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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 in the links below.
We wrap up our DFS preview with a look at one of the most common strategies for building the offensive part of a lineup: stacking. The idea is simple. Get three or four hitters from the same team, and then watch as they continue to drive in one another, creating cascading waves of fantasy points. But putting it into practice is much more challenging.
Stacking isn’t just about loading up on Blue Jays or finding a vulnerable pitcher (or stadium) to exploit. You should, of course, consider all of those variables, along with a number of other factors, as well. Then can you appropriately choose not only a lineup to stack, but which players from that lineup to tab for your DFS roster.
The overall quality of a lineup, pitcher that lineup is facing, and environment in which it will be hitting, are all obvious inputs in a stacking decision. We won’t go over those here. You don’t need me to tell you that the Blue Jays or Cubs have better hitters than the Phillies or A’s. You can figure out for yourself that you’d rather attack Jeff Locke than Clayton Kershaw, or stack a lineup at Chase Field instead of one at Petco Park. We’ll assume you enter this discussion with that institutional knowledge.
Instead, we’ll highlight the factors that might elude the common DFS owner. The ones in the above paragraph give you a good foundation for finding the right lineup to stack. The ones in the remainder of the column will help make that lineup stand out, even when there are multiple attractive stacks on the same day.
We’ve already discussed how you can use splits to your advantage when looking at a specific hitter or pitcher. The same thinking works for full lineups. Let’s use the 2015 Marlins as an example. They were a bad offensive team, posting a .302 wOBA that ranked 26th in the majors. They were, however, much better against lefties. Miami’s .319 wOBA with southpaws on the mound was tied with the Rangers and Diamondbacks for 10th in the league. When the Marlins faced a left-handed starter last year, they were always a stacking candidate.
Handedness splits aren’t the only ones you’ll want to consult. Home/road splits are particularly useful, as are time-based splits. A player who’s hot for a one- or two-week stretch could easily go 0-for-4 his next time out. If an entire team is hot for a week, relying on five or six guys instead of one, it’s a worthwhile bet that at least a handful of them will keep it going the next day, assuming that the other factors (matchup, left/right splits) aren’t lined up against them. If you take one lesson from our DFS primer, it should be that splits are your friend.
Key spots in the lineup
With a few exceptions, every stack is going to include at least one hitter in the middle of a team’s order. You don’t exactly take advantage of a stack if you eschew a team’s best few hitters, and you actually work against the stacking theory if you aren’t using multiple players who come to the plate consecutively. There are times when you can build miniature, cheap stacks with, say, a team’s No. 6 and 7 hitters, but in those instances, price—and not the ability to stack—is really what’s driving your roster choices. More often than not, a stack is going to have an elite, middle-of-the-order bat involved.
You need a few more players to complete a stack, and that’s where batting order comes into play. A true stack, by definition, should have at least three players. Generally, you want someone who hits first or second, and two guys who hit third through sixth. That gives you half of the first six hitters in an order, while also being economically feasible. Sure, you’d love to have Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista as a stack, but you typically can’t spend that much money on just three hitters. Spreading your stack over the first six spots of the lineup means that you’ll have consistent RBI and run-scoring opportunities while also leaving room in your budget to fill out the rest of your daily roster.
Find your bargains
If you could pull off the Blue Jays stack listed above, everyone would do so about 75% of the time, and the DFS game would be boring. Thankfully, there’s no way to fit three high-priced hitters into one lineup. Any good, winning stack is going to have at least one, and possibly two, inexpensive players. You can unearth the right ones by using the tactics we’ve given you throughout our DFS primer.
In our column detailing where you should spend up and where you should save your money, we noted that there are attractive outfielders at every price point. A lot of those outfielders are regular leadoff men. In that column, we specifically highlighted Dexter Fowler and Ben Revere. Other playerss who fit that exact same bill are Denard Span, Brett Gardner, Delino DeShields, Nori Aoki, and Adam Eaton. Those are just five guys whose teams are in action on Monday, April 4. You should never struggle to find a top-of-the-order hitter to kick off your stack.
Your middle-of-the-order bat, a typical No. 3 or 4 hitter, is always going to cost you a premium. You can, however, close out your stack with a No. 5 or 6 hitter who comes at an awfully cheap price. You won’t always need to go cheap at two of the three spots in your stack, but you at least want to explore those possibilities.
Just like you want your stack leadoff man to do what a good real-life leadoff man does, you’ll want your stack No. 5 or 6 to fit the real-life prototype. Look for someone with pop in the middle of a solid lineup. If that sounds obvious, it’s only because it is. Remember, you stack players because you believe that team is capable of scoring eight or nine runs that day. You don’t necessarily need to love the player, but you must love the lineup in which he hits.
We don’t have to go beyond the first—well, second, but you know what I mean—day to find an example. The Rockies open up the season in Arizona. On Opening Day, they’re expected to have Trevor Story playing short and hitting second, Nolan Arenado at third batting cleanup, and Gerardo Parra right behind him, playing left field. Those three players will run you a combined $9,800 on FanDuel. You get the Nos. 2, 4 and 5 hitters in a great lineup, an established star in Arenado, and a great hitting environment to boot. That’s a textbook stack, even though they’ll be facing Zack Greinke. You don’t need to build a stack in every one of your DFS lineups, but it’s a tactic you should always, at the very least, consider for your offense.