Getting Started With Daily Fantasy Baseball
Most daily fantasy baseball beginners have tried season-long fantasy baseball leagues and moved on at some point. The level of commitment might have been too high. Or their stud pitcher was injured, and it blew their season.
But those problems do not apply to daily fantasy sports. Daily contests don't require the tremendous season-long commitment, and there's the opportunity to select a whole new lineup each and every week. This is why so many people are getting back into the hobby, and taking part in online contests.
It's easy to start playing daily fantasy sports online, and getting familiar with the contests is even easier with some good advice for getting started. That's what we provide on this page. We cover everything you need to know if you want to get involved.
How The Scoring Works
You can't make intelligent or thoughtful decisions about your lineup or any other aspect of daily fantasy baseball without an idea of how the scoring works. Luckily, scoring in the daily version of the sport resembles the season-long scoring. And just as various season-long leagues have different scoring systems, different daily fantasy sites also have different scoring systems.
But they all have certain things in common. Here are some of the basics that are the same at pretty much all the different sites.
- Players' performances determine their score.
- They earn points for getting hits and/or scorings runs.
- RBIs and stolen bases are also worth points.
- The most points are usually earned by pitchers.
- Pitchers earn points for all the following:
- Throwing strikes.
- Number of innings pitched.
- No hitters.
- Complete games.
How many points each of the above activities earn vary according to each site's set-up. For example, there's one site that awards hitters as follows.
- 3 points for a single
- 5 points for a double
- 8 points for a triple
- 10 points for a home run
There's another site that awards hitters using the following scoring system.
- 1 points for a single
- 2 points for a double
- 3 points for a triple
- 4 points for a home run
Why the difference?
Part of it has to do with their rules regarding lineups.
Lineups: The Players, Salary Caps & Value
Daily fantasy baseball teams all operate under the constraint of a salary cap, which is the "money" you spend when you draft your team. Think of the salary cap as being in-game money, like Monopoly money. Having a salary cap of $50,000 has nothing to do with what it costs to buy into the contest, and you get the same salary cap whether you buy into a contest for $10 or $100.
Different sites have different lineup rules. For example, at some sites you get to draft two pitchers. At others, you only get one pitcher. We mentioned earlier that one of the reasons the scoring systems vary at different sites is because of the lineup differences; having two pitchers instead of one is a major difference.
Each player available has a salary assigned by the site. This salary is determined using an algorithm that takes into account the player's past performance and his projected performance.
The goal in daily fantasy baseball is ultimately to find players who provide a lot of value relative to their salary. If you can master the art of finding value then you stand an excellent chance of winning some contests and making some money.
One finds value by projecting how many points that player is good for and dividing. For example, if a player costs $1000 to draft, and you project that he'll score ten points, you're earning one point for every $100 in draft dollars spent.
Value is at the core of every decision made in this hobby. If you have $50,000 to spend, and you can earn a point for every $500 in salary cap, then you can make 100 points per contest. If your opponent can only earn a point for every $1000 in salary cap, then she'll only make 50 points per contest.
One way to find value is to follow the sport. The more you know about the different teams and their players, the better feel you'll have for how much value a player offers at a particular salary. This should be a painless way to improve at daily fantasy baseball—just follow the sport a little more closely.
Another way to find value is to look at what the Vegas sportsbooks are doing when they set lines. No one in the world has a more sophisticated process for projecting professional sports performance. For example, if the Vegas sportsbooks' line indicates that one team is a huge underdog to another, it's probably a bad idea to draft the underdog's pitcher.
When you get started, you don't have to be especially detailed or conscientious about how you track your projections. We use a spreadsheet to estimate everything, but that's probably more advanced than you'll need to be—at least at first.
Once you get more involved in the hobby, it's a good idea to record everything. As you have more historical results to look at, you can estimate how accurate your projections are, how much value you're getting from your lineups, and whether or not you're improving.
Here's an example:
- You project that a lineup will earn 100 points on a $50,000 salary cap.
- The team only earns 80 points, though.
- You project that subsequent lineup with earn 100 points.
- Again, the team scores just 80 points.
- For your next lineup, you make some changes to how you project scores.
- Instead of scoring 80 points, you score 90.
Even if you have a losing week, you can feel confident that your results are improving week over week.
You can also track value at various positions and try to improve at each of them. For example, your pitchers might cost you $250 per point, but if you can get that number down to $200 per point, you've improved. You might not be winning against your opponents yet, but if you continue to improve your ability to find value, you'll eventually start winning more often than losing.
Getting Started With Freerolls
One of the best ways to get started in daily fantasy baseball contests is to take advantage of the multiple freeroll opportunities offered by most fantasy sites. The biggest sites offer multiple contests each week that cost nothing to enter but pay real money prizes. Since it costs nothing to enter, these are clearly positive expected value situations. Don't ignore them.
For beginners, these are a great opportunity to get familiar with the site interface. Any mistakes won't cost any money—it's all upside. Once you get comfortable with the sites and their interfaces, move up to the real money contests. We recommend starting off at the lowest stakes possible until you're starting to feel confident in your abilities.
On the other hand, if you're a recreational player who only cares about getting into action, sign up for as high a buy-in contest as you can stomach. One never knows. You might get lucky and hit a big score your first or second contest.
Daily Fantasy Baseball Contest Types
Daily fantasy baseball contests can be roughly divided into 2 broad categories. These are as follows.
- Cash games
The main types of cash games are head-to-head (H2H) contests and 50/50 contests. These contests are low variance. You buy in for an amount, and you're expected to win half the time—assuming that your skill level and your opponent's skill level is the same.
- Two entrants (H2Hs always have just two entrants).
