Completely updated for the 2018 seasons, and now includes details on how I use my lineup optimizer to build lineups and the research process that I follow for player selection.
DFS Lineup Optimizers are so much more than just “lineup optimizers“. I use them for daily research, optimization, bankroll management, and as input to other data analysis projects that I have underway. See my research methods and how to build DFS lineups for NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL below.
I’ve been doing DFS lineup optimizer reviews since 2015 and have seen quite a few tools come and go, but the two that have stuck it out are Daily Fantasy Nerd (DFN) and RotoQL. Both have some pros and cons, but overall there isn’t anything missing from either tool that would make me drop it on the floor. I recommend both DFN and RotoQL without hesitation and think you will find them valuable as well.
DFS Lineup Optimizer Quick Look
I’ve spent almost three years using the following tools, and keep an active subscription to both of them because there are features from both tools that I really like.
You can jump to the tool specific sections using the following links:
1. Daily Fantasy Nerd
Daily Fantasy Nerd has been around for a little over a year and the developers are constantly adding features to the tool and releasing bug fixes. They also generate a lot of information on how to use the tool, as shown in these video’s, much of which applies to lineup building in general. I recommend Daily Fantasy Nerd without hesitation.
How does Daily Fantasy Nerd Help Me Build Better Lineups?
Daily Fantasy Nerd gives you the same DFS tools used by the pros to help you create lineups in less time. The Daily Fantasy Nerd lineup optimizer uses sophisticated algorithms to produce optimal lineups based on player projections (which are updated throughout the day as news of starting lineups, injuries, vegas odds, and weather come in). Daily Fantasy Nerd provides a comprehensive set of stats (color-coded to help you easily identify top players for the day) that would take hours to aggregate on your own.
What Daily Fantasy Sites Are Supported By Daily Fantasy Nerd?
There are different pricing levels for DFN. The DFS sites supported are FanDuel, DraftKings, Yahoo, and FantasyAces. Current pricing can be found here, but as of the time of this writing it is:
- $24.99 for access to 1 DFS site (Veteran plan),
- $44.99 for access to 2 DFS sites (All-Star plan),
- $79.99 for access to 4 DFS sites (MVP plan).
Does Daily Fantasy Nerd Provide Projections?
Yes they do.
The NFL projections are updated as injury updates come in throughout the week. Usually, the latest updates will come in by Sunday at 12pm EST after the NFL announces their inactive/injury report. The projections account for injury impact and backups taking over a starter’s workload.
he NBA projections are updated throughout the day as news comes in regarding: starting lineups, injuries, vegas odds, and more. DFN updates expected minutes and production rates based on changes to starting lineups and injuries. DFN also shows a last update time indicator so you know if we made any changes within the hour.
The MLB projections take many factors into consideration (including but not limited to): handedness splits for hitters and pitchers, batting order, park factors, weather factors, and vegas odds (including player props).
The MLB projections are updated throughout the day as new data comes in for starting lineups, weather, and vegas odds.
DFN has done a lot of research and testing in producing their projections. They have analyzed the accuracy of Daily Fantasy Nerd projections using pearson correlations and found them to be superior to every major MLB DFS projection source they could compare them to.
The NHL projections are updated throughout the day as news comes in regarding: lines, powerplay units, injuries, vegas odds, and more.
I love Daily Fantasy Nerd, it is my DFS lineup optimizer/DFS research tool of choice.
Visit Daily Fantasy Nerd to sign up for a free 7-day trial.Start Free Trial of DFN
The team at RotoQL are really on top of the market and as evidenced by some of the changes they have made, they really care about feedback from the community.
How does RotoQL Help Me Build Better Lineups?
RotoQL gives you the same DFS tools used by the pros to help you create lineups in less time. The RotoQL optimizer uses sophisticated algorithms to produce optimal lineups based on player projections (which are updated throughout the day as news of starting lineups, injuries, vegas odds, and weather come in). Much like Daily Fantasy Nerd, RotoQL also provides a comprehensive set of stats (color-coded to help you easily identify top players for the day) that would take precious hours to build on your own.
Does RotoQL Provide Projections?
