Interview With Justin Van Zuiden Following $100,000+ Payday

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Justin Van Zuiden is one of the nicest people you’ll not only meet in DFS, but in life. His engaging personality has been a staple here at RotoGrinders for years and he’s seen sustained success in the industry now for a number of years, highlighted by his two top 10 finishes in the Tournament Player of the Year race and multiple live final appearances.

After a huge $100K+ winning night last night, RotoGrinders took the time to ask Justin a few questions about life, DFS, and his big score.

RotoGrinders: Who is stlcardinals84? Where did you grow up, go to school, what did you do before DFS. Tell us about your family if you have one.

Justin Van Zuiden: I grew up in a small town in rural Illinois – population about 10,000 – Rock Falls. My high school graduating class was around 125 people. I enjoyed the size of the town. You knew almost everyone in school, but it wasn’t to the point where it was too small. That made me a bit of a homebody. While I now live across the river in a neighboring town, Rock Falls will always be home. I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb in 2004 and 2006, got my CPA license in 2007, got married in 2007 to my wife Shannon, and started a regular accounting job that same year. We have two sons, Landon (6) and Noah (4), who keep us very busy.

RotoGrinders: When did you get into DFS? What was your introduction to it?

Justin Van Zuiden: I saw a banner ad for the now defunct Daily Joust WAY back in 2011. I decided to dabble as I always had a love for fantasy sports. After my initial $100 deposit, I knew I wanted to play this game — but I had no idea what it would become.

RotoGrinders: Tell us about your DFS path. The struggles you’ve had… the successes. When did you feel you had become successful enough to consider yourself a pro.

Justin Van Zuiden: Every DFS player goes through ups and downs, especially those like myself that tend to focus on GPPs. I lost that initial $100 deposit on Daily Joust, but I’ve been thankful enough to be playing on profit since then. Heavy GPP play requires a lot of patience and acceptance of swings. I still don’t consider myself a 100% pro since I still have my day job, which I definitely enjoy. It’s nice to have the stable income outside of DFS, especially since my wife is a stay-at-home mom. To answer the question, though, when I had put up significant profit in 2012 and 2013, I felt like I could compete with anyone.

RotoGrinders: Tell us about your daily life, the routines you take, the approaches you utilize?

Justin Van Zuiden: As a GPP player, I’m always looking for that spot that nobody will think about. You’re not going to have a great chance to win a GPP by stacking the 1-5 hitters on the Cubs with the wind blowing out at Wrigley, because you’re not going to be the only one doing that. Eric Crain gave a great line one time, saying he “likes to take the path of least resistance.” That resonates with me. If your 3% owned guy hits two home runs, that’s better than a 50% owned guy hitting two home runs. If the chalk fails, you can easily get a leg up on the competition.

RotoGrinders: Do you look/listen to other’s advice? If so, what do you try to glean from it and whose names are at the top of your list.

Justin Van Zuiden: Of course, I listen to the advice of others. There are two purposes for this: 1) to make sure I am not overlooking anything obvious and 2) to get a feel for ownership percentages. On most days that I am playing, I will at least peruse every article on the RG site. There are tons of other people on RG and other platforms that are also very plugged in, so it’s always nice to monitor Twitter to get a feel for things, too. I don’t have one specific person that I will trust the most, but it’s just a combination of all the things that I can take in. There is no such thing as information overload in DFS, in my opinion.

RotoGrinders: What is your typical research process for a day of MLB? What resources do you utilize? If you make your own model, what factors do you weigh the most?

Justin Van Zuiden: I will usually look at Vegas totals and pricing the night before, right as I am getting ready for bed. This allows me to process initial information and figure out where I want to head the next day. I’ll build some preliminary lineups in the morning, and then monitor weather/starters/etc… throughout the day before finalizing lineups in the 90 minutes leading up to roster lock. I do have a model that weights team offenses for stacking purposes, and I utilize that daily for GPP play.

RotoGrinders: How many lineups did you enter into the $50. The $6. If multiple lineups what were you core plays?

