An introduction to daily fantasy baseball contestsby Alex Zelvin
April 29, 2009
When I started writing for The Hardball Times, the plan was for me to write about Rotohog, since that was the game where I had experienced the most success and to which was devoting the most time. That plan went out the window when Rotohog eliminated most of the prizes for its contests. Fantasy baseball is always fun, but it’s a lot more fun when there’s some money on the line, and without substantial prizes, I wasn’t as interested in Rotohog. Since then I’ve been writing on topics related to a wide variety formats using daily transactions. However, I’ve been looking to introduce a more consistent focus to my articles. It’s been decided that going forward I’ll be writing about the fantasy baseball topic nearest and dearest to my heart—daily contests.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, here’s how daily fantasy baseball contests work. You pick a team today. You win (or lose) tonight. That’s it, more or less. Most sites run the contests as "salary cap" games, where each player has an assigned cost, and you have to pick a full lineup without exceeding the salary cap. Scoring is based on a points system. In addition, some sites offer "live draft" format contests, where you actually do a quick draft with one or more opponents. Games are run with anywhere from 2 up to 100 (or more) contestants, and for stakes ranging from play money to $200 or more per contest.
Close to a dozen sites offer these contests, including Draftbug (which is my site), Snapdraft (the most heavily marketed site so far), and Fantasysportslive (the earliest site to offer these games). While they share many features, there are some differences in the sites' look and feel, contests, scoring, roster configurations, and other features. However, they have enough in common that the strategic issues players face will be similar on all of them, and most of what I talk about should be relevant no matter which you play on.
So why do I think these games are so great? There are two reasons.
Daily fantasy baseball contests allow a lot more room for use of Sabermetrics to gain an edge over your opponents. In a traditional league, the most important skills include performance projection for the season, player valuation for your format, and ongoing game strategy. For the first two, commercially available forecasts and ratings have made it very hard to gain any kind of substantial edge over opponents. Game strategy can provide an edge but isn’t especially dependent on understanding or using sabermetrics. By contrast, success at daily fantasy contests is almost entirely about who has the best “sabermetric-fu.” While the results of any one contest can appear to be almost entirely luck, the cumulative results of multiple contests per day over the course of the season have an extremely high degree of skill. And that skill encompasses forecasting player performance each day based on a host of factors including skill, park factors, home field advantage, opposing starting pitcher, opposing bullpen, health, weather, opposing lineup and more. Each of those offers the opportunity for a wide range of approaches, which will impact your success or failure. For numbers geeks, these games are like a sabermetric playground, where we can profit based on the success of our ideas.
On the other hand, as obsessed as I am (and many of you are) with baseball in general, and fantasy baseball in particular, one of the drawbacks of traditional (full season) leagues is that they’re a grind. Particularly the daily transaction leagues can feel like a chore after a while. If you take a day off it can really hurt your team, and a summer vacation can ruin your entire fantasy baseball season. Daily contests solve that problem. You play them when you have the time, and don’t play when you don’t have the time. For those of us with families and other responsibilities, that’s a real blessing. I may spend hours each day thinking about and working on fantasy baseball, but every once in a while there’s a day when it’s really hard to find even a few minutes for it. Daily contests eliminate the burden of having to check my lineup on those days.
I hope in the coming weeks and months I can not only show you how terrific these games are, but provide you with many of the ideas and tools that will help you succeed in them!
Compete against Alex and other players in one day fantasy baseball contests at Fanduel or visit his site, Daily Baseball Data, which has daily hour by hour weather forecasts for all games on one screen and batter vs. pitcher matchup data for the full day's schedule.
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