This article is part of our Umpire Analysis series.
To each their own (strategy). Daily Fantasy Sports may be one overall concept, but it can be intimidating looking at a lobby board that offers hundreds of different contests. The various contest types necessitate their own approach when it comes to lineup formulation, so let's take a closer look at a strategy for a specific contest: Large-field, top-heavy payout tournaments.
Today, Fanduel is running a $25 DFBC Qualifier that yields $14K+ in cash prizes, and a highly coveted first place prize of a DFBC Finals ticket and trip to Las Vegas. There could be up to 2,108 entries in this contest by the time games start, with 131 places paying out. However, if you look at the prize structure, 131st place up to 9th range from just $36-$175, leaving a heavy portion of the prize pool at the very top of the pyramid. People are not entering these Qualifiers for the peripheral payouts. It's all about the First Place Ticket and chance to win $1,000,000 in the Vegas Finals in August.
The most utilized strategy in large-field MLB tournaments is called "stacking", where you select multiple players from the same offense to capitalize on their synergistic production. Sure, it's possible to mix and match a hitter from eight different teams in hopes of them all homering and leading their team in fantasy points...but unlikely. On a given day, a handful of teams will score more runs than the rest of the league. "Stacking" tournament strategy says that it pays off to have many pieces of a team that ends up scoring 8+ runs, and that having the right parts of those offenses can carry you to the top of the field.
For better context let's take the Rockies, for example. On Tuesday they exploded for 12 runs on 21 hits at home against poor Robbie Ross and the Texas Rangers. Troy Tulowitzki was probably the most popularly picked Rockies hitter that day, since he has been a machine up to this point in the season. Tulo went 3-for-4 with a double, 2 runs and an RBI. Because he didn't homer, Tulo needed guys ahead of him (Charlie Blackmon) to get on in order to tally his RBI, and guys behind him (Carlos Gonzalez & Nolan Arenado) to knock him in to get his pair of runs. This is what is meant by "synergistic production". The Rockies' team output was successful because nearly every hitter in the lineup that day contributed, and it took multiple players to produce the same run on the scoreboard. For Daily Fantasy purposes, we want all angles of production. So, when the Rockies score a run we want to capitalize on both the run scored and the RBI.
Another way to look at it is that for large-field tournaments we need high-ceiling performances from our offensive players. Rarely does a hitter have a huge game by hitting multiple solo shots. The big RBI games result from the hitters in front of him also getting on base and scoring on the big knocks. Therefore, by selecting a hitter like Tulo in a tournament, you are also saying that you like his teammates to contribute to his big game. By only selecting Tulo, you may match 20-30% of the tournament field only to be left behind your competitors that correctly stacked his teammates (even if he has a 10+ fantasy point outburst). Remember, in contests like today's DFBC Qualifier, it's about finishing in the top 0.5 percent of all entries, so this is where the mix and match strategy fails.
Now that we've established a working context for stacking and why it's the appropriate strategy for these top-heavy tournaments, how do we apply it? Which teams are the most "stackable"? There are a handful of factors and methods that can accurately lead to targeting the most appealing offenses, some of them much quicker than others. The best approach is finding a blend of these factors that feels best to you and suits your available time to research.
- Vegas Lines- By far the quickest method of targeting offenses is to look up how sportsbooks are setting the lines and over/unders. Granted, their goal is not primarily to be accurate in projecting the outcome of games, but the betting public usually does a good job of moving the lines to an appropriate position. An over/under of 8+ for a game indicates a healthy amount of scoring overall, and if a team is favored at -150 or higher, then they make a much better team target than their opposition. If you're ever cramped for time researching, scrolling through the lines and jotting down a few teams that look ripe to score is a decent starting point.
- Opposing Pitchers- Unlike NFL or NBA, matchups in MLB are at the forefront of the research. You can take Calvin Johnson against any defense, but you should opt to pass on the best hitters in MLB against elite pitchers. On the flipside, bad pitchers can get hit hard by any Major League offense. So, a great way to get a feel for teams with scoring upside is to open up each starting pitcher's profile on a day to see who has been giving up the largest chunks of runs in recent outings and on the season. Studying pitchers is by far the most accurate method of determining run expectation.
- Team Run Logs- Which teams have been scoring high run totals in recent games? Sometimes a team is just clicking, regardless of their opposition. If you take a look at each team's recent output and they have frequently tallied 5+ runs then it shouldn't be surprising if that happens again. While I wouldn't recommend stacking a "hot" team against elite pitchers, a team that has consistently put up big run totals can have more appeal in average matchups than they normally would.
- Lineup Analysis- As the day's lineups are announced and released on the interwebs, take some time to look into specific players that are on the card. Some managers prefer a much different look against left-handed starters than right-handed ones, and that can drastically change the value and assessment of a team (and individuals) that day. It does no good to say that a team is killing it based on recent run totals, but miss that their key contributor(s) are getting the day off for rest/matchup/day-to-day injury. With the lineups in front of you, it doesn't take that much time to look up the 8-9 hitters to see how they've been performing recently and on the season as a whole (especially if you've used methods 1 & 2 to narrow down your team stacking search to a few teams).