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The Dongers Club 101

The Dongers Club 101 will walk you through Steve Renner's core process for MLB research.

I here by declare the MLB DFS season to be underway. Sure, we don't have any contests until Thursday when the season kicks off at 12:40 EST with the Chicago Cubs and the Miami Marlins headlining a full slate of games on Opening Day. Wait... Who's idea was that? It should be the Reds opening up the season at home -- always. But lets first give some kudos to Major League Baseball for creating a solid opening weekend with everyone in action on Opening Day and then playing a full weekend series. We should also give kudos to both FanDuel and DraftKings for putting together decent opening day main slates.

With MLB DFS upon us, it is time for me to provide a breakdown on how I attack MLB DFS. I simply call this, The Dongers Club 101. Back during the NHL season I did a write-up on my lineup construction for NHL DFS and it was an instant hit, so hopefully you will find this to be equally beneficial to you. Oh, and if you haven't read the hockey 101, you need to go back and do that before next season...

Now, Let's Play Ball!

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My Research Process

Every day I will follow the same research process. Well... 99% of the time, nothing is 100%, but I can actually tell you that of all my "methods" with fantasy sports this is the most consistent and close to 100% thing for me. Every day I analyze the slate the exact same way ...

The Matchups

I look at the schedule and take into account what the weather conditions will be in each game and who is pitching.

Back when Dr. Roto was on in the morning first with TommyG and more recently with Adam Ronis, he would walk through the games each morning in a segment he called "Pitchers we like ... as of now". The idea was to quickly look at each game identify gut feel on the pitchers or the game itself and then move on. I love this approach and I essentially do the same thing, except I'm not checking the games for pitchers, I am checking the games to determine if I think there will be offense and then from there I'll work backwards into the pitching.

So what are the basic things I want to see for each game?

  • The Matchup - Obviously the Pitchers and how they match-up on paper with the opposing team. Knowing the splits, the recent form for the pitcher, the travel plans, bullpen usage, motivation, etc... Can each offensive team hit the pitcher they're facing and is there a bonus on the bullpen? I think this one is assumed but it gets overlooked far too often. Who's going to win the damn game? The Astros aren't going to sweep the White Sox every time the play them (they might actually, but you get the idea...). There are upsets! Pick the damn game!
  • The Stadium - Whats the Stadium like in my mind? I'll get to this later in a bit, but if its a good park assume a +1 or +2 boost mentally on the game, if its bad -1 or -2.
  • The Weather - How's the weather? Yes, weather is important for the game. But lets be real, you don't need a Degree in Meteorology these days to have a guess if it's gonna rain in a game, or if its windy or if the game is being played in some extreme heat. Once we reach mid-May 90% of the games have no weather impact at all as we're always looking at the same few stadiums to monitor weather. It takes five seconds to quickly know the status of the weather everywhere. People are making a way bigger deal out of this than it is.

Here's what I don't look at because I really don't give a damn.

  • Vegas Over/Under and Vegas Money Line ... Why don't I give a damn about these? Because I can predict them simply by looking at the pitching matchup, the stadium and the weather. If the Cubs are playing at home in July in a day game and the wind is blowing out the total is gonna be much higher than at any other point in the season. If Chris Sale is on the hill, the Red Sox are likely heavy favorites against most teams. It's fricken common sense from a Vegas perspective. I don't need Vegas to either tell me what I already know or to cloud my judgement. This isn't about Vegas being right or wrong as they're never technically wrong on either. You never bet against Vegas IMO when you place a wager. You bet against the other side. Vegas isn't right. Vegas isn't wrong.
  • Outside Info ... This is the hardest to avoid, but sometimes we look ahead or someone else looks ahead and it ruins the analysis process. Try to stay focused, and do YOUR research first if you have a process you trust. Then go read other content (i.e. The Dongers Club) to help you finish your analysis.

Organize the games

Gotta get your Ducks in order...

