That Time I Did Not Quit Daily Fantasy Sports
Last year, I nearly quit playing Daily Fantasy Sports.
I was only a couple months into this most glorious of all hobbies when I reached the point where I was considering quitting. It had nothing to do with money – I was up on the year (not up a tremendous amount at that point, but I was up what felt like a pretty large chunk of change at the time in an “I get money just for playing fantasy sports? – awesome!” sort of way). Instead, I was simply considering quitting because this hobby was taking up so much time.
While this was going on, I posted about it in the forums on RotoGrinders (in fact, it was this post that really got me connected to the RG community, as there was a lot of conversation/discussion that ensued), and after a couple days of feeling this way, I decided to modify my approach to DFS and to stick around a bit longer. After all, it wasn’t the time required for research and team building that was really killing my “life outside of DFS.” It was more…well, more – I guess you could say – that I was reaching a point where there was no such thing as “life outside of DFS”!
As most of you know, I’m an author. I’m working on my second novel at the moment, and – because that’s my passion – that is, truly, the most important thing in my day-to-day life. (“But…Jordan, aren’t you married?” Yes, I am. And Abby is hugely important to me as well. But trust me – when I’m not doing my writing each day, I’m never quite feeling good enough, internally, to treat others – Abby included – as well as I should be treating them. And so, yes: my fiction writing is the most important thing in my day-to-day life.)
I am aware of this, of course. For over 10 years, this has not been any secret to me. But last year, right around the time I really got into Daily Fantasy Baseball, I went about a month (uh…maybe even longer) without doing my writing at all. It wasn’t because research and team building were taking up so much time. Instead, it was simply because I could not pull myself away from my phone or computer once games started. I would have three games up at once (two on my computer, one on my iPad), and would be tracking everything going on with my teams. Now, keep in mind: in addition to my fiction writing, my DFS play, and my writing for RotoGrinders, I do a lot of freelance writing work. And baseball is a slow-paced sport. It’s not difficult for me to watch a game and work at the same time. In fact, it’s not difficult for me to watch three games and work at the same time (don’t believe I can put together high-quality work while watching three games at once? – what do you think I’m doing right now, as I compose this article!). But last year, during the month (or longer) in question, I wouldn’t watch three games at once and work; instead, I would watch three games at once and just…otherwise…sit there. I would tell myself, “Okay – one more inning of watching your pitcher, then it’s time to start work.” An inning would pass. Then another. “One more inning, then that’s it.” After another inning, I might turn off the games…but then I would sit there on my phone, tracking the pitch-by-pitch of various games. Seriously. These were my nights for over a month.
When baseball finished for the night, I had to immediately turn my attention to work – the work I had neglected all night while watching baseball (followed by “not watching baseball, but still staring at my phone in order to follow it”). Some nights, I would finish work early enough to do some reading and writing (not the full two hours of reading and two hours of writing I like to do each day – but hey, at least do SOME, right?), but instead, I would decide to get a head start on my research for the next day’s slate of games. This research was never anything that couldn’t wait until the next afternoon…but I would either be so excited about the good night I’d just had that I would decide I wanted to “keep the momentum going” and get that early start, or I would be so bummed about a bad night that I would decide to “wash the taste out of my mouth” by getting a head start on research. “I’ll write when I get up in the afternoon,” I would tell myself (yes – “afternoon,” because I generally go to bed at 6 or 7 in the morning and get up at noon; get off my back, okay? – sheesh! (kidding… but really)).
But what do you think would happen when I woke up? It doesn’t take a tarot card to guess: each day, I would get up and check Rotoworld and RotoGrinders right away, to “look over things” as I woke up. This would lead to me deciding to spend a few minutes looking over my thoughts from the night before. Which would lead to more time spent on these thoughts. Which would lead to: “I’ll just build some test teams.” Which, of course, would lead to an hour or two of building teams. And then, starting lineups would be released, and all the work I had put in building teams became pretty much pointless, and I would start over – building my actual teams for the night.
