Get all of Michael Beller’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
SI.com is spending the last week of spring training giving you a DFS primer for the 2016 baseball season. If you missed any of our previous DFS columns, you can find them below.
It’s impossible to have a discussion about DFS strategies without considering price. Your budget, and the amount you will pay for each player on your roster, should underpin every single decision you make regarding the composition of your team. It should come as no surprise that the players at some positions are more reliable, and therefore more bankable, than those at others.
We’ve already discussed why you need build your team around a starting pitcher. But just like in season-long fantasy baseball, there are some positions where you rarely, if ever, want to skimp in the daily game, while there are others where you can typically get by with a bargain option. Knowing which is which will help focus your lineup decision-making, while also leading you to the players who most consistently provide the best return on investment.
Spend like the Dodgers
The Dodgers had the highest payroll in baseball in 2015, spending $53 million more than the Yankees. Break out the Stan Kasten checkbook at these positions.
First base is the one position where owners absolutely have to win in season-long leagues if you want to compete for a championship. It’s nearly as important in the daily game for the same reasons. Seven of the very best hitters in baseball play first base. Six of those guys are likely going to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs. The seventh is Joey Votto, who’s a superstar in his own right. That’s before we even get into players like David Ortiz (who qualifies at first in DFS games), Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman, Albert Pujols and Byung-ho Park. Don’t be cheap at first base. It will only come back to hurt you.
We covered this ground in our starting pitcher advice column, but it’s worth repeating. You don’t always need to spend all the way up for the top pitcher available, but this is the last position at which you want to fall in love with your own perceived ability to identify an undervalued No. 4 starter. Quite simply, you cannot win in a DFS game if your pitcher gets shelled. Yes, there will be times when it makes sense to go for someone like, say, Mike Fiers, while concentrating most of your resources in your offense. There are Thursdays with just six games, or days when the Rockies and Diamondbacks are both at home, and both Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado look too good to resist. More often than not, however, you’re going to want to spend a good deal of your budget on a pitcher. Over at DraftKings, where you need two starters, at least one will have to be of the ace or near-ace variety. Don’t outsmart yourself here.
Spend like the White Sox
The White Sox were 15th in payroll in 2015. They’ll pick their spots for the right player, as you should with these positions.
On certain days, owners should flip third and first. It’s tough to afford a star at both corners and on the mound, and you’re going to want to start Josh Donaldson, Arenado, Manny Machado or Kris Bryant every now and again. Generally, though, if you don’t pay big bucks for one of the position’s stars, you’ll need to hunt for value, and that player will change by the day. Early in the season, for example, Maikel Franco could be a regular value play. His price to begin the year on FanDuel is just $3,200, just two-thirds the price of Donaldson. On DraftKings, Matt Duffy could be the guy with the early-season discount at an affordable $3,400. Matchup could turn an also-ran to a strong daily value, such as a right-handed hitter who mashes lefties getting the platoon advantage. The merits of the players at the top of this position are on display whenever they take the field, but you’ll have to tab them for your lineup wisely.
It’s the deepest position, so it would figure that it would have the most stars, at least in terms of raw numbers. Here’s a great illustration of the depth of the outfield position: Six outfielders cost more on FanDuel than Mookie Betts on Opening Day. Over on DraftKings, Bryce Harper, of all players, is the seventh-most expensive outfielder, tied with Ryan Braun and Shin-soo Choo. It’s never a bad idea to spend $5,000 for Mike Trout, but this position is always going to present you with plenty of options at every price point. You don’t need to necessarily shy away from the ones at the top, but if there’s one position where you can always find value, this is it. That’s not true of first or third base. Make sure you’re checking the value bin here, while being open to paying for a Trout or Harper.
Shortstop might seem like a position where frugality reigns, but that’s not always the case. Thanks to Carlos Correa’s instant superstardom, Troy Tulowtizki’s persistent power in a strong lineup and rising talents such as Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor, the position as a whole has a higher offensive profile than it has enjoyed in years. There are, indeed, plenty of days, perhaps more than not, that you’ll want to settle for a Ketel Marte or Trevor Story. Every so often, though, you’re going to want the flexibility to chase someone like Correa or Seager. That’s why this is perhaps the ultimate “pick your spots” position. First and third work in conjunction with one another, and frequently you can spend up at both. Outfield has players of all price shapes and sizes. Shortstop is the one where you’ll want to strike strategically as warranted.
Spend like the Marlins
The Marlins’ 2015 payroll was about $68.5 million. The Dodgers spent more on Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford combined. Here’s where you want to channel your inner Jeffrey Loria, as unseemly as that sounds.
With all due respect to Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon, you should typically look for value here. The problem with even the best second basemen is that they don’t hit for power, and paying top dollar is a lot for good batting average and stolen-base ability. You’re always going to be able to find attractive second basemen at closeout prices, and this is a spot where sacrificing top-level talent for low-priced upside is a worthwhile trade nine times out of 10, given the associated opportunity cost.
Just like in the season-long format, catcher is a great place to look for value. Unlike value plays at other positions, you can find some real value here among guys who are actually palatable lineup options. On FanDuel, Yasmani Grandal and Devin Mesoraco are both $2,500 on Opening Day. On DraftKings, you can secure Mesoraco’s services for $3,200 and Brian McCann’s for $3,500, the same price as Oswaldo Arcia and Nick Markakis. Buster Posey, the only expensive catcher, is priced alongside the elite first basemen and third basemen. With all due respect to the very best catcher in the game—a star from a real-life perspective—I’m going to side with the corner infielders 100% of the time.
Remember how we said earlier that there are “options at every price point” in the outfield? That includes price points even Loria would approve. There are 90 starting outfielders on a day with a full slate of 15 games. You can bet on finding easy value every day of the season. Dexter Fowler hit 17 homers, stole 20 bases, and scored 102 runs last year. He hits atop one of the best lineups in baseball. He’ll run you just $2,700 on FanDuel on Opening Day. Ben Revere hit .306, posted an OBP of .342, and swiped 31 bags last season, and now is the leadoff man in a strong Washington offense. He costs just $3,600 on DraftKings on Opening Day, which makes him cheaper than Ryan Howard and Elvis Andrus. At least one of your outfield picks every day should be at the Loria equilibrium point.