Contrarian Approach to Daily Fantasy

Contrarian Approach to Daily Fantasy: When and How to Use It

Being contrarian is a strategy that isn’t always easy to undertake. Daily fantasy sports aside, contrarian thinking makes many people feel uncomfortable. It isn’t easy going against the grain and disagreeing the masses or the “expert” opinion on a particular topic.

The same is true for daily fantasy sports. It’s much easier to go with the “chalk” plays of the week, because, hey, you won’t blame yourself as much if they lose. I’ve got nothing against going with the chalk play if you feel that’s the right move, but the truth is, it pays (literally) to be contrarian.

The definition of contrarian reads as follows: opposing or rejecting popular opinion; going against current practice.

Like I said, even in the DFS world, where our decisions are just clicks of a mouse and tournament buy-ins, being contrarian is something that many people have trouble doing at times – myself included.

It’s not like going against the crowd is always the right move either. Contrarian thinking isn’t always going to give us an edge on our opponents, but it is something that every DFS player needs to add to their game and roster construction, particularly for tournaments.

Being Contrarian in DFS

There are basically two main ways that players can be contrarian when it comes to DFS. One involves going after a projected low-owned athlete that others are not considering, and the other involves fading the “chalk” or highly owned players. The latter option is sometimes accompanied with the strategy of playing a similarly priced player instead, but one who is expected to be lesser owned.

Diamonds In The Rough

One of the simplest and best ways to go contrarian without going way off the board in building your rosters is to target players that have the talent or opportunity but are coming off a few bad games or bad matchups. This regularly happens in just about every DFS sport.

A running back that has faced multiple tough run defenses for several weeks will usually come with a depressed price and ownership percentage. Even though matchup issues are likely the reason for past poor scores, the public will likely be off them due to recency bias.

The same can be said for a hitter that is in a slump but has always faced some rough matchups as of late in baseball. When he gets into a better situation based on ballpark and opponent, players may still shy away from him because of recent performance.

Remember, our goal here isn’t to simply roster players because they have performed poorly as of late, and their ownership levels will be low. It will be up to us to determine the reasons for the recent drop in their performance and evaluate them going forward on those factors.

There are many factors to consider when figuring out why a player performed poorly in recent games. Was he phased out due to game flow? Is he falling down the depth chart? Was it simply a case of bad matchups? How much does luck factor into his recent performance?

Remember, fantasy points are not a complete picture of a player’s performance. In the case of football, a pass catcher may be getting targets and playing time, but the production just hasn’t caught up yet. They may also be getting some poor luck with scoring touchdowns.

An extensive knowledge of NFL rosters is a big plus for contrarian thinking as well. When a team is decimated by injuries and is forced to use their third-string running back or wide receiver, this knowledge can come in quite handy when others are unsure of a player’s talent and potential usage.

Fading the Chalk

When it comes to fading the highly owned players, the process for our decision becomes a little more difficult. This is what I alluded to in the introduction of this article when I said that being contrarian can be scary.

It’s not easy to fade a guy that has a prime matchup, is talented, and is sitting at the right price. In cash games, the decision is a bit easier. If you’re in love with a guy, the price is right, and the matchup is strong, there is little reason to fade him.

One thing to consider when it comes to studs that are performing at a high level is that they may be overachieving or have faced cupcake matchups as of late. Both of these factors will be tied to their price or perceived value.

In the case of two players that have similar projections and pricing, but one is projected to considerably higher owned than the other – we should lean towards rostering the player with the lower projected ownership.

Roster and salary makeup is something also to consider. If there’s a host of cheap quarterbacks available in a given NFL week, it can make sense in tournaments to pay up at QB to differentiate your lineups from the rest of the field. This can be done for any position.

Few players realize how much this can change your lineups compared to others. You’re going to have more money to spend at other positions if you go against public values or the chalk plays of the week. This will alter your lineup construction and usually provide you with lower ownership percentages because your roster construction differs from the masses.

