RotoAcademy Preview: How I Start a Day of MLB Research

I have a confession to make. Can you keep this between the two of us?

Okay, here it is: I’m not handy with Excel.

Thank you for not laughing. I know I’m not the only one, but still. Yeah, it’s a disability I’ve been dealing with for years, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. I think I was born this way; I don’t know. I’m not even sure if there’s a cure.

Here’s the cool thing, though: you don’t have to be handy with Excel in order to succeed at MLB DFS!

Let’s take that pile of jokes and set it aside. Let’s get serious. That’s what you’re here for, right? Seriousness and learning.

Spreadsheets are employed every day by a lot of top MLB DFSers (yes, “DFSers” is a word – it means, um, daily fantasy sporters? Okay, so it’s not a word, but I’ll keep using it anyway). But not all the top MLB DFSers use spreadsheets. I know this, because I don’t use spreadsheets.

But “not using spreadsheets” does not mean that I have to fill my bucket of research every single day. Essentially, I do the same thing those with spreadsheets would do, except I do it without using spreadsheets.

I’m about to lead you on a brief walk through the way in which I start my research process each day, and this is something you can do with or without spreadsheets. If you’re handy with spreadsheets (lucky!), you can take your accumulated information and stick it right into your spreadsheet in whatever way makes the most sense to you. If you don’t use spreadsheets, you can do what I do (or, heck, you can do whatever else feels right to you).

Over the next several lessons, we’ll be picking up our shovels and digging into all the things I look for when looking at pitchers. But what I want you to understand is that I do not need to look up all these “things I look for when looking at pitchers” for every single slate; instead, I have all relevant stats saved already.

Because we have not yet reached the point in our path where we will be looking at the specific pitcher stats I consider to be important, I’ll keep this lesson fairly general. As we move forward through these lessons, you will understand more fully what I am talking about here; for now, however, we are going to look at all of this briefly to help you understand what the start of my day of research looks like.

Editor’s Note: This is one of the many valuable DFS lessons that can be found over at RotoAcademy. Click here to browse through all of our free/premium offerings and improve as a daily fantasy sports player!

Pitching Tiers

On any given slate of games, I am essentially going to have three different doors behind which I store my pitchers.

Behind Door 1 is pitchers worth using.

Behind Door 2 is pitchers who are neither worth using nor worth picking on.

Behind Door 3 is pitchers worth picking on.

Each slate provides us with a different number of pitchers behind each door (and the manner in which the designation of pitchers shakes out makes a big difference in the way in which I will approach a slate. This is a large part of what we will be exploring in Course 3, where we will look at putting together the knowledge gained in Courses 1 and 2 to make consistently profitable teams).

But the starting point in each day — for me — is not assessing the “big picture” or trying to make quick, off-the-top-of-my-head decisions about the day. Instead, I want to know — before anything else — exactly which pitchers fall into which category as I feel this is one of the most important elements to properly approaching a slate.

Vegas Lines

“Wait, Jordan, can I interrupt you real quickly?”

Sure you can. What’s up?

“Don’t you start with Vegas lines before anything else, and then look at these things?”

Honestly? No. In fact, some days I do not look at Vegas lines at all.

I’m glad you asked that question, though, because this provides a good opportunity for me to mention one very important thing, and that is the fact that different people can approach MLB DFS differently and can still attain the same level of success. There are certainly “wrong ways” to do things in MLB DFS, but there is also no single “right way.”

Before Bales travels back in time and shoots me for saying that I sometimes do not look at the Vegas lines at all, however, I’ll explain a bit further.

In my opinion, the Vegas line should confirm what you already know.

I’m going to repeat that, because it’s important:

The Vegas line should confirm what you already know.

Most of the time, I could conduct all of my research and, by the time I finish, predict with a pretty high level of accuracy the general range in which the over/under and the money line will be for each game. There are other days, however, when I will identify a pitcher I really like, only to glance at the Vegas line later and see that this pitcher is in a game with a high over/under, in which they are barely favored (or are not favored at all) to win.

