The Pareto Principals Week 8: To Bring Back or Not to Bring Back

by Jakob Sanderson · Strategy

It’s good to be back! For the past couple weeks I’ve been in the middle of second year law recruit; a gruelling series of interviews, zoom calls, dinners, smiles and nods for law students anxiously attempting to escape the suffocation of student loan debt.

Luckily, there are actionable pieces of DFS strategy where you least expect them. There are a number of ways to approach the 2L recruit. Is your goal to find a job at any cost? Do you have a specific firm in mind, or an area of practice? One of the greatest dilemmas many students face is whether to participate in the large firm recruit at all. Smaller firms and public interest organizations often hire later in the cycle. Should a student targeting one of these firms sit out the main recruit in hopes of landing their dream job? Or is that too great a risk?

Daily Fantasy Sports is a gamified encapsulation of probabilistic decisions people make each day in their regular lives. Each decision weighs risk tolerance and financial capacity together with the expected value of your lineup.

I had such a decision this Sunday.

You Play To Win The Game…

Coming out of the early games I had a strong tournament lineup projecting in the top-one percent. However, having played Matt Ryan rather than Tua Tagovailoa in my Falcons-Dolphins stack, I knew several other lineups in the tournament had a lead on me benefitting from a similar structure overall.

I had to make a tough decision in the late slate. In my last two slots do I play Leonard Fournette and Robert Woods, or Darrell Henderson and Mike Evans? Henderson and Evans projected higher, and in most simulations would lead me to the most profitable day. However, I knew my odds to actually win were much higher with Fournette and Woods; the more unique combination that would allow me to pass people with similar but superior lineups from the early slate.

Ultimately I landed on Woods and Fournette and proceeded to watch Evans drop thirty points while Cooper Kupp once again rendered Woods to the role of glorified observer. Did it cost me some money? Yes. But would I have won the tournament playing the Evans lineup? No. Ultimately I stand by the decision.

The most important advice I have for anyone playing DFS on a tight budget is to only enter contests with an entry fee low enough to ensure you don’t make decisions based on money within the flow of the slate. Conservative bankroll management leads to the most aggressive, optimal form of play.

With this stretch of my ‘real’ life, and a very long metaphor behind me, I officially welcome you to another edition of The Pareto Principals!

Please note as always: If this is your first time reading my column, please check out the introductory article that discussed several of the concepts discussed in each edition.

The Pareto Principals: Guiding Principles For Limited Entry DFS

Week 7 Review

Beyond the opening anecdote, I want to discuss two takeaways from the previous slate. For the record, it was a mild loss for me last week.

It was a difficult slate result for my play style to produce a winning lineup. I was overweight on A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin in the early games, but the chances I’d play either with Cooper Kupp given each was playing in the same game as a similarly priced receiver were miniscule.

As a result, my Kupp lineups and my Brown/Mclaurin lineups were indirectly exclusive. I did have a strong Kupp/Evans lineup tied to a Dolphins/Falcons stack however its hopes were dashed by the Miles Sanders injury.

The Importance of Late Swap on Late News

I discussed this at length in Week 3’s edition. But Week 8 gave us another phenomenal application of late swapping on late injury news.

Darren Waller was a surprise injury report addition on Saturday, and no formal announcement was made on his status prior to his late kickoff on Sunday. The result was Foster Moreau under five-percent rostered in large field tournaments despite an elite projection for his $2,500 minimum price.

The question on whether to take advantage of this was not: will Darren Waller play? It was not even entirely: how strong of a play is Foster Moreau?

The largest question was: how strong of a play – in the context of my lineup – is the tight end I’m playing at 1PM ET to justify missing the opportunity to leverage this situation? If you were stacking Kyle Pitts with Matt Ryan, let it ride. If you were playing Evan Engram as a one-off, consider a change.

Regardless of how the injury turned out, you were gifted a chance to either play Waller or Moreau at far lower ownership than their projection would imply. Keeping the flexibility to leverage that situation was a edge worth pressing, and those who did were rewarded.

What Goes Up May Not Be Brought Back

A key talking point from last week was whether or not to add a bring back (player from the team opposite of your primary stack) in high spread games such as Buccaneers-Bears, Cardinals-Texans, and Lions-Rams. I generally opted to play the bring back to mixed results.

Going forward, two heuristics to determine the utility of a bring back should be:

1) Does the bring back have material influence on the success of the primary stack?

2) Does the bring back add or subtract leverage for your lineup?

Playing a bring back with the Buccaneers has little influence. They remain pass heavy in all scripts, even when blowing out their opposition. Tom Brady was content to continue hanging touchdowns on Chicago regardless of any contribution from Darnell Mooney.

The Cardinals are more game script dependent in their pass rate. If your stack requires Kyler Murray to keep passing late into the game, it is worthwhile to play a member of their opposition whose production helps keep the pressure on Arizona.

On the second point, if your bring back is massively popular – especially if their popularity is a factor of their ‘bring back’ equity – the benefit from your correlation is reduced. If a player has no discernible projection advantage over similarly priced options, but double the ownership; they are a poor play. By playing them, you’re giving up leverage on the field, and reducing your differentiation from those playing the same stack you are.

Week 8 Preview

Structural Overview

The first thing you should notice looking at Week 8’s main slate is the dearth of tight ends. Due to byes and Monday Night Football, Kyle Pitts is our top-priced tight end on the slate.