And then, baseball games would begin. And I would go through the whole cycle once more.
I’m serious. This is what pretty much every day looked like – for well over a month.
And so, I decided to quit, because I knew that – 10, 20, 50 years from now – I would be happier that I had spent that time writing instead of staring at the pitch-by-pitch of baseball games on my phone.
I posted all these thoughts in the forums, and a lot of people chimed in with their own thoughts.
After reading everyone’s thoughts, I stopped being so melodramatic (I mean… really, I was posting about this on the message boards? – did I just want attention?), and I decided to reassess the place I was allowing DFS to have in my life. Things got better after that (of course they did!). And I don’t just mean things got better in the amount of time I was spending with DFS (although I do mean that), but I mean things also got even better in terms of profitability – and it is because of this second item that I am writing about this in today’s article (after all: what do you care if I figured out how to keep DFS from occupying a huge chunk of my mental real estate; all you care about is, “Will this help me make money?” – and the answer is Yes).
I thought about this on Friday, while I was building my teams for that night. I thought about it because I skipped my reading and writing that afternoon to work on my teams instead.
I was coming off my first poor night of the season (I was still 6-3 in double-ups to start the year – a very good mark – but the non-cash from the night before was a “pretty much last place in every single double-up” non-cash, which sort of wrecked my confidence for a few, dense hours), and I was really pressing in trying to turn things around. I woke up, and instead of taking a quick shower and making some coffee and starting my writing, I opened the Rotoworld app. Then I hopped onto RotoGrinders. Then I glanced at Twitter. By the time I took a shower, I was using that time to think through my potential roster options for the day. By the time I had my coffee in hand, I was settled onto the couch with my computer in front of me and a list of all my cash game options for the night.
I knew I was using Kluber at pitcher, but who should I pair him with? According to the article I had written for that day, the answer was pretty easy for cash games: Scherzer if you wanted to pair Kluber with value bats, or Colon if you wanted to use Trout in a good matchup and pick up some additional power. Wacha was an outside option in cash games as well; that was the gist of my assessment of Friday’s cash game plays from my Friday MLB Edge article.
But…what about Hutchison? What about Nelson? Hey – what about someone super cheap, like Warren or Karns? That’s what I started thinking, and I began to turn over every potential option – examining each one.
I took a break and moved to bats. Sure, my favorite play at catcher was Vogt, and my favorite play at first base was Ike Davis if I paid down and Adrian Gonzalez or Freddie Freeman if I paid up. Sure, Devon Travis was the obvious play at second base as soon as that Blue Jays lineup came out with him in the leadoff spot, and Jake Lamb was still facing a mediocre righty at a too-low price (as I’ve said before: that’s my go-to play time and time again!). Sure, Yunel Escobar was still cheap and batting leadoff against a poor pitcher, and there was a plethora of cheap outfield options along with some great places to pay up in the outfield if I wanted to go that route. But no matter – I started turning over every single potential play.
I was overthinking everything. I was pressing, pressing, pressing.
And then, I realized what I was doing. I realized that I had skipped writing already that day, and now I was putting myself in a position where I was going to overanalyze my team to death.
I took my coffee outside. I turned off my phone for a bit. I did a bit of reading. I came back to my teams.
“Okay, Jordan, be smart. If you take the smart approach day in and day out, you’ll always come out at profit over time.”
So, I decided to go with four cash game teams – dividing my entries evenly among them to spread out the risk. I used Kluber on all four, and used Scherzer on two and Colon on two (thanks for the advice, JMToWin’s MLB Edge article!). I used Devon Travis on all four, I used Trout on two and Harper on two, I used Vogt on two and Ike Davis on two. (I managed, somehow, to use Lamb on none, but hey, let’s not pick things apart here – even if he did have 19 points while Valbuena had 0, and even if Lamb is one of my MLB DFS crushes.) It was cash games, not GPPs, but high scores are still good, right? I cashed with all four teams, and I actually finished in the top 10% with three of the teams (including finishing in the top 1% with one of those teams; a side note on that…that’s the second time through the first ten cash game slates I’ve played that I finished in the top 1% of double-ups; yeah, maybe I should start to consider entering these “safe, cash game teams” into GPPs…).
