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DFS Theory

An Exploration of the Nuances of Fan Duel and Draftkings

DraftKings vs Fanduel

It seems like every day someone asks me whether he or she should play on Fan Duel (FD) or Draftkings (DK) or what are the differences in the two sites.  Honestly there really isn’t a simple answer to the former and I could write volumes on the latter.  Personally I’ve been playing on both sites almost nightly for several years and I enjoy certain aspects of both.  Probably the best advice I ever got, and it’s advice I think sums everything up pretty well, is FD is like playing a slot machine and DK is like a poker game.  If you don’t follow the analogy, well, then I suggest you take a trip to a casino sometime and learn to live a bit.

Seriously though what does this mean exactly?  Well first of all FD is of course an early lock site in that once the first game starts you are stuck with your players and there’s nothing else you can do throughout the course of the slate.  DK, on the other hand, allows you to swap players in and out up until the start of each player’s contest.  It’s known as late swap in the DFS industry.  So from a very basic point of view on FD you pull the slot machine handle at time of clock and you sit back and watch the reels, or in our case the DFS players, spin to a conclusion.  Whereas on DK, like in a poker game, your involvement has really only just begun as you have chances to react and swap players as the gameplay progresses.

Another major difference between the sites is how you are able to construct rosters.  FD has some extremely rigid guidelines for how a roster is constructed and DK allows for a lot more imagination with utility spots in certain sports and multi position eligibility for certain players.  In basketball for example FD forces DFS players to use exactly 2 point guards, 2 shooting guards, 2 small forwards, 2 power forwards, and a center.  Each player in the pool is eligible at only one position.  DK labels the positions as point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center, guard, forward, and utility.  These differences may seem insignificant to a novice DFS player but they are huge from the perspective of a seasoned gamer.  In football, FD requires the use of a kicker while DK does not and DK has a utility spot.  In baseball you have to use 2 pitchers as opposed to one on FD and DK offers multi position eligibility for certain players while FD does not.

Since we are in the middle of baseball season I will mainly focus on the baseball differences although I firmly believe most of my points are applicable in all sports.  There are different schools of thought on this but I am convinced these site differences give sharks a much clearer edge on DK than FD.  It’s really as simple as how many roster decisions have to be made and how many options are available at each position.  On FD we select one pitcher and one pitcher only.  On DK we select two.  In scenarios where more decisions have to be made the sharks, who over the long run will make better decisions than the novices, will benefit dramatically.  And these differences grow even larger when it comes to selecting the position players as the rigid format on FD forces you to play Kris Bryant, for example, at 3rd base and 3rd base only.  You can want to play him and Josh Donaldson in the same lineup very badly but you just can’t.  Slide over to DK and you see Bryant is eligible at 3B and OF!  So the shark who knows both of these guys are great plays on a given night has a tremendous edge on DK because he can use both.  Over on FD his hands are tied just like everyone else’s and he’s forced to choose one or the other.

One thing I hear people complain about almost to no end is why doesn’t FD have late swap.  This topic deserves a whole article but I can assure you if you are a novice that lack of a late swap is your friend not your enemy.  Yes we all know it’s frustrating to have Clayton Kershaw in all of your lineups and have him get scratched 30 minutes after lock and you lose all your contests that’s night.  Everyone can see that and if you’ve played FD it’s happened to you.  What is much harder to see, but trust me it’s happening every day, is how the sharks are adjusting lineups on DK after the games have started and taking huge dollars out from under your nose.  It’s all part of the poker game taking place on DK while the slot reels simply freely spin over on FD.  The big time players have software analyzing ownership percentages, roster combination scenarios, and all sorts of things you don’t even think about AFTER the contests have started.  You may be thinking about making a swap or two here and there but these guys have hundreds of entries in play and they are good at the decision making process (or at least their computers are).  Clear advantage to the sharks here.  So the next time your superstar gets scratched just remember everyone is playing by the same set of rules on FD and what is happening invisibly to you on DK is likely a whole lot worse.