When this is the case, I can take a closer look at things and make sure there is nothing I am missing. But you know what I usually find when this is the case? I usually find that I am not missing anything at all. Usually, I find that Vegas is not giving the same credit to my pitcher and his matchup that I am giving him. And you know what else I usually find? More often than not, by the time the night is over, I find that I was right.

If you look at the Vegas lines first, however, you might never even look at that game — the game in which you have an opportunity to grab an underpriced pitcher who is set to put up a solid game — all because Vegas had it wrong.

Furthermore, if you are unable to trust your own research as fully as you should, you may find yourself moving off a pitcher you liked simply because “Vegas does not agree,” only for this pitcher to have the game you expected him to have and for him to no longer be on your roster (Does that bring up painful memories of times you have done exactly that? If so, please accept my sincerest of apologies).

I do not start my day looking at the Vegas lines. Ever. I start my day by sorting pitchers into the three categories in which I feel they should be. Different things work for different people. This is what works for me, and ultimately, you need to find what works for you. But realize this: there will be days when your research leads you to believe something different from what the Vegas line is telling you. If this is the case, you may want to dig a bit deeper to make sure there is nothing you are missing, but more often than not, you will discover that your research was correct.


Okay, then. Let’s get back to what we came here for in the first place: how I start my day of research!

My Research Process

Saved on my computer is a document that has pitchers sorted by team with all the relevant stats for each pitcher on each team.

To give you an example of what I mean by this, it looks something like this:

A.L. East


Pitcher 1 (all relevant stats)
Pitcher 2 (all relevant stats)
Pitcher 3 (all relevant stats)
Pitcher 4 (all relevant stats)
Pitcher 5 (all relevant stats)


Pitcher 1 (all relevant stats)
Pitcher 2 (all relevant stats)
Pitcher 3 (all relevant stats)
Pitcher 4 (all relevant stats)
Pitcher 5 (all relevant stats)

And so on, through all 30 teams in the league.

Each day, then, I start by looking at’s Probable Pitchers page, and I pull each pitcher from that document and move them to the category in which they — at first glance — fit that day: pitchers worth using, pitchers who are neither worth using nor worth picking on, and —pitchers worth picking on.

So, for example, let’s say I look at Probable Pitchers, and Felix Hernandez is the first guy listed. I will go to my Pitcher Master Sheet, do a quick “find” search in the document for Hernandez, copy his name and all his stats, and move him to the “Pitchers worth using” document I have set up for that day.

Let’s say, then, that the next pitcher is a Bullpen Arm Making A Spot Start. I will go to my Pitcher Master Sheet, copy that guy and his stats, and move him to my “Pitchers worth picking on” document I have set up for that day.

Usually, I do not bother to copy-and-paste the pitchers who are neither worth using nor worth picking on because, well, what would be the point of that? I do, however, aim to err on the side of caution here; if a pitcher is even remotely borderline in either category (“pitchers worth using” or “pitchers worth picking on”), I will move them to the appropriate document anyway. I may not end up using or picking on that pitcher, but I want to make sure I am not overlooking what may be a viable opportunity for my rosters.

If I were not spreadsheet-deficient, I would tell you the best way to set up your stats each day in a spreadsheet. But honestly, there is no “right way” here. The point is simply this: I do not have to conduct my pitcher research each day because I already have it saved. Instead of spending an hour or more each day looking up stats on that day’s pitchers (and overlooking lots of stuff in the process), it takes me about five minutes to copy-and-paste that day’s pitchers — along with all their relevant stats — to the appropriate documents.

By the time I’ve done this, I have (on a full slate) maybe eight or nine pitchers (and all their relevant stats) in my “pitchers worth using” document, and I have maybe 10 to 12 pitchers (and all their relevant stats) in my “pitchers worth picking on” document. Already, my most important research for the day is done, and I’m ready to dig into the team-building process!

It is worth mentioning, of course, that it takes a bit of time early on to accumulate all this relevant information. But listen: do it!


One of the biggest mistakes people make in MLB DFS is assuming they know the pitchers who are worth using and assuming they know the pitchers who are worth picking on. By “already knowing,” and by only researching these pitchers, you will end up overlooking some massively important opportunities.

