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 82: Week 4 DraftKings Plays

At 4for4, I broke down Week 4 values on DraftKings. I also discussed my favorite DFS topic: the flex.

Want to know how I know I’m a loser? When I was in high school and someone said the word ‘flex,’ I would think about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, when someone says the word I think, “Standard or PPR?”

I wouldn’t consider myself the definition of cool, but I feel like I have a really nice grasp on how to approach the flex spot on DraftKings, so I got that going for me, which is nice. When I wrote my book Fantasy Football and (Baseball) for Smart People, DraftKings hooked me up with a whole bunch of aggregate data on what’s actually winning daily fantasy leagues.

A lot of that was very useful when dealing with the flex spot, including this data on the salary difference between the average flex player at each position and flex players in winning lineups.

Overall, DraftKings users who have used a running back or wide receiver in the flex have benefited by going cheaper at the position. Hitting on a min-priced running back or wide receiver can be relatively easy if you’re talking about a backup thrust into the starting lineup, for example.

The tight end position is rapidly changing, but it’s still more difficult to find quality min-priced talent at the position. It really just comes down to usage. While players like Donald Brown,Matt Asiata, and even Justin Hunter have been min-priced (or close) and capable of regularly returning value (Hunter is valuable more in my mind than anywhere else, but I’m just going to pretend he’s scoring on a weekly basis at this point), that’s not the case for tight ends because their usage is so low.

That doesn’t mean you can never find cheap tight end talent, but just that there’s a huge difference between the elite tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas, who are basically wide receivers, and guys like Dwayne Allen or Ladarius Green—talented, yes, but just don’t see the usage necessary to provide either a decent floor or ceiling.

You can do with this info whatever you’d like—I’m not entirely sure how to interpret it myself—but I definitely think you need to really consider upside (on the positional level) when dealing with the flex spot. The value for tight ends might be there on a $/point basis, but once you fall out of that top tier, you’re relinquishing a high ceiling that is paramount for tournament success.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 81: Using the Vegas Lines

Last week at rotoViz, I broke down how and why to use the Vegas lines when playing daily fantasy:

In my latest book on daily fantasy sports, I interviewed some of the game’s top players to learn how they’re so profitable playing daily fantasy sports on DraftKings. One of those players was a really smart guy named Mirage88, a.k.a. A.J. Bessette. He’s actually written some ridiculously awesome articles here at RotoViz on how to use Monte Carlo simulations to win best ball leagues.

Mirage88 (if you think I’m going to continue to refer to a grown man with his real name, you’re sorely mistaken) is a big proponent of using the Vegas lines to create daily fantasy lineups, and I spoke with him about how he does that.

First, he discussed why the Vegas lines can be trusted.

I think it’s important to understand how the Vegas lines are created, which then aids us in figuring out how useful they are. There’s a perception that Vegas sets lines solely to get 50/50 action on each side of the bet. And to some degree they probably want that in many situations since they’ll guarantee themselves profit just from the juice (the commission they charge to play). But what happens is people will sometimes use that as a reason that Vegas shouldn’t be used in projections, saying something like “Oh, they just care about whatever popular opinion might be and just getting in the middle of that.”

The problem with that is that there are a lot of sharp bettors out there with a lot of money, so if Vegas indeed produces a line to equalize bets but it’s weak, those sharps are just going to pound that bet and Vegas will be in a really poor situation in terms of expected value.

So the way I like to think about Vegas is that it’s really where the most risk is in terms of projecting any player results—at least the most financial risk from one entity making projections, anyway. So if Vegas posts a poor line—let’s say they post a total that’s way too low—then all of a sudden anyone who can bet on that who is relatively sharp will just start hitting the over, and Vegas will realize that the bet isn’t really balanced.

Vegas will compensate for that by moving the total up to get more action on the under. That’s fine, but then there’s this area in the middle which was over the initial line but under the new line movement bet that’s now a really bad place for Vegas. If the game ends up in that spot, they could theoretically lose a whole lot of bets to sharps who bet the original over, but at the same time lose late bets that came in on the under when the total was higher.

