The Definitive Argument, And Numbers, Against DFS High Priced Pitching
With football Sundays just around the corner, I’ll be transitioning over to Fantasy Football next week. The Tuesday pieces of DFS high priced players who are actually worth your time will still run, but this is the final “Avoid High Priced Pitching” piece. This summary will give you all of the insight into the numbers, including what we learned and how to apply it to our future lineups.
I was away for the weekend with the holiday, so I missed three nights of playing on FanDuel and DraftKings. If it were anything like the other four days, it would not have been pretty for high priced pitching. That was the worst week I’ve ever seen for DraftKings. It started on July 2, when Tim Cooney had a solid outing that nearly matched the big names, then Julio Teheran topped Clayton Kershaw on both sites, Max Scherzer stunk on July 7 and Trevor Bauer came in striking distance of Kershaw. Altogether, scores on DraftKings averaged 26.41 less points per night with the top tier of high priced pitchers. FanDuel’s gap wasn’t as big (-2.20), but it was still there.
Our final numbers look like this:
59 comparisons/118 contests, -751.50 points for DFS high priced pitching, averaging -12.74 per game
61/122, -261.97, -4.29
39/78, -117.15, -3.00
Conclusion: So what can we, more importantly you, gain from all of this?
Looking at the numbers, the easy answer is don’t pay for the highest priced pitching. There is more to it than that, and we’ll dive deeper, but it clearly doesn’t pay (literally) to spend top dollar on pitching. The reason so many still want to believe that it’s the best play is because of the assumed safety.
When you have a position that scores significantly more than any other position, you want a bit of surety to your pick. There is no one on Earth that would roster Manny Banuelos over Max Scherzer, even though Banuelos scored much more than Scherzer Tuesday night. Even with the off night, we know that nine times out of 10, Scherzer is going to give us a quality start. With pitchers like Banuelos, what are we hoping for? 50 percent?
While it’s true that top tier pitchers are significantly more reliable and safer, that doesn’t automatically equal DFS value. Wins are one of the worst stats in baseball, yet they make up a sizable portion of the scoring in DFS. Sticking to our two pitchers, let’s say Scherzer and Banuelos both go seven innings in their next starts.
Scherzer has a great outing but the offense fails him: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 6 Ks, 0 W
Banuelos struggles more than Scherzer, but his team got him the win: 7 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 4 Ks, 1 W
Here, Banuelos gave up twice as many hits, three more runs and struck out two less. In the end, Scherzer scored 23.35 on DraftKings and 12.0 on FanDuel. Banuelos? 14.95 and 11.0. You’re probably saying, “Well, on FanDuel it’s a lot closer, but there is still a big gap on DraftKings.” Not so fast. On FanDuel, a 2-for-4 night with a double, Run scored and a RBI equals just 4.5 points while on DraftKings, we’re talking 12 points. The scoring nearly balances on the two sites (more on FantasyAces later), so the gap isn’t much bigger at all.
Why do I point that out, and why does the hitting matter when talking about spending on pitching? Because that’s where the scoring advantage lies. When you save thousands on your pitcher, you’re able to get that safety at hitting instead. Rather than pick from a bunch of lower tier hitters with favorable matchups, you can grab higher end hitters that provide value more often than not. It’s the same as with pitchers. Even though the best hitters only succeed one third of the time, that’s still a 33 percent improvement over those .250 hitters. On top of that, once you start adding in runs scored, ribbies, extra base hits and stolen bases, you can improve your score exponentially.
If we were talking a minor improvement consisting of one to two hitters, high priced pitching would be the way to go. When you save thousands however, you can often replace three, four, sometimes five hitters with better options. Many times, it’s the difference of playing David Ortiz, Jose Reyes and Josh Donaldson over Billy Butler, Marcus Semien and Danny Valencia.
You can still disagree. Heck, many DFS “high rollers” still think I’m nuts. Yet, numbers are numbers. The entire reason for this study was to put my theory (which I was heavily criticized for last year) into action.
Now, in case you haven’t been following the entire study, there are nights where looking for those second and third-tier pitching options doesn’t make sense. If the slate of games includes Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom and a huge drop-off, then that kind of volatility isn’t worth it. For instance, if the third best option is Chase Anderson, you’re down in that 50 percent range of hoping for a good outing. The point of the study was to avoid those extreme pricing options and exploit the matchups for the 75 percenters, who are good bets to match the elite pitchers in scoring. In fact, there were a few nights where the DraftKings comparison included a pitcher rostered in both lineups since they require two.
A few final notes about the scores, totals, etc. Some additional math if you just want to stop reading now because it bores you to tears.
As mentioned, DraftKings averaged -12.74 per contest, FanDuel -4.29 and FantasyAces -3.00.
The percentage compared to total DFS score is as follows: DK -11.3%, FD -11.1%, FA -5.2%
This gives you a better idea of how the scoring looks compared to an average DFS score on each site.
The next number of importance is standard deviation. We know the percentage difference scored, but how dramatically could a total differ? Basically, was the comparison normally within a percentage window or were there nights when the score demolished the high priced pitchers? For instance, on May 22, DraftKings fell by 42.10 and FanDuel by 16.34. In comparison, there were nights when the difference was decimal places… OR, we even had four ties! One being on DraftKings… go figure.
Looking at the standard deviations, they were 18.13 on DraftKings, 5.09 for FanDuel and 10.67 on FantasyAces. To explain, on an normal night, the scores would differ by plus or minus those numbers. So, the high priced pitching lineup would score X and the lower priced one would be +/- 18.13 points on DraftKings.
If you want to look at it from a percentage angle since each site’s scoring differs so much, DraftKings average range as a percent to average score was +/- 16.2%, FanDuel +/- 13.1% and +/- 18.6% for FantasyAces. Head hurt yet?
The real simple version is to go back to the base percentages, but either way, we’re looking at an average lost value in the teens (percentage wise) when using high priced pitchers.
To sum that up, FanDuel and DraftKings end up with similar lost production on a percentage basis. FantasyAces saw the least variance, and it started to flip between positive and negative scores later in the season. With their tight pricing (hard to find low priced hitters), you can make a case it’s still best to pay for pitching on FantasyAces. However, they also had the largest percent deviation from the norm, which shows how wildly the scores can swing. As expected, FanDuel had the smallest variance, but they also have the lowest scoring system.
In the end, the numbers clearly show that building a stronger lineup with more reasonably priced pitchers provides better scores and more cashed lineups. I’m sure many will still disagree or doubt the results, but numbers are numbers. A one will always be a one, and these numbers will always show that high priced pitching isn’t the best strategy for DFS success.
As a reminder, this Thursday piece was a continuing examination of the merits of spending on DFS high priced pitching. (You can always look back here for the introduction.) I tracked lineups on DraftKings, FanDuel and FantasyAces. There were two competing lineups on each site, one using the highest priced pitchers and another avoiding those. As a FYI, “highest priced” means the Top 1-3 guys on most days. In addition, I tried to use many of the same hitters to get a decent lineup-to-lineup comparison with the saved money used at 1-3 spots to improve the hitting choices.
For the method in choosing pitchers, it’s not arbitrary. I use the DailyRoto pitcher rankings to break ties or close calls. I’ll never take the highest priced pitcher if he’s not one of the best plays, and I won’t use a cheap pitcher that should be avoided.