In fact, once you start researching — for each individual pitcher — the stats we will be looking at over the next couple lessons, you will be borderline shocked by some of the things you are finding! There will be some pitchers who are not nearly as bad as you thought they were, and there will be others who are not nearly as good as you thought they were.

My suggestion to you, in accumulating information, is this: just start doing it! Next slate you play, make sure you have enough time to look up the relevant stats (which will be covered in the next two lessons) for each pitcher pitching that day. If it is a full slate with 15 games, you will have 20 percent of the starting pitchers in baseball covered by the time you finish, and, you’ll be in awesome shape that day to put together an excellent team as you will have a lot more knowledge than you have ever had before!

So, what are those “relevant stats” I keep mentioning?

That’s called a transition, my friend.

Let’s move on to Lesson 3: Pitcher Stats I Look At: The Basics.

In Predicting Pitching: Researching Matchups and Stats, you’ll learn:

• Which statistics matter in selecting a pitcher for daily fantasy baseball
• Where to find these statistics and how to organize them to streamline research
• What role matchups should play in pitcher selection
• How you should weigh long-term versus short-term statistics

To read the rest of “Predicting Pitching: Researching Matchups and Stats,” you must purchase the course!

RotoAcademy offers one-of-a-kind, data-driven content to help you win.

Enroll in a course today!

About the Author

  • JM Tohline (JMToWin)

  • JM Tohline (Tuh-lean) – DFS alias JMToWin – is a novelist and a DFS player who specializes in high-stakes MLB and NFL tourneys, with a strategy geared toward single-entry play in multi-entry tourneys. He joined the DFS scene at the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, and has since won five DFS championship seats and two separate trips to the Bahamas. His tendency to type a lot of words leads to a corresponding tendency to divulge all his DFS thoughts, strategies, and secrets…which is exactly what he does in his RotoGrinders articles and RotoAcademy courses. You can find JM on Twitter at JMToWin.


  • gravity2726

    you have explained all the stats so clearly. I liked the way you constructed your lessons to explain each stat so that a beginner like me can understand MLB better.

    I have few questions and confused on some stats like BABIP but I will do more research on them to understand. But my only concern is making the documentation of stats to make the Mastersheet for all 180 pitchers. If you can provide me a template of mastersheet you have prepared last year/this year or screenshot for atleast one pitcher I will be able to build the mastersheet for all the 180 pitchers.

    Can you please sent me a template of your mastersheet to my email id

    Waiting for your next course on “Hitters”.

  • tbryan

    JMtoWin I all around love your write ups. As an unsolicited recommendation, if you are interested in speeding up how you begin your research as far as easy excel functionality, you can automate a recurring query from wherever you pull your info from directly into your re-used document and create a simple lookup table to populate the starting pitchers for the day for you each day by clicking a button. Sometimes finding a way to turn 15 minutes into 15 seconds is a value add when time is a factor. Keep up the great work and DM me on twitter @TyBry85 if you want any help doing this

  • pauld9999

    • 2017 FanDuel WFBC Finalist

    Love your content, i’ll read anything you publish. quick question…. how much of your research goes into trying to predict ownership and what tools besides gimino are you using for this?

  • nnp921

    Never commented before reading; saw this title and said OMG I“M NOT THE ONLY ONE! ….

  • JMToWin

    • x2

      2014 DraftKings FBWC Finalist

    • 2016 FanDuel WFBC Finalist

    @pauld9999 said...

    Love your content, i’ll read anything you publish. quick question…. how much of your research goes into trying to predict ownership and what tools besides gimino are you using for this?

    I try to look through ownership in tourneys every single day. Every day, I sort through 50 to 100 teams – clicking through to see which players were popular that day, and which were not. Over time, you begin to see some very clear patterns in terms of what leads to high ownership, and what leads to lower ownership. As soon as you start spotting these patterns, you can begin to quickly take advantage as well.

  • bullhunters

    Has the batting lessons been written? Thanks In Advance.

  • zuniac

    Hey JM… Quick question.. If you dont keep this stuff in spreadsheets, and just make a document, how do you keep it updated. Pitcher’s stats change all the time. Wouldn’t updating the stats manually take just as much time as looking them up each day? How do you keep your documents updated efficiently?

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