Understanding Site Salaries
Throughout the NFL preseason, I get questions from fans regarding who to target in upcoming drafts, and the answer is always the same: it depends. Fantasy football is a game ruled entirely by risk and reward, and players only have value insofar as their expected production exceeds the cost to draft them. I obviously like certain players more than others, but the concept of “value” is meaningless without some idea of the cost.
In season-long fantasy, the cost is a player’s draft slot, which can be estimated with ADP (average draft position). In daily fantasy, the cost is much more static (at least on a weekly basis). Every site provides salaries for each player, and there’s no way to determine value outside of a comparison between those salaries and anticipated production.
In most cases, the production you receive from each player is less important than the production you receive relative to his salary. That’s why daily fantasy players create dollar-per-point values to figure out how to best optimize lineups. Player salaries are an absolutely vital aspect of understanding value.
Distribution of Salaries
When we’re analyzing daily fantasy salaries, the primary concern should be the distribution of players at each position. It doesn’t necessarily matter how much each player costs in any absolute sense, but rather how he compares to others at his position. Since you need to start one or more players at every position, you just want to find the highest possible production per dollar at each spot.
The reason that the distribution of salaries matters so much is that you should be thinking of each pick not in terms of what you gain, but rather what you lose. When you select a particular player, you lose a certain amount of cap space that could otherwise have been applied to other positions. Thus, you want to search for large deviations in projected points that aren’t reflected in salaries. If you have Jimmy_Graham projected to score 50 percent more points than any other tight end but his salary is just 25 percent higher, then the cost of spending so much money on a tight end is limited; it’s unlikely you’d be able to find a better value elsewhere.
In general, you should be analyzing how players’ salaries compare to others at their position. Let’s take an example. Assume you have Graham ($5,000) and Julian Edelman ($7,000) both projected at 10 points. Who is the better value at his particular position?
The answer: we don’t know. We don’t know who is a better value at his respective position because we don’t know how the salaries at tight end and wide receiver are distributed. If every other tight end costs under $2,000 and there are 40 receivers priced higher than Eledman’s $7,000 price tag, for example, then Edelman would be the better value within his particular position. He would likely lead to more wins than Graham because, when you select the tight end, you also “lose” at least $3,000 that you could spend elsewhere. Graham might give you more production per dollar, but the opportunity cost of having him in your lineup is high.
In my hypothetical Edelman-Graham example, the wide receiver held more value than the tight end only insofar as we were comparing Givens to other wide receivers and Graham to other tight ends. When a flex spot is incorporated into the mix, however, the landscape shifts. That’s because we need to consider player values amongst various positions. If you were playing in a league in which you could start a tight end in the flex spot, for example, Graham would then hold more value than Givens. Same production, same salary, different value. This is an example of the inherent interconnectivity of player salaries and lineup requirements.
It’s also worth noting that, when assessing the value of each player relative to his salary, scoring is extremely important. Since expected production is 50 percent of the value equation, it’s essential that you understand how a player’s production on each particular site compares to his salary. The value of a player like Darren Sproles can be drastically different in a PPR league than a standard one. That needs to be reflected in his salary. Many times, certain types of players, such as pass-catching backs in PPR leagues, are undervalued relative to their expected production.
We’re constantly searching for the best player values, and the salaries are an essential part of that. But it’s important to remember that the salary-based values are just a tool we use to find what we’re really seeking: the greatest amount of total expected production. Remember, we don’t get fantasy points for value, we get points for production.
Many times, a lot of your best values will be low-priced players. When you combine all of those players, your lineup will likely fall well short of the cap. That means that it’s okay to bypass the best values, at times, to maximize projected points. You still always want to find value, but combining a few low-priced value players with an Adrian Peterson-eqsue pure production player can be smart. Still, even when you seek bulk production in that way, you still want to pay as little in cap space as possible.
Understanding How Sites Change Salaries
Daily fantasy sites change player salaries each week, but some do it in a different manner than others. Specifically, some are better at making their salaries reflect market value. Some sites do a solid job of keeping their salaries up-to-date. The distribution of their salaries at least comes close to mirroring actual value. Others are slow to update. They’re often slow to increase the salaries for backups who have recently been thrust into the starting lineup, for example. Shrewd daily fantasy players exploit those inefficiencies on a regular basis, and they know the sites where they’re most likely to find those values.
Use Every Tool in the Toolbox
As stated in previous lessons, you want to make your research process as efficient as possible. Use the expert advice and tools available to you. In relation to salaries, one of those is Grind Down+. With Grind Down+, you can see site-specific player salaries, opponent ranks, and an explanation of each player’s relative value.
In addition, RotoGrinders also offers a Market Watch tool that shows you how player salaries are changing over time. That’s so valuable because many daily fantasy players acquire value from being contrarian—going against the grain—which often means “buying low” on underachieving players. As player salaries fluctuate, you can get a good sense of how close a player is to his peak cost.
Finally, many daily sites allow you to easily export salary data. When creating dollar-per-point ratings, the export functions can be a huge timesaver. By taking advantage of the export features, you can turn your projections into value ratings within a matter of minutes.