Cubs

NIU grad Van Zuiden CPA by day, fantasy sports stud by night

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NIU grad Van Zuiden CPA by day, fantasy sports stud by night

By Jonathan Moreland
RotoGrinders.com

During tax season, Justin Van Zuiden, like most CPAs, will log 60+ hour workweeks and spend days on end staring at numbers on his computer screen.

Once his client work dies down – usually around the end of March – Van Zuiden’s office hours will go back to normal. But when he goes home, he’ll still spend a few extra hours each night managing salaries and projections on his computer.

Only in this case, the salaries are assigned to athletes, and the six-figure bankroll belongs to Van Zuiden.

Van Zuiden’s financial expertise isn’t limited to his full-time job. His analytical savvy also extends into the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry, where the Sterling, Illinois native has become one of the most successful (and profitable) players in the world. The DFS industry has grown to a point where, on any given night, you can log on to a major site like FanDuel and see one-day contests offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash prizes. These enormous prize pools have not only attracted an astonishing number of new players – FanDuel eclipsed the one million users milestone earlier this year – but also has spawned a community of diehard, stats-driven experts who have found consistent success playing DFS on a huge scale.

Van Zuiden, or “STLCardinals84” as he’s known in the DFS community, is in an elite tier of these players. He finished 5th in RotoGrinders.com’s 2014 Tournament Player of the Year race – a list in which four of the top 10 finalists won one-day fantasy prizes of $1 million or more. Currently, Van Zuiden sits in 8th in the 2015 rankings.

When asked about his winning formula, STLCardinals84 chalks up much of his success to his natural interests.

“I've been involved with accounting in some form for more than 15 years,” said Van Zuiden, who received his master’s degree in Tax Accounting from Northern Illinois University in 2007. “While it probably doesn't seem sexy to many, it's something I enjoy and have done all my life. I just have a flair for analytics, and it’s helped me succeed playing DFS.”

Van Zuiden pointed out that many other DFS professionals also have backgrounds in business and finance. What sets Van Zuiden apart from his peers, though, is his routine. With a wife, two boys ages 5 and 2, and essentially two full-time jobs, STLCardinals84 performs a daily juggling act.

“Most of my DFS activities happen the night before,” he said. “After my kids go to bed, I’ll spend about two hours doing research, building lineups, exploring pricing and just getting a head start for the next day. I can get about six hours of sleep and feel good, before I go to work and do my 8-5 routine.

“As with everything, once you get a routine down, things are easier to get used to. It's not always easy, though.”

Over the past three years, Van Zuiden has made more money playing DFS than he has as a CPA. With such a busy schedule, many wonder why STLCardinals84 doesn’t quit his job and focus on DFS full-time.

“A lot of my success in DFS has come as a high-volume, large-field tournament player, so my approach lends myself to very hot and cold streaks that can last a long time,” he explained. “The guarantees of a full-time job are unmatched. There's not any risk. But if you combine income from both, I’m able to live comfortably.

“It just comes second nature to being an accountant. I'm always a little skeptical."

As impressive as his winnings is Van Zuiden’s willingness to help new players and educate them on how to build better DFS lineups. Van Zuiden has spoken at “Daily Fantasy Boot Camp” seminars and is both a contributor of daily picks to RotoGrinders.com, as well as one of the site’s on-air personalities on its “Grinders Live” and Sirius XM Radio shows.

“Everything in my life has been intertwined to a degree,” he said. “I was a tutor in college. Now I work with clients at my day job and do everything I can to help them minimize their taxes within the law. The same goes for DFS. My personal successes have been great, but everything is more gratifying if I’m able to help folks along the way.”

And the one piece of advice he’d give to new players trying DFS for the first time?

“Monitor your dollars closely,” he cautioned. “It's easy to see your balance and get click-happy entering contests, especially if you've had some early success. But you should always think of $20 on FanDuel like you would spending a $20 bill on the street and treat it the same. Learning to manage your bankroll is critical to success long-term.”

Spoken like a true accountant.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: