The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 97: Some DraftKings Plays for Week 7

At 4for4, I posted some of my favorite plays on DraftKings for Week 7. In the intro, I discussed the value in going against the grain, especially in a tournament like the Millionaire Maker.

Week 6 was the epitome of why an antifragile, contrarian approach to daily fantasy can be so valuable. I personally believe that the value in going against the grain is apparent when we stop analyzing fantasy football results in a binary way.

Even if we think about a decision probabilistically, it’s very tempting to just say “Hey, what are the chances that this decision works out?” I think that can be problematic thinking, however, if we don’t consider the degree to which we can benefit if things do indeed go our way. The thinking behind a contrarian strategy is that, by rostering low-usage players, we can acquire the most “usable value” if they produce as expected.

There’s a similar phenomenon in season-long leagues. Sometimes we get sucked into this trap of “Does this player offer value?” in a very binary manner. Well, yeah, maybe a certain player offers slightly more value than another, but what we should really be concerned about are the odds of a player helping us win our league.

Those are two separate things. Imagine that you roster a player on DraftKings who is really, really popular; we’ll say 80 percent usage. That player could score 50 points and the usable value would be limited because you’d still be competing with four-fifths of users.

Keep this idea in mind as you field your Millionare Maker lineups this weekend and enter in other large field events. We shouldn’t be concerned solely with whether or not a player offers value, but also 1) how much you can potentially benefit if that player scores X points and 2) how his anticipated usage will help you win your leagues, i.e. how much pragmatic value does he offer?

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 96: Week 7 DraftKings Values

At DraftKings, I broke down both the quarterback and wide receiver positions.

Read them now.

That is all.

 

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 95: Week 6 Recap + 11 Tips to Win on DraftKings

I have a bunch of links for you guys to click on right now so you can learn things. Nothing useful, but things nonetheless.

Interesting Stats from Week 6 at RotoWorld

Brian Hoyer is Good (video) at NBC Sports

Picking the Right RB at RotoWorld

Is GPP Play All About Upside? at RotoGrinders

DraftKings Rewind: Week 6

11 Rules to Win on DraftKings (Rules 1 through 6 are below)

Whenever someone asks me for tips on how to win playing daily fantasy sports, I refer them to…my own books.

Duh.

But even before that, I always suggest reading a few books that have nothing at all to do with fantasy sports. One of them is The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow. Another is Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I do this because I think the biggest weaknesses of most daily fantasy owners aren’t in their sports knowledge—most people who play daily fantasy seem to know sports fairly well—but rather in risk management and understanding volatility.

One of my favorite writers to read is author/entrepreneur/hedge fund manager James Altucher. If you aren’t familiar with his work, I highly recommend checking it out. So much of daily fantasy success comes via the ability to think critically about complex problems. I believe the largest strides one can make come outside the field of sports by studying the work of people like Altucher because it aids us in problem-solving and thinking analytically.

At his blog, Altucher recently published a piece titled “Life is Like a Game. Here’s How You Master ANY Game.” It’s one of my favorite blog posts in recent memory and, as I read it, I couldn’t help but consider how the advice could be applied to DFS. Come to think of it, I pretty much do this all day long; hey, our waitress wasn’t very consistent in bringing out our food…she’s probably pretty high-variance and not a great play for my daily fantasy server leagues.

So anyway, Altucher’s post on mastering games suggests that those who are good at pretty much any game—poker, board games, whatever—usually have the ability to master all games (through a combination of critical and contrarian thinking). Altucher—at one time a poker player and one of the world’s best backgammon players—lists 11 rules you need to know to master any game…in our case, daily fantasy sports.

1) Look at all the ‘candidate moves.’

“List all the options that can happen. Don’t go deeply down ANY OF THEM. Then start to look slightly deeper down each one and see which options you can quickly eliminate. This saves you mental energy and time.”

