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.

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.