Welcome to the first installment of “Write to Daylight” (title under development), an article series where I listen to RotoViz podcasts and write about some of the things I hear. Or, at least, I’ll write about something related to some of the things I hear. I’ll definitely, at a minimum, write about some thought I had that was occasioned by some recent listening. Failing all that, I’ll link to a recent RotoViz podcast episode just because, you know, synergy.
Think of our various podcasts like the members of an offensive line in a zone blocking scheme. They hit their spots, walling off the defense, and then when I see an opening, I go for it. There’s no predetermined hole to hit. I just head to where I see daylight. Unconstrained by the strictures of topic and format, I’ll explore whatever writing lanes are opened up by my listening. Also, don’t think too hard about this analogy—it will probably break down.
Rather than continue to fumble through this explanation, why not just show you what I mean?—you’ll get a better sense of what this piece will be going forward by actually seeing what it is right now.1
Your Weekly Process
Football is a weird sport, in that it is only played once a week, so we get a whole week to prepare for every game. If you play DFS, there’s a strategic way to take advantage of this. In the first NFL episode of On the Daily, Heith Krueger and RotoDoc discuss the wisdom of making some DFS lineups—especially GPP lineups—early in the week. The point of doing so is to force yourself to make at least some of your lineup decisions independently—that is, without relying on others’ opinions. This will ensure that some contrarianism enters your GPP lineups.
The most obvious response is that many others in the fantasy community have valuable opinions. There are a lot of experts who know more than we do or at least know different things than we do, and it would be foolish to ignore their opinions altogether. This is definitely true. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t read and listen to as much good information as you can. Seeking out experts who know more than you—who can bring to light aspects of the week’s games you may not have considered—is essential for successful DFS play.
But wait, if you’re going to rely on the opinion of experts anyway, why does it matter when you start to set lineups? You’re just going to change your mind once you get new information. And if you don’t change your mind, won’t you be using a sub-optimal lineup?
Not exactly, as it turns out there’s a bit more going on here.
For one thing, the argument that you should wait to set lineups assumes two things: first, that by waiting for an expert opinion, you are getting optimal information; and second, that you are in an optimal position to use that information. But both of these assumptions are false. We know the first assumption is false because experts disagree with each other. And the literature on various cognitive biases gives us enough ammunition to dispense with the second. However, by starting to set lineups early in the week, before it’s even possible to consume outside information, you can use some of these otherwise unhelpful cognitive tendencies to your advantage.
Bias and Contrarianism
If you set lineups early in the week, you expose yourself to a number of cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias, and a related bias sometimes called anchoring or focalism. Briefly, confirmation bias is the tendency we all have to seek out and be more receptive to new information that agrees with something we already believe, especially if we believe it strongly. In terms of rationality, it’s sub-optimal, since it enables us to persist in false belief. Anchoring is the tendency to rely inordinately on the first piece of information we encounter. Anchoring and confirmation bias work together to make it much harder for us to revise our beliefs. In DFS, however, both these biases could help you.
If you get attached to the players you like early in the week, you are likely, whether you know it or not, to seek out information that justifies your decision to play them. You may or may not find it, but your lineup decisions will be less subject to the opinions of others. Furthermore, it will be harder for you to change your mind about those players, even when you are presented with information suggesting there may be better plays on the slate. In other words, you will be more likely to stick with your lineup decisions even if you encounter information that calls them into question.
These don’t sound like good things, but in fact both are beneficial because the best plays—the “optimal” plays that many others are touting—are going to be heavily owned. And despite heavy ownership, they are far from guaranteed to do well. So you probably don’t want them on your GPP lineups anyway.2 By sticking with your early-week picks, are you putting in optimal lineups? Probably not, but you are more likely to put in contrarian lineups that have about as good a chance of scoring big.3
Optimization and Satisfaction
It wasn’t on a RotoViz podcast, but I remember once hearing Al Zeidenfeld explain a simple way to construct GPP lineups: make a list of all your favorite plays at each position, and then cross the top two or three off the list. Those top two or three are probably everyone else’s favorite plays too and are going to be too chalky. The third or fourth best plays could easily outscore your favorite plays and are likely to come with much lower ownership. What’s interesting about Zeidenfeld’s advice is that it’s expressly not an optimal strategy. In fact it’s kind of a way to fade optimality.
The truth is, it’s a mistake to think we need an optimized solution to the lineup problem anyway. Rather, what we need is merely a satisfactory solution. Given our imperfect cognitive abilities and the unpredictability of the game of football, the only kind of lineup we have a real shot at making is one that satisfies certain criteria. To that end, I’ve come up with a new tool to help you set your lineups—an anti-optimizer of sorts. I call it the Lineup Satisficer. Pick your favorite plays early, and then use this alongside all the information you gather throughout the week.
- That said, in the unlikely event that this first piece turns out to be really good, don’t get your hopes up for the rest of the series. Also don’t get your hopes up about future articles publishing so early in the week–they will normally run on Saturdays. (back)
- I don’t actually think you always need to fade chalk in GPP lineups. But you definitely need some contrarian plays, so you must make sure to fade at least some of the chalkier plays. (back)
- It’s important to be aware of these biases, though, because it turns out too much confirmation might not be a good thing. If you find a lot of people touting your plays, you might want to consider a switch to someone less chalky. (back)