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Wait.... Wrong Ducks.... Oh well..

There's a common trend for season long fantasy players called tiering. The concept is really simple if you don't know it. It's basically just putting players into tier at each position based upon where you believe they will go in the draft. My tiering for DFS isn't an exact replica but it comes down to putting the games/teams into tiers to narrow down where I am going to focus my player pool from.

  • Tier 1 :: These games typically are gonna be in great hitting environments for me and don't have lock down SP's or have horrible bullpens (Tigers)
  • Tier 2 :: Pretty basic, they didn't make the tier 1 cut but I like them none the less.
  • Tier 3 :: Games I usually want no part of with maybe a one off. Usually this is where I'll swim for pitching.
  • CF :: The Chalk-Fade tier... These games might stand out to me as making sense, but for various reasons I am going to avoid and fade.

Positional Breakdowns

I pick my targets off my steps above ...

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The third and final leg of my analysis is to simply go through each position individually to identify who my targets are. Since I did the game analysis first and then organized the games second this actually becomes pretty easy. I might have 7 teams in Tier-1 and 5 teams in Tier-2. From those twelve I should be able to find three to five players at each position that I think are in good spots. If I can't find any, then that's a red flag that the position is a weak one and I should move on. If it's loaded, then I gotta narrow it down obviously. But none the less, I find who my main player targets are for the day.

Those my friends, are the three basic steps to my research/analysis -- but none of it works without a solid Foundation.

For years I have been doing daily research and understanding tendencies of players, stadiums, weather impacts (again, no degree necessary here to pay simple fucking attention to how certain conditions impact certain stadiums), and most importantly players splits.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see in MLB DFS is people researching the players splits for a specific day's match-up and assuming they will be completely accurate for that match-up. Understanding that a player has positive wOBA or ISO splits against a certain handed pitcher is good information to know and definitely is factored into my decision making on a player. However, it's not an exact science. Those metrics, along with Hard Hit Rate, Exit Velocity, Launch Angle, etc. are all things that paint a broader picture on how the player is trending or really how they perform over a large sample size. Yet, I constantly see people who complain about "small sample size" using this as the BIBLE for how a player is going to perform in TWO AT BATS. Not four, not five. TWO. Think about this for a moment. If you are attacking a pitcher and you are correct that he does poorly then the chances he see's a lineup for the third time is ALMOST ZERO, because most pitchers these days have a hard time getting through the third time in a good outing let alone when they're getting roughed up. So you get TWO at bats to measure that your hitter has a .383 wOBA against LHP compared to a .297 wOBA versus RHP. Guess what, the bullpen arm that comes in happens to then be a RHP, so now you're down to 2 more at bats versus a weaker pitcher. These stats are great, don't get me wrong, they're my foundation, but I am not spending time every day researching a players splits when I already know their core profile. I actually try to research players on days when I am NOT considering them so that I can be prepared to make a decision on them when my three steps above dictate it. Got it? This applies to hitters not pitchers. If you want to research all player stats/splits, use It's the best, just install an ad-blocker...

Now onto the good stuff. Lineup construction theory.

Stacking Sucks ...

[... This is the part where I go on a rant that nobody will agree with ...]

Do my lineups end up with stacks in them? Of course they do. If you followed along with the process I outlined above then you'll understand that I am getting onto certain teams and often times I'll pull players from the same team for similar reasons. But I don't go into a slate asking "who am I going to stack today?". You know why. Because despite what EVERYONE ELSE will tell you -- you do NOT need to stack to win in MLB DFS. Sorry, but it's not the only way to play MLB DFS. If you come to me and say you are doing one lineup and want to stack 4 players from one team and 4 from another then you should just stop reading because you're not gonna receive much support from me.

