Keys to winning daily fantasy baseball contests

What follows are some of the keys to winning daily fantasy baseball contests, such as those offered at Draftbug, Snapdraft, and Fantasysportslive.

Look for bargains — This is kind of obvious, but the salary cap limitations in these contests mean that you’re not usually going to be able to use an all-star type lineup. You’re going to need to search out some undervalued players and use them. One common source of these is players who will have an expanded role today due to an injury to another player. However, there are players who provide good value for more extended periods of time. Sometimes this is because player prices aren’t updated based upon superior performance. Other times, these values are available because the player’s value in a particular scoring format surpasses their reputation, so nobody notices that they’re underpriced.

Check the news — Check the news to make sure that you’re not using anybody in your lineup who won’t be playing today. Lineups in these contests typically lock in after starting lineups for the early games are announced, so ideally you should make sure that your players are actually in the lineup. This also means that if you are going to be able to check lineups prior to your roster locking, then players with early games are going to be worth a few percentage points more to you on average than those with later games.

Understand the rules — This goes for any format of fantasy baseball—you should always know the rules thoroughly. In particularly, the scoring systems vary in different daily contest formats, and you should make sure you’re selecting players who fare well in the scoring system your contest uses. A player like Jason Giambi is a pretty valuable if your system uses walks, but not so much otherwise. Also make sure that you know how the rules treat special cases like doubleheaders and rainouts.

Larger contests require more risks — In a two-person contest, you should just go with the best possible lineup. In a larger contest (say 100 people), where the prize payouts are typically very top-heavy, you’re going to need to take some chances to have a shot at the top spot. Play for first place, not 10th. In the larger contests, you want to increase variance in your scoring. One way to do this is to pick players whose performance is likely to show a high correlation. For example, pick the starting pitcher and closer on one team. Another way is to increase variance is to take players whose scores tend to be more “feast or famine,” such as home run hitters who strike out a lot. You also should be a little more willing to pick a clearly superior player who has a small to moderate chance of being rained out, if you’re playing in a larger contest. But in a heads-up contest, just play it safe and make sure that all your players will be playing today.

Take opponents into account — When you evaluate players for your team, consider who their opponent is today. For pitchers, how strong is the opposing lineup? How strong is the opposing starting pitcher? For hitters, how strong are the opposing starting pitcher and bullpen? I’ve built a fairly complex statistical model to do this, and I suspect that other top players have as well.

Take park factors into account — Where is the game being played? Ideally you want pitchers to be in favorable pitchers’ parks and hitters in favorable hitters’ parks, although there are plenty of cases when other factors may override this. This too, is part of my statistical model. However, like evaluating opponent quality, you can do it somewhat effectively simply by eyeballing the schedule and pitching match-ups each day before you make your picks.

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  1. Ian said...

    I’m starting to get a little more serious about daily contests, and I’m wondering if you could provide some specifics about taking opponents into account.  I’m not sure how strongly to rate current season performance over preseason predictions.  What’s your method?

  2. Alex Zelvin said...

    Ian – In general, I’m using preseason projections for hitters and tweaking my numbers every month or two for pitchers.  You can definitely do better if you gradually weight the season performance to date more and more heavily against projections as the season progresses.

    As far as taking opponents into account, for pitchers I’m simply using preseason projections for offensive runs scores, adjusted to be park neutral.

    For hitters, I’m looking at the K/9, BB/9 and GB% of the opposing starting pitcher.  Basically I’m adjusting projected walks by the BB/9, adjusting all types of hits by the K/9, and adjusting the home runs by the GB%.  I’m also deriving something resembling xFIP which I use to adjust runs and RBIs.

    If anyone is interested in more of the details, send me an email at

  3. Ivan said...

    Alex, what are your thoughts about Do you think it’s easier or harder to succeed long term in a factor style game or a salary cap based game?

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