last season. It was 7% lower in San Francisco. Knowing the prime run-scoring environments in the league can help you construct a better daily lineup.
In addition to Coors Field, Globe Life Park at Arlington, Chase Field, Fenway Park, U.S. Cellular Field and Rogers Centre were among the best parks for hitters last year. Joining AT&T Park as the best for pitchers were Petco Park, Citi Field, Tropicana Field, Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium. In addition to getting hitters in the former, you’ll want to look for pitchers in the latter. Speaking of pitchers…
Put a premium on starting pitchers
Most daily leagues give pitchers more points for working deep into games. Outs, specifically strikeouts, lead to big payoffs. It’s typically hard to win a daily game if you don’t get at least a good performance from your starting pitcher. That makes it the most important position on the board in daily leagues.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean you just roster the best pitcher on the board. Questions of value and matchup still have to be factored into your decision. If a pitcher is facing a team that whiffs a lot, he deserves a boost in your rankings. If he’s in one of the pitcher-friendly stadiums listed in the previous point, he similarly should catch your eye. All of this should be taken into account before you choose your pitcher, but the fact remains that he’s crucial to having daily league success. A strong game out of your pitcher won’t guarantee you a win, but a bad one will almost certainly torpedo any chances you had, regardless of how well your hitters play.
Don’t get hung up on batter vs. pitcher stats
You may naturally think that batter vs. pitcher stats are a good jumping-off point when filling out your lineup. I’ll admit that I did when I first started playing daily fantasy baseball. If a hitter has good numbers against a pitcher, it would follow that there’s something about the matchup that works for him. Maybe he sees the ball well coming out of the specific pitcher’s hand, or perhaps he’s a good breaking ball hitter and the pitcher’s best offering is his slider. No matter the reason, if a hitter has had success against a pitcher, it seems it would be a strong bet to make that the success will continue.
In reality, most batter vs. pitcher sample sizes are far too small to be predictive. Let’s use Albert Pujols to illustrate this point. Pujols has been in the majors since 2001 and has more than 9,000 career plate appearances. He has more than 50 plate appearances against 11 pitchers, exactly three of which—Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang and Wandy Rodriguez—pitched at all in 2014. The stabilization point for any meaningful offensive statistic is anywhere between 60 and 1,500 plate appearances, depending on the stat. In other words, making lineup decisions based off batter vs. pitcher matchups is dubious, at best.
We used a veteran like Pujols in our example for a reason. It takes being in the league for 10-plus years to rack up a number of plate appearances against a handful of pitchers that can even approach the range of being the tiniest bit significant. Trout has seen exactly three pitchers more than 30 times in his career. Anything can happen in a sample that small. Bill Spiers hit .367 against Greg Maddux in 32 career plate appearances against the Hall of Famer. Would you really deploy Spiers against Maddux in daily fantasy, if it existed when the two faced off? I didn’t think so.
Streaks can be your friend, but shouldn’t be your guide
Like batter vs. pitcher stats, it seems logical that a hitter who has been hot at the plate would be a good guy to roster in a daily game. To a certain extent, that’s true. Every hitter goes through hot and cold streaks, and if you can get in on a guy at the right time, you could be the beneficiary of a 4-for-4 day that was easy to see coming. Having said that, recent success in the past doesn’t guarantee that it will carry through on the next day. Platoon splits should still carry more weight, regardless of how a hitter has been performing recently, on the good or bad side. Just as a hot hitter can easily go 0-for-4, so too can a hitter in a slump put together a 3-for-4 day. Streaks are worth considering, and can definitely act as a tiebreaker, but they should be far from being the basis for your decisions.
Check in on Las Vegas
We’ve discussed this before with both season-long and daily fantasy football, and it applies to baseball, as well. Vegas oddsmakers are pretty good at their jobs. Remember, the goal for the oddsmakers is to come up with a line that gets an even percentage of money on both sides. If they identify one team as a heavy favorite, think at least -150, that team has an awfully good chance of winning the game. That makes that team’s starting pitcher more attractive for daily fantasy purposes.
The over/under for each game are also good nuggets to have in your mind while setting your lineup. There were 8.13 runs scored per game last season. If a number is significantly higher or lower than that, Vegas is telling daily fantasy owners how they expect that game to be played. That’s another area where a savvy player can pick up an edge on his or her competitors.
Be sure to pay attention to how much money is coming in on each side of a bet. That is generally available to the public, and important to understand. In general, Vegas will move a line in the direction of the money. For example, if the Tigers open as -150 favorites in a game against the Royals and a lot of money starts coming in on the Tigers, the line would generally reflect that and make them a bigger favorite, moving up to, say, -170. If the line stays the same or moves in the opposite direction, however, that could be a sign that Vegas wants to encourage even more betting on the Tigers, thus itself making a bet on the Royals. It’s usually good advice to align yourself with Vegas. In this scenario, you’d want to give the Royals starter another look.
Don’t mess with weather
One surefire way to submarine your daily game before it even starts is to roster a player or two who end up getting rained out. Be aware of where there are potential weather situations across the country, and do what you can to avoid players in those games altogether. If you’re not going to be able to update your lineup around gametime, don’t even consider them for your lineups.
Following that point, make sure your abreast of all game-time decisions. Players often get scratched late or receive a day of rest that wasn’t previously announced. Twitter is often the best source of this information, with beat writers typically having the information first. The account @MLBLineups is a must-follow for daily fantasy baseball players.