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MLB Daily Games Strategy: Avoiding Outcome Bias

Renee Miller

Renee Miller

Neuroscientist at the University of Rochester and author of Cognitive Bias in Fantasy Sports: Is your brain sabotaging your team?. I cover daily fantasy basketball for RotoWire and write for RotoViz about fantasy football.

First base is either the easiest or hardest position to fill in your daily fantasy lineup. From your 1B, you want power, plain and simple. There isn't usually a ton of guesswork or last minute lineup swaps to gain a platoon advantage at 1B, either, like there is at C. Playing first base isn't as physically demanding as catcher (although Kelly Johnson sure made it look otherwise Monday night), so you typically see the same faces out there night after night, barring injury. On the one hand, this should make it easier because you know who these guys are. On the other, it makes it harder, because there are so many good options every night. The other thing we have to consider is that power is the most unpredictable facet of the game. Your home run leading first basemen (or any position) will just as often hit one out as strike out four times.

For this reason, your decision making when it comes to first base is hard to evaluate. Most of you know that I try to take an unbiased approach to fantasy sports, whether I'm playing in daily or seasonal leagues (www.unbiasedfantasysports.com). While DFS avoids some biases, Outcome Bias is one that rears its head a lot in my experience. Outcome Bias is where you judge a decision by the result, rather than by the inherent quality of the decision. If you started Mark Reynolds last night, you might have woken up thinking you made the best possible decision at 1B last night, because Reynolds hit a two-run HR off Kyle Gibson, winding up as the top 1B in DFS. But if you play by the numbers, and adhere to any of the strategies I've laid out in this series, Reynolds was not actually the top 1B option last night. He did not have the splits advantage and he was batting 7th in the order. In fact, he went 1/2 with a walk. This was a game I targeted last night, but there were more favorable options at 1B, according to my process.

This is not to say that everyone will arrive at the same optimal 1B every night, in fact, there is NEVER as much consensus on certain players as I think there will be. I bring up the Outcome Bias just to highlight the fact that even when a position can be volatile-- such that good decisions can bring bad results or bad decisions bring great results-- we need to use a lineup strategy that puts us in the best position to win most often.

Of course, now that Jose Abreu is back, 1B gets a lot easier, right? But just in case we can't afford him every night, let me go through a similar analysis as I did last week for catchers. The top 10 overall first basemen (2014 OPS): Encarnacion, LaRoche, Moss, Cabrera, Abreu, Freeman, Medica, Morneau, Goldschmidt, and Rizzo are kind of the usual suspects. LaRoche at #2 overall was a bit surprising, and Medica is not one I've focused on too much this season as the Padres are a team I target pitchers against rather than hitters from.

Among these top 10, you want to target Moss, Rizzo, Goldschmidt, and perhaps Freeman especially vLHP and LaRoche, Cabrera, and Abreu vRHP. Encarnacion cares not what hand the ball leaves from as he simply crushes everyone (6th OPS vLHP, 4th vRHP). A couple of stronger splits guys to look out for because they could provide value if they're in their team's lineup against such a favorable opponent are Gaby Sanchez, John Mayberry Jr, and Tyler Moore who are all top 10 in OPS vLHP. Look at Steve Pearce vRHP, who is 8th among qualified 1B vRHP (min 50 PA), for some 1B value if he plays. The lefty Moss is actually the #1 first baseman vLHP (he's #10 vRHP).

Notable home run hitters that don't make the top OPS ranks include Mark Reynolds (13), Victor Martinez (13), Ryan Howard (11) and Todd Frazier (10) (who might not have 1B eligibility everywhere). These guys make up some of the interesting value plays. We were able to find very little correlation with fantasy performance and player salary at the catcher position last week, but the two are much better correlated at 1B. That said, Brandon Moss's salary just won't go up. He sits at $8600 (out of $100k on one site), basically forcing you to use him every night. Other values-players who have are priced significantly below those with a similar average fantasy points per game-Victor Martinez, Adam LaRoche, Garrett Jones, Juan Francisco, and Casey McGahee (where they are eligible).

Looking at this correlation between salary and fantasy points, we can see the opposite effects too -- players you might avoid because they are underperforming their current salaries. In some cases, this salary hike is based on a strong name brand (history of solid stats). Allen Craig stands out, Jordan Pacheco, Eric Hosmer, and Billy Butler also are a little high on at least some sites. Doing this value exercise is a good way to decide between similar options when it's a full slate of games.

When the numbers tell you which 1B is in the best situation and you can find salary value, well it doesn't get easier. Maybe Brandon Moss will be the first 100% owned player on all sites in all leagues tonight! He'll be popular no doubt, but don't overlook LaRoche or Martinez in good spots either. Good luck tonight!