In case you haven’t noticed, daily fantasy games are all the rage. Your friends here at Mastersball have joined the fray via our partnership with FanDuel. Today I’d like to share my personal views on the topic which will conclude with a rant sure to rustle the feathers of a few of my industry brethren.
Many old school roto-players frown upon the daily game, saying it’s basically gambling since there’s so much luck involved. On the surface I see their point. Really, who knows how a ballplayer will fare on any given night?
Several years ago, back when CBC/CDM were battling MLBAM and the MLBPA in court over the right to use player stats in fantasy games, this was a hot button topic at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association conferences. The crux of the argument was whether fantasy sports were a luck or skills based endeavor. I recall a down and dirty means of considering the question that was repeated yearly. If you pulled someone in off the street to compete in the activity and they had just as strong a chance at winning as everyone else, this was luck-based. If the same person were at a competitive disadvantage to others with some knowledge in the area, it was skill-based. This is not to say the outcome was not influenced by luck; just that some with some skill had a better chance to win.
That’s precisely how I view the daily fantasy games. I’d like to believe that if I pulled 100 people off the street who know nothing about baseball and explained to them the mechanism of choosing a FanDuel team (choose one player from each of these nine positions so that their total salary is $35K or less), my team would defeat over half of them every time. Heck, I believe that unless my squad totally tanks on a given night, I should skunk every one of them. But for the purpose of this discussion, if I consistently beat over half of them, that suggests there is an element of skill involved.
Due to the nature of a daily game, variance will influence the outcome more than in conventional rotisserie formats. Think of it this way. We are pretty sure that over the course of the season, Robinson Cano will hit .300 with 30 homers and 110 RBI. During the first half, he’ll probably hit in the neighborhood of .300 with approximately half of his HR and RBI. But, how sure are we that in any given month, he’ll hit .300-5 HR-22? That’s what he’ll average, but some months Cano will be above, and some below. By season’s end the numbers will be there, but the results will vary month to month. We’re already seeing variance by parsing the season into six segments; imagine the uncertainty when we slice it into 162 pieces. That’s what daily games are doing which is where the variance comes from.
But still, I contend someone with a superior foundation with respect to expected performance and a deeper understanding of how a player can increase his performance on a given night has a better chance of overcoming the variance than a person off the street. This is why I may be more tolerant of the daily games than other long-time rotisserie veterans. My ability to predict player performance and convert that to bang for the buck, even in a one day sample, should avail a competitive advantage over others that don’t posses similar skills.
As you are either likely aware of can imagine, with the proliferation of these daily games comes the need for strategic advice on how to excel at the format. I’m going to come right out and say it. The advice being doled out is fallacious and in a lot of instances, downright embarrassing.
The source of said advice varies from sites and individuals dedicated to daily games as well as conventional fantasy analysts bridging into the daily format. What pisses me off the most is that plain and simple, these people failed to do their homework and if they are being compensated in any form for this advice, they have failed to do their job. Maybe it’s because they are naïve to the work that is out there but that’s no excuse. If one is asked to serve as an authority on a subject, it is their obligation to do their due diligence and research what is out there with respect to knowledge and understanding. The failure to do so is just plain wrong -- and embarrassing.
Specifically, I am referring to the all too common means of using historical hitting and pitching matchups to identify strong plays on a given night. Regardless of the sample, how a batter has fared versus a pitcher is moot when considering how he will do the next time. Do the research: It’s out there and you may be surprised at some of the luminaries you’ll find commenting on this subject and others, beginning with Bill James. And, while you might have false intuition on your side, I have some of the greatest sabermetric minds on mine. What is even more maddening is when the advice is tempered with “I know it’s a small sample, but...”. To quote a recent Tangotiger tweet: “Is it possible to follow "Small sample size" with the word "but" and not look foolish?”
No, it isn’t.
The other erroneous counsel being spewed in print and over the airwaves is riding hot streaks. As my friend Steve Moyer once wrote back when he was a columnist for Rotowire, “Who’s hot, who’s not, who cares.” Again, look it up. Perceived streaks, hot or cold are not predictive of future performance. But yet, on a daily basis, we are instructed to ride the hot streak of the Flavor of the Day.
I don’t know, maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. But, from a professional and academic perspective, the neglect on the part of those empowered to speak on the subject of daily games really frustrates me.
In full disclosure, I will soon have a platform to right some of what I perceive to be wrong. I’m already doing so on a weekly basis when I discuss my FanDuel submissions for their weekly promotional contests. To answer the question, yes, I am winning. Not every time, but I have built up a bankroll and presently have considerably more in my FanDuel account than when I started. But, I’ll save that discussion for another time. First I have some research to do.