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Tips From a Daily Fantasy Baseball Rookie

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A neophyte in the wacky world of daily fantasy sports, Heath explains his evolving process and some successes and triumphs.

Frustration is something Freeman owners have NOT felt this season. Fab Freddie has been one of the best bargains of the season so far.
Frustration is something Freeman owners have NOT felt this season. Fab Freddie has been one of the best bargains of the season so far.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Yours truly somehow snuck into the inaugural MLB Daily Fantasy Accuracy Cup, which is hosted by FantasyPros and their sponsor, FanDuel. It is a competition for some of the top fantasy baseball salary cap experts across the industry, and they must have had trouble filling the final spot because I am among the ranks.

The rules are simple. Every Friday night, the experts compete in the MLB Grand Slam on FanDuel. FantasyPros is keeping a leaderboard to track the action for 14 weeks straight up to the All-Star Break. At that time, the expert with the most cumulative points wins $1,000 in FanDuel credit. The runner-up receives $500 FanDuel credit. There are also prizes to be won for each Grand Slam competition every week. So there is much to play for.

My own experience throughout the first five weeks of this competition ranges from pretty good to pretty average. The learning curve has been fairly steep. Costly mistakes have already been made (i.e. fading Bryce Harper this past Friday night). But there has been some good as well. What follows are my free-form observations on my process and my picks so far.

The old adage "that's why they play the game" has already been applicable. The numbers do not always tell you the truth. For instance, in Week One of the MLB DFAC, I completely overlooked Tim Lincecum as a starter. Blame my decade-long experience with seasonal leagues, but Lincecum has been irrelevant to me for at least two years now. And he was irrelevant to me that Friday night, as I chose to pay up for Gio Gonzalez and his cheese match-up with the Philadelphia Phillies. Gonzalez promptly torched my lineup, amassing a lowly 7.33 points against the puny Phillies. Meanwhile, Lincecum outpaced Gio by going seven strong innings without allowing a run at San Diego.

That's right...Timmy helped some guy save money, load up on bats, and win thousands of dollars. The lesson was immediately learned. I was not in Kansas anymore. If Timmy was relevant, EVERYONE could be relevant. And the ace-type pitcher with the cheese match-up isn't always a sure thing. Speaking of, did anyone play Matt Harvey this past Friday night? I did. Those Phillies will be the death of me. Maybe we should be respecting Cole Hamels just a wee bit more throughout the fake world.

I followed my gut instinct once and fell flat on my face. I own Sonny Gray in some seasonal leagues, so I was well aware of his hot start. Despite his tough road match-up on April 17th with the Kansas City Royals, I thought he could bull his way through for the win. Alas, he amassed only 7 points and my hitters could not place me in the money by themselves. It was a tough loss, as Gray had been nearly unhittable in his first two starts. Even worse, I chose Gray as a price-saver instead of going with Max Scherzer, who was universally owned by the top three teams in the Grand Slam that Friday.

It is okay to fade Felix Hernandez if you choose to hitch your wagon to Carlos Martinez when he dominates the Milwaukee Brewers. On April 24th, Martinez delivered 19 points, just 3 points shy of King Felix (who was $3,300 more expensive). The money I saved allowed me to roll with some BvP all-stars, as both Anthony Rizzo and Chris Coghlan had superb career numbers against Cincinnati Reds starter Mike Leake. I know, I know. Batter versus pitcher statistics are generally frowned upon. But it seemed logical that one of those guys would inevitably capitalize on the match-up. Luckily, both of them slugged home runs that day. The other smooth move of that roster was taking note of David Freese and his ability to mash left-handed pitching. Freese and his home run took a mere $3,300 of my salary. I finished 140th of 10,563 entries, bringing home a cool $200. I then purchased a new 13x7 modified dome tent for family camping excursions. Something to keep everyone happy, you know?

The pick of Martinez probably encouraged my ballsy pick of Chris Tillman for the following week. Picking a lesser-owned pitcher and fading the chalky (read: expensive) guys is probably my best strategy at the moment. So Tillman it was, as he had already handily dispatched the Rays in his season-opening start. Also, this was the "home" game that was famously played away, so Tillman had the run-depressing Tropicana Field as a backdrop. I felt pretty confident in my pick, and it turned out to be great except for the Baltimore bats going cold. Tillman posted seven strong innings and amassed 12 points, which would have been solid if my own bats had produced. Alas, my hitters underperformed and I was left a wee bit disappointed.

Two nights ago the Phillies reminded me that they are no respecter of persons. The plucky Phillies AGAIN torched my starting pitcher, as Matt Harvey succumbed to defeat for the first time since August 24, 2013. This was also Harvey's first career loss against Philadelphia, as he had been 5-0 against them heading into Friday's game. But remember I said it wasn't all bad? My bats carried me to the money. I used Wil Myers and Justin Upton the day after they let everyone down against Rubby De La Rosa, and that move paid off in a big way. I benefited from the Josh Donaldson dong, the 2.3K leadoff man Peter Bourjos, and the red-hot hitting of Brandon Belt. I placed 1,640th out of 10,068 entries. Not enough for a 13x7 tent, but enough to finish in the money for two of the last three weeks.

As for my process, I am still refining it, naturally. I almost always start the morning with our own Timothy Finnegan's daily picks, as he is very diligent with that series. I scope out batting order, the weather, parks, etc. I obsess--err, labor--over lineups all the way up until it is time for them to lock, scouring around for an extra edge. I do not yet know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

One "pro-tip" I will share is to tread carefully with the Phillies. I know they are terrible right now, but it seems like every ace starter I put against them takes a mental day off when Philadelphia is on the lineup card. Yes, I started Bartolo today in a tourney.

I also don't ignore career splits, even if a guy is scorching hot like Neil Walker was recently. Many were touting him one day on the Tweeter as a solid bargain play--yet he was facing a southpaw that particular night. Walker has a tolerable career average against left-handed pitchers (.260) but only six career home runs. I went with the larger sample size and ended up being correct. Of course, I could have been wrong. I understand the idea of riding a guy while he is hot. But that one time it worked out.

Finally, my most recent lesson is to search for growth, especially among younger players. Instead of just looking at a guy's career splits, I am now looking back two or three years to see if there is a marked progression in any one area. Such is the case with Bryce Harper, who had a lefty versus lefty match-up on Friday night. I avoided said match-up, even though Harper was pitted against the soft-tossing Eric Stults. I paid dearly, as Harper slugged two home runs and amassed over 15 points. Had I chosen Harper over Justin Upton, the extra 9 points would have doubled my winnings. In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to Harper's 2014 campaign against southpaws, when he posted a respectable .263/.333/.432 line. I am heeding this lesson today, as I trotted out Joey Votto against the left-handed John Danks. We'll see how it all shakes down.

That's all for now. I hope these observations from a rookie are insightful to some. Feel free to share your own wisdom with me in the comments. I need a nice new tarp. And maybe a new lantern. And an air bed so the wife will actually go camping. Cheers.