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DFS: Should You Ever Spend Up for Early-Season Surprises? (Fantasy Baseball)

Jun 29, 2020

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It’s a regular occurrence in MLB DFS. Someone who nobody expected much from busts out and hits four homers in the first week of the season or a lesser-known player finds his way into some regular playing time and ends up hitting .420 in his first three weeks of action.

As the surprise player keeps posting big scores, the salary shortly follows, and then you are faced with the question of whether or not this new commodity is worth the hefty price tag. We are here to attempt to answer the question of if those players are worth spending the money on.

Let’s dive into last year’s data to find some helpful information. We will follow this simple process.

Step 1: Identify early-season surprises from last year.
Step 2: See how those players performed for the season as a whole.

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Before we get into it, let’s define what a good performer looks like. I have a database with every salary and DraftKings score for every single game of the 2019 season. I added a column on to calculate DraftKings points scored per plate appearance. Here is the histogram of that distribution:

DraftKings Points Per Plate Appearance, Full Season 2019

The average here was 1.45 DraftKings points per plate appearance. Anything over 1.7 was pretty elite, with the absolute studs coming in above 2. Here is the leaderboard just for fun:

And if you’re going to show the winners, you might as well throw in the losers too:

Now that we have a bit of a better idea about what is good and bad, let’s get into it.

Step 1: Identify Early Season Surprises

There are a few different ways to do this, but what I chose to do is find the average salary for each player during the season’s first five games. This will give us a good idea of the pre-season expectations since the DraftKings pricing algorithm is pretty sophisticated and has a good idea about what players are expected to perform very well and not so well.

After that, I found every player’s average points per plate appearance for April. We then can compare those two numbers and see which players gave the best bang for the buck. Here are the top 20 best value hitters from March and April of last year:

Step 2: See how those players performed for the season as a whole

How many of these top 20 turned out to be worth paying a high price for all season long? Let’s check by adding in their full-season DK points per plate appearance numbers:

Pretty much all of these guys turned out to be solid contributors for the whole year. All of the players that came in as average or below average hitters for the year, besides La Stella, were catchers, who you naturally expect less from. While Hunter Pence didn’t end up getting many plate appearances as a whole last year, he was an elite contributor when he was on the field – so you never would have gone wrong playing him.

You would not have been printing money with guys like Yandy Diaz, Daniel Vogelbach, Dansby Swanson, Christian Walker, or Paul DeJong the rest of the year – but they would have still turned out to be fine contributors.

Contenders or Pretenders?

I could sit here all day long and show you data from last year, but it will always just be past data that only has marginal usefulness for the future.

Predicting a player’s future, even the very near future, is a really hard thing to do. You will never know for sure if a breakout guy is a stud or a bust, but there are some ways to raise your chances of being right.

Look at the Advanced Metrics

I don’t think there are too many fantasy players out there who don’t give xwOBA a peek every so often. While the advanced statistics will never be anything near perfect predictors of the future, they do a better job than the standard statistics at that task – so you are selling yourself short by not indulging. Check out explanations of all the major advanced statistics right here on FantasyPros.

The first metric you should be looking at in my opinion is the plate discipline. How often is the hitter striking out? How often is he walking? What’s his swinging strike rate? These statistics tend to be the most consistent for hitters because they are the categories that are controlled only by the hitter. Way less randomness goes into these categories than things like batting average, so they will always be a bit more telling. If a guy is having a huge couple weeks but has a 30% strikeout rate with a 5% walk rate, you can feel pretty confident that you’re looking at a pretender.

Be Price Sensitive

The worst thing you can do in DFS is spend big money on someone you aren’t confident in. The number one factor in your roster selection should always be price. You might feel really confident that a guy that is having a huge April is a sure-fire season-long stud, but if you have to pay $5,000 to roster him, you aren’t really gaining anything. Always take price very seriously.

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Jon Anderson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jon, check out his archive and follow him @JonPgh.

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