This is the 165th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.
Even though I was valedictorian of my college with triple majors in Biology, Chemistry, and English, and even though Chad Millman has started calling me “The Professor” in The Action Network Newsletter, and even though I think it’s probable I have above-average lovemaking skillz, I’m a pretty egoless guy. For instance, when I meet total strangers at dinner parties and other weird social events I’m forced to attend, I don’t tell them I do fantasy sports for a living. I don’t like to brag.
But I do have an ego when it comes to one thing: My FantasyPros rankings.
And that’s why I just bet Peter Jennings (CSURAM88) some very real six-packs of Coors Light that I’d finish the 2017 NFL season as a top-10 ranker.
The FantasyLabs Projections
We provide different types of daily fantasy projections in our Models. For instance, in our NBA Models Justin Phan and the rest of the team project usage, playing time, and ownership rates for all the fantasy-relevant players in each main slate. In our NFL Models we project:
While Adam Levitan and Ian Hartitz manage the NFL Models on a daily basis, we have team-sourced projections in that a number of people (including Jonathan Bales and CSURAM88) give input. I also give input because I’m #notbad. For instance, I’m one of the few rankers at FantasyPros who had the gumption to rank Marcedes Lewis as a top-15 tight end in Week 11. Thanks to his first quarter touchdown, he finished in the top 10, which seems random, but his Week 11 success was predictable. At $2,700 DraftKings and $4,900 FanDuel, Lewis provided some good Plus/Minus value.
I’ll admit that I’m not great at projecting NFL production — I don’t spend enough time at it to be a great proficient (which I think is what Lady Catherine de Bourgh said about playing the piano) — but I probably have an edge in my willingness to consider what most people would think of as unthinkable. Take tight ends Trey Burton in Week 9, Garrett Celek in Week 10, and Tyler Kroft in Week 11. They were among my guys, but relatively few rankers were bullish on them. All of them finished as top-10 fantasy producers. Of course I was also bullish on Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz in Week 11: That didn’t work out.
Positive Expected Value
It’s possible I have the wrong approach when it comes to projections and rankings. My sense is that most rankers order players based on what they think is most probable. That’s not how I roll. In everything I’m shooting for positive expected value (+EV). I try to focus less on the probability of an event and more on the combination of probability and payoff. I prefer this approach to the streamlined “What’s most likely to happen?” methodology, but it’s a double-edged sword. Last year I was rewarded by being more bullish than most rankers on Tyreek Hill. This year I’ve been punished by being less bearish than most on Amari Cooper.
In the end I think I’d rather focus on expectation and value than just expectation alone. We live in a world of miniature Black Swans. They’re less common than the white variety, but they’re also worth much more.
When it comes to my rankings on FantasyPros, I also shoot for +EV in how I position myself to the field of rankers: I tend to give my rankings a contrarian shade. I seek to distinguish myself from other rankers in strategic ways, just as sharp DFS players use late swap or go overweight on particular players in guaranteed prize pools. If I think lots of rankers are too bearish or bullish on a player, I might shift his ranking a little more in the opposite direction to gain leverage on the field.
In DFS, the goal is never to score as many points as possible. The goal is to beat your opponents. In the FantasyPros accuracy contest — and any ranker who doesn’t treat it as a contest has already lost — the goal isn’t to be as accurate as possible. The goal is to beat the other rankers.
Or at least as many of them as possible besides Sean Koerner, a friend of the Daily Fantasy Flex pod and the Director of Predictive Analytics for STATS. In 2013 — I believe Sean’s first year in the competition — he finished 10th. The following year he was second, and since 2015 he’s been the No. 1 ranker. He’s currently in first place for the 2017 season. Really, everyone in this competition is just fighting to finish second.
Or in my case top-10.
I’m a Top-10 FantasyPros Ranker, Punk!
I started providing rankings at FantasyPros in 2014 because that’s what a lot of big people in the fantasy industry were doing. Because I started ranking in the middle of the season, I didn’t have an official finishing position at the end of the year, but I was happy with the work I did and my attempts to create a projecting/ranking process.
