Daily Fantasy Baseball: How Valuable Is Stacking?

Stacking is a widely used strategy is daily fantasy baseball. How did stacks perform in 2019?

It could be a while before we're able to play MLB DFS again, but this does give us ample time to check out historical data and see which approaches work best.

Anyone familiar with daily fantasy baseball is aware that stacking is a popular strategy. And logically, it makes perfect sense -- if a team scores a whole bunch of runs on a given night, multiple hitters in that lineup will have high fantasy outputs.

But just how advantageous is stacking, and what is the optimal combination of players? Is maxing out with two four-player stacks the best approach? Should you just stack one team and piecemeal the rest? Could there even be merit to including a pitcher in a five-man stack?

Let's take a look at some real-life FanDuel results from 2019 and find out.

Yeah, It Works

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. It's pretty common knowledge that stacking, in general, is effective, but it can't hurt to see it in action. Here are the average FanDuel scores from the 2019 season based on the maximum number of players stacked in a given lineup.

Max Players Stacked Average FanDuel Score
1 119.78
2 122.74
3 123.85
4 125.67

The results are crystal clear. We get a steady increase in average score based on the maximum hitters stacked. Theoretically, it would seem plausible to forego stacking on a large slate with several bad pitchers on the mound, but as the above shows, literally, any correlation between your hitters is better than none.

It's still worth remembering that stacking is a high-variance strategy, though. If half your hitters are coming from one game, and they end up getting blanked that night, your lineup is already dead in the water. So while the average scores are higher based on the more players stacked, it remains a risky move in cash games to devote too many resources to one team. However, the fact that stacking even two players is beneficial demonstrates that having some correlation in cash game lineups may still be a smart move.

But What Are the Best Stacking Combinations?

On the other hand, if you're shooting for upside in tournaments, the above chart shows that four-player stacks are generally the best way to go, followed by three-man stacks. FanDuel allows us to roster eight hitters (and a pitcher), so the logical conclusion then is we should double up with two four-man stacks or go 4-3-1 -- both of which are popular tactics. Do the numbers convey the same thing?

Below is a list of how various stacking setups worked on FanDuel last season. The three numbers represent the three largest stacks in a given lineup. For example, a 4-1-1 stack would effectively be a 4-1-1-1-1 lineup -- a four-man stack paired with four one-offs -- or a 2-2-2 stack might be a 2-2-2-1-1 or 2-2-2-2 setup.

Stack SetupAverage FanDuel Score
4-1-1 127.0
4-2-1 125.6
4-3-1 125.4
4-4-0 125.4
3-2-1 124.7
3-3-1 124.1
3-1-1 123.4
4-2-2 123.4
2-2-1 123.1
2-2-2 122.9
3-2-2 122.3
3-3-2 121.4
2-1-1 121.2
1-1-1 119.6

Four-man stacks absolutely dominated in 2019, taking up the top four spots when sorted by average FanDuel score. Curiously, only 4-2-2 stacks fared worse, though that grouping had the third-smallest data set, so this could also be skewed by the smaller sample size.

The general takeaway, though, is that having a four-player stack is the optimal route. However, it's worth noting that forcing in a second four-player stack doesn't appear to be a must, and nor is pairing a four- and three-man stack together. There were fewer overall 4-1-1 lineups compared to the 4-3-1, 4-2-1, and 4-4-0 sets, so the wide margin of "victory" of the 4-1-1 stacks could, again, be the result of a smaller sample, but this would still seem to indicate that hitting on the top stack of the slate is more vital than trying to necessarily hit on two.

Less correlated lineups performed far worse across the board, further emphasizing that a scattershot approach in tournaments isn't advisable.

Stacking... the Pitcher?

On FanDuel, you can technically stack up to five players if you include the starting pitcher. Although a pitcher's results naturally aren't directly correlated with his hitters, a successful stack would give him more run support, presumably increasing the likelihood of getting the win (six FanDuel points). Is there any merit to this?

Max Players Stacked (including pitchers) Average FanDuel Score
1 119.80
2 122.97
3 124.22
4 125.50
5 121.81

Note that since this data set includes pitchers, that changes the prior score totals across the board -- a four-man stack might include a pitcher, for instance -- but the overall results remain the same from one through four.

As for the five-man stack, this suggests there isn't any clear advantage to pairing a pitcher with his teammates. This is likely due to a majority of a hurler's score still coming down to his own performance, rendering any potential boost in getting the win minor at best.

Furthermore, while attacking a bad pitcher is typically where we start with stacks, elite stacking situations often also arise from the overall hitting environment of a game, whether due to weather (hot and humid temperatures; high winds) and/or the venue itself (Coors Field). In those situations, including the team's own starting pitcher would obviously be a poor move.

Final Takeaways

Stacking was an overwhelming success in 2019, and while that doesn't come as a big surprise, it's comforting to see it backed up by real data.

Using four-man stacks in any combination is the optimal approach to attacking tournaments, while it's abundantly clear that an uncorrelated lineup puts you behind the eight ball. Stacking your hitters in conjunction with the pitcher is an interesting idea in theory, but the data doesn't back up going this route unless you just happen to like that pitcher independently on a given slate.

Overall, it's undeniable that stacking remains king in daily fantasy baseball. Stack to your heart's content when baseball returns.