As I often ask in this column, what does that mean for the popular construction?

Without the option to spend up at Tight End, an average of 20-percent of lineups now have an extra $1,500 or more on salary to allocate.

There are not a wide range of elite options on which to allocate it at quarterback. Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson are all off this slate which has two major effects on the dominant build. First, it increases the number of entries spending down at quarterback (and up elsewhere), while consolidating the high-dollar quarterback ownership on fewer options. Second, the elite quarterbacks remaining on the slate are more likely to be double-stacked than usual.

Due to their rushing production, Murray and Jackson are the two elite quarterbacks most commonly single-stacked. That is not the case with Josh Allen, Tom Brady, or Matthew Stafford. A high proportion of double stacks leaves a scarcity of slots available for remaining wide receivers. The best edges in DFS are players who become inefficiently low-owned for reasons other than projection. The best pathway to that this week may be searching for receivers with strong projections tied to quarterbacks who will not be used in games-stacks.

One-Off Arbitrage

Here are two examples of receivers I expect to be under-owned for their projection due to the roster construction factors mentioned above.

D.J. Moore has arrived as an elite, alpha receiver in 2021. He ranks No. 6 in Target Share, and No. 11 in Air Yards Share. While he’s suffered from inconsistent quarterback play, the chance to play Moore in an elite matchup projected under ten-percent ownership is an opportunity you cannot pass up.

D.J. Moore Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Diontae Johnson is eternally under-owned in DFS despite a 29-percent Target Share. He was even more dominant than usual in the Steelers’ first game after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster for the season. While the matchup is not as juicy as Moore’s, Johnson has a role worth well above his $6,700 salary and few project to be paying for it.

Diontae Johnson Stats & Metrics Profile

I have fallen into the trap too often this season of pre-maturely limiting my player pool based on game-stacking environments, often passing up under-owned plays such as Johnson and Moore. I rectified this last week with Terry McLaurin and hope to follow a similar process to success this slate.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Chargers-Patriots and Colts-Titans are two of the highest total games on the slate, each with a spread four points or less. However, a vast majority of ownership is consolidated on just one side of the game.

The Colts are my favourite team to play this week (and not just because I’m a fan). Indianapolis is favoured at home with the fifth highest implied total on the slate, despite an offense looking more consolidated and functional by the week. Michael Pittman is absorbing nearly all Colts ownership in early projections, and he is certainly a value at $5300. However, if the common approach to this game is Pittman paired with Derrick Henry or a full Titans stack, there are plenty of opportunities to differentiate.

I am excited to play Jonathan Taylor this week who’s seen his role in the passing game grow steadily each week, or consider a Carson Wentz stack with Pittman, in addition to the returning T.Y Hilton.

While I am not quite as enthusiastic regarding the Patriots, I think the process is similar. Mac Jones has flashed increased upside in recent weeks and can be paired with Jakobi Meyers and either of the Patriots tight ends. Both these stacks are unique opportunities to gain access to attractive game environment while gaining leverage on the field and allowing for more popular plays in the rest of your lineup.

To Bring Back or Not Bring Back?

This week offers another opportunity to test our heuristics on bring backs. Cincinnati, Buffalo, and the Rams are all among the best projected teams on the slate in games with spreads above ten points.

Should you play both sides of these games or merely stick to the favourite?

With the caveat that each play should be viewed in a vacuum, I think the answers spread widely here. On the Buffalo side we know they are inclined to pass the ball in all scripts. This is the game I’d feel best about leaving as a one-sided onslaught from a process perspective, though Miami’s offence is the most competitive of the underdogs by a wide margin.

In the Rams game, I’d look to their Week 6 contest vs. the Giants as a template. The Rams remained aggressive throughout despite dismantling their opponent and we can expect similar this week. It is difficult to play a Texans bring back given it usually amounts to whether or not to play Brandin Cooks. Cooks has struggled this season as the lone-option on Houston when faced with tough matchups and he’ll get an extremely stiff test this week. My preference is Rams side only.

I would take a similar approach to the Bengals though it requires some level of assumption. In recent weeks Cincinnati has evolved into one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league in neutral script, and that will need to continue against the Jets if they are to pay off for DFS. Given the state of New York, I think the logical bet if you’re playing Cincinnati is to fully believe in their pass happy trend rather than relying on the Jets to keep pace. If it’s a bet you’re uncomfortable making, I’d prefer to fade the game entirely than emphasize both sides.

Lastly, I want to touch on the structure of these stacks in high-spread games. In my introductory column I discussed the reasons correlation is a ceiling reacher rather than ceiling raiser. For that reason, the smaller your contest is, the larger your stack can get.

If you are playing a 200 person contest, you may only need to be right about one assumption to generate enough win equity; i.e the Bills will score 40 points. Stacks with two or even three skill players can be viable in  small fields to ensure the full benefit of your assumption.

In larger fields you need to be more selective in order to preserve the ceiling of each slot in your lineup. Last week I played Buccaneers and Rams stacks with four player onslaughts in small fields while opting for single or double stacks in larger fields. A stack of Tom Brady with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette could have conceivably won a small field tournament. In larger fields you likely needed just Brady and Evans.


The Final Word

It is a pleasure to be back with you sharing structural DFS strategy and stretched applications of everyday life to tournament DFS. I hope you enjoyed the article and have a fun and profitable Week 8!