Optimal Closer Strategy on Fantasy Feud


Originally published at DFSEdge.

Before we start, I wanted to mention that my long(ish)-rumored panel at First Pitch Arizona has been officially announced!† Iíll be joined on the panel -- which will focus on daily fantasy baseball -- by fellow DFSEdge writer Todd Zola and SABR President Vince Gennaro, so itís pretty much a panel of rock stars at the yearís premier fantasy baseball conference.† Not to be missed.

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I recently discussed Fantasy Feud as part of my Who To Target series, going over the various quirks of the game and the types of players that warrant special consideration in Fantasy Feud games.† Most notably, Fantasy Feud makes liberal use of closers, using both saves and blown saves as categories and including three generic pitcher spots in their roster structure.† Should a fantasy player so choose, they could draft three closers to their daily league team and eschew starting pitchers entirely, which is a strategy that isnít logistically available anywhere else.

Naturally, this requires the savvy daily fantasy player to engage in some serious thought experiments and creates some interesting strategic implications.† Is it better to go all closers, all starting pitchers, or something in between?† Does the right thing to do change based on the type of contest one is participating in?† What is optimal closer strategy?

The first step in this process involves figuring out how well each type of pitcher is priced.† To do this, I used the formulas I derived for my Over and Underpriced article earlier this year to get a ďprojectedĒ salary for a player based on his actual Points Per Game.† I did this for all starting pitchers and all closers that met certain thresholds* and accounted for the fact that closers donít play every day.

* I used the same mid-season data, so the thresholds were 15 saves for closers and 12 starts for pitchers.† I also included hitters as a reference point, which used 150 plate appearances.

From there, I looked at the correlation between actual and projected salaries and the average profit that each group of players turned.

Player Type

Correlation

Average Profit

Hitter

0.92

-$579

Starting Pitcher

0.93

†+$3,369

Closer

0.48

†+$12,826

As you can see (and as weíve established previously), hitter and starting pitcher prices are very heavily based on their year-to-date Points Per Game with correlations north of .90 (a correlation of 1.00 means that the two match exactly whereas a correlation of 0.00 means they have no relationship).† Closers, however, have a very mediocre 0.48 correlation, and if you look at the next column, youíll see why: closers are generally underpriced by close to $13,000 on Fantasy Feud!† Starting pitchers are also underpriced, which makes them a good play relative to hitters, but closers are nearly four times more underpriced!† Thatís ridiculous.† Before you consider skills or matchups or anything else, closers have a built-in profit of $13,000.† Thatís not an enormous number when you consider that your budget is $1,000,000, but itís not negligible either in a game thatís all about edges.† An extra 1 percent is an extra 1 percent.

Still, 1 percent isnít enough to make you say, ďIím always going with 3 closers no matter what.Ē† Instead, there are two primary things that would drive my decision-making when it comes to closers each day: 1) what the hitting pool looks like, and 2) what type of contest Iím playing in.

Because there is a big difference in salary between starting pitchers and closers (the top starting pitchers cost upwards of $150,000 while the top closers cost around $25,000), how many of each I go with will be largely determined by the hitting bargains I find on a given day.† If a lot of elite hitters have great matchups and I spend a big chunk of my allotted salary on that side of the ball, then Iíll be much more likely to fill two or three of my pitcher spots with cheap closers.† On the other hand, if I have trouble spending my money on hitters, Iíll go for some big-ticket starting pitchers.† Leaving a little money on the table can be okay, but leave too much and youíre just asking for trouble.

The other major consideration is whether Iím in a contest against just one (or a small handful) of opponents or if Iím in a tournament against hundreds or thousands.† One of my first articles here at DFSEdge highlighted the value of using closers in tournaments because of their volatile nature.† They only pitch in 42 percent of games, so the majority of the time you will get absolutely nothing from them.† When they do pitch, though, they offer the greatest return on investment of any player type, turning in profits of up to 500 percent.† Now, given the starkness of that number, it may be tempting to load up on closers, but keep in mind that the more closers you use, the greater your chance of taking a goose egg.† Below, youíll find a table with the percentage of time all of your closers will take the field on the same day given the number on your team:

# of Closers

Chance of Them All Playing

1 Closer

42%

2 Closers

18%

3 Closers

7%

So if you wrap volatility in a big bear hug and select closers for all three of your pitcher spots, youíll find that all three will take the mound just 7 percent of the time.† Youíll clean up on those days, particularly if all the money you save on pitching pans out on the hitting side, but the other days you may be putting yourself in a big hole.† I say "may" because even if only one of your three closers takes the field (the chances of which are quite good) and he turns a completely realistic 300 percent profit, you're still going to break even.† Breaking even isn't the goal, of course, but the point is that the high ceiling of each individual closer gives you some wiggle room.† Closers are undoubtedly a good profit play, but how many you want to use will depend on your penchant for risk your ability to stomach a lot of failure.

In a head-to-head matchup, youíll almost surely want to avoid using more than one closer.† In a tournament you need to go big or go home -- the law of large numbers states that winner is going to get lucky no matter what, so you want to put yourself in the best position to get lucky -- but in a smaller matchup where you have to beat just one person, volatility is not necessarily the best idea.† You donít win extra money for beating your opponent by 50 points; you just have to beat him.† So one closer might be a decent investment in this type of game if the hitting landscape warrants it, but any more and youíre probably employing an unnecessarily high-risk/high-reward strategy.