How to Play MLB DFS: Expert Strategy for DraftKings & FanDuel Tournaments

Large-field tournaments on DraftKings and FanDuel are always an intriguing prospect, because who doesn’t want to turn $15 into $50K or $100K? But beating out tens of thousands of lineups is never an easy feat. So how should you play MLB DFS if you want to win at DraftKings and FanDuel? In MLB DFS, you must master a blend of stacking, projection and ownership. Let’s dive into my expert MLB DFS strategy tips for DraftKings and FanDuel.

How to Play MLB DFS: Expert Strategy for DraftKings & FanDuel Tournaments

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How to Play MLB DFS: Expert Strategy for DraftKings & FanDuel Tournaments

Here are the sparknotes for my MLB DFS strategy for DraftKings and FanDuel. Most of the heavy lifting can be done for you by using our MLB DFS Sims, but if you want to craft your lineups manually, these are the steps I would follow:

1. Using our MLB DFS projections, begin by picking a primary stack with a good combination of top stack % and top value % and take the maximum number of players allowed from the same team (5 on DK, 4 on FD, 6 on Yahoo!).

2. Pick a secondary stack. Lean towards lower-owned stacks if you picked a high-owned primary stack, and vice-versa. This, ideally, makes up the remainder of your batters (3 on DK, 4 on FD, disregard this step on Yahoo).

3. If both stacks are high in salary, then take a one-off batter at a low salary, preferably with a strong lineup spot and projection. A stack of 5 batters with 3 one-offs is also fine if the second stack doesn’t fit.

4. Take the highest-projected pitchers that spend the rest of your salary cap.

5. Now for the easy part: Have your lineup outscore its projection by 100 points and win $100K. 😅

How to Play MLB DFS: Understanding Large-Field Tournaments

When most people start playing daily fantasy baseball, much like other sports, they focus on picking the best plays. The problem with trying to get an edge through this approach is that it’s extremely difficult to identify the best players everyone else isn’t playing that night. For instance, picking a cheap pitcher who throws fast and is facing a weak team — or stacking up the Rockies at home. In most instances, even a casual MLB fan can identify those as good targets.

When you start looking at how to get an advantage on the field in these huge tournaments on DraftKings and FanDuel, you have to understand who you’re playing against. I looked at the large $15 contest on DraftKings to figure this out. I then divided the field into three different categories – people submitting 1-10 entries, people submitting 11-99 entries, and people submitting 100-plus entries.

At $15 a pop, you need a significant bankroll to sustain this highest level of entries – probably at least in the mid- to high- five-figures. It’s safe to assume most of these are professionals. The 11-99 group I classified as intermediate players. These may be casuals with big pockets or people who are trying to run up their bankroll but haven’t made it yet. To find how many people were in each group, I downloaded the CSVs for eight large-field $15 MLB DFS tournaments on DraftKings.

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The 1-10 entry group, which I classified as hand-builders, has a much wider range of people because it’s comprised of so many more people. Many people in this group are sharp, paying attention to all the resources and tools available in the space to help build killer lineups, and often are very profitable. But this group also contains a lot of players who may be huge baseball fans but aren’t well-versed in MLB DFS strategy.

Now, let’s look at unique users by lineups entered:

If you’re reading this article, you’re most likely part of the group that fires 1-10 lineups into the large-field tournaments on DraftKings. That’s because even though this group only makes up 37% of the entries into the tournament, it also represents 96% of the players.

The biggest misconception in MLB DFS is that you can’t be an extremely dangerous player as a hand-builder. In fact, the logic many hand-builders use as they seek to gain an edge on the field are the right ideas. Without an advanced system, it’s much easier to focus more energy on a smaller number of lineups while maintaining a good quality for each, than to just fire a lot of lineups indiscriminately.

What MLB DFS Strategies do Each Group of Players Employ?

