Cash Game Vs. Tournament Strategy In MLB DFS (Part Two)


In part one of this article, I covered optimal strategies for MLB DFS cash games.

You’ll find that for GPP tournaments the best techniques for winning are almost a mirror image of cash game strategies. You have to unlearn your cash game tendencies when playing tournaments, and vice versa.

This is part of why I stated in part one that learning to play cash games can be one of the best ways to learn DFS overall. Not only does it teach you to simply recognize the best plays and make the most optimal lineups, which is at the core of the DFS skillset. It will help you to play tournaments as you can’t pivot off of chalky lineup constructions if you don’t know what the chalky lineup constructions will be.

This is why to be a complete DFS player, a person should understand how to play both cash games and tournaments regardless of whether they choose to focus on one or the other in practice. One process informs the other and gives us a more well-rounded overview of any given DFS slate.

Optimal Tournament Strategy For Winning In MLB DFS

Again, so much of tournament strategy is applying the same concepts I discussed in regards to cash games, but in reverse.

In a GPP, particularly with the extremely top-heavy payout structures on DraftKings and FanDuel, all the equity is at the top. The first prize in these tournaments could be $100,000 while the tenth is $1,000.

In tournaments, particularly those with the largest prize pools and the most contestants, we are absolutely aiming for first or bust.

A lot of DFS players fail to realize that coming just over the cash line and making your money back or maybe profiting a few bucks is not the goal in GPPs. Over the long haul, it is all but impossible to be profitable without eventually coming in one of the top positions in one of these contests from time to time.

So, while in cash games our only goal is to finish in the top 50% of lineups, it is the exact opposite in GPPs as we need to aim for all the upside we can in our lineups to skyrocket to the top of the leaderboards.

Using Correlation To Our Advantage In MLB GPPs

One of the main strategies we need to employ in tournaments as opposed to cash games is maximizing the correlation between players in our tournament lineups, whereas we may even aim to minimize it in cash games.

While in cash games we are trying to lower our variance to achieve a solid median result, in tournaments we are actually looking for more variance since the only way we can win is with outlier ceiling outcomes from our players. This is why ‘stacking’, playing multiple hitters from the same team in our lineups is paramount since we are attempting to find the team that scores 15 runs on the slate.

It is all but impossible to randomly pick a lineup of hitters that all happen to hit a home run, and if you could do that it would be much more lucrative to play a home run prop parlay as you would make more money if you are right. It is however fairly possible to four or five-man stack a team that happens to go off, making you half or more of the way to a winning lineup by mere virtue of that correlation.

On DraftKings, you are allowed to stack up to five hitters from one team, and it is generally favorable to do so. You can also take it to another level by stacking three hitters from another team. If both those teams have big games, your lineup is quite likely to do well.

On FanDuel you are only allowed to stack four hitters from one team. A common construction would be a 4-4 where you have four hitters from one team and four from another. The field simply does not stack enough as the majority of casual players can’t wrap their heads around playing inferior players as part of a stack when perhaps there are bigger names at similar price points.

Good MLB DFS tournament players understand that the correlation is well worth sacrificing the quality of the player for when it comes to increasing the probability of a lineup finishing high in a GPP.

Considering Ownership When Making MLB DFS Tournament Lineups

Another key element of tournament play that differs from cash game strategy revolves around ownership.

In tournaments, we are not simply looking to play the best players at the best prices to make the most optimal lineups. Too much of the field is aware of what the optimal plays are and can clearly identify how to make the best lineups in terms of win probability in a vacuum. For this reason, the best-priced hitters and team stacks in the most advantageous spots on the slate are going to be very high owned.

The same is true of pitchers. Baseball, particularly hitting, is a very variant sport. A lot of people coming from NBA DFS in particular, and to a lesser extent NFL, attempt to approach MLB similarly.

In an NBA game, if LeBron James is playing, he is all but certain to put up a certain amount of fantasy points due to the nature of an NBA game and NBA fantasy scoring. He is going to rack up rebounds, points, assists, blocks, and steals by mere virtue of being on the court. While NFL is more variant than NBA in that it is fairly touchdown-dependent and wide receiver target shares can be unpredictable, you can still largely know that a starting running back, barring injury, will likely at least carry the ball a certain amount of times during the game.

A wide receiver will generally receive a similar amount of targets to their usual target share. In MLB, regardless of how good a hitter is, he is less likely to get on base than not in any given plate appearance. The best players in baseball can and do frequently go 0-5. For this reason, whenever you anticipate ownership on a hitter or a team stack to be high, either by looking at an existing ownership projection model or using your own judgment, you have to consider being under the field on these high-owned plays.

The success of any hitter in any situation in baseball is too variant to warrant extremely high ownership from the field in the vast majority of instances.

I highlighted the reasons why considering ownership in GPPs is all the more important in baseball due to the nature of the sport, but it is also important for the basic reasons that it is in any DFS game. If a player is 30% owned on a slate, that means that 30% of the people in the tournament get the same points you do when that player does well.

If the overall ownership of your lineup is too high, it is all but impossible for you to finish high in a tournament considering that everyone else in the contest is moving up the leaderboards as you are.

The key to winning MLB GPP tournaments is to have low-owned players and stacks in your lineups that score more than the high-owned players. This is not to say that you have to fade the chalk entirely, but you do want to make sure that all of your individual lineups are unique enough to have true win equity.

Pitching is less variant than hitting, and it can be a good strategy to be more willing to play higher owned pitchers that have the highest likelihood of success while trying to get different with your batters. On the other hand, it can also be an excellent strategy to play low-owned pitchers as a means of playing chalkier stacks but still having a unique lineup.

To take it to another level, one can intentionally play hitters against a pitcher that is projected for high ownership. Since the pitcher is high-owned, the batters facing him will automatically be low-owned, and if the pitcher gets rocked, everyone who owns the pitcher will be losing points as you gain points that virtually no one else is gaining. This is the epitome of tournament leverage and using projected ownership to your maximum advantage.

In Summary

Winning at MLB DFS is quite doable if you stick to the right process for the contest you are entering. Entering a cash game-style optimal lineup in a large field tournament is all but guaranteed to fail over the long haul, and vice versa.

Far too many casual DFS players and even at times experienced ones fail to fully realize the importance of playing with the correct strategy for the contests you are entering, and that the approach can be drastically different depending on the contest. Hopefully, you can avoid these pitfalls by focusing on the concepts I’ve provided for winning at both cash games and tournaments on DraftKings and FanDuel.

Go forth and win!

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I'm a DFS player (JackG1111), DFS content provider, and musician.