DFS Strategy: Predicting Ownership
One thing that can easily get lost in the daily grind is that DFS is a game against other players, and not exclusively a contest to make the most accurate predictions.
Obviously we want to be very good at understanding what is likely to happen, but we cannot get so sure of our ability to predict player performance that we forget the true goal of the contest. That goal is to defeat all of our opponents. This article is designed to help you achieve that goal.
In this article:
• Why does ownership matter?
• Are you good at predicting outcomes?
• Factors to consider when projecting ownership for yourself
• How to punish your opponents when they make a theoretical mistake
Why Does Projecting Ownership Matter?
Thousands of users participate in GPP tournaments every day, and an excellent way to position yourself for long term success is to understand the nature of the game you are playing. DFS isn’t a game where we attempt to score the most possible points (aka select the perfect lineup). It’s a game where we simply need to score more points than anyone else. It is natural to focus on the professional athletes first and foremost when selecting our players, but this is only one aspect of playing DFS successfully. In my opinion, one of the fundamental aspects of a GPP tournament is to know and understand the play of our DFS opponents.
The most basic way to measure how our opponents play is through ownership percentage. Ownership percentages tell us some (but not all) of the story on how our opponents are behaving in an individual circumstance. If we can accurately project ownership, Then we can leverage their behavior to our own advantage.
The importance of projecting ownership is to first understand the expected behavior of our opponents, and then develop strategies to defeat them.
Are You “Good” at Predicting Outcomes?
I’ll answer that for you. No, you are not. At the very least, you aren’t as good as you think you are based on the field’s behavior as a group.
This is what I mean: Every player on every slate has a probability of landing on the winning roster. It’s complicated, but for the sake of argument just agree with me that every player has one. There is also an actual percentage that the field has selected each player. What we see on many slates is that some players’ ownership percentage exceeds the players theoretical probability of success (and visa versa). The size of that gap represents the degree to which the field at large has misread the situation. They are too confident in a player as compared to his theoretical probability of success.
So in this sense, the field has not done a good job of predicting the range of that player’s outcomes. They have focused too heavily on what could go right, and not enough on what could go wrong (or visa versa).
The field of contestants in every GPP tournament will make mistakes in their predictions. It is our job to recognize where they have done so, and capitalize on the variance and uncertainty of predicting sports outcomes.
This would be a great time to mention that “probability” of landing on the winning roster takes into account the salary cap, and not just how many raw fantasy points that player is probable to score. Depending on the slate, it may actually be correct for us to select a player who’s ownership exceeds his prospects for creating fantasy points. The point is, when you clump together all the things that make an athlete “probable” to land on the winning roster… DFS contestants as a whole frequently get it wrong, which creates long term opportunity for those of us who understand this concept.
Projecting Ownership % is essential to understanding and quantifying where we can capitalize most effectively on our opponents’ inability to recognize a player’s true probability of success.
Factors to Consider When Projecting Ownership
Here are some things your opponents are looking at to help them decide who to play on any given night.
Expert Projections: There is a growing number of fantasy sites (including the mass media outlets like ESPN, Yahoo, etc) that create daily and weekly projections for DFS players. Not everyone has the skill and ability to create a unique projection of their own. Take the time to look at a few every day, and see where they might agree or disagree on key players. I recommend that RotoGrinders be one of those sources.
Projected Role/Opportunity: In baseball this could be their lineup position. In NBA, their projected minutes. In NFL, their touch projections and critical touch projections. Every sport has a common perception of a player’s role and opportunity. Do your best to understand how your opponents might see this opportunity, even if it is different from your own perception.
Vegas Information: This is a critical factor. A growing percentage of the field has accepted Las Vegas as a resource. Find the games that Vegas favors for scoring, and you’ll likely find elevated ownership from your opponents.
Perceived Opponent Skill/Matchup: Your opponents will seek numerous resources to understand the path of least resistance to fantasy production. Read other opinions on the day’s match ups. Listen to podcasts like the Morning Grind here on RotoGrinders. Give yourself as many opinions as possible on where people will perceive a good matchup, and adjust your thoughts accordingly on the players in that game.
Salary/Value: Once you consider some of the factors above, there will usually be a few clear instances of a player’s salary being too low or too high for his expected performance. Understand who these players are, and make note. Extreme value plays are frequently some of the highest owned players on any given slate. The key here is to understand the relative value they present, and the way these plays might affect roster construction at other positions.
