Daily Fantasy Baseball: An Introduction to Daily Research
Homework time, everybody. I promise it won't be anything too crazy because homework is no bueno, boss.
Anyway, open up that page. I want you to try to count how many numbers are on that page. With Buxton, you luck out a bit because he's still a pup, but that's still a poo-ton of information.
This is both a blessing and a burden. On the one hand, you never have to worry about not having the data around which to formulate quality decisions. On the other, it's hard to decipher which information is most important, making it impossible to know where to start when you're doing your research. Me thinks that's a problem.
If you're just getting started, that's a fairly intimidating notion, and I can see why that would be a bit discouraging. Let's try to make sure that isn't the case.
I'm just going to spit out the way that I do my research for a slate of daily fantasy baseball. Should you follow this to a tee? Absolutely not. This is just what has worked for me, and it is nothing more than that. However, if you need a starting spot, hopefully this can help you get there. Eventually, you'll realize methods that better fit your style, and you can evolve from there. This is simply a way to dive in.
Without further ado, let's look at some of the elements involved with preparing for a slate of MLB DFS.
Start With Pitchers
No matter what the slate looks like, I'm inevitably going to start my research with the starting pitchers. I first want to see which pitcher or pitchers are the best for use before profiling the ones I should target with my hitters.
The reason I want to know what the pitching landscape looks like is I want an idea of how much salary I'm going to have to work with elsewhere. Because I almost always pay a hefty price for pitching, it helps me to have a ballpark estimate of what I'm going to have to pay before I start looking elsewhere.
You can find pitching matchups for the day in a wide array of places, though I will generally default to ESPN's MLB scoreboard. This lists all of the starters along with the moneylines and over/unders, giving me an idea of whether or not my first inclination aligns with Vegas' thoughts.
For each pitcher on the slate, I will open up their FanGraphs page in order to write down their strikeout rate, walk rate, SIERA, and ground-ball rate. I generally put all of these into a single spreadsheet so that I can quickly compare each pitcher to the rest of the options on the slate in the areas with the highest correlation to pitching success.
The next step is to look at the opposing offense on a macro level. I want to see how that offense fares against pitchers of the same handedness of the starter.
Again, this requires a trip to FanGraphs. You can view how a team does against pitchers of a specific handedness by hovering over "Teams" and clicking "Team Batting Stats" for the season you want to see. Click the drop-down box next to "Split" in the middle of that screen and select the handedness of the opposing starter. The "Advanced" tab has the info we're looking for.
The three main components I want to see here are the team's wRC+, strikeout rate, and walk rate. We prefer to have a team with a low wRC+, high strikeout rate, and low walk rate going up against our starters. I'd put this information onto the same sheet as the pitchers so you can compare the two components head to head.
Before closing out of the tab, we also want to see what the team's wOBA is either on the home or road, depending on where the game is taking place. We prefer wOBA over wRC+ here because wRC+ neutralizes for park factor, but we want to have that in the equation when it comes to home-road splits.
The final aspect here is the aforementioned park factors. You can see three-year averages in this Google Doc, though year-by-year park factor rankings are available on ESPN. It's probably best to write all of these down as well because we'll be looking for different things on both offense and defense.
Now that we've got all of our information in one spot, it's time to pick the pitchers we want to use. You should be factoring in each of the pieces of information above to round out your decision. With all of this data in one place, pinpointing three to four pitchers who are in spots to succeed each day shouldn't be too difficult of a task.
Once I've narrowed my list down a bit, then it's time to look to Vegas again. If the lines are indicating one team is a heavy favorite in a low-scoring game, then that starter is going to be hard to top in my mind. That's the ideal scenario for a pitcher, and if we can get that in one of the guys on our list, then we're sitting pretty.
The combination of all of this info should give us a pretty good idea of our top two or three pitchers. That's when you'll look at pricing for the first time. I wouldn't necessarily pick one as my go-to guy yet, but this way you can have an idea of how much you'll need to fork over as you start to look at your offense.
Finding My Stack
Whether it's for a cash game or a tournament, I'll almost always be stacking in MLB DFS. Because this is going to occupy a bunch of spots on my roster, I want to go through this fairly early in my process.
We'll again start things off on that same sheet where we initially recorded all of the info on starting pitchers. Ideally, we want our offense facing a guy with a SIERA of 4.20 or higher. The lower the strikeout rate is, the better, and if we can snag a SIERA above 4.50, we should start salivating.
That's when we turn to the team's stats for their wRC+, wOBA, and strikeout rate. I'll be less likely to stack a team with a high strikeout rate in cash, but they're fair game in a tournament. If the team excels against pitchers of the same handedness of the opposing starter, then things are picking up.
The other factors involved with picking a stack are park factors and Vegas lines. Ideally, we'd like our game to be occuring in a park with a park factor of 1.020 or higher with 1.050 or higher being the sweet spot. If we align a struggling pitcher with a good offense in a quality park, then Vegas' odds will likely reflect that. We should probably start digging deeper if that's not the case.
Now comes the selecting of the players within the stack. If the lineup is already out, then we can simply reference that. If not, we can find past lineups on Baseball Reference. Simply select the team you're looking at, hover over "Other," and click "Batting Orders." This will list the orders chronologically, so if you see a lineup against a pitcher of the same handedness within the past few days, you can likely formulate some early decisions around that.
My cash-game stacks are likely to focus on the top of the order out of an attempt to increase the sample size. By piling up as many plate appearances as possible, we're giving our guys more chances to score points. It's a very simple thought process, but it's something that can go overlooked.