Yes they do, for NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA and NFL. Originally, projections were not included in the monthly subscription to RotoQL, but that has changed. I didn’t like having to buy the add-on, so wasn’t a big user of RotoQL.
What Daily Fantasy Sites Are Supported By RotoQL?
RotoQL offers lineups and projections for the following DFS sites: FanDuel, DraftKings, and Yahoo.
Check out a screenshot of RotoQL, it’s awesome.Start Free Trial of RotoQL
How To Build DFS Lineups
First things first: I’m not an expert in sports, daily fantasy strategy, sports betting, etc. I am a software developer that happens to like playing with spreadsheets and data analysis. I started DFS Lineup Optimizer Reviews in late 2015 as a place to capture my DFS experiences and share it with others with the hope that it makes us all better players. I play NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB on both DraftKings and FanDuel, although I’m pretty much spending most of my time on FanDuel.
I’ve been playing DFS for just over four years now, and like many I was initially attracted to DFS by TV ads that kept popping up during games. My first few months during the 2014 NFL season, being completely new to all this, I entered the huge money tournaments (because as indicated on TV, they led to the big bank), and kept losing my ass.
Amazingly, I kept throwing money at the problem because I was convinced that it was just a matter of timing and luck. While timing and luck have a little to do with winning DFS contests, it has very little to do with it.
My Personal DFS “Turning Point”
Needless to say, luck didn’t come down on my side and I didn’t cash in any other those big tourneys. I liked the excitement of DFS though, so I started doing my research to try and get better. This led to some interesting discoveries:
- DFS isn’t a casual game between you and your friends. There are big boys and girls out there with many thousands of dollars on the line every night, using custom models, scripts and other automated means to develop and manage lineups and enter contests.
- Tournaments (both Multi and Single-Entry) require that you do your player/game research and apply some strategy in order to place in the money. There are “pro players” that flood the contests with multiple optimized entries that significantly tip the odds in their favor. To place in one of these contests, you need to be in the top 13-20% of the pool and to win any real cash you need to be in the top 10 (not top 10%, top 10 entrants).
- 50/50’s and Double-Up’s (Cash Games) are less risky plays. Your odds in these types of games are right around 50%.
So with this info in hand, I started looking around for other things that might shift the odds a little more in my favor and found DFS lineup optimization tools. There are many lineup optimizers available for those that are seeking to gain a competitive edge when playing daily fantasy sports. If you are a regular run-of-the-mill player like me, then you need all the help you can get.
I use DFS lineup optimizers (some free and some paid) and try to stick to a pretty strict bankroll management strategy (7-10% wagered). I do about 10-20 minutes of research each day to look for some “consensus” players that I will use as the foundation for my lineups, then let it rip.
Develop a strategy and follow it, focusing on the system and tracking your results. This will enable you to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
With more players entering the game, you need to work a little harder to get in the money.
My “20 Minute DFS Lineup Building” Approach
The method I describe here was born out of frustration. This guide details the approach I use to build lineups every time I enter a contest.
I spend a maximum of 20 minutes researching players that I want to include in my lineups. I use a variety of sources which are all provided in the sections that follow, I enter the names into an Excel spreadsheet or just jot down on a piece of paper (which can actually be easier since I’m always scratching players out and making comments next to names).
This approach works regardless of sport, you just need to use reputable information sources. But just so you know, I play NFL, NHL and MLB. I dabbled in a little NBA in 2016 and 2017, but haven’t got started for 2018 yet. NBA takes a little getting used to (it kicks my ass), and I literally rode out part of the season playing 50/50s just to put lineup optimizer results on my site. I prefer FanDuel for a variety of reasons, but also enter contests on DraftKings.
When I first started playing DFS, I would essentially build lineups at random. I would select my favorite players from my favorite teams, this didn’t prove to be a very successful approach. I would enter contests with huge payouts, not realizing that the chances of me winning were very, VERY slim. I didn’t understand the concept of multi vs. single entry contests, cash vs. guaranteed prize pool (GPP), etc. I was a complete n00b, shark food, chum. I pumped $20 a week into a black hole. How can people be winning at this? Something had to change.
After a month or so of consistent losses, I found people online that sold lineups. This seemed like the golden ticket. So I flipped a few guys $2-5 per lineup and lost. They would email me and say:
“Hey bud, how did that lineup work out for you last night?” To say I was nonplussedis an understatement.
