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.

Conclusions

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.

About the Author

  • Chris Gimino (ChrisGimino)

  • Chris Gimino is a top mind in the DFS industry and one of the primary contributors at RotoGrinders including one of the most accurate ownership projection systems in the industry. A multiple time live-finalist, Chris delivers actionable tools and advice for RotoGrinders Premium subscribers that helps them make informed decisions for their lineup builds.

Comments

  • PeepGame2020

    THIS. Thats whats up. Great reminder Chris. I still get caught up in simply predicting outcomes…..

  • quiknificent1

    A+ write up

  • tbro421

    Great article that really puts things into perspective. Thank you.

  • darkknight007

    • Blogger of the Month

    A well written article and I’ve picked up on a few things

  • njsum

    Everything written above makes complete sense, and a solid gpp player can IMO have a good feel or even system for what ownership is likely to be, which can be used to their advantage. however, I do take some exception to the notion that a players probablilty for success can be projected accurately in NFL, which is part of the equation needed to help decide whether to fade or play. the reason is there is no way to quantify the results is because it cant be back tested. whereas you can back test how good you are at projecting ownership and see if your in the general vicinity of what the actual ownership turns out to be. yet you cant back test a “likelihood for sucess number.” And even if you could which i dont think you can, youd still have to factor in price which further complicates things. so what im getting at, is that in NFL if youre trying to seperate from the crowd ur better off just using expected ownership as thats the most reliable number. thoughts?

  • MrPogi

    Theoretically it’s a great article, but even after taking into account all the factors mentioned, how accurately can a person predict a player’s ownership?

  • ChrisGimino

    • 2015 DraftKings FFWC Finalist

    • 2016 DraftKings FBWC Finalist

    @njsum said...

    so what im getting at, is that in NFL if youre trying to seperate from the crowd ur better off just using expected ownership as thats the most reliable number. thoughts?

    I like the way you are thinking – very scientific. You have a point that it would be nearly impossible to create an accurate metric for the concept “probability of landing on the winning roster.” I did mention that “it’s complicated” and this is kind of what I mean.

    Think of this as a more artistic concept. It’s a way of thinking about narrowing down your GPP options. You have to at some point make a choice on who to play—- and my point is that you should be considering the merits of a play vs. the projected ownership before you click submit. Quantifying it in the way I described is merely a way to visualize this. The number you assign may or may not be accurate, but at the very least you are installing a process to consider how your opponents will play before deciding who to play yourself.

    To your question: No, I don’t think you are better off using ownership alone. We want strong plays first and foremost. Many low owned plays are not strong plays. Once we determine who is on our list of usable players, we should then be comparing ownership projections to further evaluate where an advantage can be gained.

  • ChrisGimino

    • 2015 DraftKings FFWC Finalist

    • 2016 DraftKings FBWC Finalist

    @MrPogi said...

    Theoretically it’s a great article, but even after taking into account all the factors mentioned, how accurately can a person predict a player’s ownership?

    I can tell you first hand that it’s not easy to be accurate projecting ownership. I put a ton of effort into it, and it doesn’t always work out the way I would like.

    Still, you can get good enough at projecting ownership to use it in your process. I’m working with another sharp player (jmbwngfn) here at RG projecting ownership every single day for MLB, and I expect we’ll do the same for NFL, PGA, and NBA. This is available to our premium subscribers, and if you aren’t comfortable with your own projections…. just use ours. At least you can blame us if we get it wrong :) Of course we’ll be expecting @ mentions on twitter if it helps you win the money too.

  • Andrewfr

    I think it is fairly easy to see who the most popular plays of the day are going to be, but sometimes it can be difficult to predict ownership underneath the “chalk” plays. Some days I’m shocked at how hi/ low a player is owned… I think that is definitely a skill by itself.

  • kccolts81

    For nfl at least you can try to use the thursday-weekend slate games to gauge players ownership levels on fanduel.

  • CJtheGrump

    Someone in the forums was ranting about this in regards to PGA – that it seemed the winner had high-owned golfers.

    My thought is this:

    If chalk goes off, you don’t stand a chance without it. Either way, you still need some low-owned players to go off as well if you want to have a prayer in taking down a GPP.

  • ChrisGimino

    • 2015 DraftKings FFWC Finalist

    • 2016 DraftKings FBWC Finalist

    @CJtheGrump said...

    Someone in the forums was ranting about this in regards to PGA – that it seemed the winner had high-owned golfers.

    I’m not sure how to handle those who want to debate ownership as being relevant. There are many many many ways to win, and I’m simply outlining what we believe is the most sustainable, repeatable method to reaching the top.

  • njsum

    @ChrisGimino said...

    I like the way you are thinking – very scientific. You have a point that it would be nearly impossible to create an accurate metric for the concept “probability of landing on the winning roster.” I did mention that “it’s complicated” and this is kind of what I mean.

    Think of this as a more artistic concept. It’s a way of thinking about narrowing down your GPP options. You have to at some point make a choice on who to play—- and my point is that you should be considering the merits of a play vs. the projected ownership before you click submit. Quantifying it in the way I described is merely a way to visualize this. The number you assign may or may not be accurate, but at the very least you are installing a process to consider how your opponents will play before deciding who to play yourself.

    To your question: No, I don’t think you are better off using ownership alone. We want strong plays first and foremost. Many low owned plays are not strong plays. Once we determine who is on our list of usable players, we should then be comparing ownership projections to further evaluate where an advantage can be gained.

    In of my recent replies to a thread asking if DFS is skill or luck, I replied neither, as I feel its more of an art then either a learned skill or a pure diceroll, so im on board with the “artistic concept.” Also I didnt mean to suggest using a guy just because hes low owned as many players are low owned for very good reasons. my point was more that it seems very arbitrary trying to estimate a players exact chance for sucess…so when you have two high priced players like in your example julio jones and antonio brown, you can just say ok theyre both in good spots, their cost is close, yet julio is going to be significantly higher owned so im gonna play antonio.

  • Tammy409

    @Andrewfr said...

    I think it is fairly easy to see who the most popular plays of the day are going to be, but sometimes it can be difficult to predict ownership underneath the “chalk” plays. Some days I’m shocked at how hi/ low a player is owned… I think that is definitely a skill by itself.

    I totally agree on the ‘No Advanced CyberMetrics Needed’ to know what the chalk is to be in any given slate. If ‘fandom’, fame, recency, and perceived pricing value’ don’t give away at first glance; things become clear as soon as a LU begins its construct. The ‘underneath’ is what is trickier to predict either direction. I’ve been as baffled by Steph Curry at 3.9% in a Playoff Game that he was CLEARLY going to play in six hours before it began as I FOR MONTH’s was by my “% Ownership” NOT = 100% for my 9-Man NFL rosters… I was killing it last Fall, and no clue what chalk was or what I was doing, but I thought the “% Owned” thing on DK’s was the -of-Salary Budget that each of my rostered players represented. Couldn’t figure out why the totals didn’t ever reach 100. People got mad when I’d play Jermaine Kearse and JJ Nelson and Wheaton, but sorry… I’d build goofy ‘Theme’ rosters or just would see things differently than the pundits I guess. I’m sure Calvin Johnson was always owned moreso than Tedd Ginn. Not by me.

  • natelr14

    Great article. Nice work!

  • TheJuPrint

    Great work. I certainly gained a new perspective to consider.

  • obe1

    Thank you sir for this article,this is the most important and best article I have read since playing dfs 10 months ago. I will certainly adjust my line ups and my thinking from now on.Thank you so much sir.

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