Going Contrarian in Tournaments

When it comes time to tournaments, especially large guaranteed prize pools, like the multi-millionaire dollar 500k+ entry NFL tournaments that FanDuel and DraftKings offer each week – having a contrarian mindset is a must.

To win large-field GPPs, our focus is going to be on players that have high-upside rather than those that produce safe floors. On DraftKings, we are looking for guys that can 4x-5x their salary and give us a point total of somewhere between 200-250 points.

The question here is how we appropriately adjust for ownership percentage when deciding to roster a player in tournaments?

One of the best strategies for this I’ve read is from’s John Lee. John is accomplished DFS player, and is one of the best DFS and season-long sites out there. Also, you can find him at @Tipandpick on Twitter.

He answered a question that a user had on Rotogrinders’ forum about ownership percentage with an excellent formula for determining if players are GPP viable or not. I will do my best to provide my own example using his formula, but feel free to click the link above.

The first step is to estimate ownership percentage that a player might be in the tournament. RotoGrinders produces a weekly article on ownership percentages for FanDuel’s Thursday leagues before Sunday during the NFL season. Though prices differ between the two big sites, this offers a nice barometer for ownership percentages going into Sunday contests.

For other sports, you’re going to have to do your own estimations on ownership percentages for the big contests.

Anyway, once we have estimated the ownership percentage of a specific player in a large field tournament, we move onto the next step. Estimating how likely that player is to 4x or 5x their salary, depending on what you’re looking for regarding upside for GPPs. I prefer to use 4x for GPPs.

Once we have done that, we can compare how likely it is for a player to 4x his salary, compared to his estimated percentage owned.

Let’s say we have a $4,000 player that we estimate is going to be owned at 35% in a large tournament. If we think that the player can 4x his salary (score 18 points) at least 35% of the time, we can easily slot him into our lineup.

If we are less optimistic about his chances of having a huge game and the ownership level is also quite high, it’s a much easier decision to decide to fade that player in a large tournament.

As Lee points out in his strategy, the real value here is when guys are considerably under-owned based on their upside. Players that are under 10% owned in large tournaments have a MUCH higher chance of posting a 4x score compared to their ownership percentage, provided you think they can 4x their score more than the percentage owned.

Once you have come to a consensus on if a player is viable for large tournaments, the question then becomes how much exposure do you want of them on your tournament lineups. Let’s say you’re playing ten tournament lineups, how much exposure do you want of x player in your lineups?

One of the best ways to calculate how much exposure you want is to estimate ownership percentage as we did above.

If we think a player is going to be 40% owned and we have ten tournament lineups. We can multiply our number of lineups by the projected ownership level of the player, 40% (0.4). In this example, the math is 10*.04 = 4. We should be rostering the said player in about 40% of our teams or slightly lower.

Don’t Force It

This article is all about being contrarian, but it’s vital to understand that there still needs to be solid reasoning behind your plays. There are far too many times that daily fantasy players roster guys that are way off the board because “nobody will own them.” Well, there is probably a reason for that.

Being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian isn’t a viable strategy. You may see something that only a few others see do on a guy that is less than 2% owned, but usually these guys are lower owned because they’re not worth rostering. They might have a bad matchup or just may not have the talent.

Ownership percentages being low on a player, in itself, is not a reason to roster them. The most value we will get from being contrarian is rostering players that have similar projections to players with higher ownership percentages. These “pivot” plays can pay huge dividends in large fields.

Again, although this article is about contrarian thinking, this isn’t necessarily a route you need to go with on all your GPP lineups. Taking the chalk in tournaments has won people large field tournaments before, and while it isn’t optimal, I don’t think it is –EV play either.

Giving yourself a “core” of several players who you want in all your lineups and rostering different guys around them in each lineup is another excellent strategy for being contrarian, but still getting in your favorite players/values. However, it’s important that these core guys offer the 4x or more upside that is needed to win a large tournament.