DFS Strategy: Finding Value
Some players love fantasy football but hate math. Ask people who hate math if they've tried daily fantasy sports. They'll usually say they've tried it but didn't like it.
After all, the most basic strategy for daily fantasy sports involves finding value.
It's impossible to find value without understanding the math. So this page begins with an explanation of the math behind finding value. It also presents specific advice for finding value in various sports.
What is Value in Daily Fantasy Sports?
In daily fantasy sports, a lineup is limited by the salary cap. A team's performance can be looked at in a couple of ways. But the most important way is to look at points versus salary.
The goal is to find players who score a lot of points relative to their salary. Players who do a better job of this than their opponents win in the long run.
Here's an example of how to calculate value in a daily fantasy baseball contest. We'll assume that there's a salary cap of $35,000.
- Player 1 scored 27 points.
- His salary cost per point scored was $1,296 ($35,000 / 27).
- Player 2 scored 35 points.
- His salary cost per point scored was $1,000 ($35,000 / 35).
Player 2 won with the most points, basically because he spent a lot less per point than Player 1.
You don't need to limit your analysis of value to your team score, though. Look at the cost per point for individual players, too.
Here's another example.
- Both players in the above example had the same pitcher, Clayton Kershaw.
- His salary was $13,000. He scored 17 points for both contestants.
- Both spent $764 per point ($13,000 / 17).
- Kershaw was easily the biggest scorer for both teams.
- Player 1 also had Pablo Sandoval.
- Sandoval scored 4.25 points and cost $2,300.
- His points cost $541 each.
- Player 2 had Anthony Rendon.
- He scored 10.5 points and costs $2,800.
- His points cost $266.67 each.
As you can see, the loser's best value cost twice as much per point than his opponent's. Player 2 got much better value, and that's what helped him to win.
If someone could get an entire lineup to score points for $266 each, they'd have a team that scored 131 points. That would beat even the toughest competition. It's not realistic, but it illustrates the importance of value.
How to Find Value in General
The first step in finding value is to project how many points the players are expected to score. With a lot of knowledge and understanding of the rules of the contest, players can calculate this for themselves. They can also look at various websites which either offer projections or provide the necessary data. ESPN, for example, is a source that can help project performance.
The next step is to create a simple spreadsheet in Excel. Put the player's name in the first column. Then add their projected number of points in the next column. Their salary belongs in the third column. Put a formula in the 4th column; projected points divided by salary. You now have the projected value for all your prospective players.
Here's a snapshot of how that might look.
|Player Name||Projected Points||Salary||Projected Value|
One trick the pros do is divide the salary by $1,000. This simplifies the number.
|Player Name||Projected Points||Salary||Projected Value|
Once you've done that, you're looking for a value of 2 or more per player.
Some fantasy sports pundits claim that you need a value of 2.5 or higher per player. But if you can get 2 per player, some of your players are bound to surprise you by performing even better.
Here's how the earlier example's performance broke down with that extra step.
- Player 1 scored 27 points.
- His salary was $35,000.
- We'll divide that by $1,000 to get 35.
- 27 divided by 35 is a value of 0.77.
- Player 2 scored 35 points with the same salary.
- 35 divided by 35 is a value of 1.
Neither even came close to getting a value of 2 for their team overall, but Player 2 did get a value of 3.75 for Anthony Rondon. That was enough to help him win the contest.
Finding Value in Fantasy Baseball
The pitcher is the most important player. Pitching is more predictable than hitting. Pitchers also have more opportunities to earn points. Getting the choice of pitcher right is half the work.
It's not enough to just look at who's going to score the most points, though. Look at how much those points cost. Even the worst catcher can be a good choice if his price is right.
Set goals. These goals should include how many points you want the team to score. Experience will give you an idea of what kind of score is competitive.
These goals should include how many points expected versus how much salary is spent. It might seem like too much work at first, but put together the spreadsheet with the projections. The time will be well spent.
Don't get discouraged when projections are way off. Variance is a fact of life in fantasy baseball. In fact, variance is present in any gambling activity. Don't be short term oriented. Instead, look at long term results.
Don't hold grudges against players. This eliminates opportunities for value. Be willing to start any player available if the value is there.
It's common for fantasy managers to hold a grudge against a player who didn't perform last season. It's a mistake, though. Don't make it.
Don't overvalue players, either. Spending more on a player than he's worth hurts your efficiency.
Fantasy managers make this mistake for the same reason they hold grudges. If a player did well last season, it's tempting to pay a lot for them now. That's just as big a mistake as overlooking value from a player you're holding a grudge against.
One opportunity for finding value is to look at pitchers and hitters based on their matchups. In general, start hitters against opposite-handed pitchers.
Using the Vegas lines to determine who to start is also a good idea. The sportsbooks in Las Vegas make more accurate projections than anyone. Use that to your advantage by drafting batters with high totals. Avoiding batters with low totals is the second half of that strategy.
Keeping up with the weather is another must. A player in a rained out game is poor value. But that's not the only effect that weather has. Strong winds can affect potential scores, too.
When analyzing pitchers, an important stat to look at is K/9. This is the number of strikeouts per 9 innings for that pitcher.
Keep in mind which players are playing whom, too. For example, don't draft batters who are facing your pitcher. This minimizes your upside. If a batter does well against your pitcher, that pitcher's performance suffers. And vice versa.