Now I may sound like I’m pushing people away from DK and I guess in a way I kind of am…if you are a novice.  Personally I love to play DK as I believe there is a whole lot more strategy involved and if you are a person who prepares a lot you will be rewarded.  If you are just learning though I strongly recommend you start out with FD as a way to get acquainted with DFS.  It’s a lot easier for a novice to win something on a slot machine than in a poker game.  Don’t take that to mean there is zero skill involved playing FD as that is far from the case.  There is a tremendous amount of skill involved in all DFS construction.  It’s just that fewer decisions to be made on FD will naturally level the playing field enough to give the newer players a chance.

So how do we attack the sites for baseball?  Admittedly this is my first season playing a significant amount of baseball so I’m a bit new to the strategies but I’m already seeing some very definite patterns.  I’ll outline some strategies I have noticed working as it pertains to game theory and some observations I’ve made this season that hopefully you can put to use.  I’ve actually been playing 3 or 4 contests on each site every day for the most part basically so I can learn and see how the DFS herd is acting.

The number one thing I’ve noticed on FD is The Herd is in love with the chalk pitchers.  I’m talking about GPP play here as I consider cash games a completely different topic.  I would expect The Herd to be heavy on the chalk in cash games but honestly I’m quite surprised at where GPP ownership levels have been falling for GPP pitchers.  I think pitcher is the strongest position to differentiate yourself in FD GPP play and I don’t think it’s even close.  I’m seeing pitchers with tremendous upside at cheap prices going criminally underowned night in and night out.  The Herd seems to be totally buying in to whatever 3 or 4 chalk pitchers happen to be being touted on a particular night and almost all of the ownership is going to them.  This leaves any number of pitchers who are in apparently bad spots on the board and available at 1-5% ownership sometimes and often at a huge discount!

I’ve used similar examples before but do I really want to join The Herd in trying to climb Mount Arrietta at 35% ownership and a price that cripples the rest of my lineup or would I rather have Bartolo Colon or R.A. Dickey at half the price and a tenth of the ownership?  Give me those unsexy guys every time.  Even in unfavorable matchups the ceilings, especially from a points per dollar perspective, are high enough I’ll gladly take these guys night in and night out at these depressed ownership levels.  These guys are just a couple of examples but nightly there are always 3 or 4 guys with the potential to carry your lineup.  Guys who are Vegas underdogs that can be difference makers in a large field GPP.  The Herd is so concerned with making sure their pitcher gets the win on FD for the 12 points they almost invariably stay away from underdog pitchers.  What a mistake!  It’s not like a lot of these pitchers are 95% underdogs either.  On most nights you can find decent pitchers with solid strikeout potential who are slight underdogs being totally ignored by The Herd.  Find those guys and play them!

Over on DK it’s a different story as you actually have to pick 2 pitchers and the pitcher win doesn’t count for a whole lot so The Herd is a little less chalk heavy on this site.  Still though I’m seeing similar patterns to FD with the bulk of the ownership going to 4 or 5 chalk pitchers.  Also DK seems to spread it’s pitcher pricing out a bit more than FD where they often have starting pitchers available for as low as $4000 salary.  Normally the pitchers that low are crap but you can generally find some upside guys available in the $5000-7000 range who are being ignored by The Herd.  These are large field GPPs we are playing and we need to take some risk to win.  Sure Jose Fernandez may strike out 20 batters and make it impossible to win without him but more often than not you can find a pair of midrange single digit own guys who can put up 25-30 DK points and allow you to roster some decent bats.  I suggest thinking very carefully about ownership percentages when making pitcher decisions and not getting too caught up in expected performance.  I’ll take 30 points from Danny Duffy at $6900 and a 3% ownership percentage as opposed to having to navigate around having Kershaw score 45 at $14000 on 60% ownership any day.

