Trust the Process….(if it’s a good one)

After what felt like a never ending offseason waiting for the NBA to start back up, the first week of this DFS season has been a frustrating one for yours truly.  Due to some wonky slates, late scratches, and poor decisions by myself, I have struggled to capture those elusive Chambers wins.  However, the season is young and it is too early to start second guessing the process based on such a small sample.

After all, DFS results include a lot of randomness, and success is best measured over a long time horizon.  I personally believe it is possible to develop winning strategies, but on any given night, any player can win and any player can lose.

This is why it is so important to develop a reliable routine and focus on your process of DFS decision making to maximize season long returns.

In a way, you could compare DFS to a game like golf.  I took some liberties with quotes from famous golfers below to prove that point.

‘Golf Daily Fantasy is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect.  It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.’
Arnold Palmer (with edits)

‘All you can do is really the prep work and make sure you’re ready for each slate to hit each shot. Outside of that, you’re not sure really what’s going to happen.  It’s a funny game, but I think that’s why I love it.  You never know, one day to the next; you could go 380 on FanDuel shoot 62, and the next day you’re going to score 210 shoot 78, and you can’t predict it’
-Rickie Fowler (with edits)

Develop a daily routine that works for your schedule

My assumption is that most of us have gone pro in something other than (fantasy) sports.  Those damn day jobs really get in the way of dedicating 8 full hours to preparing for the night’s slate.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to efficiently incorporate key insights into your daily lineups.  The key is focusing on the right data elements and building them into your routine.

Key elements to include:

At a minimum before lineup lock you should:

  • Have a general idea of team matchups (Game over/unders, expected pace, matchups vs. defense, etc)
  • Know what storylines are being talked about around the league
  • Use or create projections for each player on the slate
  • Proactively create contingency plans for injury news
  • Track injury, lineup, trade news

(Luckily much of this can be gathered from a few good sources.  Regular listeners of the Judge and premium/chat subscribers already have 80% of the work done for them #shamelessplug)

The crucial step is to figure out what insights you gather are already priced in to player salaries.  All else equal, players in obviously favorable matchups will already be priced up by FanDuel or DraftKings.  When players see an increase in minutes or go from being bench players to starters, their prices also get adjusted pretty quickly.

Still, there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of mispricing, which you can only do if you are on top of the slate and keeping up with the news.

Evaluate Your Process – not just your results

Anyone can develop a routine.  To consistently win you need to constantly evaluate your method and look for areas to improve it.  The key here is to do the best you can to ignore the nightly outcomes.  This is much easier said than done.  The thrill of taking down a GPP makes you feel very smart in the moment.  Losing a few nights in a row can make you feel unlucky, dumb, or both.

Focus on areas of improvement and determine if outcomes are due to randomness or whether your preparation is driving your results. 

Some areas to review if you are struggling

Injury News: There is nothing worse in DFS than going all in on a player that ends up getting scratched after lineup lock.  If there is any way to avoid these situations you have to find a way to do it.  When a late scratch happens, I search everywhere for advance warnings that I may have missed.  Local beat writers, Woj, DFS data providers, little brothers of the player on twitter…anything.  Identify who had the news before you did, follow them. Maybe even set up alerts.

Next time it won’t happen again.

If no one had the news, move on.  Your process is fine.  Don’t get too worked up about the result, over the long haul it evens out and you may benefit next time. 

Side note - If you lost more than you are comfortable because of a late scratch, that’s a problem with bankroll management, not lineup creation.

Projection System Evaluation

There are hundreds of options out there for projection systems.  Some DFS players build their own, others purchase/subscribe to websites, or use publicly available free ones.  I highly suggest using some sort of quantitative method to help build your lineup(s).  If nothing else, it helps organize information so you can evaluate trade-offs between paying up for star players versus spreading the salary more evenly.

These projection systems are not all created equal.  Have a way to track how yours is doing relative to other options.  If you are paying for one, make sure it is worth it.  If you created your own, figure out how you can make it better.  If you are using a free database, evaluate whether it is adequate or if an investment in a pay-for-provider would pay off.  If you want to test a few out, it never hurts to ask for a free trial to get a feel for the accuracy.

Do not just measure actual points vs expected points to draw your conclusion.  Again, randomness can be a big factor.  Instead try and focus on why a player deviated from expectations.  Was it early foul trouble?  Did the player just not make his shots?

Randomness is inevitable and even the best projections can’t account for chance.  Other things like usage rate and minutes played should be more predictable.  If a player you like gets up 20 shots that don’t go in, be ready to play them again.  If your projection system likes a player who is falling out of the rotation or getting no usage, file that away and be more skeptical of the output next time the projection likes them.

Narrative evaluation

Be careful of over emphasizing “revenge games”” and other frequently discussed narratives.  These types of qualitative factors can throw off your lineup if you ignore other good matchups/value to force individual players into lineups regardless of price/ownership levels.  Take a look at your last few lineups.  Are your mistakes because of bad quantitative screens, bad luck, or are you constantly chasing players because of narratives that don’t work out?

I believe most NBA players play relatively hard most nights and playing against a former coach or team probably will not drive enough usage or minutes increase to meaningfully impact their expected value.  Sure players like Dwight Howard or Boogie Cousins may benefit from time to time from increased motivation.  For the most part though, I believe these narratives end with average outcomes and too much ownership.  I typically fade these storylines in favor of players with average motivation but favorable matchups relative to their pricing.  Whatever you decide, force yourself to evaluate whether it is working for you.

Fresh Take

I am a huge proponent of focusing on one ideal lineup per night, especially for beginners or part time players.

Pros of playing one lineup:

  • You can spend more time perfection your best ideas
  • You maximize profits if your evaluation of the slate is just right
  • Reacting to injury news is much easier if you have just one lineup to adjust
  • You waste $0 on ideas that are not your best
  • You prevent idea creep from setting in which would cause you to throw money after farfetched ideas you don’t truly believe in “what if Thon Maker goes for 50 tonight off the bench…..better have some exposure in case”

Cons of playing one lineup:

  • One player can be a dreamkiller
  • Daily returns tend to be all or nothing, making bank roll management a major key
  • You are not invested in your 10th best ideas each night, so you could miss out on would be winning lineups

To me the pros far outweigh the cons if you are not playing DFS for a living.  Over time you will make more from your concentrated good bets by avoiding lottery ticket type lineups derived from your best lineup + a crazy idea or two thrown in.

The biggest advantage of focusing on one lineup is the ability to react to late news.  In some cases, surprise injury or lineup announcements can completely change the slate.  The ability to take advantage of this is maximized if planning is done in advance.  Making adjustments to multiple lineups can be a mad scramble if you have 100 lineups with overlapping players.

I typically create a few lineups early in the day and ‘settle’ on one to play about an hour before lineup lock.  I continue to tweak that lineup based on research, news, and gut feelings as lineup lock approaches.

I also continue to tweak lineups I do not plan to play, but that I may pivot to if a certain scenario plays out.  These contingency lineups are key.  By preparing in advance for different scenarios, I can make rational decisions in that final minute or two if news comes instead of scrambling.  Some nights, the differences between my main lineup and backup lineup are minor.  Other nights, the lineups may have very little overlap.  Either way, when I am playing just one lineup, I can quickly pivot to a well thought out alternative if news warrants the switch.

If you are playing multiple lineups with success, by all means stick with what works for you.  However, if you are new to DFS or struggling to make money with your current process, consider reducing the amount you play each night and focusing on one lineup. 

You can follow Mike on Twitter @mgfresh