How To Identify Value When Drafting Your Daily Fantasy Sports Lineups
We spend a lot of time on this site talking about your draft strategy in daily fantasy sports. If you want to win, it’s essential that you come up with an effective method for picking players. One critical factor that must be taken into account is player value. If you can identify good values while building your lineup, you’ll be in a better position to cash in.
In a moment, I’m going to show you how to calculate player value. The method you’ll learn below is one of many. It’s not my goal to explain every approach on this page. Nor should you spend a lot of time learning them on your own. For now, focus on learning and applying the method I’ll show you below. Test things and make changes as you gain experience.
Let’s start off with a simple way to rank players based on their respective track records. It’s a good introduction to thinking about player value every time you draft a lineup. I’ll then show you a 4-step process to defining value with a bit more accuracy.
Learn the terms before you jump into drafting. Click here for terms of the games.
An Easy Way To Rank Daily Fantasy Sports Players
A majority of DFS contests force you to work under a salary cap. Because you only have so much money with which to build your roster, you want to stretch every dollar as far as possible. The challenge is to identify value as a reflection of each player’s salary.
The easiest way to do that is to divide each player’s salary by the average number of fantasy points he has scored per game during the current season. Then, rank the players by those results. The good news is that the top daily fantasy sports sites – e.g. FanDuel and DraftKings – provide the numbers you need.
To see how this works, let’s use an example from FanDuel. We’ll rank some of the pitchers scheduled to play in tonight’s $15K Monday MLB Squeeze. Here are the 5 pitchers with the highest salaries along with their average fantasy points per game (FPPG).
Johnny Cueto – $9,900 – 15.9
Michael Wacha – $8,700 – 12.1
Jeff Samardzija – $8,000 – 11.1
Yordana Ventura – $7,900 – 11.2
Hyun-Jin Ryu – $7,100 – 10.8
Now let’s divide each pitcher’s salary by his FPPG…
Johnny Cueto – $622.64
Michael Wacha – $719.01
Jeff Samardzija – $720.72
Yordana Ventura – $705.36
Hyun-Jin Ryu – $657.41
The dollar figures above represent how much you would pay for each point that is scored in tonight’s games. You can see that Cueto and Ryu are the best values, point for point.
It’s worth pointing out that average FPPGs aren’t the best numbers to use when calculating value. They don’t give you any insight regarding whether a player is on a hot or cold streak. If you want better accuracy, divide each player’s salary by the points projections posted by Vegas oddsmakers. That requires a bit more research.
For a quick and dirty method, it’s hard to beat the approach I’ve outlined above. Just realize that it’s sorely limited.
Let’s now take a look at a 4-step process for calculating player value. It’s more involved and requires more effort. But going through the process is definitely worthwhile.
Step #1: Establish A Target Score For Your Lineup
In this step, you’re answering the question “how many points will I need to score in order to rank in a winning position?” It’s not as simple as it seems. The question is complicated by 3 factors: the type of sport, the contest format, and the DFS site.
The contest format is also important. As a general rule, you need to score a higher number of points to win a large-field tournament than you need to win a 50/50 contest. Here’s a rough guide for daily fantasy MLB games at FanDuel and DraftKings.
FanDuel MLB 1st Place Score:
Large-field tournaments – 60 to 65 points
50/50s – 40 to 45 points
DraftKings MLB 1st Place Score:
Large-field tournaments – 150 to 160 points
50/50s – 90 to 100 points
Note that FanDuel uses a 9-player roster that includes a single pitcher while DraftKings uses a 10-player roster with 2 pitchers. Also, DraftKings uses a scoring system that awards more points than FanDuel for specific feats. For example, you’ll earn 3 points for a triple at FD and 8 points for a triple at DK.
Step #2: Calculate How Many Points Each Player Should Score
Now that you’ve established a target score, do a simple calculation to figure out how many points, on average, each player in your lineup should score. You’ll need to take your salary cap into account.
Over at FanDuel, you have $35,000 to draft a 9-player roster. If you’re playing in a large-field contest, you’ll need 60 to 65 points to win (again, that’s just an estimate). Using the top end of that range (i.e. 65), each player you draft should score 7.2 points (65 divided by 9). If you’re playing in a 50/50, in which case you’ll need 45 points to win, each player will need to score 5 points (45 divided by 9).