Positional Scarcity: Chris Rock once said that, “a man is only as faithful as his options.” I don’t know if that’s true in life, but it’s certainly true in DFS. Positions like TE in NFL, SF and SG in NBA, and SS in MLB frequently see a select group of plays that are clearly better than the rest of the options. Other positions like 1B, QB, and PG have a plethora of options available. The fewer options that exist, the higher the ownership concentrates towards the top of the pack.
Opportunity Cost: The salary cap constantly forces us to choose where we will spend and where we will save. Sometimes, we feel like we absolutely have to spend up for players at a given position (Pitcher, RB, Center) because the relative strength of the most expensive plays far exceeds that of the cheap plays. We feel like there will be a potentially huge gap in fantasy output if we elect to save where others will spend. Recognize when these situations occur, and understand that ownership will flow to the top when these types of situations arise.
Cognitive Bias: Most players have biases they don’t even understand. Recency bias is the most well known, but there are many different reasons why some players get selected more frequently simply due to the biases our collective brains have established. Try to keep track of who has done well/poorly recently. Understand who the stars of the sport are, and why they might get some extra love when their situation looks good. Know the top plays in season long drafts, and who the most popular teams are in each sport. All of these things could help you better understand the behavior of the field at large that is completely removed from metrics and statistics themselves.
Expert/Industry Opinions: Ahh yes. The touts. We know it all, don’t we? Well whether we want to admit it or not, the industry as a whole has a huge impact on how the broader base of DFS users will behave. They don’t all go to one source, and this is reason #1 for you to be looking at and using as many DFS opinions as possible. There are certainly a lot of good ideas you might procure from these sharp minds, but more importantly it should give you a nice flavor on who the field will look to roster. Trust the wisdom of the crowd when it comes to projecting ownership. The experts tend to lead you towards the slates’ top plays.
How to Crush Your Opponents’ Theoretical Mistakes
Let’s establish three things at the outset:
A) Assume we are playing in a large field GPP
B) Assume the only acceptable outcome is a high finish. For min cash advice, go elsewhere.
C) Assume we know we aren’t going to win very often, and we have a tolerance for risk.
We’ve already talked about the two skills we need to have in order to crush our opponents theoretical mistakes. First, we need to have a skill at recognizing a player’s true probability for appearing on the winning roster. I don’t necessarily mean that you have an exact number for every single player and you’ve written it down. However, once all your initial research is complete you should have a strong knowledge of a player’s relative merits. Secondly, we need to project the ownership levels and how these players will be used in roster construction.
Got it? Good. Now, let’s create a theoretical example of how to leverage this information.
Antonio Brown — 16% likely — 25% owned
Donte Moncrief — 12% likely — 4% owned
Julio Jones — 17% likely — 35% owned
DeAndre Hopkins — 10% likely — 12% owned
Brandon Marshall — 9% likely — 5% owned
Marvin Jones — 7% likely — 1% owned
In the example above, we’re looking at the gaps and attempting to understand where the field will make a mistake. In this example it’s Julio Jones. We project him to have the highest probability of success of anybody. The problem is that the field has overvalued him. We can now use this to make a decision, and the most logical thing to do is go “underweight” on Julio Jones or perhaps fade him entirely. We stand to gain a large edge on the field if we see the lower range of his outcomes. By contrast, Antonio Brown has a similar chance of success but lower ownership. We like that a lot better if we’re going to use a chalky play.
The best play described above is Donte Moncrief. We’re projecting that the field has undervalued him. When we start to see big gaps in a player’s likelihood of success and his projected ownership…we should attack! Get heavy exposure to these plays, as they will pay huge dividends when they reach the top end of their outcome range.
Sometimes these types of plays don’t have as good a chance (Marvin Jones) but the potential benefit is huge. We should also consider attacking these spots hard if your risk tolerance supports such maneuvers. The very low ownership segments us from our opponents, and gives us a much more narrow range of opponents to defeat with our other players in order to reach the top of the payout structure.
Avoid situations where there are big gaps in a player’s ownership as compared to his probability of success, and attack situations where the opposite is true.
DFS is a game against our opponents, and not a game of exactly predicting sports outcomes.
We should be comparing the behavior of our opponents to our own research and analysis. When we see that the field has decisively put too much confidence in a player, we can then use viable alternatives to put our rosters in position to win.
Understanding ownership can be an effective tool in identifying situations where the field is vulnerable, and allows us to make intelligent choices on how to exploit their mistakes.