To help demonstrate the ideal strategies for MLB DFS, I looked at high-level metrics from each group. As far as projection, there was not much difference between overall lineup projections based on our site’s projections. As far as ownership, the higher-volume players tended to be lower in batter ownership and higher in pitcher ownership. Often, as a practice, it’s smart to go with the top players at pitcher and contrarian with your bats because the range of outcomes for batters is much higher. Still, the difference between each group seems to be more of a marginal difference than a huge strategic stance.

The difference in strategy was much clearer when it came to correlation. We know in baseball that hitters on the same team have a significant level of correlation with each other. With every at-bat that doesn’t result in an out another at-bat is earned for the team. In addition, players getting on base makes it harder for pitchers to be at their best because they have to pitch from the stretch instead of the wind-up. Finally, if a team is at a large deficit in a game, managers tend to put weaker pitchers into the contest to keep their stronger relievers fresh for more competitive games.

Determining what is a stack and what’s not can be a difficult distinction. I looked at five different stack types – 5/3 (meaning 5 players from one team and 3 from another team), 5/2/1, 5/1/1/1, 4/4, and 4/3/1. These are the stacking types I have found the most effective for my MLB DFS strategy.

The more one-offs you allow in your lineups, the easier it can be to fit the perfect stack in there. The problem with one-offs, though, is they can easily result in your lineup being at a big disadvantage to other lineups. For instance, let’s say you have four Phillies and three Giants in a lineup but go with Mike Trout instead of Bryce Harper as your last player. Even though Mike Trout is the GOAT, in the games where your four Phillies players produce monster fantasy totals, Harper is more likely to have more at-bats, RBIs, etc., than in an average day. So, while on an average day, Trout might have a 55% chance of outscoring Harper, on days where the Phillies stack goes off, it might be more like Harper outscoring Trout 75% or more of the time. In other words, you should be extremely thoughtful with who you choose as your unstacked player and have a great reason for going with them instead of stacking more.

People who enter 100-plus lineups into a $15 DraftKings tournament each night are either big long-term winners at DFS, rich as hell, or both. Given that the 100- to 150-entry group contains many professional DFS players, we can assume that most of these people have well thought out strategies.

How to Play MLB DFS: Using Correlation

The key strategic decision the pros are making relative to the field is simply stacking more of their lineups.

This makes sense because, as a whole, only 62% of lineups in the field are stacked, so there’s a significant advantage to be gained in correlation. To get this advantage, sometimes you must prioritize it over projection or ownership, so I believe that’s why the projections of the pro-player lineups are simply on par with the other groups.

As someone in this group, I can say that usually I set out to have 100% of lineups stacked, but, oftentimes, I’ll have to late-swap players that disrupt my stacking types on occasion — for instance, if the projected lineup has a lot of differences from the confirmed lineup. It’s funny because upon reviewing these lineups, people sometimes reach the wrong conclusions and think it was an intentional strategic decision.

On FanDuel, stacking is even more valuable than on DraftKings. That’s because RBIs are worth 3.5 points and runs are worth 3.2 compared to 3 points from a single. Also, you’re only able to roster one pitcher, so the batters make up a higher proportion of your lineup. The stack types I would consider on FanDuel are 4/4 and 4/3/1 since they limit you to a maximum of 4 batters from the same team.

When you have perfectly correlated lineups, it doesn’t change your average outcome, but it influences your chances of having an outlier result. RotoTracker has an awesome feature that allows you to graph what percentile your lineups fall into to see how your finishes are distributed. Since these large-field tournaments usually have 10,000-plus entries, I used that as a filter to only get large-field tournament lineup finishing positions. Since NBA and MLB are so different in strategy, I looked at each to get a sense of what a good finishing distribution looks like.

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For NBA DFS, where you can get a big advantage using projections, my finishing positions look more like a straight line from the bottom to the top. That’s because with NBA being a low-variance sport, you’re able to create lineups that have a high likelihood of beating the field. Plus, with the players ruled out and having to be on top of late-swap all night, that means by the end of the night, there will be a decent number of lineups that are drawing dead.

