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Daily Fantasy Baseball Strategy MLB DFS

Daily Fantasy Baseball Strategy: How to Play MLB DFS

When you think of exciting sports, baseball probably isn’t the first one that comes to mind. But despite its “boring” reputation, you should be counting down the days until MLB DFS starts each year. Because of the abundance of data and advanced statistics that have become available in recent years, and if you have the willingness to embrace the volatility of daily fantasy baseball, MLB DFS can be one of your most profitable sports. Not a baseball fan at all? Here’s the best part -- you don’t have to watch a single game in order to be a great daily MLB player. Read our daily fantasy baseball strategy guide below to learn how to profit this summer.

Learn how Occupy Fantasy can specifically help you become a better MLB DFS player with our tools:
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The Process
FanDuel or DraftKings?
Stacking
Metrics: Batting
Metrics: Pitching
Hidden Value in Metrics: Statcast Data
Weather
Contest Selection
Takeaways

The Process

The best part about daily fantasy baseball is that there are a ton of different slates. It’s the only sport with numerous afternoon games (or morning games for those of you living on the west coast, not that we’re jealous or anything), but there are also evening slates every night of the week except Sunday. Because of the way the schedule is set up, we end up with numerous “sweet spot” slates (between five and seven games, as discussed in the Ultimate Guide) and tons of opportunity for profit.

Have a day job? Well, you can just play the evening slates. Have a family and can’t do shit after work? Play the afternoon and weekend slates. Can only find time to research after dinner? Just play the late slate! MLB DFS is flexible, and you can certainly find a way to make it work with your schedule.

Most of the time, we’ll know the starting pitchers and batting lineups for each team at the start of each day. Lineups are officially released around three hours before gametime, so you’ll always have an idea of when to expect them. You can make your lineups well before lock -- just give yourself a few minutes before the games start to look for any last-minute changes.

FanDuel or DraftKings?

We’ll have more in-depth daily fantasy baseball strategy later, but we need to start with the basics. Which site should you play on? Here are the lineup requirements for FanDuel and DraftKings:

FanDuel DraftKings
1 Pitcher 2 Pitchers
1 Catcher/First Baseman 1 Catcher
1 Second Baseman 1 First Baseman
1 Third Baseman 1 Second Baseman
1 Shortstop 1 Third Baseman
3 Outfielders 1 Shortstop
1 Utility 3 Outfielders

You’ll notice the major difference right away: DraftKings uses two pitchers, while FanDuel uses just one. Because of this, you have to hit on your pitcher on FanDuel -- especially in lower-risk contests (50/50s, H2Hs, Double Ups), the pitching spot should be the first position you fill.

New for FanDuel in 2018: FanDuel has combined the 1B and C position, and they’ve also added a utility spot in an effort to create greater lineup flexibility. This allows you to get creative on FanDuel, as the Utility spot can allow you to stack infielders from the same team who happen to play the same position (for example, in 2017, you weren’t able to play Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak in the same lineup because they both played first base. Now you could!).

Because of the increased flexibility, it’s easier to create and stack lineups (more on this later), making FanDuel the preferred option for newer MLB DFS players.

Let’s take a look at hitter scoring on both sites:

Stat

FanDuel

DraftKings

Single

3 points

3 points

Double

6 points

5 points

Triple

9 points

8 points

Home Run

12 points

10 points

RBI

3.5 points

2 points

Run

3.2 points

2 points

Walk

3 points

2 points

Stolen Base

6 points

5 points

HBP

3 points

2 points

Notably, home runs are much more valuable on FanDuel. A HR on FD is worth 4X a single (plus RBI and Runs) compared to just 3.3X on DraftKings. The long ball is king in MLB DFS and should be an integral focus of your daily fantasy baseball strategy -- you should be targeting power whenever possible, but especially so on FanDuel.