At DraftKings, you have $50,000 to draft a lineup of 10 players. For a large-field contest, you’ll need 160 points, or 16 points per player. For a 50/50, you’ll need 100 points, or 10 points per player.
Keep in mind that your pitcher is probably going to rack up more points than any other player in your lineup. That means you’ll need to adjust the average number of points needed per player to reflect the pitcher’s higher production. How big of an adjustment should you make? Count on your pitcher scoring 20% to 25% of your team’s points.
I’ll show you the math in Step #4 below.
Step #3: Determine The Number Of Points Needed Per $1,000 In Salary
This step isn’t critical, but adds depth to the overall picture of which players are undervalued and which ones are overvalued. The good news is that the math is very simple. You divide the total number of points you need to score in order to win by your salary cap.
Here’s an example:
In Step #1, we determined that you’ll need (roughly) 160 points to win a large-field MLB tournament at DraftKings. You know that you have a $50K salary cap. Divide 160 by 50 to get 3.2. That’s the number of points you need to accumulate for every $1,000 you spend.
Here’s another example:
We determined earlier that you’ll need (roughly) 45 points to win a 50/50 MLB contest at FanDuel. You only have $35,000 to build your lineup. Dividing 45 by 35 results in approximately 1.3. That’s how many points you need to earn for every $1,000 you spend.
Step #4: Find Players Whose Average FPP Matches (Or Exceeds) The Target
From Step #1, you know how many points you need in order to cash in – that is, finish in a position that gets paid – for big tournaments and 50/50s. Step #2 gave you the number of points, on average, each player in your lineup needs to accumulate in order for you to hit your target score. Step #3 revealed the number of points you need to earn per $1,000 spent.
Now that you have these figures, you can focus your attention on drafting players who offer the value you need.
Let’s go through an example to see how the entire calculation works. Fair warning: there’s quite a bit of math. But it’s very simple.
We’ll use tonight’s $15K Monday MLB Squeeze at FanDuel. It’s a large-field event – up to 8,330 players can join – with a guaranteed prize pool of $15,000.
You need to score 65 points (using the upper-bound of the range) if you hope to win the event. Given a 9-player lineup, each player needs to score an average of 7.2 points. Also, given a $35K salary cap, you need to bring in 1.9 points per $1,000 spent.
Now, let’s adjust those numbers to reflect the higher number of points your pitcher will score. Assuming your pitcher will earn 20% to 25% of your total score, you need him to bring in between 13 and 16.25 points. Assuming your 8 hitters – the remainder of your lineup – will earn 75% to 80% of your score, you need them to bring in between 48.75 and 52 points total. That works out to between 6.09 and 6.5 points per player.
Let’s suppose you have your eye on Miguel Cabrera. He’s averaged 3.2 fantasy points per game this season and commands a salary of $5,000. First, can he deliver the average number of points per player you need in order to win (i.e. between 6.09 and 6.5 points)? It’s unlikely.
Second, can he be expected to deliver 1.9 points for each $1,000 you spend on his salary (i.e. 9.5 points)? Again, it’s unlikely based on his track record this season.
Given the above, you’d probably be better off passing on Cabrera.
Problems With Calculating Player Value In Daily Fantasy Sports
At this point, you may be thinking that there are a lot of problems with the method I’ve outlined above for calculating value. And you’d be absolutely correct.
For example, it doesn’t take into account that some starting players get injured, opening the door for low-profile, low-salary replacements to start. Those replacements will suddenly offer more value than previously calculated.
The above method also fails to recognize that some hitters do especially well when they’re matched up against select pitchers. And of course, some hitters flounder against select pitchers.
It also neglects to consider hitter-friendly and pitcher-friendly parks. Also, what about low-scoring games that throw off your target score?
So, yes. There are definitely limitations to the calculation method I’ve laid out above. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it to identify player value. It just means it’s less than perfect.
Learn other strategies for MLB here.
You can definitely build a forecasting model that takes into account all of the above factors (along with many others). You’ll need a spreadsheet and lots of time, but it can be done. The advantages of using the model I’ve given you above is that it’s simple, relatively quick to apply, and is a useful guide in a salary cap draft.