I would respond with “Um, lost my ass. Did you play the lineup? How did you cash?”
Then they would come back with something along the lines of “Just keep playing, great slate tonight!”
Yeah, well screw that.
I started reading blogs and forums on DFS sites, applied some sound reasoning and a little common sense and started building my own lineups. I also became much more selective about the types of contests I enter. I developed a routine that I would follow and started keeping track of my results.
In a nutshell, the steps of my process are as follows:
Step 1: Do Your Research
The first thing to understand that there is no “Magic Formula” to lineup building, it takes some work on your part, mostly just watching, and reading about, sports. For the purposes of this discussion, and to make ourselves sound legit, we’re going to call this “research”, but that’s just between us – we all know that we are following something we like and it’s fun.
Conducting Research: It comes in handy when my boss asks what I’m doing on my ass all day in front of the computer playing with spreadsheets. Research, man, lot’s of research.
BTW – The big boys and girls that play daily fantasy for a living put a LOT of time and money into their research and building automated tools in order to remain profitable (a.k.a. taking your money).
The lineup optimizers that I mention in another section of this guide (DFN and RotoQL) are both great tools to use for this research. But there are other tools and sites that you can use that have the same information for free, just presented in a different way.
You have to do your research to increase your odds, and lineup optimizers are a great place to do that research (player stats, Vegas odds, etc.) plus they are great for filling in your lineups with players you might have overlooked.
Additionally, as DFS players, we benefit from having access to a lot of really talented people that routinely post incredibly valuable information online (DFS specific Twitter accounts and blogs).
Below are the few sources that I use on a regular basis.
General Research Resources
- Daily Fantasy Insider
- RotoGrinders Live
- RotoWIre Daily Features
- RotoWorld Daily Fantasy News
- DraftKings Playbook
- RotoGrinder Podcasts
MLB Research Resources
- Scores, Matchups, Odds & Expert Picks at Covers.com
- Odds at Oddshark.com
- RotoWorld News
- Baseball Press – Lineup and player information
- Fantasy Alarm – Lineup and player information
- ParkFactors – Daily park factors
- Daily Baseball Data – BvP/player data and weather reports
- Baseball-Weather.com – MLB ballpark weather information
- FTA Weather Report
- FTA BvP Data
- FanGraphs – Literally anything you want to know about MLB stats
- Baseball-Reference – Current and historical MLB statistics
- MLB.com Fantasy
- MLB.com Standings
NFL Research Resources
- Scores, Matchups, Odds & Expert Picks at Covers.com
- Odds at Oddshark.com
- RotoWorld News
- RotoGuru’s Sortable Stats
- NFL.com Fantasy
- NFL.com Standings
NHL Research Resources
- Scores, Matchups, Odds & Expert Picks at Covers.com
- Odds at Oddshark.com
- ELI5 – Underlying Metrics; e.g. Corsi and Fenwick
- RotoWorld News
- Daily Faceoff
- Left Wing Lock
- Dobber Sports
- Dobber Sports’ Frozen Pool
- Sporting Chart’s Points Per 60 Leaders
- War on Ice
- NHL.com Fantasy
- NHL.com Standings
Advanced Player Research
I’ve bought a few books off Amazon on lineup building strategies and read articles on RotoWire and other sources written by players that have made money in GPP contests.
Here is an article on RotoWire by Michael Rathburn that describes his strategy for building MLB lineups for Cash games.
- Focus on the highest priced pitchers who are the heaviest favorites with the lowest run total.
- Allocate roughly 30-40% percent of your salary on pitching.
- Do not take two starting pitchers from the same game.
Games to pick from:
- Look for favorites -160 or greater, run total 7.5 or less
- Focus on high run totals
- Do not pick players from games in which there is 35 percent chance of rain.
- Pick a balanced hitting lineup
- Look to spend more at 1B/3B and at least two OF positions
- Look for value picks at C/2B/SS, since these positions typically score fewer points.
- Look for LHB vs. RHP and RHB vs. LHP
- DO NOT take more than two hitters per team, per game.