Here’s pitcher scoring:

Stat

FanDuel

DraftKings

Win

6 points

4 points

Quality Start

4 points

0 points

Earned Run

-3 points

-2 points

Strikeout

3 points

2 points

Inning Pitched

3 points

2.25 points

Hit Against

0 points

-0.6 points

Walks Allowed

0 points

-0.6 points

Hit Batsman

0 points

-0.6 points

There’s a massive difference in pitcher scoring between the two sites. While FanDuel reduced the value of a Win before the 2017 season, it’s still weighted slightly more than it is on DraftKings with the addition of the Quality Start. If you pitch six-plus innings, allow three earned runs or fewer, and pick up the Win, you’re rewarded with 3.33 times the value of a strikeout on FanDuel (10 points) compared to just 2 times the value of a strikeout on DraftKings (4 points).

Next, you get negative points for every hit, walk, and HBP your pitcher allows on DraftKings. So on FanDuel, you mostly just have to focus on finding hurlers who can go deep into games and likely pick up a win. On DraftKings, it’s much more of an effort to find a truly skilled outing.

So going back to the point of the “ease” of playing on FanDuel -- there isn’t as much research required for selecting pitchers there, so it’s a better option for those with smaller bankrolls and/or those just learning how to play MLB DFS.  

A NEW DAILY FANTASY BASEBALL STRATEGY FOR 2019: Yahoo! is making a name for themselves in the DFS industry, so you'll want to take a peek over there when the season starts. Their scoring/lineups are a combination of FD and DK -- you start two pitchers (like DK) and pitcher scoring is nearly identical to DK (except hits and walks count even more against your pitcher, so you'll really need to focus on skilled outings), but the hitter scoring is comparable to FanDuel. 

Now that you know the key scoring and lineup differences, it’s time to jump into how to be profitable with Occupy Fantasy's daily fantasy baseball strategy.

Stacking

Stacking hitters -- aka using hitters from the same team -- is a core daily fantasy baseball strategy. The correlation spectrum runs wide in daily fantasy sports from NBA at one end (with little to no correlation amongst teammates) to NHL on the other (where multiple teammates are rewarded on an event a majority of the time). MLB falls right behind NHL because of RBIs -- when a hitter bats in a run, by definition, his teammate usually scores (duh, solo home runs being the only exception).

When one event can benefit more than one player in your lineup, you can skyrocket up the contest leaderboards when those events occur.

If you have four hitters from one team, and three of them are on base while the fourth hits a grand slam, you’re adding 26 points to your DraftKings lineup with one swing of the bat.

So not only is it easier to create lineups with players from the same team -- because you’ve already identified a weak opposing pitcher, advantageous weather situation, and/or prime Vegas influence -- but you also get the benefit of extra upside because you’ll “double-dip” on fantasy scoring when your batter knocks in one of his teammates.

On DraftKings, you can stack up to five hitters from the same team. But note that on FanDuel, there’s a slightly lower ceiling for correlation, as you can only stack a maximum of four players per team (this includes the pitcher, too!).

2019 UPDATE: On Yahoo! you can stack up to SIX players from the same team. 

Speaking of pitchers included in stacks -- don’t forget about this daily fantasy baseball strategy to add upside! If the hitters from one team do well, it increases the probability that their pitcher will earn a win because of the added run support. Just know that you likely won’t use pitcher-hitter stacks when there is favorable hitting weather or notable line movement on the “over” of the Vegas total.

Are there situations when I shouldn’t stack? In almost every lineup construction, you’ll want to stack multiple hitters from the same team. In fact, your lineup should ideally consist of two, possibly three, team stacks (think five players from one team, three from another on DraftKings, or a 4-4 stack on FanDuel).

However, there are successful DFS players who use the sole daily fantasy baseball strategy of attempting to maximize plate appearances in lineups in low-risk contests (50/50s, H2Hs, Double Ups). Since you only have to beat half of the field to win in these contest types, the idea is that you want to get your hitters as many opportunities as possible to score points. In this lineup construction, you would fill your lineup with hitters who hit fourth or higher in their team’s lineup with little regard to stacking teammates; just be sure they have upside using the batting metrics in the next section.

Metrics: Batting

When evaluating hitters, our first daily fantasy baseball strategy should be to look at splits based on the opposing pitchers’ handedness. For example, if Mike Trout is facing a right-handed starting pitcher today, we should look at how he’s historically performed against right-handed pitchers.