 

One of the reasons that I write my daily fantasy books is to help users streamline the process of daily fantasy research and lineup creation. I think it’s really important to figure out which aspects of daily fantasy research are the most important, then dedicate your time to those so that you can see the greatest return on your time.

I personally like to aggregate projections, which gives me a really accurate foundation for identifying value in a short amount of time. Leveraging the Vegas lines is another example of obtaining high-quality, actionable information “for nothing.”

 

2) Don’t take too many risks.

“Games are all about taking risks. But if you take too many risks, you always lose.”

 

Daily fantasy football is indeed all about risk management. Taking risks isn’t inherently bad, but the key is to maintain a positive expected value.

If I were to give you 3-to-1 odds on the roll of a die, for example, that would be a risk that you wouldn’t want to take; with just a 1-in-6 chance of rolling a specific number, you’d have a negative expected value. If I were to give you 10-to-1 on your money, though, you should take that bet, even though the risk is exactly the same.

Don’t take too many risks, but don’t be afraid to embrace volatility when it’s appropriate.

 

3) Look for the shortcuts.

“Every game, and almost every life situation, has short cuts: ways you can get better without learning the entire literature of the game from beginning to end.”

 

My book “Daily Fantasy Football Pros Reveal Their Money-Making Secrets” was filled with interviews of daily fantasy’s best players, many of whom are DK Pros. One of the coolest parts of talking with those guys was learning different heuristics they employ to make sound decisions when creating their lineups.

I actually think there are a lot of reasons for players of all skill levels to use heuristics like “Always stack a quarterback and receiver in a GPP” or “Never start a running back and wide receiver on the same team,” but that’s especially true for new players; such heuristics are shortcuts that can be used to improve your odds of winning when you’re not yet sure when to side with the exception to the rule.

 

4) Play people better than you.

“You learn more from losing than winning. Losing is not failure. Losing gives you a treasure trove of insights into how you, personally, can get better.”

 

Play people better than you…but play them cheaply. Enter $1 and $2 50/50 games because they expose you to a whole bunch of lineups for a low cost. Study the lineups of the best players, but also analyze the losing lineups, too.

There’s not much to be gleaned from an individual lineup, but continue to assess different lineup types to see what they consistently have in common; how much more often do winning lineups place a certain position in the flex as compared to poor lineups, for example?

 

5) Luck favors the prepared.

“Whenever you feel like saying, ‘I was just unlucky,’ trust me when I say, ‘you’re probably an idiot.’ Analyze the reality. Don’t just try to make yourself feel better.

In chess there’s a saying, ‘Only the good players get lucky.’ This applies to every area of life. As Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) said to me, ‘if you know you’re only going to succeed at 10% of the things you try, make sure you try 100 things.’

 

Daily fantasy sports is awesome because anything can happen in a single night (and truly anyone can win). Over the long run, though, there’s not really such a thing as luck; the prepared users win, and the unprepared lose. You can put yourself in a poor situation and win in the short-term, but that won’t continue to happen.

I think the Scott Adams quote “If you know you’re only going to succeed at 10% of the things you try, make sure you try 100 things” has a direct impact on tournament strategy. If you’re trying to build a bankroll and want quick growth with a big tournament cash, it makes sense to fire as many bullets as possible, i.e. play multiple lineups instead of using a single lineup and placing more of your cash on that one lineup. Five entries at $10 is superior to one at $50.

 

6) Study the history.

“Every game, every industry, has its history. A history of successful business models, of successful people, of styles in which the game was played. If you don’t love the history of what want to master, then you will never master it.

Poker players have read Doyle Brunson’s classic a dozen times. And entrepreneurs have all now read Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs and dozens of other biographies of successful businessmen.”

 

The “history” of daily fantasy is the data. My book Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People is filled with data on the best daily fantasy strategies—those that are actually winning leagues on DraftKings.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 94: Get all of my books for FREE!