Vegas doesn’t want to put themselves in that position where they can be arbitraged, so it’s really important for them to create an accurate line from the start. Even if they don’t guarantee a profit by getting equal money on each side, they can limit their downside—their risk of ruin—by making the line accurate. They really don’t want to be in a situation where they set a bad line that moves a whole lot and they could potentially lose their share on both sides of a bet.

Ultimately, making accurate lines is just a safer way for Vegas to make money than trying to predict public opinion, especially when there are sharks out there who might not agree with public opinion. Vegas has a very clear financial incentive to make accurate lines, and they do. So that’s my little rant on why we can trust the lines and why the idea that all Vegas wants is to balance bets is false.

Read the full article.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 80: Week 4 DraftKings Values

At DraftKings, I posted some analysis on both quarterbacks and wide receivers. Here’s a look at five mid-priced QB options:

Five Mid-Priced Quarterbacks

Kirk Cousins, Washington vs NY Giants, $8200 – Coming off of his demolition of the Eagles’ secondary, Cousins would figure to be a hot commodity heading into Week 4 against the Giants. The only thing that could drive down his usage is the price tag; at $8200, he’s actually tied for the fourth-most expensive quarterback on the site. You read that correctly.

Is Cousins worth the price tag? It’s tough to say, but the fact that he’s so expensive means you can probably roster him against the league’s sixth-worst pass defense and not run into super high usage.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit at NY Jets, $8000 – I really can’t figure out why Stafford is priced below Cousins while facing the Jets. Yes, he has struggled the past two games, but one was against the stout Panthers defense and the other…well he just sucked in the other.

Still, the Jets’ pass defense has been horrific this year. Give an extra boost to the Stafford/Megatron pairing if Dee Milliner doesn’t play again in Week 4.

Nick Foles, Philadelphia at San Francisco, $8000 – Seeing the San Francisco defense might scare away some people, but this isn’t a bad matchup for Foles. For me, this one is going to come down to weather. I tend to fade quarterbacks who are playing in windy conditions.

Net YPA By Wind Speed

Check the weather on Sunday and, if you like Foles, feel free to roster him with anything less than 15mph winds.

Philip Rivers, San Diego vs Jacksonville, $7700 – Rivers has been really effective over the past two weeks, and he has a 6/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season. The Jags defense has gotten torched by Philly, Washington, and Indy this season.

My only concern with Rivers is usage. I think he’s fine as a cash play, but the possibility of San Diego getting up early with some Donald Brown scores—because really, how much longer can Eddie Royal keep scoring red zone touchdowns?—means that Rivers might have a relatively low ceiling in this one.

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco vs Philadelphia, $7600 – The Eagles defense is poor, but they’re also typically on the field for a lot of plays because the offense is so up-tempo, leading to more snaps for both squads. More snaps means more fantasy points.

The risk with Kaepernick is that he doesn’t throw the ball a lot, but that probably won’t be the case in this one. With expected heavy usage, I like Kaepernick to return value this week. He has been giving fantasy owners points on the ground, too, with 118 rushing yards on 22 carries in the past two games.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 79: Consistency in Cash Games

At DraftKings, I wrote about the importance of consistency in cash games:

NFL Head-to-Head and 50/50 Strategy

In both head-to-head and 50/50 games, you want consistency. If you average 150 points with half of your lineups scoring 100 points and the other half scoring 200 points, you’re actually not going to be a profitable heads-up player. If you could find a way to score around 150 points each time, however, you’ll be nearly unbeatable over the long-run.

To back up that idea, let’s take a look at some more DraftKings data on the average scores in different league types.

h2h1

This is awesome stuff. You can see the average top tournament score (197) and average score that finishes in the money (157) dwarf the numbers in head-to-heads and 50/50s.

Looking at those head-to-head and 50/50 leagues, the average top score in the latter is much higher than that in the former, which is to be expected since there are just more lineups (sometimes many more so) in 50/50s. Nothing strange there.

