Value vs. Against-the-Grain Strategies

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Odell Beckham Jr. has absolutely dominated in his rookie year – far more so than I imagined he would in any season – and he was present in all three DraftKings championship lineups in Week 16 (Flea Flicker, Chop Block, and Main Event).

What was really interesting to me wasn’t that Beckham was in all three lineups, but rather the varying levels of usage in each: 3.3 percent in the Main Event, 6.5 percent in the Chop Block, and 9.3 percent in the Flea Flicker. That’s nearly twice as much usage in the Chop Block and three times as much in the Flea Flicker as compared to the Main Event.

If you recall, the Main Event was a $1500 buy-in, the Chop Block was just $50, and the Flea Flicker was $5. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that, overall, the level of competition is stiffer in leagues with higher buy-ins. There are lots of –EV players at all levels, but you aren’t going to run into any John-Kuhn-led lineups in a league that costs $1500 to enter.

Skill Level and Price Sensitivity

Beckham was the most expensive wide receiver on DraftKings and he was facing a pretty hot St. Louis Rams defense. Beckham absolutely torched them, but I’d argue that he wasn’t the best value at the wide receiver position.

The fact that Beckham’s usage was so low in the Main Event confirms that idea. Just 1-in-30 rosters were led by Beckham, suggesting that the “sharp” money was on other guys. That doesn’t mean Beckham was a poor play, but just that he was probably overpriced, regardless of how well he ended up playing.

It’s always difficult to come to a consensus on value, but I’ve noticed that same trend in price sensitivity all season; DraftKings users in lower buy-ins care less about price and more about recent performance and expected production. Whereas smart daily fantasy users are generally trying to balance value with expected ownership in GPPs, novice users typically aren’t extremely value-focused.

Being Contrarian Based on League Type

I think game theory is a major component of tournament success, and the best players are typically thinking one step ahead of their opponents. We’re basically playing a more complicated version of rock-paper-scissors.

That means that what is “optimal” in tournaments depends on what your opponents are doing. And based on (admittedly anecdotal) evidence this year, I believe that we should approach low and medium-stakes GPPs differently than higher buy-ins.
Specifically, winning cheaper tournaments is probably more about finding value – similar to our strategy in cash games – because 1) it’s more difficult to predict usage and 2) we can easily combine value and low ownership because most users don’t care about maximizing overall value. Ideally, we want both high-value players and a unique tournament lineup – something that’s workable in cheaper tourneys.

The problem with a value-based approach at higher stakes is that there isn’t as much “bad” money on low-value players. The players who offer value are typically in a lot of lineups, so it’s sometimes quite difficult to have a ton of value and still find low-ownership players.

For that reason, I believe it makes more sense to go against the grain against better players. The idea is that all of the usable value from “high-value” players dissipates since their usage is typically so high. The potential similarity of lineups in high-stakes leagues adds more actual value (the pragmatic kind) to forgoing player value (the theoretical kind) in terms of expected production and price.

In short: be price-sensitive when others aren’t, and be contrarian when others are too price-sensitive.

In the case of Beckham, I personally would have 100 percent rostered him if I knew he’d have just 3.3 percent usage in the Main Event, but I would have never rostered him at the nearly 10 percent usage he saw in cheaper leagues.

Same player, same price, different decision based on the thoughts and actions of others. That approach, in my view, is the easiest way to find success against the crowd in large-field leagues.

About the Author

  • Jon Bales (JonBales)

  • Jonathan Bales is the founder of RotoAcademy and author of the Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series.

  • dpapa01

    I’m not sure you can make all the conclusions you make based on 1 week from Odell Beckham. I happen to agree with you and think you are right but definitely need more data

  • Joshy119

    “Sharper” money is often just as susceptible to misplays as any other level. They make it up on volume but you don’t see all of the lineups that fell flat. Take a look at some of the major FF tournaments. I think half of these guys took Manziel his first week as a starter -a lot of them when forced to pick one lineup aren’t all that impressive

  • zachd2323

    The optimal strategy is to just run like 1000 unique lineups…

  • dwoods5

    In my view, the theory of needing contrarian plays to win tournaments is way overblown. I’m more than happy to take on opponents with sub-optimal lineups based on this theory. Subbing out a higher EV player for a slightly lower EV player solely to separate yourself from the pack lowers your overall EV and, thus, long-term earnings. When I do well in tourneys, it’s always with my “optimal” line up, which I base solely on total EV. Considering the non-flat nature of GPP payouts, I’d rather maximize my ROI over chasing the top prize with contrarian plays.

    My mind is open, but you’d need to come hard with a strong stats lesson to change it.

  • zachd2323

    @dwoods…I completely agree with you that it doesn’t make sense to play sub out the highest EV lineup for a less optimal one. However, I’m of the opinion that it’s best to run multiple lineups for GPPs for a couple reasons. First, it allows you to have more consistent earnings and thus play a larger percentage of your bankroll each week. And second, it becomes more likely that you will actually have a large and significant cash in a relevant time span. I’m perfectly fine with sacrificing some long-term EV to gain other advantages.

  • Gotti40

    Multi-entry contests will be the downfall of DFS. I understand the financial reason for sites offering this, but if the “average Joe” wises up it will be all grinders chasing the same buck. I think it is cowardly to put multiple entries into one tourney.

  • Bear610

  • zachd2323

    Cowardly or smart? Eventually the game will change with or without you. Maybe there shouldn’t be multiple entries and maybe there should be – I don’t know, but I’m going to build my strategy based on what the rules allow. It’s always odd to see people on sites like these complaining about how the games are going be killed…

  • glennantz

    Multiple entries can also mean multiple losses’. Look at the results of the 5, 10 or 25 dollar double up games. There are a lot of multiple losers.

