The Three P’s Of Daily Fantasy Baseball
If you are a premium member, you have access to our algorithmic projections that we at DFW use pick batters for Daily Fantasy MLB. While the projections are my main focus when creating lineups, there is a general heuristic that I want to follow when choosing hitters for my team. That heuristic can be summed up as the three P’s of Daily Fantasy Baseball: Park, Price, and Pitcher.
Note: If you want to read about what kind of thought process goes into picking a pitcher, you can read my article on how to pick a pitcher or a plethora of other pitcher related articles on the site.
Baseball is possibly one of the weirdest major sports because it’s the only one where the stadium the game is played in has different dimensions depending on the location. Some parks are smaller than others, some parks have higher walls on one side of the field, and some thinner air than others.
When a game is played at Coors Field, almost every hitter in that game is going to have a good projection because the amount of runs scored at Coors dwarfs the amount runs scored at any other stadium. Since runs and fantasy points have a near perfect correlation, this matters a lot. The reason for Coors Field being so hitter friendly is because of the thin air at high elevation in Denver. Thinner air allows the ball to travel further and decelerate slower, meaning all types of hits are more plentiful.
There are many more stadiums similar to Coors. Baseball statisticians have tried to estimate how “friendly” each stadium is to hits and outcomes of all types. These estimates are referred to as park factors, and you can read about them across the web. I use Fangraphs, who appear to have the most reputable park factors. Practically every hitter playing at a stadium with a high basic park factor will have a solid projection, although Coors Field is by far the most hitter friendly park.
There are plenty of bad parks as well, with AT&T Park where the Giants play being the worst. Hitters tend to be poor projected at these unfriendly parks, but can be playable against the very worst pitchers.
Since we are working under a salary cap, the best plays for daily fantasy baseball are not necessarily the highest projected players, but instead the highest projected players in relation to their salary. In the same vein, high projected hitters may not be good plays because their price is way too high relative to their skill. But how can you identify players who have a good price relative to their skill?
In both NBA and NFL, recent performance means a lot in terms of how many fantasy points we can expect from a player in an upcoming game. In baseball, study has shown recent performance means nothing. A player in a huge slump in their past several games still tends to perform close to their average stats from the past few years. A player who is red hot tends to do the same. This may not seem logical, but as I said earlier, baseball is a weird sport.
It’s not that easy to tell exactly how good a hitter is. Luck has a big effect on a hitters statistics, and hitters can improve or decline over time. There are services such as Steamer and ZiPS which you can find on Fangraphs which publish rest of season projections for almost every pitcher and hitter in baseball. They use a mathematically rigorous process called regression to look at the past several seasons of data to make the best guess at the next season or partial season. I’d say overall, you’re not going to do much better of a job than them at projecting players without exceptional knowledge of the game of baseball.
The statistic we want to pay attention to is called wOBA. wOBA is a statistic that was created by an author named Tom Tango (who now works for the Cubs) and published in “The Book: Playing The Percentages in Baseball,” a must read for daily fantasy baseball players. The gist of wOBA is it calculates the expected runs produced by each individual outcome of a plate appearance. It’s not a whole lot different than OPS, but a lot more correlated to runs.
Now what kind of wOBA do we want for a given price? I think as a general rule of thumb for how much wOBA you want from a player per dollar of salary, you can follow this list for FanDuel and DraftKings.
Fair Price for FanDuel
$2200-$2500: .295 – .305
$2600-$3300: .310 – .330
$3400-$4100: .335 – .355
Fair Price for DraftKings
$2000 – $3000: .285 – 305
$3000 – $4000: .305 – .330
$4000 – $5000: .330 – .355
These are rough estimates but a good reference point. A lot of the time you will see a high wOBA hitter in a price slot 1 or even 2 below their skill level. Unless that guy is facing a really good pitcher, he should be a solid play.
Note: Since stolen bases are worth a lot, prolific base stealers are often worth $1000 more than their wOBA suggests. Guys who are good for a few or several swiped bags are worth a couple hundred more dollars than their wOBA.
I purposely picked pitcher to write about last to make a point. When I first started daily fantasy baseball, my first thought is you want to pick guys going against bad pitchers, just like in NBA and NFL you want to pick players going against a bad defense. And that is true, the skill of the opposing pitcher does matter. But park and price are equally if not more important than pitcher, so it’s important to move away from the instinct that opposing pitcher is the only thing that matters.
Because parks vastly differ in how good they are for hitters and pitchers, probably the best metric to use to gauge pitcher skill is called FIP. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, and you can read about it in depth here. The gist of it is it measures a pitchers skill based on only outcomes pitchers alone control: Walks, Strikeouts, and Homeruns. This ends up being a much better metric at predicting future performance by a pitcher than looking at ERA. There is another spin on FIP called xFIP that only considers Strikeouts, Walks, and Flyballs, and assumes a pitcher will allow the league average Homeruns per Flyball. This tends to be a bit better since some parks are drastically more Homerun friendly than others and therefore adds bias. Luck can also play a big part in Homeruns allowed in a small sample, which is another advantage to xFIP.
Here’s some ballpark FIP numbers for gauging pitcher skill.
2.00 – 3.00: Elite
3.00 – 4.00: Above Average
4.00 – 5.00: Below Average
The Two Out Of Three Rule
Now that we have three factors to consider we have to decide how to weigh each one. A good rule to follow is what I call the “Two Out Of Three Rule” (I’m just going to refer to this as short as TOOTR because its a proper anagram and it sounds kind of funny). The TOOTR rule is as follows: If two out of the three p’s are favorable for a hitter, they are a good play. If all three factors are in the hitters favor, they are a must play.
This rule works really well for me, and I always try to get three factor guys in my lineup. The best value you can have is a player at Coors Field, who is underpriced, and facing a terrible pitcher. The worst value is at AT&T Park, overpriced, and facing Clayton Kershaw.
It’s important to know that even when one of the three p’s is very unfavorable, that guy is still playable, but probably moreso in tournaments than cash games. For example, a few days ago the Angels visited the White Sox. U.S. Cellular Field is the best homerun park for a righty in the league. Mike Trout’s price was pretty good, he’s the best hitter in the league at $4700 when $5500 is more fair value. Those two factors alone are really favorable. However, he faced arguably the best pitcher in baseball Chris Sale. With that said, our Algorithm still projected him as a good play, because the price and park are so good.
The same can be said for a bad park. AT&T park is the worst hitters park in baseball, but if Buster Posey is facing a really bad pitcher and has a good price, he’s probably going to be a good or sometimes very good play.
A guy on a huge hot streak may have an incredibly inflated salary, and despite facing a bad pitcher at a good park he may not be worth his ripoff price. FanDuel and DraftKings salary algorithm takes recent performance into consideration too much in baseball, so you’ll see this kind of thing happen a fair amount of the time.
Park, Price, and Pitcher aren’t the only things to consider when picking hitters for your lineups. I suggest looking at our daily strategy threads everyday in the forum to get a glimpse at some of the advanced metrics we use. But the three P’s will give you a good base to build on.
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View all posts by Daniel Steinberg