- Do not take hitters who are facing pitchers you have in your lineup. (If you use Daily Fantasy Nerd you can check an option to prevent this from happening).
- Do not use hitters from games where the wind is blowing 15 miles per hour or greater.
The purpose of the data coming out of Vegas is to create an efficient market. Lot’s of the pros use the Vegas projections, so we might as well use it also.
For MLB, I use Vegas info as follows:
- Look for the highest projected runs and target batters from those teams
- Look for the lowest projected runs and target the opposing pitcher
- If there is a game projected at 10.5 runs, focus your research on hitters in that game.
You need to target the big bats to score a lot of fantasy points and win contests. I don’t spend a lot of time at this point differentiating between cash and GPP lineups, I just target maximizing my opportunity to score a lot of fantasy points. I also depend on historical data and the concept of regression toward the mean which means that a player might look really awesome or really shitty on any given day, but over time will turn in a performance that is representative of his stats. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on picking my bats:
- Use FanGraphs, FantasyLabs or Daily Fantasy Nerd to check out the player data for the projected lineups for the day’s slate.
- Players batting 3rd in the lineup have scored the most fantasy points over time.
- Players batting 2-5 are better than the player batting 1st.
- Stacking is a good option, but it’s worth it to avoid the obvious stack and look for players batting 5-9 which will likely see reduced ownership.
- Avoid ground ball batters in favor of those that can hit fly balls.
- Right handed batters against left handed pitchers.
- Left handed batters against right handed pitchers.
- Avoid a LHB against a LHP unless the matchup and splits are insanely positive. This combination usually sucks.
- Focus on splits.
- wOBA splits, not overall wOBA
- ISO splits, not overall ISO
Evaluate pitchers using SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA), xFIP and K/9. SIERA has shown to be a good predictor of pitcher performance, even better than xFIP. Your stud pitchers are going to be hovering around 3.00 over time and heading up toward 4.00 for your average.
- Target high strikeout pitchers
- Avoid games with a high probability of rain. Delayed starts don’t present too much of a problem, but a mid-game delay will likely result in a pitching swap. I’ve included links to weather by ballpark on my site for your ease of reference, but many of the optimizers include that as well.
Some parks are more “friendly” for batters, some for pitchers. I identify the parks on my weather page for your reference.
I use this winning strategies article by pepsi7 on RotoGrinders as my guide for player selection for NFL. It has everything I need to know to guide my research when using the sources mentioned above. I drop players by position in a spreadsheet, narrow down to my top choices, then make my picks. I personally think NFL is a pain in the ass because you have so few games to adjust, but there are some big paydays to be had because everyone gets sucked in my the ads. Be careful, have fun, don’t risk more than you can lose.
Check out the Daily Fantasy Strategy Vault on RotoGrinders. It is a consolidation of daily fantasy strategy articles, discussions, and management tips posted on RotoGrinders in one convenient location.
Final Notes On Research
- Use a spreadsheet so you can list players that are highlighted across sites. This will make it easier for you to identify those that are mentioned often. If you don’t have Excel you can use Google Sheets or OpenOffice.
- Information on these sites is usually updated by about 4 PM daily.
- If you decide to use a player that is not mentioned anywhere, make sure your decision is based on a sound lineup building strategy, or you are in love with the numbers that you see on a tool such as Daily Fantasy Nerd, FantasyLabs, etc.
- Vegas lines and player projections update frequently, the closer to game time you wait to build your lineup the better. But don’t wait too long as you don’t want to miss the lock.
- Make sure some of your picks are value plays which opens up some room in your salary cap to add some players with higher salaries.
- Use a variety of the above mentioned resources each time you build lineups. Ideally, you will identify about 3-6 players that you like based on your own research, then hit the analyst sites. Look for players that are mentioned across the sites.
Step 2: Build Your Lineup
Once you have wrapped up the research phase of your day, it is time to start building your lineup. You can go the “pen and paper” route, Excel, Google Docs or a chalkboard for that matter. The key is to lay the foundation for your lineup based on the players you identified through research.
Personally, I use a DFS lineup optimizer and highly recommend them as a real time saver. There are a variety of free and paid optimizers available.