The flaw everyone makes with stacking is that they see the lineup in first place of a 50,000 user field and see that it has two team stacks in it and assume that was the winning combination. Sure, it came in first place. But it's the equivalent of 50,000 people running a race and the winner of the race is wearing Nike's. Well, if 35,000 of the runners in that race are wearing Nike's then yeah, they're likely to be the winning shoe and that's what happens with the stacks in the large tournaments. However, the real flaw isn't in the big tourneys, because a 4x4 stack doesn't win there as often as in the smaller field tournaments. And you know why. BECAUSE 80 of 100 PEOPLE in a single entry are doing 4x? stacks!

I want you to open up old contests if you were in them. Don't scroll to the top. Scroll to the bottom. Look at the bottom and count the number of stacks you see. Stacks are losing more than you realize. I am not saying they're the worst thing to do. I am saying they're not the bible. Don't force a stack.

Perfect example of what everyone wants in a stack was April 21st last year.

LA Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks. Arizona dropped 13 runs on the Dodgers, by far the highest scoring team that day. Oh, and yes, the roof was open and there was a lefty on the mound. So you mean to tell me that the humidor is gonna knock off 9 runs? Really? Really? Really? Seriously? Cmon? Seriously? REALLY? SHUT THE HELL UP...

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In this game, here were the total FD points scored in order of the batting order for Arizona ... 30.9, 18.9, 25.4, 16.2, 16.2, 21.2, 12.2, 0 (Poor Jeff Mathis). As you can tell, they went off... This is what everyone is praying for when they stack, the insane total, but it rarely comes and when it does, you usually have a full 15 game slate where you gotta pick the 1 out of 30 teams that did this? And then pick the right guys in the stack. The key to this stack? Brandon Drury batting 6th at $2700.

On the same night however, in the same FUCKING game, the Doders, who had a Vegas "implied" total of 5.2 runs scored ... 5 runs. Hooooraaaay for the Vegas touting folks they hit their number. So, how did that Dodgers stack do? ... 15.4, 31.7, 9, 0, 0, 12.2, 6.5, 0. Awesome. If you picked Corey Seager against Taijuan Walker (you likely did if you read my write up btw), then you nailed the Dodger to have. After that? Good luck avoiding the 0 or the dud. And before you tell me you can win with a zero, what does that have to do with stacking?

Doing a stack is fine. Using stacking as a rule for your entire lineup is not my plan of attack.

The benefits of a stack are as follows

  • The more runs a team scores, the more at bats they get. For road teams this is a much bigger deal because they'll get the 9th inning AB even if they are racking up the hits and runs.
  • You can ride certain players for combinations to get RBI + RUN scored correlation.

That's it. That's the list. Those are the only reasons I would stack outside of basically saying I want every part of every Diamondback at home with the roof open against a lefty. So yeah, I'll stack. But I don't look at Vegas to tell me who to play. Your dog could do that and your dog would be wrong quite a bit.... Sorry Sport.

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OK, I'm done with the stacking talk.

Contests and Lineups

My Contest Selection

  • Here's the contests I like to play the most that prove to be the best ROI ... Single Entry Tournaments with < 200 entries.
  • The contests that I just can't walk away from despite how many times I see people with the same lineup ... Cash games
  • The contests that I am in for the hell of it (not the best ROI) ... Multi-Entry Tournaments like the Monster on FD or the Perfect Game on DK ... with one lineup.

Lineup Construction

  • Using my analysis process, I lock in the core batters I want. Then I know where I am spending on pitcher.
  • Lock in the pitcher that is gonna fit based upon price
  • Fill in the rest based upon the players I already plugged in. This is where a stack can get formed, but again, only with guys from teams I have identified as in play and only deviate from my player pool when there's a position that has no good targets. That's a great time to throw in a 3rd or 4th player from a team (yeah, I kinda just admitted that the concept of stacking works, lets not get into that, I am debating that stacking is the only way to play)

Thats it honestly. It sounds simple, but it's all tied back to the research process. Don't spend up at a position if you have a good mid tier priced player. Trust the guys that you normally don't roster who the data says to play -- someone like Eric Hosmer.