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How to be an effective contrarian DFS baseball player

by Bobby Sylvester | @bobbyfantasypro | Featured Writer
Apr 9, 2020

Cody Bellinger hits homers against lefties too

<p>You hear the term “contrarian” tossed around often in DFS advice podcasts and articles. All it simply means is to vary from the public consensus top picks. This can quickly be measured by ownership percentages, as the most widely regarded top plays will often end up north of 30 and sometimes even 50% of lineups in a given night, so a contrarian play would be one found in just 4 or even 1% of lineups. The problem is, that description fits hundreds of players during any large slate, so the real trick is deciphering which contrarian plays are actually worthwhile.

Today, I’ll aim to help you discover the best kinds of these players when you do your research for any fantasy baseball slate. There is one specific type of player I love to target as the piece to my lineup. It further helps, though, when you can find the perfect team stack that no one is using. I’ll tell you about pitchers and how they can be used to help you find a unique lineup build that could set you apart from the pack. First, though, it needs to be said that contrarian players are only worth targeting in GPP, or big tournament contests. In cash games (multipliers or 50-50s), it tends to be wise to stick close to players expected to receive higher ownership.

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Stars in less than ideal matchups

The most widely owned players often much in common. They tend to be lefties going up against righty pitchers or vice versa, they tend to be playing in a favorable ballpark, going up against a gas can pitcher and almost always are in a high Vegas-implied lineup. When you get a player who matches three of those descriptions, I’d be willing wager he is 20% owned or even higher. If they match all four then we are talking about 50% ownership even in a tournament contest with 10,000+ total entries. What we are looking for, though, are players owned in 3% of lineups or below.

Typically a tournament-winning lineup only has two of these contrarian players, but nailing the correct ones are what will set you apart from the rest of the pack and land you that five or even six-figure payday. Surprisingly, there are five to ten true stars who end up in this ownership range any given day. For instance, when a lefty slugger like Cody Bellinger draws a lefty starting pitcher, no matter how bad that pitcher may be, his ownership will plummet. Yes, they are correct that he isn’t as great against lefties with an OPS 100 points lower but his .982 OPS vs lefties is still better than Juan Soto, Pete Alonso and Nolan Arenado overall last year.

Lefties versus lefties and righties versus righties aren’t the only way to find that prized contrarian stud, though, and you don’t have to get a superstar like Bellinger. Nelson Cruz against a righty still has a few two-homer games in him per season, Arenado in San Diego will still put up some monster performances and a Kyle Schwarber could still hit two homers against a Justin Verlander, who’s HR/9 rate was among the worst in the league. There are advantages to be found by rostering stars in less than ideal matchups. Just make sure you don’t get too cute and use more than two of them.

Uncovering the hidden gem team stack

Daily fantasy baseball GPPs (huge contests) are all about selecting the correct two team stacks to go with your pitcher and a contrarian throw-in or two (as described above). You may think the team stack is the easiest part, especially when the Rockies have a game in Coors against an awful starting pitcher, but the fact of the matter is that Colorado’s players will be over-owned. You can bet your bottom dollar the top four players in their lineup will be used in 50 to 70% of even GPP lineups. The problem with that is even in this scenario, the Rockies only have a 30% chance of producing as the top stack.

You increase your odds if you fade the Rockies at Coors in GPP more often than not. Sure, the 2nd most likely team to produce as the top stack may only have a 12% chance or just 40% as likely as the Rockies to pull it off, but if their players are only 15, 10, 8 and 7% owned then you’ve created value for yourself by using them. More often than not, the top values are found with the fifth to tenth most likely teams as they all have about a 5% chance of being the top dogs of the night. If you go with two of them, odds are high that no one has the same combination. Think of a high-scoring but unexciting team like the A’s or Rays in a mediocre matchup. That combination sometimes warrants a dozen runs and if you are one of the only 10 to nail the combo, you are sitting pretty for a major payday.

Crafting an inordinary build

More often than not, most people will either be loading up on one of three aces to go with two cheaper stacks or they’ll compile two fearsome lineups if there is a cheap starting pitcher option on the slate with loads of upside. I like to feel my way into the seam and craft something few others are doing. This isn’t a set-in-stone mold to replicate but rather just something where you recognize everyone’s zig so you can zag. Let me give an example.

The Astros are implied for 6.1 runs, the Red Sox for 5.7 and no one else is above 4.9. It would be beyond foolish to fade either lineup, right? Well, maybe we don’t have to fade either team, but instead of spending 32,000 on the 1-4 players from each lineup, we squeeze in two seemingly lackluster options in Martin Maldonado and Kevin Pillar. After all, those players compile stats at some point so why can’t their 3 for 4 with a 1 HR, 4 RBI and 2 runs game come on a night where the lineup is expected to blow up. I’m fine with rostering the #2, #4, #5 and #8 players from the same lineup rather than mashing them all together.

Likewise, I’m sometimes ok with grabbing eight legitimate star bats and just punting pitching upside altogether. That’s supposed to be a big no-no, as if you don’t get 45 fantasy points from the position, you are unlikely to win, but even if Daniel Norris has no chance at going 6 innings, 1 run, and 10 Ks for the win and quality start, 4 innings of shutout ball with 6 Ks at his price can certainly win you a tournament when you consider that no one else was contrarian enough to roster all of Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger in the same lineup. If Norris does his job at 0.1% ownership and those three all go for 25+ fantasy points then you could be raking in the cash.


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Bobby Sylvester is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bobby, check out his archive and follow him @BobbyFantasyPro.

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