But what about the bullpen? Here’s the thing in daily fantasy baseball -- it’s extremely difficult (if not downright impossible) to determine which relief pitchers a batter will face in a specific game. We can project multiple at-bats versus the starting pitcher, so that’s where we should focus our research. The only time you should consider relief pitching situations is in low-risk contests -- you want players who have pretty even lefty/righty splits so they don’t get removed from the game in the later innings because of the matchup. In lower-risk contests, you need your hitters to get a full game’s worth of at-bats.

So which stats do we look at? Not the traditional ones like batting average and on-base percentage -- instead, use these two more predictive metrics in our daily fantasy baseball strategy:

Isolated power (ISO): We said earlier that you should be targeting power in MLB DFS. ISO is the best way to predict power. The simple formula for ISO is Slugging Percentage - Batting Average. This, in essence, gives us a player’s extra-base hits per at-bat, which is where all the points are in DFS. Luckily, this metric is listed and categorized by splits on FanGraphs. Use ISO when you are looking for upside in a player -- usually in higher-risk contests such as leagues and GPPs, but your lineups in lower-risk contests should also be filled with players that have a high ISO.

In DFS, try to roster players with ISO splits of .170 or higher.

Weight On-Base Average (wOBA): All hits aren’t equal in real-life baseball (e.g. a double is better than a single), and the same holds true for daily fantasy baseball. But, traditional stats like batting average and on-base percentage treat all hits the same. Instead, use wOBA -- it’s a complex formula, but it’s basically an on-base percentage that gives more value to extra-base hits. Again, this metric is conveniently located on FanGraphs and can be sorted by opposing pitcher handedness. Use wOBA exclusively in lower-risk contests when you’re looking for players who can get on base, but also hit for power.

For any contest type, a great daily fantasy baseball strategy is to find players with a wOBA split of .340 or higher.

There’s actually a third metric you should be looking at, and that’s stolen base attempts per at-bat. We can quickly get an estimate of player’s chances of stealing a base in a particular game by looking at how many stolen base attempts the opposing pitcher gives up combined with a player’s willingness to swipe a bag. Stolen bases go overlooked as everyone rosters power hitters, so this is a quick daily fantasy baseball strategy to unearth fantasy points from guys not at the top of the power projections.

Metrics: Pitching

When looking at a single game, it’s much easier to project a range of outcomes for a pitcher than it is a hitter. Think about it -- a pitcher will face upwards of 20-30 batters in a single game, while a hitter will be lucky to have five plate appearances. With more data points, we can be more confident in our projections. It’s for this reason we should start our lower-risk lineups with pitchers -- we should feel most confident in their performances.

Aside from looking at the opponent lineups’ ISO and wOBA, also look at these metrics when selecting pitchers:

Strikeout percentage (K%): Strikeouts for pitchers are one of the few, if not only, ways to have a high floor in MLB DFS. Strikeout percentage -- percentage of plate appearances that result in a strikeout -- are extremely stable from year-to-year and don’t require a large sample size to be significant.

This is where knowing the opposing lineup is huge, though. A pitcher may outperform his strikeout-per-inning average if the lineup he’s facing is filled with batters who struggle to make contact against similarly-handed pitchers.

When selecting pitchers, you want guys with K% of 22% or higher.

Betting odds -- moneyline and team totals: Vegas and offshore books take hundreds of millions of dollars of bets each season on MLB games, so you better believe their lines are sharp. A ton of data is built into every line -- including unreported information that is reflected in the form of sharp, professional bettors’ wagers -- so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

The best way to determine a pitcher’s chances of earning a win is in the moneyline for the game. Especially in lower-risk contests, you want pitchers whose teams are favorite on the moneyline at -150 or greater. In higher-risk contests, you can take chances on lower moneyline odds if the pitcher has strikeout upside.

How well is the opposing offense expected to fare? Just look at their team total (a formula based on the moneylines and overall total for the game). The lower the team total, the better for the opposing pitcher.