My point in all this is not so much that I turned things around with a good night. We can have a poor process and still have a good night. We can have a great process and still end up with a bad night. But when you go into each night with a good process, you will win more often than you lose (and when you win more often than you lose, you profit over the long run!). And what it took for me to get back to a “good process” was putting daily fantasy sports in the back of my mind for a bit.
C.D. Carter does some great writing for RotoGrinders (and other places) during football season in which he draws a lot of similarities between the stock market and Daily Fantasy Sports, and he had a very interesting article last year that talked about the effect over-analysis can have on investment (and DFS) success. Eventually, you can reach a place where you gain too much information, and where you overthink and overanalyze everything as a result. You start thinking you can “logic” your way to a perfect result, when the truth is, the best you can do is build a team that has the potential to be perfect. That’s why DFS success needs to be viewed through the lens of “over time,” rather than through the lens of “today.” If you are consistently building a team that has the potential to be a perfect team that day, you will not only win in cash games more often than not, but you will also end up with a “perfect team” every once in a while, and will take down some massive GPP scores as a result.
In other words: when you keep DFS at the front of your mind all day (where it is 70% of what you are thinking of when you are by yourself, 50% of what you are thinking of when you are around your friends or family, and even 30% of what you are thinking of when you are supposed to be working (“30%? – try 90%!”)), you are not doing anything to aid your DFS success.
Instead, your best bet is to have your research routine. Stick to this research routine. Ask yourself, “What is the smartest team I can build today?” Then build that team, and check your DFS thoughts with the doorman until the next day!
Don’t believe me? How about this: Try it this week. If DFS has been consuming your thoughts – to where you are constantly second-guessing everything you come up with, and to where you are turning over lineups in the back of your mind at all times of the day – make a conscious effort to put an end to this. Separate your DFS time from your “maximize life” time (that’s what I call my non-work, non-writing, non-DFS time – my time to “maximize life,” as this encourages me to get the most out of my time and truly enjoy it or have fun or be productive or make memories, and not just let that time evaporate, leaving behind no trace). Know what your MLB DFS research strategy is, go through this research and team-building process during the time you have set aside for it, build a team you know you can feel great about, process-wise (a team you will not regret having put together even if it ends up doing poorly!), and see what happens over ten or so days of taking this approach. I can just about guarantee you that you will improve your cash rate (and if you don’t, there is a very good chance your process itself needs a bit of reworking!).
And (in advance), “You’re welcome.”
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED THIS LAST WEEK
While the info in the first half of this article is certainly enough to help you become a more profitable player over this next week, your luck is already running in your favor, because there’s still more to this article!
The general purpose of this article each week is to give you some thoughts on DFS strategy/approach, while also taking a look at some of the trends we have been seeing over the previous week of baseball, and some of the ways in which you can take advantage of those trends moving forward. To that end, there are three specific areas of “trends” I want to look at in order to help you this next week:
1) Offenses to target with your pitchers
2) Pitchers who may currently be overvalued simply because of who they are
3) Pitchers who may currently be undervalued simply because of who they are
OFFENSES TO TARGET WITH YOUR PITCHERS
How small of a sample size is too small? That’s a good question. And frankly, “The first two weeks of the season” is still too small of a sample size. The good news, however, is that two weeks gives us a solid base from which to work. And on top of that, I’ve watched a lot of baseball games already this year. Like…a whole lot (like I said; I usually watch 3 games at once while I work…and I usually work 6 to 8 hours a day). So that means we have some “eye test” knowledge to combine with a decent base of numbers in order to give you an idea of where things stand at present.