I am giving away the entire Fantasy Football for Smart People series – all nine books – for free. You can enter the giveaway right here.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 93: How to Win $1 Million in Week 6, Part II

At rotoViz, I published some analysis on how to be a contrarian to win the Millionaire Maker on DraftKings this weekend:

GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

Imagine that a player is such an incredible value that everyone uses him—no really, all 92,400 lineups have this player. If that were the case, the player might have theoretical value in that his price is too cheap for his expected production, but his usable value would be zero; no matter how well he performs, it wouldn’t help or hurt anyone. Now consider the opposite—a player in just one lineup (yours)—that has a monster game. In that scenario, the player’s usable value would be at its peak; you benefit when no one else does.

It follows that the lower a player’s usage, the better the odds of him increasing your lineup’s win probability if he performs well. Of course, the Catch-22 is that the least popular players are typically among the least valuable, too. So we’re forced into this conundrum of either emphasizing value or going contrarian on players who offer less value but will be in fewer lineups. Value-based strategies provide the greatest potential for a high-scoring lineup, while contrarian-based lineups trade in some of that expected production for lower anticipated usage rates.

Check out the entire post.

I gave five more tips over at PokerNews. Here are the first two:

TIP NO. 1: PICK YOUR QB/WR PAIR AND DIVERSIFY AROUND IT

Three of the top four lineups in the Week 5 Millionaire Maker had Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas—a duo that exploded for over 81 fantasy points—and the majority of the best lineups paired a quarterback with at least one of his receivers.

The reason that you should pair a quarterback and a wide receiver (or tight end) is because it increases the upside of your lineup. The production of your receiver is obviously dependent on how your quarterback performs, so pairing them creates a symbiotic relationship within your lineup that makes it higher-variance—a good thing in a big tournament.

You’ll need to hit on a high-upside quarterback/receiver pairing to win in Week 6, but don’t be afraid to use the same pair in multiple lineups. If you really like Manning and Thomas again this week, use them in a few lineups with different groups of players around them.

The idea is that, if Manning and Thomas have a big game, you’ll be rewarded for hitting on that stack because at least one of the combinations of players around them will be good enough to help you cash. You don’t need to diversify to the point that you’re playing anyone, but certainly mix and match your core values around your favorite QB/WR tandem to act as a hedge and to ensure that the success of those lineups mirrors the quality of the duo.

TIP NO. 2: CHOOSE PLAYERS WITH MULTI-TOUCHDOWN UPSIDE

Again, the name of the game here is creating as high of a ceiling as possible. You don’t want ‘good,’ you want ‘elite.’ Basically, you’re trying to use astute roster construction to improve your odds of hitting on a really high-scoring lineup.

To demonstrate the thinking behind this idea, here’s a sample distribution of DraftKings scores using both a low- and high-variance approach.

With the high-variance approach, you generate greater access to both outstanding and horrible scores, which is a positive in a tournament. A wise man once said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” and the Ricky Bobby approach to daily fantasy sports is actually a smart one in certain situations, i.e. when you crave upside.

When I’m creating a tournament lineup, I ask myself, “Can this player score two touchdowns on a semi-consistent basis?” If the player is somewhat dependent on touchdowns for production, he can make for a smart tournament play because his points will tend to come in bunches. That’s in contrast to a slot receiver, for example, who sees a bunch of short targets (and thus has a high level of consistency), but doesn’t have much touchdown upside.

Note: weight is the best physical predictor of touchdowns for receivers. All else equal, target heavier receivers.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 92: Matchup Analysis + Week 6 Plays

At DraftKings, I posted an article on how quarterbacks and wide receivers perform versus top five defenses.

I also gave some thoughts on Week 6 on DraftKings over at 4for4.

DRAFTKINGS WEEK 6 VALUE PLAYS

High QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay at Miami, $8400

The choice here for me is between Rodgers and Peyton Manning. I think Manning is the safer choice against the Jets and I’ll have some exposure to him as well, but I’d really like to pay up for running backs this week, too, and Rodgers allows for $1,000 in cap relief as compared to Manning.