I'm willing to dip lower in the order for tourneys. My favorite spot for a tournament stack is going with the guys batting third through sixth. These positions are more likely to carry high wOBA's and smack some long balls, which is great for our purposes. That strategy will shift if the team uses more powerful hitters in the top two spots, but a bunch of teams haven't quite gotten there yet. This is why we allocate resources a bit lower in the order.
For each hitter I'm considering, I will want to see what they do individually against pitchers of the same handedness of the opposing starter. If there's a guy batting fifth who struggles against lefties, then I'm going to try to find ways around him in my stack. If this means my hitters bat second-third-fourth-sixth, then I'm not going to worry much about it; I just want to choose the optimal batters within that lineup.
The stats I'll focus on most heavily here are wOBA, strikeout rate, walk rate, and hard-hit rate against that handedness. When the sample size is small, I will omit wOBA and focus almost exclusively on the other three aspects. You can find these by going to a player's FanGraphs page, clicking "Splits," and then viewing their numbers in each category against pitchers of that handedness.
This process should give us a list of four or so players we want to include in our stack. Now is when I would check the hitter pricing for the day. If the players seem to be on the high end of the spectrum, and our pitching is looking expensive, then it may be time to shift focus on another stack. Otherwise, if things look like they're lining up well, we can proceed to selecting the rest of our lineup.
As with everything, my process here begins with a look at the opposing starting pitchers. I have zero interest in using a hitter against a quality pitcher (outside of striving to be contrarian), so I will be looking at the same things we looked at in our stacks -- high SIERA, low strikeout rate, and a great park factor.
With the individual hitters, I will weigh home run park factor more than I did with the stacks. There, I want to score runs so I can double-dip with runs scored and runs batted in. Individually, I'm more focused on home runs, which are more abundant in parks with a high home run park factor. The sweet spot is anything above 1.200, though anything above 1.000 is above average.
This is also the ideal time to search for hitters with heavy platoon splits. Take Scott Van Slyke for example. The Los Angeles Dodgers are facing a lefty, and Van Slyke is sitting in the five hole. His career hard-hit rate against lefties is 34.3 percent with a 22.0 percent strikeout rate and 13.0 percent walk rate. Those numbers shift to 33.8 percent, 29.8 percent, and 7.7 percent against righties. He's very much in play against the right lefties, while he slips a good amount against righties.
The reason we love these guys is that their price will reflect their overall performance, but their actual projected production for the day will not. If their numbers are dragged down by poor performances in certain conditions that don't exist for this day's game (as in facing pitchers of a certain handedness), then their prices will be sub-optimal. That's great for our purposes.
Outside of my stack, my hitters will generally fit into one of a few categories. First, they'll be a fly-ball hitter in a spot to launch some dingers. Second, they could be a person with heavy platoon splits whose salary may be too low. Third, they could be a person who presents upside in the form of stolen-base potential. Finally, they could just be a hitter who finds himself in a park factor better than his regular conditions. If I can't check one of those boxes, then there's not much incentive for me to use that person.
Using this process should give you a good list of players you can pepper around the stack you've formulated. We're not quite done, though, as there is an important factor that has been left out so far: the weather.
Checking the Weather
If you read our piece on multi-homer hitters, you know that weather plays a critical role in production. I only save it for last because weather forecasts can change throughout the day, and I want the most accurate information I can find.
Cold weather is better for pitchers, while hitters tend to thrive in hot and humid weather. Wind speed is most important for our hitters, and if we can find a game where the wind is blowing out a 10-plus miles per hour, we happy.
You can, of course, find all of this information by going to your favorite weather website and looking there. If you're hoping to streamline the process, RotoGrinders' Kevin Roth (who is an actual meteorologist) provides weather updates each day and shows which direction the wind is blowing relative to the park. That'll make your life a bunch easier and give you a considerable leg up.
You'll also need to be wary of games in which inclement weather is in the forecast. If the game gets rained out after lineups lock, you're taking a zero across the board. Sometimes this is worth the risk, but it can present a significant obstacle.
My thoughts with weather differ betweeen hitters and pitchers. For batters, if it looks like there will be rain with little chance of the game being postponed, then I'll likely still use them. Hitters don't suffer much from hitting in the rain (they would be more likely to benefit than pitchers), and if people are scared off by the weather, the upside is even higher with low ownership.
I'm far less aggressive with pitchers. The obvious reason is that they account for such a large chunk of your points that having the game rained out would take you out of all contention for cashing.
The less obvious reason is that pitchers often do not return to games if they enter a rain delay. If the game starts and then stops for rain in the third inning, there's a chance your pitcher won't see the mound again. Thanks, but I'll pass.
If the weather research gives you pause, then you may need to reevaluate some of your selections. Otherwise, if all is well and good, then you're ready for the easy part -- filling out your lineup.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is just how I do things. You'll inevitably find ways that are more enjoyable for you and move on, but this is what has worked for me.
If the process seems to take a long time, that's because it likely will in the beginning. I'd recommend trying to do as much as possible the night before just so you can have an idea of what you're looking for the next day. That way if you only have a few minutes before lock, you can fill in the blanks with relative ease. You'll eventually know which lineups and hitters to target against pitchers of each handedness, which will also speed things along.
It's impossible to be successful in MLB DFS without conducting good research, and good research takes time. That doesn't mean it's not worth it, though. Implementing some of the steps above along with things you find to be useful can help you nail studs on a consistent basis and speed the road to profitability.