Good games, weird data

This article probably lost me twenty bucks

This article probably lost me twenty bucks

In a past life, I wrote a weekly column for SB Nation about daily fantasy football, finding time between incorrectly pasting code into an ad server to provide advice on Fanduel lineups. I felt like the owner of some secret, highly profitable information, capable of great riches born out of guile and dense spreadsheets. 

My best week won someone on Twitter money after listening to me and playing a backup Detroit Lions running back; I ended up losing all my the money in my own account.

Like a home poker player assuming his bluffs translate to a casino game, a nation of casual fantasy football players light money on fire every week at Fanduel or DraftKings.  You can convince yourself to adopt any theory or attitude to assume an advantage. However, these ideas more often than not produce more food for a small group of sharks. Daily fantasy replaces the slow grind of a season-long league with the immediacy and the high of a blackjack table.

Can I make a fanduel LIneup work?

Jay Caspian Kang wrote a long profile on this exact phenomenon at the peak of the daily fantasy legal imbroglio in 2016. His words seem to resonate just as strongly three years later.

In the game lobbies of DraftKings and FanDuel, however, sharks are free to flood the marketplace with thousands of entries every day, luring inexperienced, bad players into games in which they are at a sizable disadvantage. The imbalanced winnings in D.F.S. have been an open secret since this past September, when Bloomberg Businessweek published an exposé on the habits of high-volume players. The numbers are damning. According to DraftKings data obtained by the New York State attorney general’s office, between 2013 and 2014, 89.3 percent of players had a negative return on investment. A recent McKinsey study showed that in the first half of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, 91 percent of the prize money was won by a mere 1.3 percent of the players.

Players with sophisticated algorithms and high bankrolls make a career out of taking money from players like me.

Yet, even knowing this, the itch never disappears. I put $20 into the ol’ Fanduel account and tested out a couple theories. Here are three of the Fanduel lineups I used, along with the extremely nuanced thinking behind each. I’m sending this on Sunday so you can follow the misery along with me/race to bet against my picks.

fanduel Lineup one: Attempting some analytics

I should at least try and use some of these data skills for my greater gambling good. 

I really enjoyed this concept from Davis Mattek. He tracks actual output with potential output based on targets and the depth of those targets to identify unrealized points. For example, if a wideout’s targeted ten yards down the field, regardless of catching, they’d have ten air yards.

His content sparked an idea: how could we combine this data with Fanduel salaries to find undervalued, high upside wideouts? Thanks to Air Yards for providing these numbers.

Here’s a look at every wideout with their salaries and unrealized success. I’m interested in the guys furthest to the center-right, with a ton of unrealized yards and low salary.

I’m theorizing that finding two inexpensive wideouts with an indicator like this both maximizes my upside and lets me play more expensive players at running back and quarterbacks. Zooming in on the circle highlights our targets for this Fanduel lineup idea.

DeAndre Hopkins appearing here after a monster week one highlights his ridiculous upside. Even with 111 yards last week, he still left 105 additional yards on the field.

Pairing these cheaper options with Hopkins opens up the budget flexibility to slide Patrick Mahomes and Alvin Kamara in.

fanduel Lineup two: Fade the experts

You can’t log on to Twitter without finding an infinite amount of fantasy experts, including me, the sporadic newsletter writer. These writers coalesce into a loud platform that enables contrarians to dismiss the common knowledge and player hype trains to burn bright and fade like failed primary campaigns. For addicts like me, the need to justify my decisions produces a cavernous appetite for appeasement. Sites like Yahoo, The Athletic, ESPN, and endless others rank and write advise columns on just what to do. What would a lineup look like if you went the exact opposite direction?

Reddit user joshmich88 aggregated a variety of “Start and Sit” articles on a helpful thread. From this, I’ll pick from the least recommended players to form my outlier lineup. Say hello to Kyler Murray, Philip Lindsay, Kenyan Drake, and Danny Amendola!

Fanduel priced these unwanted players accordingly, and again using cheaper guys opens up players like Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, and Zeke. Call this my best impression of Christian Bale in The Big Short.

I want to short the New England football market. 

Lineup three: The Extreme Zig, The FitzMagic

Finally, we abandon science, reason, and intelligence and strictly believe in Fitzmagic. The Miami Dolphins are currently the single biggest underdog in NFL history, a tanking catastrophe meeting the evilest of empires in the New England Patriots. Moments like this call upon the second rule of Fitzmagic; the first, of course, is that your initial starting quarterback will get hurt to allow Fitz to play. Fitzpatrick performs best when expectations are lowest. Nothing says low expectations like a line that got as high as 20 point underdog.

Here, playing Fitz and his wideout, DaVante Parker (also a member of our unrealized fantasy stars!) lets us play top RBs like Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara.

You can’t be a true believer in the sermon of Fitzmagic if you can’t embrace him at his moment of need. The Patriots will likely annihilate the fish, but in the Dr. Strange simulation of this season, maybe tomorrow will be the one in fourteen million moment. 

In all, I’ve got twenty bucks on the line in a variety of lineups based loosely on these three theories. Check back later next week for a roundup of these performances, and a recap of what might be the most tragic Jets national game of all time.

Get well soon, Sam.

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Jamie Larson