Phillies: The Phillies are actually only striking out at around a league-average clip, but they are massively unlikely to hurt your pitcher. They are bottom-5 in the league so far in wOBA, ISO, and runs per game, and I can tell you from having watched more Phillies games than anyone but Phillies fans should be subjected to that they are currently just as unimpressive as the numbers show. Especially with Utley struggling right now, this team has nothing scary. They are a great team to take a cheap pitcher against, assuming this cheap pitcher is a guy like Fister or Colon – a guy who doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts, but has good control and solid stuff. One such pitcher should have no trouble putting up a safe, solid line. Of course, good strikeout pitchers are great against the Phils. Be a bit careful, however, with guys who are erratic but “have strikeout stuff.” Because the Phils DO take walks, and don’t strike out at a super high level, a raw guy with strong strikeout stuff may have slightly more trouble vs the Phillies than you might be anticipating.
Astros: The Astros are the team you want to target with all types of pitchers, as you should get more strikeouts from your pitcher than he is priced at, regardless of whether you are talking about a high-priced ace, a Fister/Colon type guy, or an erratic, high-K guy who sometimes gets knocked around. That last category of pitcher is still relegated to GPP only, in my mind, as the Astros have been walking at an elite rate to start the year, and they also have strong ISO numbers (not surprising, as the team is loaded with power bats – so when these guys are not striking out, they often hit the ball hard). They are at the very bottom of the league in strikeout rate, however, and they are behind only the Phillies in runs per game. I still like the Astros as a sneaky GPP stack almost every day, as they have underrated power and can hang a crooked number when their ownership is at its lowest, but they are also a very strong lineup to target with pitchers in order to rack up some strikeouts.
Twins: The Twins are very similar to the Phillies. They are not striking out nearly as much as you might think (they are just about exactly league average so far), but they are bottom of the league in wOBA and ISO, and they are near the bottom in runs per game. Take everything I said about the Phillies and apply it here, with one caveat: Danny Santana, Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, and Kennys Vargas comprise a very strong top 4. Pay attention to how these guys are looking (Vargas certainly seems to be seeing the ball well right now, even if the stats are not yet bearing this out). Once they start hitting the ball well as a group, this team will be a bit less fun to pick on with mid-level arms.
Teams on the edge: The Reds, Marlins, and White Sox are all in the bottom-third of the league in strikeouts, wOBA, ISO, and runs per game (with the Reds being the worst of the bunch in strikeouts and wOBA, the White Sox being the worst of the bunch in runs per game, and the Marlins being the worst of the bunch in ISO), but none of these teams are particularly exciting options to pick on, either. Certainly, all three of these teams have the power to destroy your pitcher if he’s having an off day, so while I certainly am not remotely tempted to “avoid these teams” with appealing arms, I will not be going after them with sub-par arms.
Braves: Everyone has been picking on the Braves because their lineup looks so bad on paper; maybe this is like the “Cowboys defense is the worst in history” narrative last football season, where people kept believing that far longer than they should have. The Braves are certainly not a team to avoid when a pitcher you like is facing them (not even close). But they may not be a team to take mediocre arms against and assume you will rack up tons of cheap strikeouts with low risk of runs allowed. On the young season, the Braves are right in the middle of the pack in walk rate, and they are actually slightly above-average in ISO, wOBA, and runs per game. Craziest of all, the Braves are in the top five right now for best team strikeout rate. I’m sure these numbers will slip down as the season wears on, but they may not slip down nearly as much as most people are expecting (or, I could say, as much as most people imagine they already are!).
Pirates, Orioles, and Nationals: All three of these teams are in the bottom-five in the Majors in strikeout percentage, but I’m not buying it just yet. Obviously, the Orioles combine their early strikeouts with massive power and run-scoring potential, and the Nationals are starting to get healthy and will soon be a lineup you want to avoid rather than target. As for the Pirates, there are plenty of rumors that McCutchen is playing through injury, and if that’s the case, the entire lineup obviously gets downgraded a tick. But with Polanco, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez surrounding McCutchen, I’m still not racing to upgrade pitchers against them.
