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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.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 87: Studying Week 5 WRs + How to Overcome a Slow Start

At DraftKings, I broke down some of the wide receiver options in Week 5.

At RotoWorld, I wrote about how to overcome a slow start to the season. It’s a subscriber-only article, but here’s an excerpt:

Pair a QB and WR

In the daily fantasy sports world, it is very common to see players pair a quarterback with one or more of his receivers in big tournaments because it increases the ceiling of a lineup. That’s because the production of receivers is obviously tied to that of their quarterback.

Below, I charted the probability of certain levels of performance for quarterbacks and their receivers. If the distribution of points on a team were completely random, we’d expect that there would be a 25 percent chance that a WR1 would have a top-four game if his QB had the same. Instead, it’s 40 percent.

SS1

The same goes for bottom-four performances, too. They exceed what we’d expect from randomness alone.

SS2

This shouldn’t be surprising—of course quarterback and wide receiver production is connected—but it seems like many season-long owners overlook the effect that pairing teammates together can have on your fantasy lineup.

If you’re seeking variance after a slow start, I’d recommend trying to pair a quarterback with his WR1, if possible. That might mean picking up someone off of waivers or making a trade, but creating that symbiotic relationship within your lineup can give you upside.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 86: Winning the Millionaire Maker

I’ve made it a goal to finish this 100-day series within 200 days, and I ALWAYS accomplish my goals.

At DraftKings, I published a quick guide on how to attack this weekend’s Millionaire Maker. Here’s an excerpt:

Law No. 7: Go against the grain as a contrarian thinker.

You don’t need to bypass every obvious value to go against the grain, but jumping on one or two players you know won’t be highly owned can provide you with the lineup differentiation that you’ll need in a tournament. One of the shrewd moves that I see again and again from the game’s top pros is playing elite players in tough matchups; A.J. Green can get his numbers against any defense, but he won’t necessarily be a popular choice against one of the league’s top Ds.

I think this last “law” is really important for the Millionaire Maker. With nearly 100,000 lineups, we are going to see more similar lineups than we’ve ever witnessed. Even if a player has 10 percent usage, that’s over 9,000 lineups!

It’s more important than ever to create a unique lineup, finding upside where others aren’t looking. Normally, it makes sense to try to hit on one player, maybe two, who you know will be underutilized. Well, this might be the time to load your roster with contrarian plays.

Last week, I emphasized the mathematics behind using a more balanced strategy in tournaments—as opposed to using a couple scrubs and elite players—because it maximizes the probability of hitting on everyone.

Well, this might be a time to disregard that advice. Not only will you need to hit on every player, but you’ll need to hit on players who aren’t in a ton of lineups, too. That’s why I think a high-low strategy with maybe three or so players who are close to min-priced is the way to go. If you can identify that talent and hit on it, you’ll have 1) a unique source of points others don’t have and 2) a whole lot of cap space left to fit the elite players into your lineup.

Personally, I will be spending the majority of my time this week researching under-the-radar players at the bottom of the salary lists—guys like Justin Hunter, Austin Davis, Bishop Sankey, Jared Cook, and so on. By emphasizing those sorts of low-usage players (maybe not those exact guys in particular) and spending big elsewhere, I think you’ll put yourself in the best position to benefit from variance in Week 5.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 85: Week 5 QB Options

At DraftKings, I broke down some of the QB options for Week 5.

Five Mid-Priced Quarterbacks

Jay Cutler, Chicago at Carolina, $7700 – Cutler appears to have a quality matchup against the Panthers—a team that just got torched by the Ravens through the air. A lot of those yards and scores came from really fluky plays, however, and Carolina was really good in the first three games of the season.

This is an example of one outlier game perhaps throwing off overall stats early in the year. In the first three weeks of the season, the Panthers allowed fewer than 200 passing yards twice and 253 yards to the explosive Detroit Lions. With Brandon Marshall appearing unhealthy, I think this might be a situation to avoid.

 

Russell Wilson, Seattle at Washington, $7600 – The Redskins defense looked formidable right out of the gate in 2014, but they also played the Jags and Texans. After facing the Eagles and Giants over the past two weeks, Washington has come back to Earth, allowing well over 600 passing yards in those games.

I love Wilson as a high-efficiency play in just about any game, but this is yet another contest in which he’s unlikely to see enough attempts to give you a truly elite ceiling. Wilson is probably a nice play in cash games, but I don’t like him much as a GPP play given that he hasn’t thrown more than 34 passes in a game all year.

