DFS Pitching Primer

Pitching can be the spot of our lineups where we experience the lowest degree of variance in a sport full of volatility. We’re not going to explore how to minimize variance, but how to make the best plays tailored for our lineups to fit the contests we’re playing using projections and leverage.

A lot of things factor into a pitcher scoring fantasy points via strikeouts, innings, and run prevention. A pitcher’s skill is pretty important, but what’s the best way to gauge a pitcher’s skill? The answer is mostly through the predictive analytics of their past performance, which ought to be distinguished from the descriptive analytics.


We get fantasy points for outs, Ks, and Ws (on FD, we also get the points for the QS); it’s that simple. We lose points for ER on both sites, baserunners on DK. Keep it simple. Find a predictive run prevention metric between xERA, FIP, xFIP, or SIERA. Decide between the per-nine rates or per-100 batter-faced stats like K/9 versus K%. I prefer xERA, based on the Statcast numbers, or SIERA, as they isolate that over which the pitcher has the most control. I prefer K/9 because K% can double-count for events already recognized in the run preventers, as we’re really just looking to project Ks with that metric.

That’s a starting point, though, not the destination. There is matchup for which to account, the ballpark, the umpire, Vegas, the manager’s leash (especially on FD, where we get six points for the QS), the likelihood of the W (because, oh yeah, we get points for those, too), the weather. None of which are variable insignificant to the projection. This is a lot to consider and too much to handle in piecemeal, for one; second, our biases don’t know how to accurately weigh these variables against one another. The human brain is a terrible computer.

This is why we need projections. Good projections.

A good projection system like THE BAT:

Derek Carty has developed THE BAT over the past 10+ years and 10,000+ hours, using skills and methods developed from his time in the sabermetric community working with some of the best baseball minds in the world, many of whom are now making decisions for championship-winning MLB clubs. THE BAT incorporates all the necessary basics, like park factors and platoon splits, plus many lesser-considered factors like air density and umpires to give you an edge on the competition. And starting in 2020, it began using Statcast data!

A good projection system does all of this work for us, making it a colossal waste of time to do on our own, especially when we have such a massive margin of error on our ends. Even if we invested the time into creating a comprehensive model, the daily maintenance would require so much time and effort that we would not be able to utilize where the magic is really made: finding value and leverage.


The projection can then be used to look at a pitcher’s salary more rationally, in order to cross some pitchers off of our list and have an option or two in various price ranges. And we will need various price ranges to give us lineup flexibility to create leverage.

Leverage is really just for contests of ten-or-more people, primarily for 100-or-more. In head-to-heads and 50/50s, as well as most 3-man and 5-man contests, the pitcher we choose will be the most optimal for the price tag–the one with the most projected points per dollar. Because we are putting forth the optimal lineup in these contests. That’s simple.

In tournaments–whether they be 100-mans, small field single entries, or large field mass multi-entries–the best value is going to be the most-rostered pitcher(s) at times. In other times, the best value is less-rostered, and that decision is simple. But most of the time, we will be in a gray area where multiple pitchers project well as various levels of projected ownership. A general rule of thumb is: the larger the field, the more leverage we should have in our lineup.

A heavily-rostered pitcher might still be the best play. In that case, we absolutely must differentiate by playing lesser-rostered stack of hitters. And, yes, in this case of playing a heavily-owned pitcher, we absolutely much double-stack our hitters because correlation is the easiest way to accumulate fantasy points with the most leverage.

When it is more difficult to find that stack with which we’re comfortable, there are two approaches we can take to pitching:

We can choose another lesser-rostered pitcher in a similar price range; or we can completely transform our entire build by going cheaper or more expensive at pitcher for a similar value and spend up on our hitters.

In smaller field tournaments, we can go with the former and create enough leverage to compete. But, in larger fields, our best chance to maximize our ROI is to do the latter.

The logic is simple: a highly-owned expensive pitcher in a lineup excludes more expensive hitting options from the field’s builds; likewise, a highly-owned mid-range pitcher excludes the cheaper hitting options from the field’s builds. Zagging in price range at that one lineup spot where the field zigs doesn’t only create leverage at the one position, but throughout our entire lineup.

Ownership is usually so concentrated at the pitcher slot that it transforms the ownership levels of hitting across the entire slate. Baseball is so damn volatile that these tiny sacrifices in median projection to gain leverage reward for more prize money per tournament over the long run. And it’s all one long session.

Thes swings are bigger with this approach to pitcher selection, but–again–this is baseball where swings are big anyway. The rewards in MLB tournament play come largely from embracing variance without attempting the fool’s errand of attempting to defeat it.

Game Selection

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve written the book on game selection. Create as much leverage as you want. Just play the correct games for the leverage with which you are comfortable at the stakes you can afford to play.

If playing the best value at every position is your game, great, stick to cash games, as I did for five years. If rostering the best pitcher is your game, but you’re comfortable with stacking. play the best pitcher and stick to 100-mans or small field single-entry fields, as I did in 2019. If you’re ready to start making big money in single swoops in larger field GPPs, though, you’re gonna have to expand your risk tolerance, tighten up your bankroll, and make uncomfortable plays to create higher-leverage lineups.

Alex Sonty is a professional DFS and poker player, while contributing to RotoGrinders and FanGraphs, as well as serving as a part-time political science professor in Chicago, IL. He’s been playing fantasy sports since 1996 and entered the DFS realm in 2014, currently playing high-stakes MLB and NFL cash games and GPPs. He is a Chicago Tribune and SB Nation alum, while holding a J.D./M.A. and L.L.M. from DePaul University.

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3 years ago

This was great. Looking forward to reading your content this year.