Ballpark factors an overlooked source of value
Player performance often affected by unique stadium characteristics
The Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com is a free fantasy baseball game hosted at DraftKings.com that requires users to field a team within the confines of a salary cap. That small but important trait -- that you need to build a team using an imaginary salary cap -- drastically alters the way you need to approach the game, always on the constant hunt for value.
But how can you find "value" in daily fantasy baseball? Which stats or traits are the most important? There are two ways to think about this idea. The first is that you should be emphasizing the stats that are going to help you make the most accurate predictions. Some daily fantasy players use a catch-all stat like Weighted On-Base Average to rate big leaguers, for example, because it's an excellent proxy for overall hitting ability and will generally help predict which players will post big-time fantasy numbers in the future.
But making accurate predictions isn't the entire puzzle. It's a piece of it -- a vital piece of it -- but everyone is seeking to improve the accuracy of their projections and ultimately create better lineups. Your goal isn't just to be really accurate, but to find value on players where others aren't.
Thus, the second component of "value" -- and perhaps the most important one -- is that you need to seek factors that aren't priced into a player's salary. For example, a lot of people overlook ballpark factors -- how each ballpark plays and how friendly it is for hitters.
So let's look at those two concepts -- Weighted On-Base Average and ballpark factors -- and figure out which one can lead to the biggest advantage for us. There's no doubt that Weighted On-Base Average is the more predictive of the two; if you're trying to accurately project a player in the future, you can't do much better than using his Weighted On-Base Average. Ballpark factors, although important, aren't nearly as valuable of a predictive tool.
But again, what we're seeking is value. To find it, we need to identify and exploit inefficiencies in player salaries. So the question we should be asking isn't just "Will this stat or trait help me make better predictions?" but also "Is this stat or trait fully priced into a player's salary?"
When it comes to Weighted On-Base Average, you'll see that a few inefficiencies exist, but for the most part, it will be priced into DraftKings' player salaries. That is, the top tier of players will have the highest Weighted On-Base Averages, the second tier will have the next-best, and so on. Thus, while predictive and certainly still a handy tool, Weighted On-Base Average isn't quite as pragmatic in the daily fantasy realm as in real life.
Now compare that to ballpark factors. Certainly park factors can be a big component of a player's overall stats, which will of course be factored into his salary. But think about what happens when a player who hits in a pitchers' park -- and thus has stats that are probably worse than his "true" ability -- heads to Coors Field or Globe Life Park in Arlington. He's going to benefit from hitting in a much different atmosphere, which could easily cause a jump in his production that isn't priced into his salary. Thus, something such as ballpark factors -- while certainly not as predictive as a stat such as Weighted On-Base Average -- can be of more use to daily fantasy players because it allows for the exploitation of market inefficiencies.
Remember, when playing the Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com and assessing the practical value of a certain feature or stat, ask yourself, "Is this fully priced into each player's salary?"