PITCHERS WHO MAY CURRENTLY BE OVERVALUED SIMPLY BECAUSE OF WHO THEY ARE
The Nationals staff: I love watching these guys pitch. Top to bottom, this is one of the best rotations I have ever seen. But they rarely are allowed to go more than 100 pitches, and until the defense cleans up its act, those 100 pitches are being wasted in innings where they have to record 4 or 5 outs. Outside of Scherzer, I just can’t feel comfortable paying up for these guys right now.
Adam Wainwright: Watching him pitch, I just do not think he will ever be an elite strikeout pitcher again. It’s not that he couldn’t be – the dude is an awesome pitcher, and I’m sure he could be if he wanted. But that’s not how he’s pitching anymore. He’s happy biting the edge of the plate all day and getting easy outs on poor contact rather than forcing strikeouts, and his price does not reflect this. I haven’t paid up for him since the middle of last year, and I don’t plan to pay up for him anytime soon (unless…is there an upcoming game against the Astros?).
Jon Lester: We have a very large sample size of Lester being a solid pitcher, with slightly-above-average strikeout stuff, average control, and slightly-above-average run prevention. Then, we have one year (last year) of him looking like an actual ace. Until he strings together a few starts this year that show last year was no fluke (or until his price drops to reflect the pitcher he actually appears to be at the moment), I will not be paying up for him.
PITCHERS WHO MAY CURRENTLY BE UNDERVALUED SIMPLY BECAUSE OF WHO THEY ARE
Matt Shoemaker: Do you really still think last year was a fluke? Come on, people! The guy has above-average control and very strong strikeout numbers. Last year, he was 19th in the Majors in SIERA (right ahead of Garrett Richards, Tyson Ross, Alex Cobb, and Cole Hamels), and his strikeout rate last year was in the top 25 as well, tied with Jordan Zimmermann (whose SIERA was only 0.04 points better than Shoemaker’s). Because Shoemaker has no pedigree, and because he doesn’t have a blazing fastball, people ignore him. And as long as this keeps happening, you can continue to get him at a discount. The one final concern to lay to rest: “Shoemaker does not make it deep into outings – he failed to reach six full innings in 9 of his 20 starts last year.” True, but remember that he was pitching out of the bullpen when they moved him into a starting role. Four of those “short starts” came in his first five outings. I’m not saying this guy is the next Felix Hernandez (nor should he be priced like him!), but he tends to be priced much lower than he should be, and he tends to be overlooked along the way.
Collin McHugh: Like Shoemaker, McHugh is rarely going to go deep into games. But you know how many pitchers had a higher strikeout rate than McHugh last year? Seven. That list was Price, Hernandez, Strasburg, Scherzer, Kluber, Sale, and Kershaw. That’s it. His 3.14 SIERA was also in the top 15 in MLB (right behind his similarly-underrated teammate Dallas Keuchel). As a guy with top-10 strikeout numbers and top-15 SIERA numbers, he should be priced pretty high, right? Yeah. Right. Of course, as with Shoemaker, you should not expect super long outings (McHugh went 7 full innings only eight times last year, in 25 starts), but he only failed to record 6 full innings on seven occasions last year, so it’s not as if he’s throwing up duds. After what he did to the hard-to-strike-out A’s lineup, it’s time to pay attention.
Chris Archer: He may not be underpriced for much longer. But. Yeah. Chris freaking Archer.
That’s what I have for you fine folks this week.
Now go forth, and profit!
Wait. Really? Are you still not following me on Twitter? I don’t tweet often, but when I do, it’s usually thoughts or information that will be very helpful to you in that day’s slate of games (like Saturday, when I said my favorite pitchers for the afternoon slate – regardless of price – were Salazar and Martinez; if you used them, you saved money on Zimmermann and Anibal, and you avoided their disappointing days along the way!) If you’re on Twitter, come hang out: Handle is JMToWin (link is in my RotoGrinders bio below).