Jonathan Bales is the author of Fantasy Baseball for Smart People—a guide designed to help you profit on DraftKings.
Every day of daily fantasy baseball is different, so there are no everlasting rules like “Always pay for pitching” that make sense in every situation. The answer is almost always “It depends.”
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use general heuristics to help create lineups. I think that’s especially true in a fairly random sport like baseball. Let’s face it: predicting baseball performances, especially for batters, is tough business. I think I recently read something about the difference between a great hitter and one who is out of the league being one hit per week. Can we consistently identify that one hit? I don’t know.
The value of long-term data increases in situations in which things are unpredictable or difficult to decipher. Maybe stacking an offense isn’t always the best GPP strategy, for example—there could be times when it makes sense to not even use a mini-stack in tournaments—but the historic data suggests stacking is a winning GPP strategy. To forgo stacking in a tournament, you need more confidence that what you’re doing is “correct” than if you decide to side with the trends.
A lot of the writing I do is designed to help identify these heuristics that can help turn novice players into long-term profitable ones. Almost all of these rules-of-thumb are backed by data. When I was writing my most recent book on daily fantasy baseball, fellow DraftKings Pro dinkpiece asked me to examine home versus away scoring. That’s going to be the topic of this article.
Home and Away
I’ve always been interested in breaking down home and away scoring in baseball. While we’d expect home players to perform better as a whole in terms of efficiency, that might not be the case for bulk scoring; away batters are guaranteed nine innings of at-bats, whereas home teams don’t hit in the bottom of the ninth inning in over half of games.
The question is “Does increased efficiency make up for potentially reduced at-bats?” This is a pretty simple math problem. If we assume roughly a 50 percent chance of each team winning a game, the expectation is 9.0 innings of at-bats for away teams (forgetting about postponed games and extra innings for a second) and 8.5 innings for home teams. That’s a difference of 5.9 percent, which can certainly be meaningful in daily fantasy results.
So are home batters 5.9 percent more efficient than away batters? The answer is no.
Historically, away teams have scored 60.1 fantasy points per game on offense, compared to 59.6 for home teams. That’s a pretty small difference—still meaningful, but not a reason to really emphasize away batters at all costs. A guarantee of nine innings of at-bats does indeed make up for reduced efficiency, but it’s not like I’m going to bypass what I consider to be an elite stack just because they’re playing at home.
However, one really cool part of this data is the standard deviation. You can see that away batters have historically been less volatile than home batters. This makes intuitive sense; with the nine-inning guarantee, away teams have a higher floor on their plate appearances. How many times have you heard “the goal in cash games is to increase the floor of your lineup?”
I have a bunch of other data showing how DraftKings lineups that have emphasized early-in-the-order batters have been much more successful in cash games than lineups that utilize batters who hit late in the order. So much of cash-game success in daily fantasy baseball is about maximizing plate appearances, and perhaps the easiest and quickest way to do that is to target batters on road teams whenever possible.