Daily Fantasy Nerd – I use Daily Fantasy Nerd most of the time, and always use it to check out players during my research. It is an absolutely fantastic tool, even if you don’t get the paid subscription, the research value is immeasurable. Daily Fantasy Nerd projections are included and they are constantly testing and revising the model to give some of the best value on the DFS market today. I can’t recommend them enough. The user interface is concise, intuitive and you can make rapid changes to variables and rerun the optimizer.
RotoQL – RotoQL has made some major changes since I first did a review in early 2016. RotoQL now includes projections and there are some unique features not offered by other tools which are really valuable. One example is the ability to select slates from previous days, do player research and selections and run the optimizer. This lets you go back in time and see how your selections would have performed, it’s pretty damn impressive. You can try out different techniques to see how your lineup would have performed. Definitely worth a look.
Using The Optimizer
Like or Lock the players identified in your research. Run the optimizer and look at each player, making sure to note the players status (Out, Game Time Decision, Probably, etc.) and exclude any players you don’t like for whatever reason and rerun until you are satisfied.
There are different approaches you can take to building your lineup based on the type of contest you will be entering.
Personally, my goal is to build a lineup that is lower risk with players that have a high probability of scoring a decent amount of Fantasy Points (consistent player, high floor = lower risk). This is because I play cash games and consistency will usually get me over the cash line.
When I’m building lineups for tournaments, I take a slightly different approach and go for players that might score an insane amount of points in a game due to voodoo, luck or other such factors (inconsistent player, high ceiling = higher risk). This is a risky approach that also provides the opportunity for greater return. Keep those chalk players in your lineup, monsters that are likely to do well, but lock a player that (based on your research or other data) you think might go off and have low ownership. The lineups I’ve entered in tournaments where I won decent money always contained a player that exceeded value and had ownership around 1% (or less).
Monitor Your Lineup Up Until Game Time
Always monitor and adjust (if necessary) your lineups for late scratches and breaking news right up until the lineups lock. You place yourself at at a significant disadvantage if you are unable to do this. When playing Daily Fantasy Sports for cash you need to pay attention or get out because you will lose money if you don’t monitor lineups (particularly when entering NBA contests because they typically don’t lock until right before game time). I’ve been burned by late scratches and tanked for the night.
MLB and NHL are also unique cases. In MLB you need to pick a winning pitcher and in NHL you need to pick a winning goalie. Your starters will be listed in the daily lineups, but it is critical to monitor for late breaking news and lineup swaps. Players are people and subject to illness, emotional crap, family, etc that can bench them for the night.
I use RotoGrinders RG Lineups to monitor lineups. I have this installed on my phone and let it push alerts. Throughout the day I get alerts that tell me who is starting, on the bench, game time decisions, etc. They often include some decent strategy analysis that can assist with finding replacements.
Monitoring lineups right up until contest start time is critical.
Step 3: Contest Selection
50/50’s Are Money Makers
Everyone wants a big payday. The probability of hitting it big in DFS is better than winning the PowerBall, but still low. You are better off, over the long term, playing cash games.
I track my wins/losses and use my own past performance to guide contest selection.
Cash games (50/50’s) are the safe bet, Tournaments (GPP’s) have greater risk but greater reward.
I’ve been analyzing my results since January 2016.
I enter 50/50s in MLB to cover the risk of losing entry fees in GPPs. That strategy works OK, but still results in some losses. I think what’s really interesting about this is that I have an 18% win rate with multi-entry GPPs, but a ROI of 28.1%.
No drum roll, no fireworks, no champagne bottles popping all around me as I hold up a giant fake check.
Dreaming about a big payday is great fun, and I’ll continue to dream as I’m grinding it out in the trenches, paying for my Dunkin’ Donuts habit.
I avoid entering Head-to-Head contests, I don’t even think about them.
Step 4: Track Your Performance
As you saw in the previous section, I’m a big believer in tracking my overall DFS performance. From keeping track of lineups, contests entered, win/loss, picks and why I didn’t pick a player, etc.
As my data set gets larger, it can be easy to make a mistake in my Excel spreadsheet. So to check myself, I also do analysis based on my contest transactions from both FanDuel and DraftKings.
Download your historical data from your fantasy site and upload it to a “bankroll tracker” that spits out all sorts of information.