 

Eli Manning, NY Giants vs Atlanta, $7500 – Even though the Falcons D is horrific, I think Manning’s price jumped too much for Week 5. He’s currently priced $200 cheaper than Jay Cutler and $500 higher than both Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. The Manning-to-Donnell tandem looks enticing and maybe there’s merit to playing it in the Millionaire Maker, but I don’t like Manning at all in cash games.

 

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh at Jacksonville, $7400 – You have the league’s worst pass defense, by far, facing a relatively streaky quarterback coming off of his biggest game of the year. I actually like Roethlisberger more in cash games than tournaments because his upside might be capped, but Antonio Brown is very much in play everywhere.

 

Cam Newton, Carolina vs Chicago, $7200 – The Bears have allowed the sixth-most points to opposing quarterbacks this year. Newton hasn’t been good with only 15.1 fantasy points per game, but he also hasn’t been forced to air it out much. This is the sort of game in which he might be asked to do that. We should also see a season-high in rushing yards for Newton, who hasn’t topped 19 all year.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 84: Using Late Swap on DraftKings

At RotoGrinders, I broke down how to utilize the late swap feature on DraftKings.

One of the cool aspects of playing on DraftKings is the late swap feature, which gives you the ability to remove anyone from your lineup whose game has not yet started, replacing him with any other eligible player who also hasn’t started playing. You can remove a player in the Sunday night football game just before kickoff, for example, and replace him with any other player from that game or the Monday night game (assuming it’s in the same position and doesn’t cause you to exceed the salary cap).

I believe the late swap feature is one of the most underappreciated components of DraftKings game strategy. Overall, it’s used on just over five percent of all NFL lineups.

The primary purpose of late swap is of course to remove players who are late scratches or otherwise not playing. That’s a really nice feature that allows you to field the best possible lineup without worrying about questionable players not suiting up.

In addition to the obvious late swap uses, here are a few other aspects of how it can and should affect your strategy on DraftKings.

Read the rest here.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 83: Looking Back at Week 4

At DraftKings, I broke down the big winners in daily fantasy from Week 4. I always think it’s useful to study past player usage. Here’s how that looked on DraftKings in Week 4.

Part of the reason that scores were so high was that a lot of the most popular players really delivered in Week 4. At the quarterback position, Philip Rivers led the way with 19.1 percent usage. The only other quarterback to crack double-digit usage was Colin Kaepernick (10.8 percent). With 377 yards and three touchdowns, Rivers delivered 30.08 fantasy points to nearly one-fifth of the field.

Kaepernick was decent with 21.52 points, but the No. 3 and No. 4 most popular quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger) also lit it up. Rodgers cracked the 300-yard barrier and tossed four touchdowns—two each to his top receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, which made for a formidable three-man stack. Roethlisberger once again reconnected with Antonio Brown, throwing for 314 yards and three scores.

The most popular player overall, however, came at the running back position, and it wasn’t even close. In 41.7 percent of all DraftKings lineups, Donald Brown was a good player to fade in Week 4. There was all kinds of hype surrounding the Chargers back and he was indeed underpriced at just $5,400, but Brown managed only 19 yards rushing—fewer than teammate Branden Oliver.

Le’Veon Bell checked in at No. 2 in overall usage in 27.9 percent of lineups, with Eddie Lacy No. 3 among running backs in 20.9 percent of lineups. Neither player was outstanding, although Lacy stole a touchdown and Bell topped 100 total yards (although he didn’t find the end zone).

At wide receiver, it was once again the Antonio Brown show. In 22.8 percent of lineups (fourth overall), Brown continued his reign of terror with seven catches, 131 yards, and two more scores. He’s one of the few undersized receivers who can score on a consistent basis, and his ridiculous week-to-week consistency makes him almost a must-start at this point. Expect to see very high Week 5 usage, regardless of price.

Jeremy Maclin was second in wide receiver popularity in 17.2 percent of lineups, and he disappointed with only four catches and 57 yards. Nelson was third in usage, however, and he really catapulted a lot of lineups with a line of 10/108/2.

At tight end, Antonio Gates and his cheap $4,400 price tag led usage in 26.6 percent of lineups. Despite the Chargers scoring 33 points, Gates joined Brown as a surprisingly unproductive San Diego player, catching three passes for 30 yards. No other tight end was in more than seven percent of lineups.

And here are five interesting stats from Week 4.

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.

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