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Building a Research Foundation

Jon Bales (JonBales)

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

When I first started playing daily fantasy, I initially thought I’d be able to roll over people because I’m a quality season-long owner. I thought just knowing the players, understanding football, and having a background in stats would propel me to profitability right out of the gate.

I was mistaken.

Look, some people are naturally better than others at making predictions, whether it’s in daily fantasy or other aspects of life. But you might be able to count on one hand the number of people who can maintain a high level of success in daily fantasy without some form of research, and no one can reach their potential in the game without “hitting the books,” so to speak.

Now I’m a bit of an oddball because I actually like charting data, tracking it, analyzing the results, and everything that goes with it. But plugging away in Excel probably isn’t your idea of a thrilling Saturday night or, more likely, you just don’t have all the time in the world to research stats. That’s why it’s so vital to build a foundation of research sources that you can trust. It starts at RotoGrinders.

RotoGrinders

Now it might seem meaningless for a RotoGrinders daily fantasy course to argue for the essential value of RotoGrinders, but hear me out. I don’t work for RotoGrinders, and I actually had relatively little contact with the guys who run the site prior to a few months ago. But when I was writing my book on daily fantasy, I was looking for the best possible resources. I didn’t add anyone into the book as any sort of promotion, but still, RotoGrinders’ presence dominates my book. And it was that way before I ever met Cal and the crew because RotoGrinders is hands down the best source of daily fantasy information on the planet. It needs to be in your research repertoire.

The primary reason that RotoGrinders is so useful is that it’s a one-stop destination for research; among the football research tools are consistency stats, targets, site-specific salaries, matchup notes, and Vegas odds and lines. RotoGrinders really brings the research to you. On top of that, there’s analysis of what the pros are doing, including actual daily projections, algorithm-projected lineups, bargain bin options, and more.

It’s a destination for research. It’s a destination for analysis. It’s a destination for accurate projections. It’s everything you need wrapped into one. Just take a look.

Football Outsiders

No matter the type of fantasy sports you play, your goal should be uncovering undervalued commodities—those players whose actual worth exceeds their perceived value. In daily fantasy, you should always be searching for how you can replace production at a cheaper price.

One of the best ways to do that is to search for predictors of success—signs that a player who hasn’t yet broken out will do so in the future. When a wide receiver has two catches for 100 yards and a touchdown on only two targets, there’s a good chance that his salary will rise when it shouldn’t. His play is unsustainable. Meanwhile, another receiver might post the same bulk stats on eight targets. Due to the workload, his production is more repeatable.

RotoGrinders tracks targets for you, but you can find other advanced NFL stats at Football Outsiders. Their goal is to track performance independent of the outcome. One of my favorite FO stats is “Adjusted Line Yards”, which separates offensive line play from running back production. Such a stat is incredibly useful for when a starting running back gets injured. Since running back production is so dependent on offensive line play, it’s crucial to know if a team’s past rushing success was primarily the product of the starting running back or the line. If it’s the latter, there’s a good chance the backup will be able to fill the starter’s shoes.

Sites like FO allow you to dig a little deeper than the traditional stats that most people analyze, allowing you to see which players’ production is sustainable and which is really just an illusion.

Sports-Reference

Sports Reference is a supersite that has all sorts of data for every major sport—is a must for daily fantasy owners. The site has all sorts of play-by-play data, advanced metrics, box scores, rankings, and so on. Best of all, everything is easily exportable.

The coolest tools on Sports-Reference are the play finders. You can search through thousands of games to find just about any stat you need. Want to know how many red zone targets Jason Witten? Steven Jackson’s YPC when his team is leading? Cam Newton first half passer rating? You can find it all in seconds.

RotoWorld/Twitter (News)

There’s no worse travesty in the world of a daily fantasy player than to start someone who isn’t playing. It’s easier to set your NFL lineups than for other sports since they play just once a week, but it’s still critical to know of late scratches or injuries.

Further, you should be researching player updates throughout the week. There’s a lot information you can garner from the beat writers who cover each team full-time, whether it’s a slight shift in practice reps, the merits of a ‘questionable’ injury status, or full-blown change atop the depth chart.

RotoWorld is a great source for player news in all sports. They provide accurate reports in a timely manner. If you want the fastest updates possible, though, Twitter is the place to be. You can follow influential writers, analysts, and fantasy sports sites for the most up-to-date information available. If a quarterback you’re considering playing has a slight sniffle, you’ll know about it through Twitter.

FantasyPros

One of the most underrated sources of daily fantasy information is FantasyPros. The site’s primary advantage over others is its “wisdom of the crowds” approach to projections. FantasyPros combines independent expert projections to form aggregate rankings on a weekly and season-long basis. There’s a ton of value in creating composite projections; typically, the aggregate of expert opinions is more accurate than the majority of opinions taken in isolation (hence the “wisdom of the crowds” moniker). When combined with the projections here at RotoGrinders, the effect is deadly accurate.

Past Game Histories

The final piece of your daily fantasy research foundation should be game histories. Most daily sites make your history exportable, meaning you’re just one click away from researching all of your past successes and failures. And as I’m writing this, RotoGrinders released a new FanDuel bankroll tracking tool, which automatically sorts your history in terms of sport, buy-in level, league size, and more.

When it comes down to it, you can’t improve in daily fantasy without knowing what you’re doing wrong. By researching your history, you can find all sorts of valuable information. The total cash you place down on each lineup, for example, needs to be a function of your expected winning percentage. But how can you know your expected winning percentage if you don’t know how often you’ve won in the past?

If the goal in playing fantasy is to be profitable, you need to be very scientific in your approach. Science is characterized by controlled experiments and progress. If you aren’t tracking past results in daily leagues, progress will be difficult to obtain.

Bringing It Together

Ultimately, there’s no way around the fact that it’s vital to build a research foundation to excel in daily fantasy. The more relevant information we can uncover, the better.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean endless hours of sorting through Excel data. Whenever possible, we should let the experts do the work for us. Crowd sourcing is a wonderful thing. Sites like RotoGrinders and others make the research aspect of daily fantasy as painless as possible. If you know where to look for the best data and how to implement the information, the majority of the battle has already been won.



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About the Author

  • Jon Bales (JonBales)

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

RotoGrinders.com is the home of the daily fantasy sports community. Our content, rankings, member blogs, promotions and forum discussion all cater to the players that like to create a new fantasy team every day of the week. Our goal is to help all of our members make more money playing daily fantasy sports!

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