But here’s what’s most interesting to me. The average “in the money” score in head-to-heads (143) is three points lower than that in 50/50s (146). Since the top half of entrants get paid in both league types and we’re dealing with a huge sample size, you’d expect the numbers to be equal. You’ll have more outliers in a 50/50 since there are more lineups, but if you took the same sample of heads-up lineups, you’d think that the score distribution and average would be the same.

But it’s not. Further, despite a higher average “in the money” score in 50/50s, the average overall score is one point lower than in head-to-head leagues. That means the deviation between the average score and the average winning score in 50/50s (17 points) is a lot higher than the same deviation in heads-up matches (only 13 points).

Here’s my explanation for the difference that, if true, could really alter the way you enter both league types: people are approaching 50/50 leagues with the wrong strategy. It initially seems like 50/50s might be more difficult since the average “in the money” score is three points higher than in heads-up matches, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Instead, I think many daily fantasy players are approaching 50/50s with a high-variance strategy much like what you might seek in a GPP. So there’s a wide gap between the best scores and the average scores that increases the overall average, but the outlying top lineups might be throwing off the mean.

Read the rest at DraftKings.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 78: How to Allocate Your Salary Cap

At DraftKings, I discussed how to best allocate funds when working within the confines of a daily fantasy salary cap:

The Data

Luckily, I have some DraftKings data on what actually won NFL leagues in 2013. With results from over 10,000 individual leagues, the numbers are significant.

Remember, the general consensus is that you should pay up for the most predictable positions in cash games, but you can deviate from that plan a bit in tournaments. In the latter, you should be much more willing to embrace variance, which paying up for receivers allows for.

To test this idea, let’s take a look at the typical salary cap allocation of lineups that won 50/50s in 2013. Note that kicker is included here, but has since been abolished by DraftKings.

image011

In a vacuum, these numbers don’t have much meaning. Is 16.5 percent of the cap a lot to spend on passers? It’s tough to say without analyzing other league types, so here’s a look at the typical allocation of funds for lineups that won tournaments.

image020

These differences might appear small, but with such a large sample, they’re quite meaningful. By comparing what’s winning GPPs versus 50/50s, we can get a sense of when it’s right to pay for consistency. Here’s how the percentages break down when we compare the two leagues.

QB: 0.7 percentage points more in 50/50s

RB: 0.2 percentage points more in 50/50s

WR: 0.1 percentage point more in tournaments

TE: 0.5 percentage points more in tournaments

FLEX: 0.2 percentage points more in 50/50s

D: 0.5 percentage points more in tournaments

Again, the exact percentages themselves don’t matter, but the differences between the two league types are important. And in 50/50 leagues, winning teams are paying more for elite quarterbacks, especially. As the most predictable position, by far, this isn’t a surprise. If you want to improve your odds of winning a cash game, you can and should pay up for a top-tier passer. Winning 50/50 lineups have also paid more at the running back position, too.

Meanwhile, winning GPP teams have slid down the salary ranks a bit at the quarterback and running back positions, allocating more of their cap to wide receivers, tight ends, and defenses. These three positions—tight ends and defenses, especially—are much more volatile than quarterbacks and running backs on a weekly basis.

The evidence seems clear that the consensus is correct: allocate a higher percentage of your salary cap to predictable positions in cash games, but less of your salary cap to those same positions in tournaments.

Here’s the full post.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 77: Buying Low After Week 3

At FOX Sports, I wrote an article on how to find value on underachieiving players.

RANDOMNESS VS. EARLY TRENDS

The reason that buying low on underperforming players can be advantageous in weekly fantasy football is because there’s so much variance involved with the sport on a week-to-week basis. Even over the first month of the season, players will have just four opportunities to produce for you. Imagine grading a baseball player on his production just four games into the season.

When we go away from the crowd on players who aren’t producing – €”when we’re greedy when others are fearful€ – we’re basically saying, “Okay, it looks like there’s something here, but there’s so much randomness inherent to these early results that I’m guessing things will get better in the future.”