As far as the hitting situation on FD the pricing has been a bit crazy of late but for the most part I’m seeing relatively spread out ownership among position players compared to the pitchers.  There will be 3 or 4 popular stacks every day and pretty much everyone else from every other team, outside of a certain few superstars, is going to be single digit owned.  I don’t think it’s as important to go for the low owned hitters as it is the pitchers with hitter ownership rarely reaching the levels of the stud pitchers.  That said I do think it’s important to be mindful of which positions you punt.  This really goes for both sites but I’d be careful about punting 1B, 3B, and OF particularly as you have to realize all those positions are almost invariably going to produce home runs on any slate and if you get caught without one you are in trouble.  If you must punt try to punt with a guy with power potential.

DK had crazy loose pricing early in the year with hitters and you could basically just build any lineup you wanted on any slate and it was almost like playing without a salary cap.  The pricing has tightened up somewhat from where it was but if you are willing to take a risk on a pitcher you can still get pretty much any hitters you want on DK.  The biggest construction difference from FD, outside of multi position eligibility and 2 pitchers, is DK does not limit you to 4 players from a team.  This is a huge difference.  On FD the most you can use is 4 hitters from the same team and if you do that you are not allowed to use the pitcher from the team you are stacking.  On DK you can use as many as 5 hitters from the same team and, if you like, you can use the pitcher as well.  I honestly don’t do this a whole lot but I do sometimes and 5 hitter stacks can sometimes help differentiate from other stacks particularly if you are playing a chalk stack.  I like to wrap stack in certain instances which is a tactic that is relatively common but certainly not as common as stacking 1234 or 2345 in the order and so forth.  The wrap stack involves using the 8 and/or 9 hitters and stacking them with the top of the lineup.  This can come in particularly handy with the 5 batter stack on DK where often these 8 and 9 hole hitters not only help you for stacking purposes but they also are normally punt priced.  You can certainly wrap stack on FD as well but I’ve found it much easier to do on DK.

Another huge factor in ownership levels seems to be game starting times.  This is something we can take huge advantage of particularly on FD.  Generally most lineups are announced by the time a slate starts but not always.  Whether they are announced or not though the ownership levels for the later starting games are often ridiculously depressed.  If Ian Desmond for example is playing at 1pm on a 1pm slate he might go 10% owned let’s say and if he happens to be playing at 4pm he might end up coming in less than 5% owned.  This is a huge difference and something I attack quite often as this isn’t a function of expected performance but rather just an anomaly of how the DFS Herd moves.  Be careful though as this doesn’t particularly apply to really juicy games like Coors field or to certain superstars who may be in great spots and while it may somewhat apply to pitchers it’s much less noticeable.  The bottom line is anytime we can get solid players in underowned situations we need to take advantage.

You would think this concept probably wouldn’t apply on DK with late swap available but it certainly does.  The Herd seems to like to make its lineups early and if the lineups aren’t out they tend to ignore those players going later.  All in all as sharp as The Herd has become it’s still for the most part lazy as a whole.  Waiting for lineups to come out might just be too much work or maybe most of The Herd likes to see its scores shoot up early on.  I’m not really sure of what all the factors are that go into this but I do know the amazing result is low ownership on players playing later in the slate.  Always keep this in mind when building your lineups and I promise you will see good things happening with your players at low ownership percentages.

I’ve only touched on a few of the basic differences in FD and DK but hopefully I’ve improved your perspective somewhat and I plan to go into this in more detail in the future as I continue to learn.  As I always say be sure you are keeping in mind the DFS player and The Herd when you are constructing your lineups on either site.  It’s important to do your research and prepare yourself for any slate when it comes to the specifics of the players but don’t sell yourself short by becoming a part of The Herd.  At the end of the day The Herd is a loser and the winner is the DFS player who thinks his or her way around it.  Whether you like slots or poker, both FD and DK offer numerous opportunities to exploit the masses with some game theory.  As always, good luck!

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