- Entry fee is $100.
- Total entry fees of $200 (2 x $100).
- Winner gets $180.
- Site takes $20 commission (10%).
In a 50/50 contest, you'll be competing with multiple players, but you only need a score within the top 50% of the field in order to win. The prize money is the same regardless of place.
- Ten entrants.
- Entry fee is $100.
- Total entry fees of $1,000 (10 x $100).
- Entrants score as follows.
- 1st place: 200 points
- 2nd place: 180 points
- 3rd place: 160 points
- 4th place: 140 points
- 5th place: 120 points
- 6th place: 100 points
- 7th place: 80 points
- 8th place: 80 points
- 9th place: 70 points
- 10th place: 60 points
- Top five places each win $180.
- Site takes $100 commission (10%).
Notice that the player who wins first place has 200 points and the player in fifth place has 120 points. Even though there's an 80 point difference, the players get the same payout in a 50/50 contest.
Tournaments, on the other hand, offer a progressive prize pool based on how well you place.
- 100 entrants.
- Entry fee is $25.
- Total entry fees of $2,500 (100 x $25).
- Site takes $250 commission (10%).
- Total prize pool of $2250 ($2500 - $250).
- Payouts as follows:
- 1st place: $625
- 2nd place: $375
- 3rd place: $250
- 4th place: $200
- 5th place: $150
- 6th place: $125
- 7th – 9th place: $100 each
- 10 – 12th place: $75 each
Some tournaments offer a guaranteed prize pool, or GPP. These tournaments have a minimum prize pool regardless of how many people register and play. In the example above, if the tournament were designated as a GPP with $2250 in prizes, it would pay out as listed above even if only 60 or 70 players registered and played. Without the guarantee, if too few players sign up, the contest is cancelled and your entry fee is refunded.
When you find a situation with a guaranteed prize pool where too few players have entered to justify the prize pool, it's called an "overlay". This means that the site is contributing money to the prize pool, and your equity is greater than it would be otherwise. Unless you're just a terrible player, overlay situations are almost always positive expectation situations.
Managing Your Bankroll
Bankroll management is one of the keys to being a profitable player. Here's why.
Suppose you're twice as good as the average player. You have $1,000. You enter a $1,000 entry fee heads up contest with an average player. Your chances of winning are about 65%, maybe even 75%. This means that 25% to 35% of the time, you'll go broke after one contest. If you're broke, you can't enter more contests.
There are two possible outcomes—a 70% or so chance of having a bankroll of $1,800 after the contest, and a 30% or so chance of having a bankroll of $0 after the contest.
On the other hand, suppose you take that $1,000 and instead enter 50 contests, each of which has a $20 entry fee. Assuming a win rate of 65%, you're much less likely to go broke. In fact, chances are, you'll win maybe 35 of these contests and lose 15 of them. So your bankroll after the 50 contests should increase from $1,000 to $1,330.
A smart approach to bankroll management reduces or eliminates risk. When you have an edge over the other players, the only way to reduce that risk is to spread your bankroll around. The more contests entered, the more likely it is that your edge over the other players will close in on your expectation.
On the other hand, losing players will increase their chances of going broke with every contest they play. So bankroll management only matters if you're a winning player. We don't make any value judgment here, either—it's perfectly okay to participate in the hobby even if you're losing more than 50% of the time. In fact, every beginner starts off as a losing player. Like anything else involving skill, practice makes perfect.
For more information and advice on this subject, please see our strategy article on bankroll management for daily fantasy sports.
The most important player in your lineup is the pitcher. Most points come from this position, so most of your thinking about your lineup should focus on this position. Be willing to pay a premium for a premium pitcher, but keep in mind his opponents, too.
If your premium pitcher is facing a lineup of the best hitters in the league, he's probably not worth the price. This is where looking at the Vegas sportsbook lines can come in handy.
On some sites, you'll need 2 pitchers in your lineup instead of just one. The best strategy is to pick a superstar for one of the pitchers. Then go with someone less expensive who offers relatively good value for that 2nd pitcher spot.
When thinking about pitchers, pay attention to how many strikeouts they average. But also take into account how many walks they allow. You want a pitcher who's going to throw a lot of strikes without allowing a lot of walks—points are deducted for walks, and it doesn't take long to lose a lot of the points gained from strikeouts with a few walks.
The pitcher might be the most important player, but most of the time, you can't win on pitching alone. You have to think about hitters, too.
One easy tip to remember when choosing hitters is to focus on hitters who come up early in the batting order. Since they're coming up early, they'll get more opportunities to score than the hitters who come later in the lineup.
Consider, too, how often a hitter gets on base. A hitter with a high on-base percentage is going to score more points in the long run. Avoid players who get busted trying to steal too many bases.
In daily fantasy football, the defense and the kicker positions are cheap for a reason. The daily fantasy baseball equivalent of this is the catcher position. In fact, the catcher has the fewest opportunities to affect the score than any other position—so don't waste a lot of money on this spot. Use the money for upgrading your pitcher(s), instead.
If a particular pitcher seems to be on a bad streak, don't draft him. But it's also a good idea to look at the hitters who are playing against that pitcher. You might be able to find a lot of value by exploiting these kinds of matchups.
This is another example of how the Vegas books' lines can help.
Daily fantasy baseball can be a fun and profitable hobby. Getting started is easy, too. With only a little bit of effort, you can be at least a break-even player without too much effort. If you're willing to put in the time and work, you can even turn this hobby into a profitable venture for yourself. Don't let fear of something new keep you away from this game. If daily fantasy baseball seems like fun, get started right away. The tips on this page will prevent you from making a fool of yourself.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: October 2015
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