The same is true for bypassing players who have overachieved early, too. A player like Julius Thomas might seem like a must-start right now, but that’s only the case if his cost – €”in terms of his DraftKings salary – €”doesn’t exceed his worth. If it does—if the market has overcorrected due to factors that are at least somewhat random (like three second-quarter touchdowns in one game) and not entirely repeatable – €”then he’s not going to offer value.

Remember, we’re not looking solely at production, but production minus cost. When the market is quick to correct and costs are very much influenced by randomness, we need to be bullish on players who haven’t actually produced at a high level thus far (assuming we have good reason to believe that’s going to happen in the future).

Read the full post.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 76: Recapping Week 3

I have two Week 3 recap articles posted. The first, over at RotoWorld, includes 5 interesting stats from Week 3.

I also recapped the biggest DraftKings tournaments, with two people cashing $100k last night.

They say no blog post should be fewer than three paragraphs, so here.

 

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 75: DraftKings Values for Week 3

At 4for4, I ran through some of my top values for Week 3 on DraftKings. I also discussed bankroll management.

I got crushed in Week 2—I had Jamaal Charles in every cash game lineup and A.J. Green all over the place—so now seems like a good time to talk about bankroll management.

No matter how confident you are in your lineups, chances are that level of confidence isn’t warranted. Even if you nail your picks in terms of getting exposure to players with a high probability of success, things go wrong. Sometimes players get injured. Sometimes the game script renders them ineffective. Sometimes they just suck.

It’s absolutely vital to prepare for the worst, which is fundamentally related to your bankroll management. Even knowing that, though, there isn’t just one bankroll management plan that’s right for everyone.

I often get emails that ask, “What percentage of my bankroll should I put into tournaments?” or “Can I play 20 percent each week?” While there are some universal bankroll management rules (like don’t put all of your money into play at once, dummy), the answers to most bankroll questions aren’t so black-and-white.

So here are a few factors that have a major impact on which bankroll management plan is right for you:

 

Risk Tolerance

First and foremost, you need to determine how much risk you’re willing to take on. Are you putting in a set amount of money that you’re okay losing in hopes of hitting on something big? Are you trying to grind out profits with a conservative approach? If you’re not okay with losing X amount of money (and by ‘okay,’ I mean it doesn’t bother you for more than an hour or something), then don’t play X amount of money.

 

League Selection

This one is obvious; different league types are riskier than others. In order, they go something like this:

Qualifiers, GPPs, 3/5/10-Man, 50/50, Head-to-Head

Qualifiers are the riskiest, by far, because you don’t win cash. You win entry into another tournament, so the chances of cashing with a qualifier entry are slim: the odds of winning the ticket multiplied by the odds of cashing in the subsequent tournament.

The rest is pretty self-explanatory. Note that if you enter just one league, a 50/50 is actually safer than a head-to-head, but as you enter the same lineup into more heads-up games, they become safer than 50/50s.

 

Diversification

In addition to the manner in which you diversify your leagues, the way you diversify other aspects of your play will affect how much is okay for you to play each week; some factors include player selection, site selection, and lineup diversification.

Player selection is obvious; the more players you use, the less drastic the swings in your bankroll will be. Note that diversifying too much is a bad thing, because at a certain point, you’ll no longer have a positive expected value. If you just chose every player every week, you’d slowly lose your money. We’re always trying to walk the fine line between diversifying and playing optimal lineups, but in general, the greater the player pool, the more you can play comfortably.

Site selection is important, too, because you generally won’t play the same lineups/players on every site. You’ll have different values on different sites, which allows for a larger player pool.

Finally, the manner in which you construct your lineups is important. I sometimes play two heads-up lineups, but they might have six or seven players the same. That’s basically the same as playing one lineup, so I can’t treat it the same as if I played two lineups with no similar players. Pay attention to how you pair players and how often you have exposure to certain player groupings.