DraftKings has Rodgers’ matchup with the Dolphins ranked as the seventh-worst, but we have it as just the 21st-most difficult after accounting for Miami’s opponents. My only concern is that Rodgers has thrown the ball more than 33 times just once this year, but I think that’s due more to weird game scripts than anything else.

Low QB: Nick Foles, Philadelphia vs NY Giants, $6800

Of all the cheap quarterbacks, Foles must be the most reliable, especially in terms of his anticipated workload. He’s thrown at least 37 passes in every game this year and, despite struggling in terms of efficiency, he’s still actually a low-end QB1 on DraftKings in terms of fantasy PPG.

High RB: Matt Forte, Chicago at Atlanta, $8800

Even as the most expensive running back this week, Forte offers sensational value against the league’s worst run defense. The projected total in this game is 54, and the spread is close such that the game script should be favorable for basically everyone.

Forte’s ability to contribute as a receiver in Marc Trestman’s offense gives him such a high floor from week to week, as we saw in Week 5 when the Bears were trailing. Forte is second in the NFL in targets among all players.

I also really like LeVeon Bell for the same reasons.

Low RB: Ronnie Hillman, Denver at NY Jets, $3000

This one is obvious, right? Hillman saw the bulk of the snaps last week when Montee Ball went down, so we’d expect that to be the case against the Jets as well. I’m not at all opposed to playing both Hillman and other Denver players in the same lineup because I think there will be enough points to go around for cash games, although I’d shy away from that in tournaments just because it will probably limit your ceiling.

And here’s a look at my favorite wide receiver plays.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 91: How to Win $1 Million in Week 6

DraftKings made someone a millionaire on a $27 entry last week, and they’re doing it again in Week 6.

At DraftKings‘ Playbook blog, I posted breakdowns of the quarterback (here) and wide receiver (here) positions to help you make your lineups this weekend.

Good luck in the chase for second place behind me.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 90: Making a Consistent DraftKings Lineup

At RotoGrinders, I broke down how to make a consistent NFL lineup on DraftKings.

POSITIONAL CONSISTENCY

In a past article, I explained why emphasizing consistency can work out in cash games. Basically, you’re trying to narrow down the range of possible outcomes as much as possible, taking a low-variance approach that will result in as many possible scores near the mean (with that average of course being as high as possible). Here’s how it might look in terms of a range of scores onDraftKings.

We want our cash game lineups to come close to resembling that blue line. We can do that by fielding a consistent lineup.

One way to create more consistent lineups is to pay more money for the most consistent positions. I researched the weekly consistency for each position using, looking at the top 12 quarterbacks, tight ends, and defenses, and the top 24 running backs and receivers in terms of end-of-year points. Here’s how often those players finished within those ranks on weekly basis.

For week-to-week, you can use the RotoGrinders’ Consistency Tool to research how consistent a player has been performing.

Top-12 quarterbacks have around a three-in-five chance of finishing in the top 12 at the quarterback position in a given week. The exact percentages here don’t matter as much as the fact that quarterback and running back are the most consistent positions on a weekly basis. That makes sense when you consider how touches are distributed in a typical game; quarterbacks and running backs see more relevant plays than the other positions, and thus have greater week-to-week consistency.

Because of that, sharp fantasy players typically “pay up” for those two positions in cash games. By going with elite or second-tier players at the quarterback and running back positions, you can narrow down the range of potential outcomes for your team, giving you greater consistency and increasing your win rate in cash games.