Justin Van Zuiden: I entered 50 lineups in each GPP, with my focus on the Twins/Orioles and Giants/Cubs games. I knew the Cubs would be chalky, so I tried to differentiate my Cubs stacks as much as I could — but I didn’t focus on them. The Twins, Orioles, and Giants were my favorite teams on the night. I also wrote all of those teams up in my “favorite stacks” portion of the Batter Breakdown on Monday, which is in our premium content.

RotoGrinders: You had a six-figure night. What was your immediate reaction? Any plans for an extravagant purchase? If no, what are your plans with the bankroll increase?

Justin Van Zuiden: I was in the bedroom watching the end of the White Sox/Diamondbacks game on the television. We are in the White Sox local market, so I was able to catch it without firing up the MLB app. My wife was sleeping and went to bed somewhat angry because she had pretty much been ignored most of the night. When the final out was made, I jumped onto the bed and woke her up with a big hug. It took a few minutes, but she was pretty pleased when she finally got woken up all the way. I do not generally make extravagant purchases, so that is probably not in the works. However, we are going to St. Louis in a few weeks, so it will be a nice vacation and getaway.

RotoGrinders: You had some very unusual, definitely contrarian plays in the likes of Joe Mauer and Gorkys Hernandez (among others). What were your thought processes on utilizing these two? Was Gorkys purely a price play or did you like him better than other cheaper options at the position.

Justin Van Zuiden: The pitching was thin for this slate, so I wanted to make at least 10 lineups with the top two pitchers (Greinke and Pineda). That’s where these teams started. I did some Giants stacks, some Cubs stacks, some Twins stacks, and some Orioles stacks with those two pitchers. In order to fit a Twins stack with both Sano and Kepler, that didn’t leave a whole lot of salary remaining for the other hitters. I just happened to notice that three of the cheap Giants hitters also fit on that Twins stack, and with the wind blowing out at Wrigley, that roster made a ton of sense. I certainly didn’t expect Panik and Ruggiano to both go yard, but it worked out!

RotoGrinders: You went with a low-owned Twins stack. What about them did you like?

Justin Van Zuiden: Have you seen Ubaldo Jimenez pitch? A stack against him is always viable, and his numbers this year have been beyond atrocious. His walk rate is over 13% and he has been getting hit hard with regularity. The Twins were a fantastic sneaky stack, and the low ownership was just icing on the cake.

RotoGrinders: You provide premium content for RotoGrinders. Tell us about the type of work you do and how Premium Incentives members can benefit from your content.

Justin Van Zuiden: I do a lot of stuff on the Premium side here at RG. I do a weekly golf write-up for FanDuel, and I do a GPP-focused MLB article on Tuesdays and Fridays that focuses on my favorite tournament plays of the night. Those two days are always filled with huge GPPs, so it’s a fun article to write — and it also helps me put my own thoughts into focus for the day! The feedback has been very positive so far, and I am glad people are enjoying it. If you are a GPP-focused player, check it out!

RotoGrinders: If you had one piece of advice to offer to a player new to MLB DFS in terms of strategy, what would it be and why?

Justin Van Zuiden: Be patient. MLB has a ton of variance, as even Mike Trout goes 0-for-4 on a given night. Bankroll management is critical, and don’t dive into GPP play until you have a good grasp of that.

RotoGrinders: How many tax returns did you prepare in April? Is April 15th your least favorite day of the year?

Justin Van Zuiden: Being the planner that I am, I of course keep a spreadsheet of the tax returns that I sign every year. This past year was a little shy of 400 returns. April 15th is a weird day because you go from being super busy to having a lot more free time. It’s hard to explain, but it’s refreshing once the deadline is past.

About the Author

  • Aaron Hendrix (thehazyone)

  • Aaron Hendrix is a former professional poker player who made the transition from season long fantasy sports to DFS in October of 2014. He used to cover poker tournaments for a living until stepping into his current role at RotoGrinders. He can be found on Twitter at @aaronhendrix

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