Okay, I’m pretty much finished with that ramble, but I’m assuming you still want some sort of “Play this amount each week” advice, right? Well again, it depends on all of the above factors, but a decent general, weekly template might be something like this:

7% of bankroll in H2H

3% of bankroll in 50/50

2% of bankroll in GPP

2% of bankroll in other

That’s 14 percent each week, which I think is a safe-but-aggressive-enough number.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 74: Week 3 WR Analysis for DraftKings

At DraftKings, I ran through some Week 3 wide receiver options. Here are the top five:

  • Top Five Wide Receivers

Calvin Johnson, Detroit vs Green Bay, $8900 – No surprise to see Megatron as the most expensive wide receiver for the third consecutive week to begin the season. What’s really interesting, though, is that he’s not only $500 more expensive than every other wide receiver, but also $1000 more than every running back.

DraftKings has appeared to alter their pricing a bit this season, bumping up wide receivers as a whole. That could alter the wide-receivers-are-the-best-flex-play rule, so we need to take it on a case-by-case basis right now.

Either way, Johnson is always in play as a GPP option.

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay at Detroit, $8400 – It’s going to be really interesting to see Nelson’s usage this week. On one hand, he’s the second-most expensive receiver and $100 more than Brandon Marshall. On the other hand, he’s coming off of a monster game and Green Bay could air it out in Detroit.

It’s really difficult to decide how to handle Nelson this week. Low usage could mean more value in GPPs, but the Lions have a ridiculously underrated pass-rush and have allowed the fourth-fewest points to opposing wide receivers.

Brandon Marshall, Chicago at NY Jets, $8300 – It’s going to be really difficult to get away from Marshall this week, and I expect his usage to perhaps be the highest of any wide receiver. We all saw what Nelson did to the Jets last week; New York has allowed the most fantasy points to wide receivers this season, and Marshall is the clear-cut favorite target for Jay Cutler. Fade at your own risk.

Dez Bryant, Dallas at St. Louis, $7700 – Bryant struggled in Week 1, but his performance last week was more what we all expected with Scott Linehan in town: 13 targets, 10 catches, and over 100 yards with a score.

The Rams D is pretty good, but they’ve lost one of their best players in Chris Long. Normally I’d be scared about St. Louis double-teaming Bryant on every play, but the emergence of league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray should help things a bit on the outside.

Randall Cobb, Green Bay at Detroit, $7500 – If you want to be contrarian in Week 3, this is where you can do it. I fully expect Cobb’s usage to be the lowest of any top wide receiver. He’s simply priced too high here—more than Antonio Brown.

This will come down to how you think the Lions are going to play Nelson. If news comes out that they’re going to double him, Cobb all of a sudden comes into play as a more attractive player. In my opinion, though, he’s only in play in tournaments, and perhaps not even there because the value isn’t there.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 73: The Little Things

At DraftKings, I wrote about why the best daily fantasy players pay attention to the little things.

Al_Smizzle’s $1 Million Opportunity

When I wrote my last book on how pros win playing daily fantasy sports, I spoke with Al_Smizzle about his second-place finish in DraftKings’ 2013 Fantasy Football Championship. Smizzle won $350k for the effort, but he put himself in position to win the thing because of one small little roster construction trick.

Heading into the Monday night game, Smizzle was down fewer than two points on bundafever, and the two users were basically the only options to win the tournament, each with one player to go. Bundafever had a running back left to play—a player Smizzle knew was Frank Gore based on reverse-engineering the lineup using that week’s salaries.

Well, Smizzle also had Gore left to go. His only chance to win was to play someone else. The good news? He could select any running back, wide receiver, or tight end with a cheaper price than Gore since he placed Gore in the flex spot.

This wasn’t an accident. Smizzle always uses the player in the latest possible game as his flex play because it gives him outs. In the off-chance that a scenario arises like the one that did, Smizzle has more possible scenarios to help him win since he can late-swap to almost any player.

It didn’t work out in that particular tournament, but Smizzle at least gave himself a chance to win by using very shrewd lineup construction before the games began that week. It’s little maneuvers like these—things that increase the probability of winning just a tad—that can add up to create a large edge over the field.