This is the 167th 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.
Recently we’ve introduced the FantasyLabs Player Props Tool, which is perhaps the greatest Labs tool ever. We’re releasing some content in support of the Props Tool, as there is a variety of ways in which DFS players and sports bettors can use the tool to enhance their investments. For instance, you can use our Props Tool to invest against the players you fade in DFS, and you can use the tool to supplement your DFS investments.
In this piece I want to highlight one way the tool can be used: To point you toward potential DFS plays you might have otherwise overlooked.
How CSURAM88 Uses the Props Market
If you’ve listened to The Daily Fantasy Flex podcast, you’ve probably heard Peter Jennings (CSURAM88) talk about using the prop market to identify potential DFS plays. While some people might disagree with this methodology (more on this later), the Props Tool can be used to identify players potentially discounted in the DFS markets.
At FantasyLabs we primarily determine value with our Plus/Minus metric, which measures actual vs. expected fantasy production based on the historical performances of previous players at comparable salaries. Within our Models we provide Projected Plus/Minus values for each fantasy-relevant player. While our standard Plus/Minus metric is a backward-looking means of quantifying the extent to which a player has (or has not) provided value, Projected Plus/Minus is a forward-looking metric that leverages the production projections we create at Labs. We put a lot of work into these projections and are proud of them. When these production projections are coupled with Adam Levitan’s ownership projections they can provide a strong forecast for how a slate will play out. (And remember that past exposure can be analyzed to inform future decisions.)
But as good as our projections are, we aren’t arrogant enough to think they’re perfect. It’s possible that the totals implied by player props are in certain instances more accurate than the projections we’ve created for those players. Vegas lines shouldn’t be used as if they’re projections because many market forces shape the lines, but we can still gain an edge by consulting the player props and seeing what Vegas has offered, since Vegas has skin in the game.
Looking at Week 12 Quarterbacks
It’s Sunday morning of Week 12 of the 2017 season — because I’m sure people will be reading this piece in 2018 and beyond. Several online sportsbooks have posted player props, which can be ordered and analyzed in the Props Tool. Based on the props, we can see how many fantasy points Vegas ‘projects’ for a player, and with that number we can create a Vegas-informed forward-looking Projected Plus/Minus, which we can then compare to the Labs-derived Projected Plus/Minus in our Models. In other words, we can see where the Vegas props are bullish (or bearish) on players in comparison to our production projections — and we can also conduct that comparison with an eye to our ownership projections.
By way of example, let’s look at several Week 12 quarterbacks.
Russell Wilson: As noted in The Quarterback Breakdown, Wilson is the top DraftKings quarterback in our Models. He leads the position with seven Pro Trends, and he’s first among all quarterbacks in his median and floor projections. We regularly update our projections based on news, so these numbers could change, but Wilson currently has a position-high +4.25 Projected Plus/Minus and 17-20 percent projected ownership rate. In the Props Tool, it’s not a surprise that he’s first with a +4.40 Vegas-Implied Plus/Minus. As high as we are on him, Vegas is even higher. While Wilson’s high ownership in guaranteed prize pools might make this information less pertinent for tournaments, it could be useful in helping you decide whether he’s the quarterback you want to roster in cash games.
Marcus Mariota: We have Mariota with a +3.03 Projected Plus/Minus, and his 9-12 percent ownership projection is second among all DraftKings quarterbacks. The player props are less bullish, giving him a +2.69 Vegas-Implied Plus/Minus. Many DFS players will roster Mariota in GPPs on account of his matchup — the Colts have allowed a league-high 28.0 points per game to opposing teams, and they are 27th against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) — but the props are suggesting that perhaps the DFS market is too high on Mariota.
Cam Newton: We have Newton with a +2.77 Projected Plus/Minus, which is almost identical to his Vegas-Implied Plus/Minus of +2.78. Newton is second among DraftKings quarterbacks with five Pro Trends, and yet he’s projected for just 2-4 percent ownership. Newton is something of a polarizing player, and it would be natural for some people to look at his high Projected Plus/Minus and think that we’re off — but the player props give Newton an implied total that is literally within one-hundredth of a point of our projection. Newton could over- or underperform his projection — that’s why we have ceiling and floor projections — but our process for projecting Newton is reasonable. We anticipate that the DFS market will have limited exposure to Newton, which makes him an intriguing (and probably positive expected value) option in GPPs. I probably don’t need to remind you what happened the last time we heavily endorsed Newton. I’m not saying that Newton is a must-play. I’m saying that our projections and now the Vegas props suggest that he warrants more than 2-4 percent ownership in the DFS markets.
Paxton Lynch: He has a mere +0.35 Projected Plus/Minus in our Models at 2-4 percent projected ownership. The player props give him a +2.09 Vegas-Implied Plus/Minus. As I mention in the quarterback breakdown, of the three Denver passers Lynch is the only one drafted with a first-round pick, and the Broncos could have a pass-heavy game script as +4.0 road dogs to the Raiders, who are 32nd in pass defense DVOA. The Raiders have literally zero interceptions all year. Go ahead, CSURAM88. Burn your money. Given that Lynch has a low ownership projection, great matchup, and bullish Vegas-Implied Plus/Minus, he warrants at least additional consideration and probably more exposure than any rational person would feel comfortable with.
There are lots of ways FantasyLabs subscribers can use the implied totals in the Props Tool when comparing them to the projections in our Models. You shouldn’t give the totals the full weight of projections, but it’s best not to ignore them either. Take them for what they are: Market-based numbers created by people who over the long run make money.
The Levitan Rebuttal
Levitan tends to be bearish on using the props market as a significant source of DFS-applied information. I don’t want to misconstrue Levitan’s position, but I believe he thinks people who use the props market to make DFS decisions are at risk of relying on the Vegas data too much, especially since the player-specific Vegas numbers might not be as accurate as the production projections created by skilled fantasy players and/or data analysts. I get Levitan’s perspective, especially since Sean Koerner — friend of the pod and Director of Predictvie Analytics for STATS — is of the opinion that Vegas props tend to be relatively inefficient, but I think a player prop is just like anything else: The extent to which it’s beneficial or dangerous depends on how you use it.
Playing DFS is like investing. A lot of information is pertinent to any given investment, but almost none of it should be heavily weighted. Ideally you’re using the Props Tool as an avenue through which you can round out your sports speculation portfolio and not just to help you identify players who are over- or undervalued in the DFS market. If that’s all you’re using the Props Tool for, 1) you’re probably more likely to overweight the Vegas-implied totals in your DFS decisions, and 2) you’re pulling a Morty Seinfeld by reducing a $200 Wizard organizer to a glorified tip calculator.
The tip is great, but there’s so much more than just the tip.
More to Come
Look for more pieces on our Props Tool and ways that DFS players can use it to enhance their sports investing and to leverage the knowledge they already possess. Check out the Props Tool and the rest of the Labs Tools for yourself. I’m sure you’ll be impressed with how quickly our site adds value to your DFS process.
The Labyrinthian: 2017.72, 167
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.