Double-ups, 50/50s, head to heads, multipliers, GPP’s, oh my!
An initial look at the DraftKings and FanDuel lobbies can be daunting at first glance to the uninitiated, and even some experienced players may have not fully looked into all these contest types and the optimal strategies dependent on format.
What are the differences between all of these contest types? Which are the best to play? What are the correct strategies for each contest type?
These are common questions among those just getting acquainted with DFS, and even to some people who have been dabbling for a while. I’m going to break down the best methodologies for winning in MLB DFS for both ‘cash games’ (50/50s, head to heads, double-ups, multipliers) and GPP tournaments, with a focus on the key differences between formats.
Overview Of MLB DFS Cash Game Strategy
As the best lineup-building techniques for winning are almost literally opposite between cash games and tournaments, it is paramount that we draw a keen distinction between the two and construct our lineups accordingly.
In some ways playing cash games, or at least understanding cash game mentality may be one of the best ways for a newer player to get their feet wet in terms of simply understanding how to construct optimal lineups. The key difference between cash games and tournaments is that in a cash game, excluding the slightly different multiplier format (we’ll get to that later) all you are looking to do is come in around the top 50th percentile in the contest.
This is approximate as the sites make their money off some rake, so for example a DraftKings 114 person double-up may only pay the top 50, not the top 57. In a double-up or 50/50, around half the field doubles their buy-in, while the other half loses. For this reason, using the 114 entrant double-up as an example, there is no advantage whatsoever to coming in first rather than 50th. Therefore, all you are trying to do is make the most optimal lineup possible based on your projection sources and/or research.
You might think that making an ideal lineup would be the obvious strategy regardless of contest type. Trying to score the most fantasy points should be the goal, so why would you not simply make the most optimal lineup possible?
Although it may be a bit counterintuitive, this is not in actuality the case in all contests. In tournaments, there are bigger considerations to make. We will get to that later. In double-ups and 50/50s your goal is simple, and that is to make the lineup that you believe has the best chance of scoring enough fantasy points to put you among the top 50% in the contest.
How To View Ownership In Cash Games
As there is no benefit in beating more than 50% of the field, there is also no reason to take player ownership into account as you would in a tournament and try to be sneaky.
You pretty much want to do the opposite to the extent that you consider ownership and take the players that you believe will be the highest owned, most obvious picks.
Since the majority of the field will have these players, and all you need to do is finish in the top 50%, you don’t want to be getting off the board and getting lapped by the majority of the field when the obvious high-owned plays hit. Especially due to the availability of various projection models and optimizers, most cash game lineups are going to look fairly similar.
The differences between winning and losing will often be the differences between two or three spots in the lineups, while most of the clearest ‘best plays’ will be highly owned across the field.
The Importance Of Player Ranges Of Outcomes
Finesse comes into play in the construction of these lineups when considering player’s ranges of outcomes. Median projection does not take into account how widely variant a player’s outcomes can be.
For instance, take a boom-bust home run or strikeout type of hitter. Their average fantasy points per game might be in the same ballpark (no pun intended) as a more consistent but less powerful contact hitter, yet the boom-bust hitter is getting lots of zeroes when they go 0-4 with three strikeouts. However, they are also having spike games when they hit homers and extra-base hits and drive in lots of runs.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the contact hitter may have the same average fantasy points per game but is getting lots of 2-4s with a walk and two singles, and very few zeroes. This is giving the contact hitter a higher floor and lower ceiling. Since you are not rewarded for ceiling scores in cash games, as it doesn’t matter that you come in first or 50th as long as you beat out half the field, you would prefer the less boom-bust player even if their median projection is identical.
This also applies to pitchers. You would rather have a very safe pitcher who seldom gets blown up than an inconsistent pitcher with big strike-out upside when he has a good game, but frequent bad games where he gives up a lot of runs.
Diversifying Your Cash Game Lineups
Another key factor when making cash game lineups: you are looking to reduce variance and get as many floor fantasy points as possible even in a less than ideal outcome.
For this reason, you would be less inclined to play too many players from one team, since if that team happens to fail that day, that will tank your entire lineup.
‘Stacking’ players from the same team is a tournament strategy that is heavily used in MLB DFS, but it is not generally considered a cash game strategy. You want to have as much diversification as possible to limit the chance for the outcome of one game to ruin your lineup.
This is not to say that if it so happens that an optimal lineup involves a lot of players from one team, this is always to be avoided, but it is something to consider in cash game lineup construction.
Types Of Cash Games And The Differences
Within the realm of cash games, there are various formats. It is good to understand the differences between them and where different strategies can be employed to maximize success for the type of contest.
In double-ups, you double your money exactly if you come in over the cash line. The sites make their money on these by rewarding a little less than exactly half the field, as explained in my above example of a 114 person double up rewarding the top 50 rather than the top 57.
In 50/50s exactly half the field is rewarded, so in a 4 person 50/50, the top two win, but they win a little less than their entry fee. For instance, in a $530 four-person double-up, the winners collect $1000, not $1060. The sites make their money off that difference as the rake.
50/50s tend to be higher stakes, with fewer contestants.
The strategy between double-ups and 50/50 is not much different other than the fact that since 50/50s tend to be played by higher stakes players, with fewer players in the contests, it may be more pertinent to make particular decisions based on your knowledge of your exact competition. You would also be more likely to consider making late swaps to your unlocked players upon seeing what your opposition is doing to either try to match it or get different, depending on your current standing in the contest.
In head-to-heads, you are competing directly against one other person. Similar to the smaller-sized 50/50s, the big difference here is that you can more specifically analyze each contest and consider what that particular opponent is doing in your strategy.
One benefit to playing, for instance, 50 one dollar head-to-heads rather than one $50 double-up is that you are less likely to lose every single head-to-head, while you are fairly likely to lose the $50 double-up. You are increasing your chances of making some money back on a bad day, while still having a great chance of cashing the majority of the head-to-heads.
You can sometimes also find very weak competition in head-to-heads and take advantage of this. You may even intentionally play head-to-head with players you’ve recognized as weaker than yourself. Some people also find the direct competition fun.
Multipliers (triple-ups and quintuple-ups, for instance):
These are very similar to standard cash games, other than the fact that only the top third, top fifth, or some other delineation of lineups cash.
So, in a 3 person triple-up, only one lineup cashes. In a five-person quintuple-up, only one lineup cashes. Strategy is very similar to other cash games, but you want to be more cognizant of upside and trying to get a bit different than your opponents. It is a bit of a hybrid between cash and tournament approach, albeit heavily leaning toward cash strategy.
Please stay tuned for part two of this article, which will cover the optimal tournament strategies for winning at MLB DFS on DraftKings and FanDuel.