Finding Value in Fantasy Basketball
Pick your centers first. There aren't usually a lot of options at that position, so get that part of the lineup squared away. Avoid situations where you only have a small amount of salary left to spend on a center. The best way to do that is by lining up the centers first.
Think about players who might be considered sleeper picks, too. In any week, some NBA players are going to score more points than their salary might indicate. Those are the players to draft for value.
Finding 2 or 3 sleepers in every game is the goal. Getting the centers and the sleepers is 90% of the battle.
Take a look at the matchups, too. If a player is on a heavily favored team, he might be a good pick, depending on his salary.
An important next step is to look through the roster for injuries. The amount of time players are on the court is important in fantasy basketball. Injuries can have a bigger effect on your team. Injured players don't score points. No points, no value.
One way to find valuable players in the NBA is to look at the Vegas lines. The over/unders are especially useful for this. Look at an average of the number of players in games with an over/under in the 205+ range. You'll find a higher than usual number of players who scored more than 40 fantasy points.
Looking at the point spread here is also useful. Find a game with a low point spread. Combine it with a high over/under. Players on both sides are likely to provide a lot of value. There's more value on the team that's the favorite, for obvious reasons.
The ideal situation is to find a game with a 205+ over/under and a point spread of 3 or less. Then look for players on the favorite side who might be undervalued. Don't neglect the players on the underdog side, but lean toward the players on the favorite.
Finding Value in Fantasy Hockey
The most important player is your goaltender. But that's not enough to win. A winning team also needs at least 3 scorers besides the goalkeeper.
Troublemakers often provide extra value in fantasy hockey. This depends on the site's scoring system. If the site rewards players for penalty minutes, look for troublemakers.
The first place to find value is looking at the Vegas lines. The moneylines and the over/unders are indicators of the performance you can expect from a team. If a team is a heavy favorite, its goaltender provides more value. Fantasy hockey rewards the goaltenders of winning teams.
Some players look for the cheapest goalie likely to win. This is a good way to get extra value. But this isn't an iron-clad rule. It's more of a guideline or suggestion. Fantasy hockey, like all fantasy sports, is situational.
Once you have a goalie, it's time to look for a couple of superstars who can carry the team. Some players cost a lot, but in spite of their high cost, you have to draft them. If you don't, your opponents will.
The best place to look for these superstars is from the teams with a high over/under. Players with low salaries who are playing with the first line are valuable, too.
With fantasy hockey, it's also important to consider which site you're playing at. DraftKings and FanDuel are the two leaders in the niche. They have significant differences in how they score points. For example, FanDuel awards players for penalty minutes. DraftKings does not, so penalty minutes aren't a huge factor there. They can be the deciding factor between players who are otherwise equally attractive, though.
Skaters playing against your goalie are never a good value. They minimize upside. The reasons for this should be obvious. If the skaters perform well, the goalie's performance suffers, and vice versa.
Finding Value in Fantasy Football
Fantasy football is probably the most popular daily fantasy sport. Winning at daily fantasy football is no different from the other sports, though. It still requires a focus on finding value.
One way to ensure value is to avoid stacking running backs from the same offense. Having multiple running backs from the same team limits points that lineup can score. On the other hand, stacking quarterbacks with wide receivers sometimes makes sense.
The best resource for finding value in the NFL is the Las Vegas line.
Find a game with a high over/under but a low point spread. The running backs from both of those teams will likely be getting a lot of points. They provide more value than similarly-priced players in a game with a low over/under. They also provide more value than players from a team that's a huge underdog.
Keeping up with injuries is another strategy for finding value. For example, if a running back is scheduled to start, he's usually considered a good value. But what if he's recovering from an injury? He might not get much time on the playing field. Players who only get in a single quarter are rarely high value.
Consistency matters, too. If you play 50/50s and H2Hs, target players who are consistent. This is the opposite strategy for tournament play. In tournaments, target players who have the potential to get a lot of points, even if they might also have a bad week.
A running back averages 15 points per game every week. He seldom scores more than 20 points, but he also never scores fewer than 10 points.
A wide receiver averages 15 points per game. But his numbers each week are all over the place. One week he scores 40 points. Another week he only scores 5 points.
If you're playing 50/50s and H2Hs, opt for the running back. If you're playing tournaments, opt for the wide receiver. In one case, you're looking for consistency. In the other, you're looking for potential.
Another no-brainer is avoiding the offensive players who are facing your team's defense. This is less important than avoiding running back stacks, but it still matters. Every point matters when you're playing for money. If your offensive players do well, your defense suffers, and vice versa.
A stars and scrubs strategy can often win at FanDuel's fantasy NFL games. A stars and scrubs strategy is one where you draft a few expensive players along with a bunch of cheap players.
They tend to be more conservative when setting their salaries for the elite players. So it's easier to find more value from high-priced players there than at other sites.
The Las Vegas sportsbooks are the best resource for finding value in any fantasy sport. They set the lines, and no one is better at making projections. Combine that information with more data from sports sites like ESPN.
It's also important to understand how the scoring works in your league. Differences in scoring can change value estimates.
At the end of the day, value is just a simple math problem. It takes a little bit of work to measure, but it's worth it.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: October 2015
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