An Essay on Daily Fantasy Player Pricing
Whether you play in head to head games, 50/50 games, small groups or large-field guaranteed prize pool tournaments, player pricing drives your roster selection. I believe that player pricing is the single most important factor in an enjoyable daily fantasy experience.
How Pricing Engines Work
To begin, I claim no actual knowledge of how each site’s pricing is determined. I do claim hundreds of games played across several different sites and sports. So I have a pretty good feeling for how pricing is determined. Generally, player pricing is determined based upon some combination of recent performance, long-term performance, popularity and the day’s matchup. Each site processes these (or other) basic inputs using their own algorithms to set pricing for the day.
Now that we have a basic understanding of how pricing engines work, what behavior should pricing drive?
To me, this is the most important thing that a good pricing system should create. How many times have you loaded the live scoring for your head to head game only to see that you have 4 or 5 players in common with your opponent? It happens, right? Yeah, and it sucks. Pricing engines that are slow to react to hot streaks tend to be much worse at driving roster differentiation. Look at Jeremy Lin for a great example. He came out of nowhere to produce stellar numbers. Every site had him priced at, or very near, the site minimum for his first start. After 3 starts, some had him at levels that approximated his expected production while other still had him very near where he was for his first start. This led to anyone that wanted to be competitive to be forced to occupy one of their PG slots with Jeremy Lin. Sure, you could take a stand against him, but the risk/reward was slanted significantly against such a move. If everyone owns Jeremy Lin, nobody wins.
Prohibit Roster Stacking
Using a lineup filled with players primarily from one team is a popular strategy in large field tournaments of low-scoring sports. Fundamentally, it’s a sound strategy in that individual player scoring is highly correlated among teammates. Think about it – in hockey, teammates get assists and plus-ratings when their linemates score a goal. In baseball, most scoring plays require contributions from a couple of players. So, the strategy is sound. A good pricing engine should mitigate this strategies usefulness by making it difficult to fill an entire roster with hitters from a particular baseball team. If stacking is easy to do, it also compounds the roster differentiation problem.
Make All Players Worth Considering
Let’s call this the Dan Uggla portion of the program. Uggla’s 2011 season was really a tale of two seasons. From April through July, Uggla was unusable in virtually all formats. I’m pretty sure I was only a dozen or so hits behind him in June. He was that bad. Of course, he turned it on in August and was white hot. DraftStreet did a great job of pricing Uggla during the season. When he couldn’t buy a hit, he was priced around $1,500. When he was en fuego, he was around the 8-10k range. Simply put, he was priced in such a way that you had to consider him. Was tonight the night he was going to break his 0-62 run? For $1,500, it was worth a shot. Others didn’t handle this as well, but they all handled it in their own way. Overall, I found DraftStreet 2011 baseball pricing to be pretty sharp.
A pricing engine that accomplishes these three things leads to a much more enjoyable user experience than one that fails in any of the aspects.
Credit Where Credit is Due
At this point, I want to tip my cap to Daily Joust for having what is, in my opinion, the sharpest player pricing in the business. From night to night and sport to sport, no matter how many games are on the docket, making a team is a challenge. If I want a couple super stars, I’d better go spelunking in the minimum salary caves and find some gems. Pricing is tight and undervalued assets don’t stay that way for long. You know why Joust has such an efficient pricing system? They get punished if they don’t. With their solo contests, they could take a significant monetary hit if player pricing leaves too many bargains. No system is perfect, but I believe the Joust does the best job at this point.