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MLB Daily Games Strategy: How Much to Spend on Middle Infielders

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.

Look, if you play DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports), you're going to get burned. You're going to occasionally lay out for that fly ball with runners on when the score is tied in the ninth...and you’ll miss it by inches.

You might not be risking your body, but spending big on a player feels a lot like laying out for that fly ball. When the player you choose hits two home runs, it's game over, and you go home a little richer. When he strikes out four times, you're doomed.

Monday night's bringers of doom included Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gomez, Brian Dozier, Lonnie Chisenhall, Paul Goldschmidt, David Ortiz, Chris Davis, Josh Willingham, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Albert Pujols. All of these fine ball players cost you more than 10 percent of your cap and yielded fewer than 10 FPts (Fantasy Points) in DraftDay’s scoring.

The story is the same every night, though the names change of course. Avoiding committing too much of your salary to one or two high-salaried players is one of the keys to DFS success.

Yes, you can be lucky and have your minimum salary players all hit home runs and your pitchers throw a complete game shutout, but realistically, you want to limit spending a lot on a player and getting only a little in return.

One of the places I look to do limit my risk is in the middle infield. You have to roster a second baseman and shortstop, but we know that the fewest runs (and fantasy points) come from these middle infield positions. Corner infielders and outfielders are more reliable sources of power and points in DFS (but certainly come with no guarantees). So, how do you optimize the middle infield slots in your DFS rosters?

General Points

Avoid spending top dollar. Yes, Tulo is far and away the No. 1 shortstop. He also costs more than many starting pitchers (~$13-14K out of $100K cap). Tulo is a great player to have on your rotisserie roster, but for DFS, he is wildly inconsistent. Check his game log. Starting from Monday and working backward, he’s posted the following in DraftDay points: -4, 54, -1, 8, 24, 12, -4, 29, 12, 7, 48, 27, 33, 2, -4, -4, -2, 8, and so on. I don't have a value metric for MLB like I did for my NBA daily games strategy articles. It's therefore hard to say how many of these nights he was worth his salary. At least two. Maybe six. That's not good enough for me.

Pay attention to stolen bases. Some sites value the hard-to-predict stolen bases more than others, and some sites penalize a caught stealing attempt pretty severely. So, make sure you know your site's settings before chasing stolen bases. If things are favorable, though, five of the top 10 base stealers are second baseman or shortstop eligible. They are Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Jose Altuve, Alcides Escobar, and Elvis Andrus. The second tier (11th-20th) in stolen bases includes even more middle infielders: Jose Reyes, Brian Dozier, Emilio Bonifacio, Everth Cabrera, Jean Segura, and Jonathan Villar. Note that Bonifacio and Villar have missed multiple games this season, too.

Include middle infielders in your mini-stacks. When there's an obvious team lineup to stack against a terrible pitcher, or in Coors Field, or for whatever reason you like to stack, include the MI from that team on your roster. This obviously works best in terms of value when you're not targeting the Rockies or Dodgers and their high-salaried middle infielders. When I'm stacking Rockies or Dodgers is pretty much the only time I'll use Tulo or Hanley Ramirez.

Use the batting order. Because middle infielders often offer speed and are known to hit more for average than power, you'll often find them at the top of the batting order. As I've written in this space before, batting in the top of the order gives a player more at-bats and more chances to score runs. Target middle infielders who are hitting in the one or two hole, and beware the middle infielders who are in the bottom of the order. Obviously, this strategy doesn't always work out, but it falls under the umbrella of putting yourself in the best position to capitalize.

Value Analysis
As I've done with catcher and first baseman, I want to look at performance vs. pricing for the middle infield positions so far this year. Basically, what we want to know is: Are we going to get what we pay for? More importantly: Can we find cases where we're likely to get more than we pay for?

Second Base
The splits are really important at second base. There is almost no overlap in the 2014 top 10 in OPS vLHP and vRHP (min 60 PA). Only Brian Dozier makes both lists, and as we'll see below, he is the most expensive option at second base.

VS. lefties, your top guys are Altuve, Dozier, Bonifacio, Daniel Murphy, Espinosa, Pedroia, Zobrist, Weeks, Sean Rodriguez, and Chase Utley.

VS. righties, the top second baseman are Valbuena, Gennett, Cano, Utley, Odor, Neil Walker, Derek Dietrich, Nick Punto, Dozier, and Ian Kinsler.

As far as salary goes, the top 10 in order are Dozier, Altuve, Murphy, Kipnis, Kinsler, Dee Gordon, Utley, Pedroia, Walker, and Josh Rutledge.

Best values: My favorite value is Rougned Odor, who is a consistent option at minimum salary vs. RHP. I also use Scooter Gennett a fair amount and have occasionally used Sean Rodriguez in a good spot, though in general I avoid the Rays’ bats. I haven't yet, but after doing this analysis, I will take a look at Dietrich and Punto as well.

ShortStop
There is slightly less to worry about with splits at shortstop, with many players being top options regardless of the pitcher they face. There is also potentially more value here. These are again the 2014 top 10 in OPS with at least 60 PA (data from FanGraphs).

VS. lefties, your top shortstops are Tulo, Brandon Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Bogaerts, Alcides Escobar, Andrus, Rollins, Peralta, Reyes, and Villar.

VS. righties, the top shortstops are Tulo, Alexei Ramirez, Aybar, Eduardo Escobar, Starlin Castro, Hanley Ramirez, Reyes, Bogaerts, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Danny Santana.

Looking into salaries, you'll pay the most for these 10 shortstops: Tulo, Hanley Ramirez, Reyes, Castro, Rollins, Ian Desmond, Santana, Aybar, E. Escobar, and A. Cabrera. (Note that Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, and Eugenio Suarez are top 10 in DraftDay salary, but they are not considered shortstop eligible by FanGraphs, so I excluded them from this list.)

Best values: Easily, the best value is Xander Bogaerts. His price has fluctuated wildly, but it currently sits at $7,600. Given that he has been a top 10 shortstop versus both right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers, I think that now is the time to use him. Brandon Crawford is a favorite play of mine. He is always cheap, and though I never stack Giants, he finds his way into my lineup versus left-handed pitchers pretty often. Alexei Ramirez is another shortstop who has seen his stock fall lately, bringing him into value range. Look for Ramirez in good matchups with right-handed pitchers.

Final Thoughts
Middle infield can be a frustrating position to fill in your roster. Combining some of the general tips above with the specific salary value analysis we went through is one way to maximize the potential of this weak spot in your DFS lineup. One way to think of it is, if you're going to get a zero, it may as well only cost you 5-to-7 percent of your salary instead of twice that. I prefer to try and get 10-to-15 fantasy points from my cheap middle infielders using analysis of their split stats, stolen base opportunity, and their depressed salary relative to their output. Anything more than that 10-to-15 points is pure bonus.