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.
Value is a ratio of dollars per point.
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
Player 1 scored 27 points.
His salary cost per point scored was $1,296 ($35,000 /
Player 2 scored 35 points.
His salary cost per point scored was $1,000 ($35,000 /
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
Here’s another example.
Both players in the above example had the same pitcher,
His salary was $13,000. He scored 17 points for both
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
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
Here’s a snapshot of how that might look.
One trick the pros do is divide the salary by $1,000. This
simplifies the number.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The best resource for finding value in the NFL is the Las
Using the Las Vegas Lines
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
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
How to Analyze Consistency
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
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.
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