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With MLB, where most of your potential edge is in correlation, you can see my lineups are much more evenly distributed throughout the field, but there’s a big spike with the top percentages. That’s because due to the variance inherent in batters, it’s not realistic to make lineups that have a very high percentage chance of cashing for the minimum payout. That, plus casual MLB players make lineups with a better relative projection than NBA, because in NBA, if you miss one or two awesome plays, it can kill your lineup’s outlook. What you’re best off doing is making lineups that have a reasonable chance of outscoring the cash line, and a great chance of getting first.

How to Play MLB DFS: Picking a Stack

Now that we have established that the major strategic advantage the pros are getting in these large-field contests is through stacking, we have to pick our stacks. In general, there are four factors I’m looking at to evaluate how good a team’s offensive potential is – the talent of the hitters, the pitching matchup, the weather, and whether it’s a home or away team.

A quick shortcut is to look at the sportsbook lines. Since game-level bets in MLB are very efficient, these lines are great proxies for how likely a team is to succeed. Combined with their salaries in DFS, this should give you a solid idea of what the best stacks are that day. With everyone able to easily do this on the day, you can see team totals on any number of sites. So how do we find the advantage?

To answer this question, I studied the stacks the pros employed on eight different slates. Using the data on our Stokastic Top Stacks Tool, I was able to predict the percentage of pros who used each team as their primary stack. I created a new factor which was (top stack % * top stack % * top value %)^1/3 because the top stack % is the most important, but if it’s paired with a low-value stack it’s not nearly as useful. Let’s call this metric “Stack Score.”

With the three variables, a regression yielded a multiple R^2 of .945, meaning that only 5.5% of the stack ownership was due to other variables. Assuming that the pros use a relatively good strategy, then the best factors to look for in a stack is a good top stack % paired with at least a reasonable top value %. Stacks that had only value but not a great chance of being the top stack aren’t nearly as valuable. The best fit model was 73% * this combined factor + 44% * Top Stack % – 14% * Top Value %. That reaffirmed to me that without a good top stack %, top value % isn’t that exciting.

When hand-building lineups, I recommend narrowing down the choices a bit by eliminating the bottom 25%. Each of these stacks are used in only 1-2% of pro lineups – which suggests it’s not impossible to make a good lineup using some of the longer-shot stacks, but there aren’t as many good ways to do it. You’re better off focusing on a stack that grades out well in both the top stack and top value % because there are more possible good lineups, making your job much easier. If the stack is projected for low ownership that’s great – although the ownership of a stack often indicates that it’s a good stack rather than a reason to stay away.

If you do choose a popular stack, it makes sense to pair that with a secondary stack that is less popular. On average, secondary stacks the pros used when they stacked the top 25% most popular had a .7% lower ownership than an average stack. When the primary stack was less popular, the reverse was true. As a whole, pitcher ownership was about equal regardless of how popular the stacks pros chose were.

Once you choose your primary stack, you need to start thinking about your stack type. Among pro lineups, 74% contained a stack of 5 players from the same team, 11% were a 4/4 or 4/3, and 15% were unstacked. It’s safe to say that you should plan to do a stack of five players and only deviate if you have a good reason to do so.

For the second stack, it gets trickier. Ideally, you want to have three players from the second team, but sometimes the two teams you want to stack together might not fit salary-wise. That is when you should consider picking a one-off batter to complete your lineup and going 5/2 or 5/1. On FanDuel, I would recommend sticking with a 4/4 or 4/3 – usually it’s not too difficult with their soft pricing. On Yahoo, you’re allowed to stack up six batters from the same team, so take advantage of that.

How to Play MLB DFS: Picking Your Pitchers

Pitchers in MLB are a lot more predictable than hitters – on DraftKings, about 80% of their projection is made up of how many strikeouts they’re expected to get, while 20% is from the win and points for innings minus hits/walks/runs. On FanDuel, the categories are a little more balanced, but strikeouts are still the most important factor.

The most important part about pitchers is that their fantasy performances are closer to a normal distribution – about half the time they will go over their projection and the other half they will go under it. If you play a solid player at pitcher, you only really need a 50-75% percentile outcome for them to have a great shot at being in the winning lineup, depending on their initial projection. This equates to scoring about seven points higher than their projection. This isn’t true with batters, who you need much more of an outlier performance from to win.

