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Umpire Analysis: FanDuel Survivor Strategy

Patrick Kaiser

Patrick Kaiser has been competing in Daily Fantasy Sports since it originated in 2007, under the username Kaiseroll13. He is one of the pioneering players in the industry and reached top overall player status as well.

Many articles and strategies are geared toward the ever-evolving tournament play in Daily Fantasy, where a $1-25 entry can turn a winner into a thousand-aire celebrity (at least to their friends/family) overnight. This summer, though, FanDuel is offering a brand new style of competition called Survivor where users battle it out over a series of “Rounds” that eliminate just 25 percent of the field each time. This means that new strategies can be surmised and utilized in ways that no previous contest has preferred, geared around player selection that targets high-floors and not necessarily the popular high-ceilings options.

The $200,000 Survivor begins on May 26 with a $200 buy-in and a maximum of 1,236 entries. A “Round” will be held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday narrowing down the field ever so slowly until just five players remain standing after the 20th Round on July 9. Those five players receive a trip to Las Vegas for the Survivor Final on Aug 16 and compete for their share of $86,000 of the prize pool money ($40k to First Place). Smaller stakes players can key in on qualifiers that continue to run with the $200 seats into the Survivor tournament as prizes.

For those of you that entered the $100,000 Survivor (same format, smaller buy-in) this past week and lasted through the first Round on Wednesday, congratulations! If that opportunity passed you by, don't sweat it -- we can use the results as a barometer for strategy in the upcoming $200,000 contest. First of all, the contest closed with just 4,355 entries out of the maximum 5,288. So, for Round 1 only 389 entries were eliminated. You can look for an overlay in the $200 entry closer to the start date, but my guess is that it will come much closer to filling. For the sake of the strategy focus today, let's take a closer look at what it took to finish in the top 75 percent of the entries, or 3266th place.

What made Wednesday night a little wacky is there were only eight games to choose from, and two of them were rained out which severely limited the player pool. This resulted in an astounding 70.3 percent ownership of Masahiro Tanaka, as most of the field determined him to be the safest pitching option. This overlaps nicely with examining what it took to finish in the top 75 percent. About 40 total fantasy points was good enough to place 3266th out of 4,355. Tanaka mowed down the Mets for a complete game shutout with eight strikeouts (21 FanDuel points). We can figure from these numbers that about 20 fantasy points from the entire offense combined was enough to avoid the bottom 25 percent. To compare, it took 64 total fantasy points to cash in the $10 Line Drive that same night with 1116 entries (100 places paid out). That's essentially another 20+ offensive points that we do not need to target in the Survivor format.

A rough, direct application of this information says that we only need 2.5 FanDuel points per offensive player. This will vary night-to-night based on player popularity and MLB scores but probably isn't too far off on the whole. This is what is so exciting about a new tournament format: players that could never be considered for other contests are suddenly targets (or even optimal) for placing in the top 75 percent. Meanwhile, some popular power hitters may not be worth the risk. A great example of the latter is Jose Abreu, which is somewhat shocking considering he leads the majors in homers with 15 (next best is Nelson Cruz with 12) and leads the AL in RBI with 41. Amidst the prolific start to his career you would think he could be a decent target on any given night, but he has some detracting factors. In his last ten games, Abreu has three doubles, three dingers, seven RBI and six runs with a 3.15 FanDuel points average. This falls well ahead of the 2.5 average we are seeking, but a closer look reveals that in six of those ten games he didn't even crack 1.5 points. He only has one multi-RBI effort on the season in a game that he didn't homer. That, combined with a .271 average, .320 on-base percentage and 28.9 percent strikeout rate leaves Abreu squarely in the high-risk, high-reward category despite the gaudy numbers.

I'm tempted to look at offensive player selection in the following way: Any player that is a higher risk to go 0-for-4 (-1 FanDuel points) leaves your team exposed to needing another guy to put up 6 points. It doesn't take a chance at a homer in every slot to advance, so players that offer consistency in hits and run-scoring opportunities are terrific targets. Elvis Andrus serves as an example of this theory. In his last ten games, Andrus has averaged 2.58 FanDuel points (right around our target), topping 3.5 only twice but also scoring less than one point just once. He has no triples or homers in that stretch, and just one RBI. In any game where you expect the Rangers to have decent scoring opportunities, Andrus is a great Survivor target at his price of $3,100. However, he makes for a horrible ceiling play for traditional tournaments.

That all being said, there are plenty of players that offer both consistency and ceiling. It's not difficult to figure out that picking Troy Tulowitzki at home when he started his tear (before his price went through the roof) was a great idea. Now, he's hitting .608 while slugging 1.098 at Coors. Edwin Encarnacion went 18 games without a bomb to start the year, but he has made up for lost time with six homers in his last 10 games, and four multi-hit games in that span. Almost certainly these types of targets will come at a steeper price, though.

Another factor worth considering is the effect of stacking hitters from a single team in this format. Last week I talked about how stacking can increase your ceiling for tournament play. In Survivor format, though, it can have an adverse effect. It's fairly easy to look at an MLB schedule and pick a bunch of hitters facing starting pitchers with high ERA's. However, if that offense goes cold or if the pitcher has a breakthrough performance (see: Bronson Arroyo's 7.77 ERA and .346 BAA in April over 24 IP drop to 0.39 ERA and .190 BAA in 23 IP in May), then you are left with no run or RBI chances from that team in hindsight. This creates an added incentive to spread your hitters from different teams to diversify your action on more offenses against a wider variety of opposing pitchers' results. At the very least, it allows for a “pick the hottest hitter at each position” type approach that other tournaments frown upon.

Overall, the key to Survivor strategy is taking a new look at risk while also opening up your process to include some otherwise mundane options that can single their way into keeping you on the FanDuel island.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire.