Where's the Alpha?
Baseball Is Different
One of our biggest challenges in DFS is no longer access to information, but the ability to make confident and correct decisions after having processed all of the information available. While there is tons of advanced metric information in NFL and NBA, the linear scoring nature of those sports makes that information relatively easy to evaluate.
Is there a min-salary point guard slated to get 30+ mins against the Suns? Play him, and don’t think about it. Free square.
DeShone Kizer Tyrod Taylor hurt himself in practice forcing rookie QB Sam Darnold into action with a talented quartet of pass-catchers in Landry, Gordon, Coleman and Njoku and are the Browns playing the allergic to pass defense Colts? Lock in Mr Darnold.
In MLB though, it is often not that simple, as points are not accrued in the same manner. Pitcher scoring is somewhat linear (pitch more, get more points), but only because you’ll get taken out if you don’t pitch well. You can’t expect that a random 3rd baseman up from AAA filling in for a depleted Marlins squad will perform at some baseline metric of competence, because the sample sizes are so small. He’ll have 4, maybe 5 opportunities to contribute to your total, and even these individual opportunities are non-linear.
Each individual outcome can be positive or negative, but only positive outcomes continue to contribute beyond just the plate appearance. This is obvious, but probably not mentioned as much as it should be. A guy that gets on base is infinitely more valuable than a guy that doesn’t because he can now also steal a base (or bases!) and score a run. Once you’re out, you’re just out. So that AAA Marlins guy that was min priced, may produce exactly zero points because he never got on base (and because it’s the Marlins, there was probably no one standing on third for him to knock in with a sac fly). This is different than NFL where Jarvis Landry can go for 70 yards and no TDs but salvage a decent game on DK because it took him 12 catches to get there or Draymond Green can accrue 6 steals, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 12 rebonds while getting 4 real life points, and somehow you still see the fire icon next to his name. Opportunity = production in most cases with NFL and NBA in a way that it just doesn’t in baseball.
Finding the Signal
Throughout this blog, and starting today, I want to identify some scenarios that may, at least initially, be mispriced by DFS algorithms that are relying on historical data without taking into account granular or situational changes, with the goal of exploiting them before they become common knowledge.
I’ll start with a familiar topic, as an avid Giants fan and believer in #EvenYear magic.
This should be obvious, if only because it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Giants pitchers could be any worse than last year. Madison Bumgarner will likely stay off the dirt bike this season, Johnny Cueto should (at least initially) be unaffected by the myriad of injuries that caused his decline last year, and Jeff Samadrzija, for all of his elite ability to avoid walking batters, has committed to avoiding more ball leaving the yard this year too. But why would we expect any level of competence from Ty Blach and Chris Stratton?
Mainly, the defense. While the Giants home grown infield had some cracks in 2017, nothing exemplified their defensive struggles more than the severe lack of competency in the outfield, headlined by former CF Denard Span.
Span’s UZR in 2017 of -8.7 was actually better than in 2015 and 2016, where he put up -10.3 and -10 respectively, but he was still a decidedly poor defensive outfielder in the outfield’s most important position.
Playing to his throwing arm side was Hunter Pence, who played admirably in the cavernous area adjacent McCovey Cove, posting a league average-ish 1.3 UZR last year.
While Andrew McCutchen is not the defensive stalwart he is often thought to be, he is decidedly better than Span, and he won’t have to play CF. What’s more, his presence allows Pence to move to LF, where he might be able to be a plus defender in a less demanding position, and also give the Giants a major league LF, something they didn’t have last year.
With the corner OF spots covered, it’s still somewhat of a mystery who will be playing center field most days. It will sometimes (against LHPs) be Austin Jackson, who is good, but not great, and eventually it will be prospect Steven Duggar, who does appear to be on the cusp of being great defensively, with some combination of hispanic glove first G-men, Gregor Blanco and Gorkys Hernandez in the mix from time to time if they make the squad.
All of that to say, with the addition of Evan Longoria at the hot corner, the subtraction of Span, moving Pence and getting some capable glovework in center from a variety of contributors, more balls in play will be outs than last year. That is really good for starting pitchers, as it allows them to be more confident in the zone, get ahead of hitters, get more Ks, keep pitch counts down, and go longer into games (and also, obviously allow fewer hits). Oh, and these guys still play 81 games a year in the best pitchers park in baseball.
Kurt Suzuki in Day Games After Night Games Against LHPs
Ok, yeah this is a pretty specific situation, but bear with me…
Amongst hitters with a minimum of 50 PAs against LHPs, here are are last year’s top 5 in ISO:
JD Martinez- .516
Giancarlo Stanton- .441
Jose Martinez- .441
Rhys Hoskins- .439
Kurt Suzuki- .431
In 63 PAs, he hit 7 dingers against southpaws, placing him second amongst catches, but in roughly half the plate appearances of the 4 catchers who hit 8, only one more than him. He also walked only 4 times in that same sample, so safe to say he comes out swinging when he gets to play.
Why day games after night games though? Well if you’re familiar with the Braves, you know that Tyler Flowers is their starting catcher, and he’s pretty good too. So, Suzuki will likely only get his opportunities in day games after night games, when Flowers is given a day off. Should Flowers get injured though, and Suzuki see regular opportunities to lefty mash, make sure you roster him consistently before DFS pricing algorithms figure it out!
Stacking Against The Rangers
The Rangers projected rotation is as bad as you think it is.
That’s insanely bad. Like worse than last year’s Reds bad. They will also be asked to go deep in games as the Rangers also really don’t have much a bullpen to speak of. The fact that Tim Lincecum has a spot on this big league roster should be as indicative of anything else as to how bad this pitching staff is. Most times you can confidently stack against a bad pitcher, but rarely is an entire pitching staff so bad you can confidently stack against it regardless of who is on the hill on a particular day.
So, put together a combination of bad starting pitching, bad bullpen, fantastic hitters park, and a potent offense that can keep games competitive enough to not have the opposition pull its regulars after the game is well in hand is a fantastic opportunity to see better than expected returns with average or below average offenses. I would expect the Rangers to go over over their game total more than any other team early in the season before handicappers and algorithms adjust.
Kole Calhoun Power Surge
You probably have heard that the Angels signed unprecedented two way star Shohei Ohtani this offseason. You might also have heard that they added productive infield pieces Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler to the top of the lineup to set the table for Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Luis Valbuena and the corpse of Albert Pujols. But missed in all of this is the biggest beneficiary of the Angels offseason- Kole Calhoun.
While Calhoun is probably somewhat of a DFS afterthought, and may hit 6th in the lineup most days, you should see a spike in his home run total this year. You see, the Angels lowered their right field wall from 18 feet to 8 feet this offseason, presumably to provide an opportunity to maximize the hitting talents of Ohtani, but will probably have an even more drastic effect on Calhoun, who hits a ton of line drives, makes mostly medium contact, and has absolutely peppered that over-sized right field wall in years past. If the baseline expectation for Calhoun dingers was 20, I would comfortably bump that to 26-28, and when coupled with the increased RBI chances with the additions of Kinsler, Cozart and Ohtani, I can see Calhoun having a far more productive season than most anticipate.