GPP Primer (Daily Baseball)
Not all daily baseball games are created equal, and understanding the differences between contests is of the utmost importance. Sure, a good cash games roster can cash in a guaranteed prize pool (GPP) contest, but the considerations and strategy between building rosters for each style game are very different. Furthermore, you shouldn’t merely be looking to cash in GPPs, your rosters should be built with winning or finishing near the top of a GPP in mind since the pay scale is heavily tilted toward the top finishers.
Ceiling is the name of the game in GPPs. Chasing upside frequently means embracing volatility and rostering high-risk, high-reward players. A boom-or-bust option like Chris Davis is capable of posting a goose egg with a golden sombrero, but he’s also capable of launching multiple homers into the stands. While you’d typically shy away from a possible zero in cash games, the allure of a multi-homer game makes him a great GPP target.
Another high-ceiling move that’s volatile is stacking. Stacking is the lifeblood of a winning GPP strategy. If Josh Donaldson hits a three-run homer, two of his teammates score runs. If you want the maximum scoring outcome for that homer, you’ll need to roster the two teammates who were on base. When you stack an offense, you’re banking on them having a high-scoring night at the dish. The risk you run into with a stack is that the offense runs into a pitcher whose stuff is working that night. Even a bad pitcher like John Danks has a Cy Danks night. It happens. However, when a bad pitcher toes the rubber and plays at his typically bad level, the payoff can be huge. That’s what you’re aiming for. Of course, gamers aren’t dummies, and it’s easy to identify bad pitchers or high-octane offenses in hitter-friendly parks. When the conditions are right, a stack can be super popular or “chalky.”
A perfect example of a chalky stack is the Rockies or an opponent playing against a mediocre or worse pitcher at Coors Field. Gamers will flock to stacking under those conditions, and while it’s entirely possible to win a GPP consuming the chalk, it’s often beneficial to be contrarian and go against the grain with a different high-octane offense. Winning with a chalky stack leaves almost no room for error with your other roster spots. Pivoting to a different stack encompasses the idea of game theory, essentially zigging when the field zags. If your choice of stack plays at a similar level and is cheaper, you’ll have an opportunity to roster better players at other positions, giving you an edge over the chalky stack. Better yet, if your contrarian stack outperforms the chalk, you’ll be competing with fewer teams for the top spots in a GPP since your stack will be lower owned.
Ownership percentages are a big deal in GPPs. Yes, you’re looking to shoot for the moon and score points regardless of the ownership rates of players, but hitting on a diamond in the rough can give you a huge edge over the field. Often times it is fairly easy to identify who the most popular options will be in daily baseball games on a given day. One way to unearth a diamond in the rough is by spinning off of an obviously popular player. For instance, any time Clayton Kershaw takes the hill he’s going to be a highly used pitcher (for good reason). If there are other high-ceiling pitchers who are probable on the same day, fading Kershaw in favor of the alternatives will yield an opportunity to separate from the pack if the lefty has a decent day and your alternative has a big point scoring evening. There are more layers to this, too.
In some instances, a popular player will have a great alternative at a similar price point to spin to. In other instances, one hitter in a lineup projects to be higher owned than another, and you can turn to the lower owned option to be different than the majority of a GPP field. This is a common situation that pops up when players share position eligibility in an American League lineup. A perfect example last year would be David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez both being first base eligible for the high-powered offense of the Red Sox. Big Papi was usually the more popular choice of the two, and using HanRam instead made for a contrarian pick. It’s also possible that moving off of a chalky pick can result in spinning down to a lower salary player in order to spend heavily at a different position. Again, the idea is to score the most points however possible, but if you’re able to do so on a night when lower-owned players exceed expectations, you’ll be competing against a smaller percentage of people for the bigger payouts.
A perfect storm — bad pun forthcoming — for low ownership can be the potential for a storm during a game. Weather has a huge impact on daily baseball. If there’s potential for a rainout or a delay in a game, the ownership of the players in that contest will be lower. The risk is obvious. If the game is washed out and you own players in it, you’ll end up with a zero for them and almost certainly not cash. If instead the game is played and your players play well, you’ll be treated to fantasy points at a low ownership rate.
As you can see, winning big bucks in GPPs requires many considerations. Being contrarian doesn’t always feel comfortable. If a game looks like it has a good chance at producing offensive fireworks — such as at Coors, for instance — fading the hitters in it in favor of a less popular game can create uneasy feelings. The key is doing your homework (or trusting others like myself who have done their homework) and picking your spots wisely.