Looking at the pro lineups, they were willing to go with higher-owned pitchers to achieve a higher projection – and they did it with the same amount of salary allocated to pitchers. From a strategic standpoint, the conclusion is that you should be willing to eat a little ownership to get better pitchers.

My general approach to pitchers is you should just get the best ones that fit salary-wise with your stacks. There are usually enough good options at different salary points that you don’t have to go out of your way to plan ahead to get the right pitchers. The main criteria I’m using are: (1) the number of points above or below a salary-based expectation for the position (The Value column), (2) the highest projected at the position and (3) ownership.

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If you went with highly popular stacks, you should lean towards getting contrarian with your pitchers. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where your lineup crushes it to the tune of 200 points on DraftKings or 250 on FanDuel and you lose because a bunch of people got 10 points more. That’s what can happen if you pick all high-owned players because your lineup’s outcome is so correlated to many others. I tend to win the most money when the winning score is a little bit lower than usual on a slate.

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Other Factors to Consider in Your MLB DFS Strategy

The Weather

In MLB DFS, a postponed or suspended game can change the slate’s whole dynamic. The slates where a game starts in a delay and then is later postponed can give you huge advantages over the field as people have players locked in that get 0s. When a game has a significant rain-out chance, the odds are usually in your favor to fade the game because how likely is any individual game on a large MLB slate to put up the GPP-winning scores anyway?

In most instances, the field doesn’t react enough to these weather situations, and a significant part of the field is dead. Like this slate listed above – we thought Nestor Cortes would be ~20% owned if the game weren’t at weather risk, and he came in at 10% owned in the large-field tournament. The game did end up getting postponed, and if you were watching Eric and Greg on our Live Before Lock Show, we made it abundantly clear that this game was super risky (in addition you can look at our forecasted PPD chance on our projections), but 4173/17429 lineups had at least one player from the rained-out game, or 24%.

If you do roster players from a game with a potential weather risk, the best way to do it is to stack up several players from that game – imagine how much of a wasted opportunity it is if nine of your players have great games and that 0 from the PPD game is what holds you back from first place! In this particular contest, 2245 (or 13%) of lineups had exactly one player from that game.

You can see how these numbers can quickly add up to a big advantage for you if you play your cards right. It can be tough to know when the slates where you can get this advantage will be because a lot of times games are just postponed well in advance. But when it does happen it’s a huge opportunity.

One-Off Batters

Since we’re planning to get our advantage through stacking, the motivating force to get us to pick a one-off player should be the salary cap. You might be looking to stack up two expensive teams and the math might not work out to get all of the batters – that’s when that $2,000 guy who is batting high in the order from a different game comes into play big-time.

These combinations of teams can be the most lucrative because, often, the part of the field that is using an optimizer might not have the right settings to be able to unlock these combinations, and you can get two awesome teams together without a lot of people on the same lineup construction. These situations can be tough to spot until you really get into the ins and outs of building lineups for the slate.

The opposite situation would be if you don’t spend much money on pitchers and your stack and you want to just fill a lot of the salary cap by picking a stud like Mike Trout. This is a much less advantageous spot to take a one-off because in the event that your cheap stack goes off, that mediocre outfielder that you’re passing up to get Trout will on average perform well above his projection on nights where your lineup does well.

When it comes to one-offs, I’m not as worried about the ownership of the individual players because I’m already operating under the assumption that my lineup is difficult to assemble given the stacks I’ve chosen. You don’t need these guys to go bananas – you just need to be able to make the other pieces of your lineup fit together and hit the right stacks. If you happen to get the guy who randomly goes off for three homers, though, that’s a bonus.

Concluding Thoughts on How to Play MLB DFS

In my experience, the large-field tournaments in DFS offer the best long-term chance of profitability because most of the casual money is going into contests where they can turn $15 into $50,000 or $100,000. But once you build up your bankroll and want to get into more contests, that’s when you might want to expand and go into smaller-field tournaments. With a higher proportion of the field being advanced players and pros, the strategy starts to get more sophisticated.

