How To Craft A Winning MLB DFS Tournament Lineup


In DFS, new players often come into it thinking that it is a game of predicting player performance and landing on all the best individual plays on any particular slate. This is absolutely not the case.

It could seem counterintuitive that in a contest where picking players that will score the most fantasy points is the ultimate goal, doing just that is not actually the name of the game. This is in fact great news for those of us who want to profit from this game when you consider that none of us have a crystal ball. Predicting the future is fool’s gold. Let me explain.

Yes, the top lineup in any DFS contest is going to have high scores from all, or certainly the considerable majority of the players in the lineup. Yet, the way of achieving this, and also creating a lineup that beats the field regardless of score in a vacuum, does not involve individual player selection as much as the majority of DFS players think.

Building a lineup is akin to making a work of art, say producing a piece of music. All of the parts in the song: drums, bass, keys, guitar, vocals, etc. working well together will determine the end result, not how each component sounds independent of its counterparts. Let’s dig into how we can apply this way of thinking to craft winning MLB DFS tournament lineups.

Correlation Is King

The first thing to consider in MLB DFS for tournaments is the importance of correlation. Many DFS enthusiasts start out with football. It is the most popular DFS sport and a sport many of us have engaged in for season-long leagues.

Most of us understand at least the basic idea that a quarterback and a wide receiver inherently correlate and therefore we generally want to build our lineups with at least a QB/WR pairing from the same team. Many of us take it further by incorporating three-man stacks from the same team with one or even two players from the opposing team for good measure. Think of MLB DFS similarly, but on steroids.

In MLB tournaments, stacking at bare minimum 4 hitters from one team as the core of any DFS tournament lineup is all but necessary for consistent results. Yes, there can be occasions where other constructions can work, particularly where there is a multi-team correlation (such as three players from one team, three players from another, and two from another, for instance), or on smaller slates with fewer games and less need for heavy correlation.

You will even occasionally see the random lineup, usually made by an inexperienced player, with little to no correlation at all at the top of the leaderboards. These are outliers scenarios. We are looking for a process that leads to consistent success.

Stacking as much as possible is the established winning process in MLB tournament DFS. 

On DraftKings, you are allowed to stack up to five batters from one team. It is generally recommended to do so.

You can take it to another level by stacking three batters from another team in the same lineup, or two from another team with a single one-off. Another highly correlated construction would be four batters from one team and four from another, however, five-man stacking is generally considered the place to start. We can’t predict the future; our best chance at winning is landing on the team that happens to score 10+ runs. On many slates, only one team is going to do this, if any, so you really want as many players from that team as possible to maximize your chances of success. 

The reason why a secondary two or three-man stack can also be a good idea: what if you do land on the perfect five-man, but in your attempt to cherry-pick one-offs, you have three duds that kill your lineup?

By secondary stacking, you do increase your variance in that your secondary stack can completely fail if the team does poorly, but you also give yourself a better chance of everything falling together if your two-team parlay, so to speak, does indeed hit.

On FanDuel you are only able to stack four batters from one team. Being that you have eight lineup slots for hitters, and correlation is so important, you might choose to stack 4-4, with four batters from one team and four from another. Or, if you want to go a little less correlated to differentiate your lineups or get more highly projected star players into the mix, you could run some 4-3-1s with a one-off, or go with some other alternate construction.

Whatever you choose, it is a good idea to stack at bare minimum four players from one team, or if you were to stack three, also stack three from another team.

There is often no absolute right and wrong in DFS, but attempting to incorporate as much correlation as possible in MLB DFS tournaments is the rule of thumb to follow.

Pitching Considerations In MLB DFS Tournaments

Pitching in DFS is different than pitching in the real game of baseball in that strikeouts are the most important metric. Your pitcher can allow no runs over seven innings, but if he doesn’t strike anyone out your DFS score is going to be underwhelming. Particularly for tournaments where we are looking for extreme upside, we are going to want to target high strikeout pitchers and sacrifice safety with our pitching choices to some extent.

For this reason, we might be more inclined to take some flyers on erratic pitchers that can be inconsistent but have a good chance at a high strikeout outlier game. If we are paying a premium for our pitchers, we definitely want them to be high strikeout guys if they are going to pay off their hefty price tags.

There are some considerations between the major sites in regards to pitching. DraftKings requires you to roster two hurlers, whereas FanDuel only makes you roster one, and there are some scoring differences.

On DraftKings, one has to consider pricing more as it is generally difficult to roster two expensive ace pitchers with room for serviceable bats. This will often lead to having to select one ace and one less desirable option, or even going with two less than ideal pitchers as a means to fit in more expensive bats.

On FanDuel, hitter pricing tends to be a bit softer, and with the need for only one pitcher and to make that pitcher count, one would tend toward playing established expensive aces with big strikeout upside. There is also a bonus on FanDuel for a quality start (6+ innings), so pitchers who tend to go deep into games are all the more valuable there. 

How to Use Ownership In MLB DFS Tournaments

Right up there with correlation in MLB DFS tournament strategy is consideration of ownership when constructing your lineups.

If a player, stack, or to a lesser extent, a pitcher is projected to be super highly owned, you will really want to consider being underweight on them in tournaments. If the top hitters on, say, the Braves are going to be 20-30% owned on a slate and you roster a five-man Braves stack of those hitters, if they do well, you are just moving up the leaderboards with 20-30% of the field.

The only thing that is going to separate you are the players you stack around the Braves and your pitching. Consider what happens if the Braves fail to meet expectations and you stack a 5% owned Phillies stack that goes nuclear. You are now are leapfrogging a sizeable portion of the field whose lineups are now dead, by mere virtue of your choice to fade the Braves and stack the Phillies.

In fact, the Braves could even have a serviceable game, but what if they put up five runs and the Phillies put up 12? You’ve put yourself in a great position to win when a perfectly likely eventuality that the field didn’t adequately consider occurs.

Another huge thing to think about in terms of ownership: just because you roster a high-end stack or pitcher does not mean that your lineup can’t still succeed in tournaments.

You can roster chalky players and stacks, but you have to consider what players you are putting around them and make sure that the lineup overall has low enough ownership and enough uniqueness and leverage to make sense for large field GPPs.

You can’t approach MLB DFS tournaments from a winning perspective by only looking for the highest likelihood events, as everyone else is doing the very same.

There are a lot of great publicly available resources when it comes to DFS these days. If there are obvious hitters and stacks that are in great spots, they are going to be heavily rostered. Same with pitchers. You really need to seek out those options that are in similarly good situations coming in at a fraction of the projected ownership if you want to consistently win in MLB DFS tournaments.

There is so much else to take into consideration in MLB DFS tournament strategy, but the biggest things to always keep at the forefront of our minds when constructing lineups are correlation and ownership. If we are building correlated lineups with stacking at the center of our strategy, and considering the ownership of our lineups as a whole, we are well on our way to MLB DFS tournament success. Give it a try, and let’s go win some tournaments!

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