The best part of Occupy Fantasy is our Occupy Model -- it takes all of these above metrics and combines them into one dashboard where you can easily compare hitters and pitchers each day.

Hidden Value in Metrics: Statcast Data

Beginning in 2015, a whole new world of data become available for us to use in fantasy baseball: Statcast. Here’s how MLB.com describes it:

“Set up in all 30 Major League ballparks, Statcast collects data using a series of high-resolution optical cameras along with radar equipment. The technology precisely tracks the location and movements of the ball and every player on the field, resulting in an unparalleled amount of information covering everything from the pitcher to the batter to baserunners and defensive players.”

For an in-depth explanation, check out their Statcast glossary page.

With this new data, we now have information that separates a batter or pitcher from luck, and instead focuses on how the player himself is performing. This is a huge daily fantasy baseball strategy, especially for finding players who have over- or under-performed their fantasy totals in recent games.

The data can be overwhelming, we know. Just focus on these three metrics -- for both hitters and pitchers -- all of which can be sorted (even by splits!) and easily reviewed at Baseball Savant.

Average exit velocity (EV): From the MLB glossary page, “Exit Velocity measures the speed of the baseball as it comes off the bat, immediately after a batter makes contact. This is tracked for all Batted Ball Events -- outs, hits and errors. Attaining a high Exit Velocity is one of a hitter's primary goals. A hard-hit ball won't always have a positive result, but the defense has less time to react, so the batter's chances of reaching base are higher.”

By looking at the average exit velocity of batters (and opposing batters for pitchers) in recent weeks, we can truly see who is making solid contact with the ball. But because most DFS players look at traditional stats and recent game logs to create their lineups, a batter who is hitting the ball hard but has been unlucky in recording hits will go overlooked by the public.

Using this, along with the two metrics below, is a top daily fantasy baseball strategy to find under-owned options in higher-risk contests.

Average batted ball distance (DST): Here’s MLB’s explanation. “Hit Distance represents the distance away from home plate that a batted ball lands -- whether by hitting the ground, the seats, the wall or a fielder's glove.” Simple, right? Batted ball distance gives us an idea of how far a batter’s hits are traveling.

Hitting the ball far is how you hit home runs, so we want guys who have recently been knocking balls deep into the outfield. Again, for various reasons, guys who are hitting the ball far may not see their extra base hit totals cooperate. To find under-owned players, look for the leaders in batted ball distance in recent weeks -- and make sure they have a decent exit velocity to go along with it so we’re not just finding dudes who are hitting outfield popups. If these players have been underperforming recently, we’ll be sure to get them at lower ownership percentages.

Expected wOBA (xwOBA): So we know what wOBA is, but Statcast gives us the insight on what a player’s expected wOBA should be based on how hard/angled each hit is. This is just another way to remove variance from the equation. Here’s how MLB explains it:

In the same way that each batted ball is assigned a Hit Probability, every batted ball has been given a single, double, triple and home run probability based on the results of comparable batted balls -- in terms of exit velocity and launch angle -- since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015.”

“Knowing the expected outcomes of each individual batted ball from a particular player over the course of a season -- with a player's real-world data used for factors such as walks, strikeouts and times hit by a pitch -- allows for the formation of said player's xwOBA based on the quality of contact, instead of the actual outcomes.”

The Statcast Search even has an option to sort for xwOBA - wOBA, which shows the difference between a player’s expected wOBA and his actual wOBA. This is a key metric in seeing who has been the luckiest/unluckiest in terms of batted balls versus actual statistics.

Sorting through all of this data everyday can be a tedious task, but the Occupy Model has relevant Statcast data from the previous two weeks listed for every batter and pitcher.

Weather

In NBA and NHL DFS, we never have to worry about the weather (except for leaks in the roof, we’re not pointing fingers, New Orleans). In football, there are rare cases where heavy winds and precipitation can alter the outcome of a game. But for MLB, weather is an important part of your daily fantasy baseball strategy and research for every single slate.