Even pros don’t always tinker with their strategy for each individual contest. But when the field is sharper, the top plays tend to carry significantly more ownership, while the middle-of-the-pack plays tend to fall by the wayside and sleepers fall off a cliff. That’s when things get interesting, and it turns more into a poker game where you can play the players instead of the cards.

The funny thing about winning a GPP using projections is that they have to be extremely far off from the actual result for you to win the tournament. Every time someone’s analyzing one of my winning lineups, it’s funny because it’s like I actually thought this lineup would average 95 points, it just happened to get 195 that night.

If you execute your job of building lineups perfectly, you can put your lineups in a spot where each one is significantly more likely to finish in first than an average lineup. If it’s an outstanding lineup, that could be 40-50% more likely than average. But even then, the chances of success are relatively low. If there are 15,000 people in a tournament that would be like winning 1/10,000 times instead of 1/15,000. But if you repeat that strategy across a lot of lineups, you could be sitting on a mountain of cash in the long run.

Even if you’re winning at this rate, which would equate to a fantastic return, the journey is a roller coaster. If every lineup you make has a 1/10,000 chance of winning, then even if you enter 150 lineups, you should only expect to take down a tournament once every 66 days. If you enter 10 lineups, you would only take down a tournament once every 1,000 days. Since the lion’s share of the prize pool goes to first place, you can imagine what a drought can look like if you get unlucky and 66 days turns into 120.

Winning a large-field tournament on DraftKings is a hell of an accomplishment, and that’s why we’re all competing every night to try to do it!

It can be difficult with the variance in these tournaments being so insane if your strategy is even a good one or not. That’s why studying what the pros are doing is so important. If your lineups are looking similar to the ones that top players are putting in, that’s a vote of confidence that you’re doing the right thing. If they look a lot different, that’s when you want to make sure what you’re doing has a very solid basis behind it before testing it over a season of slates.

As you can see, the fields at DraftKings are tough – high-volume players make up nearly two-thirds entries on any given night. High-bankroll sharks are drawn to DraftKings and FanDuel because of the massive potential to get a lot of money down every single night, even if the return is significantly lower.

That’s why going to a smaller-volume site like Yahoo, where it’s not as shark-infested, can be a savvy move. Not only is each lineup you make going to have a much better chance of being sharper than the field, but the smaller field sizes mean that you’ll be able to build up your bankroll in much more of a steady upward climb instead of a roller coaster.

There’s no silver bullet for DFS success — otherwise, I’d be diving in pools of cash like Scrooge McDuck. But people often overestimate how good you can make a lineup even with the most sophisticated approaches. Your goal, truly, is to make a lineup that is just moderately better than the average lineup you’re competing against.

If you follow the basic rules we’ve established for MLB DFS strategy, you’re going to put yourself in a position to succeed. Stacking as many of your batters as you can and picking solidly projected pitchers is going to immediately give an edge over a lot of the field in these big $100K-to-first tournaments. Winning at DFS isn’t rocket science — especially in these large-field tournaments. You just have to limit mistakes, have a good strategy, and then let the players in your lineup do the rest.

Author
A self-proclaimed U.S. history buff, stats enthusiast, and rabid fan of anything Detroit (yes, even the Lions), Alex started playing daily fantasy sports in 2013 and never looked back. After graduating with a degree in mathematics from Washington University in St. Louis in 2008, he began developing advanced statistical models and applied his unique skill-set first to poker, then as a full-time DFS player. He has since dominated DFS, becoming a fixture on leaderboards and cementing his position as the top-ranked overall player according to RotoGrinders. Competing in most guaranteed prize pool tournaments, he has ranked in the top 3 across major sports, including NBA, NFL, NHL, PGA, and MLB. He enjoys sharing his knowledge of fantasy sports with new and experienced players alike. Career Highlights: No. 1 Overall Ranking; 14x FanDuel $100k winner, 11x DraftKings Hundred-Thousandaire; 20x Live Final qualifier. You can contact him on Twitter @awesemodfs or by emailing [email protected].

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