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Daily fantasy baseball (or, how I learned to hate everything)

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HookSlide explains the pros and cons of playing daily fantasy sports, how to win a lot of money, and which AA groups are closest to your home

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy baseball has been around for as far back as I can remember (last Tuesday, to be exact). The idea originated several hundred years ago when a small group of dedicated fans got together and decided, "We're not as intensely involved enough in these games as it is, and also, we enjoy losing money." Thus the idea was born: you pay an entry fee to join a fantasy league, you draft a fantasy team, and at the end of the year, you see none of that money ever again.

With the recent rise in popularity of daily fantasy game sites, such as FanDuel.com ("we pay out $2.5 million dollars every day, just never to you"), it is now easier than ever to compete for instant riches -- some games are paying as much as $10,000 for a first place prize. Instead of having to wait 162 games to discover the outcome of fantasy baseball contests, the wonders of modern technology have made it possible to know, in less than 24 hours, whether you will be visited by several vans full of IRS auditors.

The way it works is simple, really. You create a free account at a site like FanDuel.com ("it's not technically 'gambling' if it requires research"), deposit a few dollars, choose a contest (Tournament, 50/50, Head-to-Head, or Shattered Dreams), create a lineup, and watch somebody else win all the money.

Yes, there is some strategy involved. You have to deal with a salary limit, so you have to craft your lineup carefully, looking for hidden "value" and "opportunities" to "diversify your investments." For instance, if the Tigers are playing the Royals and you decide you want David Price to be your starting pitcher, it would be the height of stupidity and evidence of obvious brain damage to load your lineup with players from the Royals team. And if you're thinking that I only know this because I've made this mistake once, I promise you, you're absolutely wrong. I've made this mistake twice.

Points are awarded to your team based on individual performance. For instance, FanDuel.com awards each pitcher one point for every inning pitched, one extra point for every strikeout, four points if the pitcher is credited with the win, and minus one point for every earned run. For batters, points are awarded based on bases reached (i.e., one point for a walk/single, two points for a double, etc.), and extra points are added for each RBI or stolen base, or run scored, while a quarter of a point is deducted for each failed at-bat. If a batter goes 0-for-4, he is worth negative one point, and you should definitely boo him loudly at the next home game. If a pitcher goes six innings, racks up six strikeouts, and only gives up one run to secure the win, he will be worth 15 points to your team, and should be forever thought of as the team's "ace," even if he is a minor-league pitcher throwing in a spot start.

The trick is to get your entire lineup firing on all cylinders at the same time. For instance, there was recently a game in which Miguel Cabrera went 3-for-5 with a double, two home runs, four RBI, and two runs scored, for a one-man total of 15.5 points. However, if you also had Shane Greene as your starting pitcher that day, he pitched 4 ⅓ innings and struck out eight (worth 12.33 points), but also gave up seven earned runs (subtract seven points from your total), so the end result is ... let's see ... carry the three ... divide by the remainder ... adjust for wind factor ... where was I? Oh, right. Out of beer.

So as you can see, there are many possible strategies to embrace, should you decide to indulge in a game of fantasy baseball. I personally have experimented with several strategies, including:

  • choosing a starting pitcher based on K/9
  • choosing a starting pitcher based on career performance against [x] team (free tip: it helps if "x" is the  team he's actually facing that game)
  • choosing a starting pitcher based on his demonstrated Will To Win
  • choosing position players based on ISO stats
  • choosing position players based on how many home runs are hit in a specific ballpark (hello, Coors Field)
  • choosing position players based on (OPS*BABIP)/(DRS+(WAR^6-MSFT*1.7829876610922)-YOLO >= REM+OMFG)
  • choosing lineups based on auto-optimizer tools such as RotoWire
  • choosing lineups based on how they look after a few more beers (answer: they look AWESOME!)

In the end, however, all of the strategy and science in the world will ultimately bow the knee to Lady Luck on any given night, and the only constant truth in the universe is that, if you finally decide to spend the big bucks on Chris Sale as your starting pitcher, that will be the game in which Chris Sale gives up a career-high number of earned runs. Not that I would know from personal experience or anything.

Do I recommend playing daily fantasy baseball? Yes and no. Yes, because it forces you to broaden your knowledge of what's happening in the world of MLB outside of your own favorite team, and it can heighten your awareness and appreciation of advanced metrics. But also "no," because if you're playing daily fantasy baseball, that's one more player in the pool that I have to beat, so take a hike, OK?

I need all the help I can get.