PLAYER TYPES

One of the reasons I sort players into buckets and analyze them like that is because I think individual player evaluation can sometimes be misleading. It’s really difficult to determine an individual player’s consistency because there’s a lot of variance in those results. Even a player who has been in the league for four years and played every game, for example, has just 64 games to study. The difference between 50 percent startable weeks and 60 percent would be around six games, which is pretty flimsy. We especially can’t trust individual consistency for rookies or second-year players.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 89: Week 5 Stats & The Importance of TDs

At RotoWorld, I posted a breakdown of Week 5′s interesting stats, as well as a look at the important of touchdowns in daily fantasy football.

Predicting WR Touchdowns
Again and again, we see the same receiver types scoring the majority of the touchdowns. That type is ‘big.’ While many people focus on wide receiver height, there’s actually a stronger correlation between weight and red zone efficiency.

That makes sense if you think about it. Big, strong receivers are able to get off of the line, fight for the ball in traffic, and otherwise not let defenders fight through them. Height matters, too, but there’s a limited supply of red zone touchdowns that are the direct result of a receiver going up to get the football; the majority of the time, it’s about being physical and out-muscling the defender.

Here’s a look at red zone efficiency broken down by weight for wide receivers and tight ends.

PJ1
That’s a pretty obvious relationship. Here’s how it looks sorted into buckets based on weight.

PJ1
There’s an improvement in red zone productivity in every weight class. Overall, receivers in the 217-244-pound range have been over 30 percent more likely to convert one of their red zone targets into a touchdown than a sub-198-pound receiver.

And take a look at the most efficient red zone receivers since 2000.

PJ1
Of the 15 best scorers, only one has checked in below the league-average receiver weight of 203 pounds. The majority of these players—Dez Bryant, Marques Colston, Calvin Johnson, Vincent Jackson—have been substantially heavier than the league-average weight.

I also taped a “Game of Inches” segment explaining why I like Travis Kelce moving forward.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 88: If you play poker, you can win at DFS.

I did a guest post at PokerNews that explained some of the reasons poker players should be naturally good daily fantasy players. Here’s an excerpt:

GAME THEORY

Perhaps the biggest recent strides in advanced poker strategy have come in the area of game theory. There are all kinds of game theory elements involved in daily fantasy sports, too, particularly in the massive tournaments with a lot of users. In this weekend’s Millionaire Maker on DraftKings, for example, there’s a very good chance that the winner is going to hit on an obscure player that isn’t in a lot of other lineups.

Those usage rates are extremely important in daily fantasy sports. Basically, there are two types of value. The first is strict dollar-per-point value: how many dollars you need to spend (you must work within the confines of a salary cap) for each point you can be projected to score. All else equal, you want to secure as much value as possible.

But “all else” isn’t always equal. Imagine you enter a tournament and there’s such an obvious value that every single user has him in their lineup. It wouldn’t matter if that player scored zero points or 100 points because it would affect everyone in the same way. Thus, that player would have none of the second type of value: usable value.

To acquire the most usable value, you need to balance pure dollar-per-point value with expected usage. The latter task obviously invokes elements of game theory. In tournaments, you should be trying to balance value with ownership; you want the best players, but you also want to create a unique lineup.

Creating a unique lineup is very much akin to leaving yourself ‘outs’ in poker. You give yourself ways to bounce back if things don’t go as expected. If you’re in 50th place with one player left to play, who would you rather have: the top value who is in 25 lineups that are ahead of you, or a little bit worse value who isn’t in any other lineups? The highest you can finish in the first scenario is 26th. In the latter, it’s first.

PROCESS OVER RESULTS

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say something to the tune of “I’m not starting Player X this week. I started him last week and he was horrible!”

Poker players have a natural understanding of “good process.” That’s something that you quickly develop after a few bad beats. Poker players understand that the game is governed by probabilities, and you can make smart moves that don’t work out in the same way that you can play really stupidly and have the chips fall your way.

In the end, those who play the percentages are rewarded. It’s the same way in daily fantasy sports. Like a single hand of poker, there can be a lot of short-term variance, but after awhile, the variance dissipates and the true winners are left standing.