12 tips for playing in a daily fantasy baseball league
Over the past three decades, fantasy baseball has developed into two common formats: rotisserie and head-to-head. But a new daily fantasy baseball format -- drafting a lineup for a single day of games -- is beginning to take the Internet by storm, and any veteran of fantasy baseball that's tried it understands that it's a different beast than traditional leagues. That's part of the reason why it will continue to get bigger and bigger.
While the game itself has major distinctions, it still comes down to choosing the best fantasy players and having an eye for talent. But even if an owner can pick out the top guys, it's still necessary to have a game plan for your daily fantasy lineup. Much like a regular fantasy league, owners can't just play the best players at every position because you're usually on a salary cap.
When playing daily fantasy baseball, you need to go in with some kind of strategy. If you don't, you'll likely lose your money and your enjoyment of the game. Once you win a few games, you'll have a better idea of what works and what doesn't, plus, you'll know the types of games for which you're better suited.
For the purposes of this article, we're going to talk about the setup over at DraftDay.com. Their standard tournaments have $100,000 salary caps, and they don't use decimals for their scoring. These tips are general in nature, but there are some that point out specifics, especially in the Draft Day setup.
• Dip your toes in at first: Don't just jump into an expensive tournament without understanding how it all works. Try a freeroll or some of the cheaper games. You'll start to understand when to spend on a big hitter or when to roll the dice on a cheap player.
• Righty/lefty splits rule the world: In traditional fantasy play, it's rare to care about righty/lefty splits because the players play in six or seven games a week. But in daily play, you want to play right-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers, and left-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers. You can look up the splits on most baseball stat sites, and on Draft Day, you can see their splits on their player pages. This is usually the most important thing to consider when working on lineups. Knowing that Josh Donaldson hit 50 points higher against left-handed pitchers last season, with a ton of power, should make a difference in your lineups -- when he faces lefties.
• Ballpark factors are very important: Take into consideration which parks are best for hitters (Coors Field, Citizens Bank Park, Great America Ball Park, Camden Yards and U.S. Cellular Field) and which parks are best for pitchers (Marlins Park, PNC Park, AT&T Park, Target Field or O.co Coliseum) when determining a daily lineup.
• Don't worry so much about batter vs. pitcher stats: You'll see a lot of sites and writers talk about how this hitter has a .424 batting average against this pitcher, and how this hitter has just three hits in 21 at-bats against this pitcher. But don't let that affect your lineup as much as their righty/lefty splits or the park in which they're playing. Think of it this way: the more a batter sees a pitcher, the better he can figure him out -- and vice-versa. Generally speaking, these sample sizes are not big enough to give too much credit.
• 50/50 games are your friends: One of the biggest mistakes people make when they play daily games is that they want to jump into the big tournaments and try to turn a few bucks into a big payday. The odds are very much against you, and you're likely going up against veteran players that have multiple entries in the tournament. But in 50/50 or Head-to-Head games, you only have to finish in the top 50 percent of the entrants, rather than the top 15 percent.
• Take (some) longshots in tournaments: When you play in tournaments, you're up against a large numbers of people, so if you take Ryan Braun, and most of them also take Braun, then you all just cancel each other out. But if you start Leonys Martin, saving $5,000 in salary cap space, you'll have a chance to put that money elsewhere in your lineup -- granted, you'll still need to get points out of Martin, but that's the trick. With that said, you still need some good players in your lineup, but you want to pepper in some longshots with decent matchups.
• Steer clear of longshots in 50/50 games: Since you only have to beat half the field to win, there's no reason to take big chances. You don't want to score the highest in the group, you just want to be above half the teams. Don't reach for a pitcher you have a hunch on, or a gimpy player you think will leg it out.
• On-base percentage is key: Make sure you check the differences in scoring if you play on multiple sites. Most sites will give you points for standard fare, like hits, total bases, RBI and runs, but some will also give you points for walks. When you're scrambling for players near the bottom of the barrel, try to find players with decent on-base percentages.
• Big swingers make a big difference: There are a few daily fantasy baseball sites that deduct points if a player gets an out, and then more points if that player strikes out. Draft Day doesn't deduct any extra points for a strikeout, which makes sluggers that swing for the fences a bit more valuable. Players like Adam Dunn, when they start, are also helpful because he's usually going to do one of three things: draw a walk, strike out, or hit the ball out of the park.
• Don't pay for catchers: Just like in traditional play, catchers are necessary evils in daily fantasy baseball. But you can pay for a lower salaried catcher that has a good matchup, and not roll the dice on a much more expensive catcher -- and you'll be just fine. They just don't do enough offensively day in and day out to make them worth their high salaries.
• Pay for wins and strikeouts: You might have a hunch on a pitcher against a mediocre team, but your fantasy roster should be led by one or two pitchers that are facing bad teams. You want a pitcher that racks up innings and strikeouts, with a shot at a win at the end.
• Let Twitter help you: By working closely with Twitter, you'll be able to find out when a player has been scratched from the lineup, giving you ample time to swap him out of your daily fantasy lineup. Also, you'll see what other players and writers are leaning toward, giving you an edge on your opponents.
Get ahead of the curve (ball) with daily fantasy baseball and take these tips to heart. They'll help you win your daily leagues, which in turn, will help you win in your weekly leagues.
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow him @davidgonos on Twitter.