Closers, the Ultimate Boom-or-Bust Tournament Play

Originally published at DFSEdge.

Those just starting out in the world of daily fantasy will find that they have two primary options for making money: heads-up games against a single opponent (or a small handful of opponents) or larger tournaments against hundreds of opponents.  Naturally, the chances of winning in a heads-up matchup are greater than in a tournament, but the tournament payout is substantially larger.  Which is the superior option? That's a topic for another day (and in many ways a matter of opinion), but I do want to talk today about one of my favorite strategies for playing in tournaments.

To preface, I’ll direct you to one of my quotes in Doug Anderson’s article welcoming me to DFSEdge the other day:
Should people use different players in head-to-head games or 50/50 games compared to GPP contests?  Can you further explain why and what makes these games so different?

Definitely. The fewer opponents you’re playing against, the safer your picks can/should be.  If you’re playing in a huge tournament against hundreds of other people, the law of large numbers tells you that someone is bound to get lucky and have Donald Lutz on the night he hits a home run. In order to win at this format, you can’t load your team with boring-but-solid David DeJesus types.  Finishing in the 75th percentile does you no good. You need to finish in the 99th percentile, and to do that, you’re going to need to get a little lucky, so you need to structure your roster in such a way that you increase your chances of getting lucky (as contradictory as that sounds). You’re better off going with boom-or-bust, Adam Dunn kinds of players. Maybe he’ll go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, or maybe he’ll go 3-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs.  You’ll lose in the first case, but that’s the same as you would with a team of DeJesus types. In the second case, when it happens, you’ll win.

Essentially, it’s best to adopt a boom-or-bust strategy when it comes to tournaments.  Either you whiff completely and make the same amount of money ($0) you’d make if you’d played it safe, or you’ll win… and win big.  One of the absolute best categories of player for this type of strategy is the closer.  As I discussed last week, closers can be great value propositions, and this is exponentially true in tournaments.  Of course, Draft Street and Fantasy Feud are the only two of the eight major daily sites to make use of closers in their roster construction setup, but perhaps that makes them good candidates for tournament participation.

You’ll find no bigger “bust” candidate than a player who isn’t even guaranteed to take the field on any given day.  And, of course, the bigger the bust potential, the bigger the boom potential.  In 2012, closers* only pitched in 42 percent of their teams’ games and collected saves in just 24 percent of their teams’ games.  On average, they scored 1.24 Draft Street points and 1.18 Fantasy Feud points on days that they were selectable.  That’s hardly anything to salivate over, but keep in mind that this includes many days' worth of goose eggs.

On days that closers actually pitched, they averaged 2.99 Draft Street points and 2.85 Fantasy Feud points, with the best averaging close to 4 points per appearance.  And if you happened to catch a closer on his best day -- say a 1-2-3 ninth inning with 3 Ks -- he’d contribute 6 points in Draft Street and 5.5 points in Fantasy Feud.  Even on a decent day -- say a 1-2-3 ninth inning with 1 K -- he’d still contribute 4.6 points in Draft Street and 4.5 points in Fantasy Feud.

* For the purposes of this article, I’m deeming all relievers with at least 30 saves to be “closers” to keep things simple.

Now consider that closer prices are based on those low-1.00, points-per-team-game scores and that it’s fairly common for a closer to far exceed that level of production.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find a player at another position that has a potential return on investment of 300-400 percent.  If you can stomach getting absolutely nothing from one of your pitcher spots 58 percent of the time (in the games closers don’t pitch) and probably losing the tournament that day, you’ll be positioning yourself very well the other 42 percent of the time.  You’re never going to win every tournament anyway, so if you’re going to play in them, you might as well play for a smaller number of big paydays.  And remember, since even the best closers cost little relative to hitters and starting pitchers, you’ll be saving a lot of money that will allow you to go big at most of your other positions.