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MLB Daily Games Strategy: Comparative Lessons

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.

The regular season of MLB is over. I'm pretty sure I just finished my last ever seasonal fantasy baseball leagues (playoffs in my h2h, zero wins in Roto). I've only played in a few industry leagues-no longstanding home league or anything- over the past couple years and while I'm always so excited about it in March, by August/NFL season I'm so over it. It was even worse this year because I'm also confident playing MLB DFS after a successful first serious summer of it. I won't miss the incessant lineup alerts, trying to navigate start limits, and once weekly waivers. Ugh. Give me DFS every day.

We have roughly a month before the start of NBA season, for which I also write a DFS strategy column here at RotoWire. NBA was my first DFS love (I started in the 2011 season) so I can't wait to get back at it. Now that I've played all three major sports fairly religiously, I thought I'd take this final MLB column to reflect on some of the big differences and similarities between sports.

Watching games: We joke a lot about the importance of watching games for DFS and fantasy player evaluation, and I wrote a million words this summer about the very real NFL film vs stats debate from a neuroscience perspective. I fall on the side that you don't necessarily learn anything useful for DFS strategy by watching baseball, so I'm not studying when I watch. Especially in the post-season, I let myself get caught up in the narratives, don't have any stake in the outcome, and just appreciate the game. I understand that people trained to watch NFL film will pick up on patterns, skills, and coaching decisions that would be useful for DFS. I'm not one of them though, so again I find myself watching more for enjoyment than study or analysis. While I also love watching basketball, I think there is DFS value in viewing games. Opportunity is a huge part of the equation, and seeing how and when players are used can really open your eyes to potential value plays.

Variability: Baseball DFS turned me on to a level of sports variability that I had never experienced before. I've written about it here so many times. The range of outcomes for even the best players just blows me away, still. It's why so many of us are saying TG NBA is almost here. It's interesting, though, because although the range of outcomes in NBA is smaller, performances on the fringes can totally swing games. A baseball DFS lineup is just as likely to withstand four Ks from Mike Trout and cash, as have Anthony Rizzo hit two home runs and not cash, while the difference between Kevin Durant scoring 40 or 60 FPTs will almost certainly affect the outcome of your NBA cash games. NFL falls somewhere in the middle, with a wider range of outcomes like MLB, but each one mattering a lot like NBA. It makes it fun for me that there isn't one "solution" to DFS strategy.

Lineup Construction: When it comes to playing a single lineup or multiple, diversified lineups any given night, I usually go the way of a single lu [lineup] (for cash games). This is how I approach NBA, and I found it worked well for me in general in baseball DFS too. My strategy for both sports is to do the research up front to determine who I think the best possible plays are-backed by multiple lines of reasoning, if possible-and work as many in as possible. Only when there are truly competing studs or values do I throw out multiple lineups. When I do, I find that crazy often they are within a few points of each other. In this aspect of DFS, NFL stands out. I can make so many NFL lineups that I really like every week. I try to keep it to just two per site per week for cash games, but the point is that it seems like there are more ways to be right, or more importantly, to win at NFL. Don't take me wrong, I know there are multiple ways to win the other sports too, but my perspective is that sound research leads you closer to a single optimal strategy in MLB and NBA than it does in NFL. Again, it's what keeps the different sports fun and challenging.