I finished 2015 as the No. 12 ranker and was hired by FantasyLabs at the beginning of 2016. To this day, I’m convinced I got the job in part because I could point to my FantasyPros performance as evidence of my ability to contribute to the projections process at Labs. In 2016 I regressed a smidgen, finishing No. 15 — although, to be fair, I probably would’ve finished higher if not for technical issues I suffered one week that caused my rankings not to go through the FantasyPros system.
Anyway, I entered 2017 with the personal goal of finishing the year as a top-10 ranker even though 1) I pay way more attention to the Labs projections than the FantasyPros rankings, which means that 2) I don’t spend enough time on the rankings to give myself a better than 50 percent chance to place in the top 10.
And so a few weeks ago CSURAM88 offered to give me some extra motivation — via a glorified Coors Light prop — knowing that if I had skin in the game I’d be more likely to hit my goal. It’s always nice to have a work buddy with deep pockets and a degenerate’s heart.
The Freedman FantasyPros Prop Bet
Given that Koerner is a prop master, I asked him shortly before Week 8 to set a line. After looking at historical week-to-week performance and creating power ratings for the FantasyPros rankers, he came up with this:
Will Matthew Freedman finish in the top 10 in 2017? – as of Oct. 26
- Yes +160
- No -180
With juice taken into account, I was a pretty substantial underdog. I decided to get a sense of the larger market with a tweet.
In @FantasyPros NFL rankings, I’m No. 11. Was 15 in 2016; 13 in 2015.
I’m thinking about creating a prop.
Do I finish top-10 this year?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) October 29, 2017
Knowing that I had the opportunity to fade the public as a dog, I decided to take the bet. I didn’t book it then, though, because 1) I’m a moron and 2) I wanted to take a couple of weeks to see how some changes to my process impacted performance. I thought it possible that I might get a better number.
After Week 8, I was No. 12. In Week 9, I had the No. 5 overall performance, which bumped me up to No. 11 on the season. In Week 10, I had the No. 12 performance, which pushed me to No. 10.
Before Week 11, CSURAM88 and I asked Koerner to update the line. Here’s what he gave us:
Will Matthew Freedman finish in the top-10 in 2017? – as of Nov. 16
- Yes -121
- No +121
Without juice, I’m now favored. I guess that’s what I get for actually trying. On the one hand, it’s cool that Koerner now thinks I have a real chance to finish in the top 10. On the other hand, it was a total donkey move for me to wait to book the prop with Pete. I’m sort of like George Costanza: People think I’m smart, but I’m not smart.
On the Week 10 Daily Fantasy Flex, Koerner said that I’m No. 5 in his algorithm-driven data-based FantasyPros power rantings (59:28 on the video). It would be stupid for me to argue with the guy who basically owns this competition each year, but if I had to create a list of rankers who are almost certainly better than me I doubt there would be only four people. For instance, here are the rankers who have finished ahead of me in each of the past two years.
- GOAT Koerner (STATS): No. 1 (2015), No. 1 (2016)
- Jeff Ratcliffe (Pro Football Focus): No. 4 (2015), No. 2 (2016)
- John Paulsen (4for4.com): No. 3 (2015), No. 6 (2016)
- Jake Ciely (RotoExperts): No. 2 (2015), No. 10 (2016)
- Justin Boone (theScore): No. 6 (2015), No. 7 (2016)
- Brent Talley (FantasyAlarm): No.10 (2015), No. 4 (2016)
And there are a few other sharp rankers who are new to the competition this year. If Pete ends up taking some Coors Lights off of me at the end of the season, it will probably be because some of these people finish the year on a hot a streak.
Of course, I’ve always fancied myself something of a Hansel: So hot right now.
Again, I’m a pretty egoless guy.
Get in on the Action (Network)
If you want to take action against me in the Freedman FantasyPros Prop Bet, subscribe to The Action Network Newsletter. I mean, I’m not going to take any more bets — but you should still subscribe.
If you’re smart enough to want to bet on me, you probably already get the newsletter.
The Labyrinthian: 2017.70, 165
Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian. Previous installments of the series can be accessed via the series archive.