  • dwoods5

    I agree. Multiple entries is a chance to compete against more sub-optimal lineups. More please.

  • RU18QT

    • Blogger of the Month

    Takes money to make money. Sure you always see the same guys in the major tournaments because they have thousands upon thousands of dollars to spend in all the Q’s. But when they only have one or two teams in a 30-80 team finale, (with the exception of CSUrams Redsox stack in the DK baseball championshiop), you never see these high spenders win. When they can’t take their gun to a knife fight they are human after all

  • razorsharp79

    @RU18QT said...

    Takes money to make money. Sure you always see the same guys in the major tournaments because they have thousands upon thousands of dollars to spend in all the Q’s. But when they only have one or two teams in a 30-80 team finale, (with the exception of CSUrams Redsox stack in the DK baseball championshiop), you never see these high spenders win. When they can’t take their gun to a knife fight they are human after all

    exactly, ascot won the 2 million with a player who got 0…

  • daveinchi1975

    2012 DSBC Finalist

    I completely disagree with all of you – sports are not predictable, so there is no such thing as an optimal lineup. If you give me 100 entries in a $2 gpp, and I use 99 unique lineups (which cover as many contingencies as possible) and 1 “optimal lineup”, my optimal lineup will NEVER be my optimal lineup no matter how much information I digest prior to selecting it.

    BTW – a multi-entry player uses that same information you do (the assumption that they just blindly pick their lineups is absurd), they just use it to vary their unique lineups in ways that increase the chances that one or more of those unique lineups cashes well enough to pay off all their entries.

  • daveinchi1975

    2012 DSBC Finalist

    Since when does someone who spends thousands of dollars a night playing DFS (while also spending hours and hours on research and lineup construction) not ALSO have a knife to bring to a knife fight. Those guys have guns AND knives, you only have knives – and here’s the kicker, because they play so much (i.e. because they have tons of experience), their knives are longer than yours, so they have no problem slicing and dicing you when they are forced to use their own “optimal lineup”, because unlike you, they are willing to do what Rick Militar did in the first draftstreet million NFL championship and take Minnesota’s QB.

  • zachd2323

    @daveinchi1975 said...

    BTW – a multi-entry player uses that same information you do (the assumption that they just blindly pick their lineups is absurd), they just use it to vary their unique lineups in ways that increase the chances that one or more of those unique lineups cashes well enough to pay off all their entries.

    Yep, this.

  • mball1297

    @daveinchi1975 –

    I think the point is that the guys who spend thousands of dollars a day or week on DFS aren’t really any better than 50% of the field when putting in one single lineup. They’ll win enough to make money, but given one entry in one tournament, it’s not like they’re geniuses on a higher level than everyone else. We’re all using the same info and mostly the same guidelines. The difference generally isn’t them being smarter than everyone else.

  • zachd2323

    @mball1297 said...

    @daveinchi1975 –

    I think the point is that the guys who spend thousands of dollars a day or week on DFS aren’t really any better than 50% of the field when putting in one single lineup. They’ll win enough to make money, but given one entry in one tournament, it’s not like they’re geniuses on a higher level than everyone else. We’re all using the same info and mostly the same guidelines. The difference generally isn’t them being smarter than everyone else.

    So you’re saying that they simply are better because they have a larger bankroll? Are you sure you aren’t just being fooled by variance?

  • pinball

    The $200 Fanduel FB big tourney a couple weeks ago had over 50+ lineups and over 10k in play in that one contest. It did pay off with a million dollar payout. Sure, deep pockets have a very large advantage in gpp’s. A bigger dollar single or maybe double entry limit is way over due and needed to level the playfield imo.

  • LawnStar

    Funny how these discussions always turn into a multi-entry debate.

    This is where I preferred DS. They limited some contests to 3 or 10 entries for gpps. RIP

    There are of course single entry contests on DK but they must not be confident enough in them filling at larger volumes/payouts to offer them so in the current form they are not very appealing, although a test of something greater should definitely be explored. I am okay with the 3-10 lineup max for these type of tournaments. shrug

  • sports1

    This guy has 10 books,i believe him,it is all math and a lil luck with variance but Bales knows.

  • fistpumper

    20 lineups should be the max you are allowed to enter in any gpp. It would be better for the whole industry long term

  • dethdealers

    For all the scientific talk and debate over multi entries it still come down to the fact that if you do your homework and pick the right lineup you win !

  • rosco78

    Agreed, the only thing that really separates a lot of the so-called experts from the rest of the pack is the volume of lineups they are able to put out in both cash games and larger buy-in tournaments that your everyday DFS’ers aren’t able to afford.

  • rosco78

    I’m relatively new to DFS…..and been playing consistently for the past 3 months….and I don’t feel I’m at any disadvantage playing against guys who have been doing this for years….players who are serious will use the same metrics as “elite” players when projecting a lineup. A lot of it does come down to variance when the same methods and tools are being applied

  • apalumbo4554

    SPORTS ARE PREDICTABLE JUST NOT 100 % PREDICTABLE THATS WHAT MAKES ALOT OF IT FUN ARE THE UNKNOWN.BUT ALOT OF SPORTS YOU CAN TELL WHICH PLAYERS SHOULD HAVE BETTER DAYS THAN OTHERS.WHEN PEOPLE SAY OPTIMAL LINEUP, IT IS VS THE STATS BUT THERE IS THE UNKNOWN.LIKE A FUMBLE OR AN INJURY ETC

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