The number of players in daily fantasy sports who are strictly playing cash games is a small number, but even some of the best tournament players in the game have a good chunk of their bankroll in H2H/50-50 contests each week. Cash games are tournaments in which roughly half the field is paid out (triple ups also fall into this category, where the top 3rd of the field is paid 3X the buy-in). In contrast, tournaments or “GPPs” (guaranteed prize pools) are those that pay out somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20% of the field. After Notorious’ Week 15 breakdown in how to build successful FanDuel tournament lineups, this column seemed like a natural pivot in Week 16. Let’s take a look at some strategies that can help you churn out a profit in cash games.
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Balancing High Floor and High Ceiling
As a general rule of thumb, the idea in cash games is to target players with high floors. Especially when you only need to beat half the field, taking chances on players with a wide range of fantasy scores usually isn’t wise. The theory is that if you can get a respectable return from most or all of the players in your lineup, outperforming half of the field shouldn’t be a problem over the long haul. A player with a high floor is one that has a relatively predictable (or consistent) output; that player might not have a GPP-winning ceiling, but he’s also not a candidate to throw up a goose egg and derail your lineup.
Fred Jackson is a nice example of what to look for in cash games. Here’s a quick breakdown of his fantasy totals dating back to Week 3 (a total of 10 games):
Games with 16+ FPs: 2 (16.2, 21.2)
Games with 10-16 FPs: 6 (11.2, 11.3, 11.5, 12, 12.2, 12.3)
Since Jackson is typically priced in the mid-to-high $6K range, he’s provided owners with an acceptable return 80% of the time over his last ten games. While 10 FPs isn’t your target score from someone in Jackson’s price range, it’s also not a fantasy total that will put a noticeable dent in your ability to finish in the top half of the field.
With more and more daily fantasy sports advice available as the industry grows, players who are just finding this industry have more information at their disposal than players who found the industry a year or two ago. The competition in cash games is by no means easy, and finishing in the top 50% of the field night in and night out is harder than it sounds, especially when you still have the rake to beat as well. In addition, FanDuel’s pricing system has tightened up during this NFL season, something that can hinder your ability to build a lineup of safe, high-floor players. This, however, is exploitable if you’ve grown accustomed to the general tendencies of cash game players. The fact is that it’s not a problem to target a high risk/reward player or two in a cash game lineup, especially if those players happen to be available at below market value and can help you pay up for safer plays at other positions.
Injuries are a key factor when targeting high-risk/high-reward options. The most obvious example is when a starting RB, let’s say Arian Foster, is forced to sit and his backup (Alfred Blue) is thrown into action. While Blue isn’t as talented as Foster and his workload could vary depending on the game plan or game flow, these are situations worth taking advantage of. Rolling out Alfred Blue will not only save you valuable cap space, but it also provides you exposure to one of the cheapest starting RBs in play that week. Volume generally equals production in fantasy sports, and rostering players at the low end of the salary chart who are expected to get a bump in usage is an ideal way to take risks in cash games. The same line of thought applies to QBs, WRs and TEs as well; if a backup or secondary option is expected to be a much bigger part of the game plan that week, it’s a situation to take advantage of from a value standpoint.
While the common thought in DFS is that a cash game lineup is supposed to be filled entirely with high-floor options, I don’t abide by that. I’m certainly going to want the majority of my lineup to consist of safe, high-floor options, but a balance between high-floor and high-ceiling is what I’ve found to be the most successful.
The Value Approach
On FanDuel, most daily fantasy players are looking for somewhere around 2X value for cash games. This means that if a player is priced at $5,000, expecting 10 FPs is a nice target in H2H/50-50 contests. I may be in the minority here, but this isn’t something I put a ton of weight into. The “target score” for cash games (the score it takes to cash) varies by week, by slate and by contest. While the 2X multiplier will put you at a healthy 120 FD points (a score that will generally get the job done in cash games), building a lineup with only this in mind can limit your upside and your ability to overcome a poor showing from a player or two. Shooting for a higher score (2.5X-3X) is a nice way to start your lineup building process; it won’t be feasible every week, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting for a higher target score that may leave you with a little extra breathing room.
Which positions should you spend up for?
This is a general line of thought that can change week-to-week for various reasons (injuries, mispricing, depth at a position), but I’m most likely to spend up at QB among all of the positions. The high-end QBs (Rodgers, Manning, Luck, Brees) have an elite combination of high-floor and high-ceiling, and value isn’t always easy to come by at QB compared to RB, WR or TE. Especially late in the season, injuries often open up value at RB/WR each week, and playing matchups at these positions can also provide you with nice $/point upside. On the flip side, when a minimum priced quarterback becomes available (think Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 13 and Derek Anderson in Week 15), it can be smart to bank on the 10-15 FPs that player will give you to open up salary at other positions. In these situations, I’ll construct lineups using the $5K QB and a high-end option to see what group of players I’m more comfortable with.
As for the other skill-position players, the biggest thing I look for in RBs for cash games is touches and red-zone usage. I want as many possible carries/receptions as I can gather from RBs, since that not only gives that player a higher yardage ceiling, but it also increases his chance of finding the painted grass. Touchdowns are gold in daily fantasy football, so I’ll want to roster RBs who act as their own goal-line back. There is nothing worse than watching a tailback lead his team down the field only to have his touchdown vultured by a secondary back (LeSean McCoy’s Week 15 owners can attest to that).
At WR and TE, the thought process is fairly similar. Here, you’ll want players with high target totals who also are regular producers in the red-zone. Matchups obviously play a huge role and using sites like RotoGrinders and Pro Football Focus to look into each player’s individual matchup in the secondary will give you a nice leg up on the competition.
Defense/Special Teams and Kicker are generally a place where I’ll go with the cheapest option that I’m comfortable with. That will usually leave me with a D/ST unit priced around $5K, while I’ll generally pay roughly $4,700-$4,800 for a kicker. If there is a minimum priced option at kicker in a plus matchup, that’s usually the route I’ll go in cash games. If you have the leftover cap space to upgrade these positions when your lineup is constructed, upgrade where possible.
While handcuffing is a great GPP strategy, it can occasionally burn you in cash games. For those unfamiliar with the term, handcuffing is when you pair your QB with one of his pass-catchers. The theory is that if your QB has a big day, he’s thrown multiple touchdowns and it’s likely that one (or more) of them landed in the hands of the player you handcuffed to him. The downside in cash games is that if the QB struggles, it’s likely that the WR or TE did as well. This leaves you with two holes in your lineup, and it’s hard enough to recover from a bad outing at QB. Avoiding handcuffs at all costs in cash games isn’t necessary, but know that you are adding some risk to your lineup by deploying this strategy (especially if you dedicate a large portion of your salary to that QB/WR or TE combination).
Hedging Your Lineups
“Hedging” lineups is the term for when players diversify lineups, or in other words when a player uses more than one cash game lineup on a particular site. There is really no right or wrong way to approach this, as it’s more of an individual preference and you’ll find what works best for you over time. Personally, I very rarely will hedge my cash game lineups and will almost always roll out one “optimal” cash game lineup on each site. While I’m restricted in my player exposure, I’m more comfortable with this strategy even though it means I’ll either win or lose all of my non-H2H cash games for that week.
I’ll occasionally hedge my lineups if I am torn between two players in my final roster spot, but the only difference between the two teams will be that final spot. Hedging your cash game lineups does reduce your total risk, but it also lowers your total possible return on investment.