Not only do we have to worry about rainouts -- in which games are postponed and you receive 0s in your lineup for any players from that game -- but other atmospheric conditions can have dramatic effects on fantasy scoring. Here are the factors you should be taking into account for your daily fantasy baseball strategy:

Temperature: Simply put, hotter temperatures = higher scoring for MLB teams and your fantasy teams. Research shows that there’s an average .037 ISO difference in 90-plus degree weather versus sub-40 degree weather. Below 60 degrees, teams averaged around 4.2 runs per game. When the temperature is 80-plus? That number jumps to more than 4.7 runs per game. This is especially important at the beginning and end of the season when there are massive weather differences between northern and southern ballparks. With all else equal, roster batters in warmer temps and pitchers in colder temps.

Air Density: Without getting too scientific, measuring the air density determines how “easy” it is for a ball to travel through the air. The thinner the atmosphere, the lower the air density, the farther balls will travel. We like to use the Neeley Scale discussed here. Coors Field is known for its high scoring games, mostly because of the low air density at a mile above sea level.

For MLB games, the Air Density Index from the link above will range between 40 and 70 usually, with a lower number being better for hitters. It can be tricky or tedious to find accurate air density data on a daily basis, but we conveniently incorporate it into our weather factor in the Occupy Model.  

Wind Speed & Direction: Wind can suppress (or aid) fly balls in leaving the park depending on speed and direction. If wind is blowing in hard from left field, it will be much tougher for a right-handed power hitter to clear the fence. Kevin Roth of Rotogrinders does a great job of discussing wind effects for each slate -- he’s a near-must follow on Twitter.

Rain: In lower-risk contests, we should look to avoid games that have a high percentage of precipitation. This is obvious, as we want to avoid having 0s in our lineup if a game is postponed. But in higher-risk contests, it can be beneficial to roster hitters from rainy games for two reasons:

One, we’ll get lower ownership. DFSers will be scared of postponed possibilities, so we’ll get a break on ownership rates.

Two, hitters actually perform better in the rain. Jonathan Bales has research that shows teams score more runs and batters have a higher on-base percentage in games with precipitation.

If you do use players in games with rain, just be sure that the other three weather factors above are favorable.

Daily Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Contest Selection

Most of the daily fantasy baseball strategy you need to know for contest selection is outlined in our Ultimate Guide. But you have to realize that MLB DFS is extremely volatile, so the contests you play should reflect that.

If you use the daily fantasy baseball strategy takeaways in the section below, you’ll automatically have different lineups than most of your opponents. You’ll be able to find hitters and pitchers in better spots than your competition, which means you have a lot more to gain if you’re right. It’s for this reason that a large portion of your allocation each slate will be in higher-risk contests such as single entry/3-max GPPs, 100-300 players leagues, quintuple ups, and satellites.

This isn’t cut and dry, as we all know, so that’s where the Daily Plug comes in. We’ll give you the recommended plays, but also the recommended contests and best daily fantasy baseball strategy for that particular slate.

Daily Fantasy Baseball Strategy Takeaways

    • Start your lineup with the pitching spot(s), especially on FanDuel, and especially in lower-risk contests.
    • Whenever possible, stack multiple hitters from the same team (as long as they bat near each other in the batting order).
    • In lower-risk lineups, roster guys who hit near the top of the batting order and have relatively even splits.
    • For hitters, use players with an ISO split of .170 or higher and/or a wOBA split of .340 or higher.
    • Stolen-base attempts per at-bat, both for batters and their opposing pitchers, is an undervalued stat for determining fantasy production.
    • Strikeouts are king for pitchers: find guys with K% splits of 22% or higher.
    • When looking at historical stats, you generally want to look a full season’s worth of data, not just the last couple of weeks (or even months).
    • Sportsbooks do most of the work for us: roster pitchers with high moneylines and/or low opponent team totals.
    • Statcast batted ball data can help us find under-owned players who have been hitting the ball well recently.
    • All things equal, batters perform better/pitchers perform worse when the temperature is higher, the air density is lower, wind is blowing out, and/or it’s raining (as long as the game isn’t postponed!)
    • Embrace the volatility of baseball! Going against public perception using the above takeaways can result in big paydays in higher-risk contests.