We are two weeks away from MLB opening day. Baseball is easily my least favorite sport to watch. The games are fairly long, and I don’t find them particularly exciting — I blame way too many five-hour showdowns between the Yanks and Sawx. I would say over the last handful of years, I’ve watched less than five games from start to finish.
But it is my absolute favorite DFS sport to play.
The nature of baseball (easily tracked and explained through statistics) and the DFS game fit my play-style perfectly, and I am looking forward to going harder than ever before in 2021. Last season, the delayed start created too much of an overlap with my football content, and I wasn’t able to play too much. This year, the bankroll is beefed up and ready to attack MLB head-on.
The purpose of this piece is to outline my plans and approach for the season. It is all based on what I have learned from my experiences, and studying successful DFS players in this space. I am not an expert, nor am I suggesting that you should model your play after mine. My hope is that you can learn something new from this, alter your way of thinking, or simply enjoy reading about my journey.
Game Selection and Bankroll Management
MLB, much like NFL, is an events-based game — but more extreme. It is the antithesis of a sport like NBA, which is iterative in nature and easier to project within a smaller range of error.
Hitter scoring is also heavily left-skewed and highly variant. Mike Trout — widely regarded as the best hitter in baseball — had zero hits in 16 of his 53 games in 2020 (30%), and just one hit in 23 (43%). Only five of those one-hit games were homers. Baseball involves a lot of failure, and even the best players are not immune.
As a result, I prefer to attack MLB through GPPs rather than cash games. Specifically, I like single-entry and 3-max games, as I think the high-end finishing edge is even larger in those kinds of contests (more on that later).
I also am going to be extremely conservative with my bankroll. Attacking the tops of tournaments can lead to some long losing streaks, and I want to be able to withstand the swings while maximizing profits. The plan is to put no more than 0.5% of my bankroll in play a night. A 30-slate full-loss streak would still leave me with 86% of my starting bankroll using this strategy.
Because big events (most notably, home runs) can make up huge amounts of scoring, and those events create fantasy points for teammates, there is a hefty amount of correlation in MLB DFS. Take a look at lineup-order correlations from FantasyLabs:
It is easy to see that there is a lot of correlation between teammates, especially those close to each other in the order. Jon Anderson showed that this was especially prevalent in instances where an individual hitter found success.
DraftKings allows you to play a maximum of five hitters from the same team, while FanDuel allows four. I almost always am playing a full stack in my lineup to maximize the correlation from one team.
One of the best way to get to the tops of tournaments is through leverage. Simply put, leverage is plays/strategies/etc. to help maximize your advantage over the field. Leverage is critical in all DFS games, but is particularly valuable (in my opinion) in MLB. Here are a few ways to create leverage in MLB DFS:
Stack against a chalk pitcher
Play a pitcher against a chalk offense
Play a lower-owned one-off at a similar price point of someone higher-owned
Utilize a low-owned stack at a similar price point of a higher-owned stack
There are others, but this is a good launching-off point. My favorite strategies are ones that involve combining correlation and leverage i.e. stacking against a chalk pitcher, or utilizing lower-owned stacks. This allows you to both gain an advantage over the field, and maximize that advantage through correlated players.
Of course, every slate is different, and not all strategies can be unilaterally deployed. For instance, stacking against Jacob deGrom would certainly make me unique, and give a great chance at getting to the top if he got shelled, but that outcome is so unlikely that it typically is not worth doing.
On the other hand, we usually get some bad pitching slates where someone like Zach Eflin ends up chalk because of a “good matchup” or recent performance. I like attacking these pitchers who have much higher bust potential than ownership would indicate.
Nowadays, many content sites who already provide projected ownership will provide some form of a leverage score on stacks to help you determine the best way to improve your edge over the field.
Doubling back to the game selection component, this is why I like to play single-entry and 3-max games: it boosts the gains you get from correlation and leverage. For starters, you are more likely to see “cash-type” lineups in the field versus well-correlated ones. A lower percentage of a DK field using five-man stacks, for example, should benefit those utilizing five-man stacks in the long run when the goal is to finish first.
The field is also smaller, and with a limited number of lineups for each user. This causes people to gravitate more towards the chalk, which should bar-bell ownership more than an MME field. You won’t have to get as different to be unique. It also won’t take as many points to get to the top.
That last part may seem initially like a reason to avoid correlation, but it actually enhances the benefits in my opinion. You don’t need the team you stacked to go off for 12 runs in order to win, but taking players from the same lineup still provides the best chance of getting a group of points together. And you can finish in the money with only a couple of events. In this way, correlating is helping not only the ceiling of your lineup, but also your floor.