MLB DFS Strategy – 7 Basic Lineup Building Tips for Cash Games

I don’t know about you, but spring has nearly sprung.  Any week now, those MLB pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training.  Like a bell ringing at a church, I can start to think of putting away the snow shovel and dream of putting the shade back on my pergola.  Daily fantasy baseball is a different animal.  Let’s dive into some of the basics in case you are new to the game.  Here are seven quick tips to get you started.

TIP 1 – It All Starts With Pitching!

Don’t Get Cute

Starting pitchers in MLB are just like quarterbacks in NFL and goalies in NHL.  They touch the ball more often than any other player and have the most control over their destinies.  Cash games are about safety.  Pay up for aces facing poor offenses, especially those that have heavy support in Vegas sportsbooks.

Tiebreaking Checklist

If undecided on a few pitchers, follow this checklist in breaking the tie.  1- Choose the higher strikeout pitcher.  Several MLB statistics apply like K/9, K/Inn, even K/BB.  (If you don’t understand these statistics, don’t worry.  We’ll get to them as time goes along.) Strikeouts are a huge part of your “floor” in selecting a pitcher.  2- Choose the National League pitcher over the American League pitcher.  The NL has better “pitchers’ parks” and forces it’s pitchers to bat.  AL teams are typically more dangerous to pitching.  3- Choose the pitcher in the better ballpark for pitchers.

TIP 2 – Ballpark Factors Matter

There are plenty of websites to consult when it comes to statistics.  Find one that charts the more productive (and less productive) MLB ballparks.  Baseball is unique in that it’s stadiums are like fingerprints, no two are alike.  Shorter fences, trade winds, open air, enclosed, short foul lines, spacious outfields, even altitude all combine to make some ballparks a pitcher’s dream and some a pitcher’s nightmare.  Knowing which of your pared down pitchers are in the best situations can most certainly break a tie for the day in DFS.

Here are the top 5 run-producing parks of 2016, according to ESPN, from first to fifth:  Coors Field (COL), Chase Field (ARI), Progressive Field (CLE), Fenway Park (BOS), Kauffman Stadium (KCR).  Here are the bottom five from 25th to 30th, also according to ESPN:  Citizens Bank Park (PHI), Marlins Park (MIA), Oakland Coliseum (OAK), Dodger Stadium (LAD), Minute Maid Park (HOU).

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TIP 3 – Positional Scarcity in MLB

We’ve all used this term in other sports.  MLB DFS is no different.  Some positions produce better from top to bottom than others.  Typically, 1B, 3B, and OF are big producers with a rather steady dropoff from the best to the worst fantasy producers.  C, 2B, and SS usually have a couple at the top followed by a steep dropoff into it’s second tier.  It’s this dropoff we want to take note of.  While most will choose to punt C and take a super cheapie, you might consider paying up here for the stud and taking your value where there is less spread in production, say 1B, where that $1000 in cap space gives you more bang for your buck.

“Paying up” at the scarce positions also serves to differentiate you from the herd.  Baseball is such a volatile sport, differentiation is often rewarded more here than the other mainstream DFS sports.  Just this little twist in your daily construction can separate you enough from everyone else.  If you are a chalky player, like I tend to be, you may want to give this scarcity tip a little thought for MLB.

TIP 4 – No Zeros!  Stats That Help MLB Hitters

In a game like MLB, where Mike Trout can put up a 0 on any given day, those zeros are like death to a cash lineup that only aims to beat half the field.  We don’t want to get cute with our pitchers, because we need those points and the win.  And, we don’t want to roster boom or bust hitters that have a reputation of hitting a home run once every few days, but strike out 8 times in between.  Here are a couple key stats to learn if you are new to DFS MLB.

OBP (On-Base Percentage)

Exactly what it says it is, the percentage of at bats a hitter reaches base.  OBP includes walks, all hits, and hit by pitches.  It stands to reason the more often a player safely reaches base, the more points we accumulate.  If we look at history, the average OBP for all hitters is about .334 but it varies a little from year to year.  Anything approaching .400 is an elite rate.  To further drive the point home, we can look to the “all time” OBP among active hitters going into 2017.  Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds leads all MLB hitters with a .425 (11th among the entire history of baseball).  Our 2nd place active OBP hitter is Miguel Cabrera at .399 (54th among all of baseball).  That’s quite the dropoff!  In cash games, look for those near the top in OBP and avoid taking zeros in your lineups.

wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average)

wOBA is perhaps new to you if you are new to MLB or the DFS version of the game.  It’s kind of a “catch-all” statistic for hitting stating not all hits are created equal.  wOBA rewards doubles more than singles because they tend to do more damage.  Again, higher is better.  A quick scale would be:  Over .400 is elite, around .340 is average, and under .300 is poor.  wOBA uses some OBP in it, so you might even like it better when looking for players since it rewards doubles and home runs more than traditional batting average.

The MLB Batting Order

Not a statistic, per se, but still VERY important to your cash game lineup construction in DFS.  I think I read just last night that the average hitter scores about .60 Fanduel points per at bat.  However, this number obviously varied by player, position, spot in the batting order, pretty much any way you wanted to break it down.  Let’s look at position in the batting order to prove a point.

The higher you hit in the order, the more at bats you will receive.  Can we agree that makes a lot of sense?  The more at bats you receive per game, the more chances/opportunities you have to score fantasy points.  It makes sense, then, to take players hitting near the top of their orders.  In fact, the chart I saw showed spots 1-6 in the average order are the ONLY spots that averaged over .57 fantasy points per at bat.  Of course, 2-5 averaged over the .60 with spots 7, 8, and 9 being the worst by far.  Focus on players hitting in the top 6 spots, perhaps the top 5 when playing cash games.  You need those at bats!

TIP 5 – Using Vegas

Yes, we use Vegas heavily in MLB, too.  We are attracted to pitchers in lower scoring games with Vegas heavily on their side.  Again, don’t get cute.  I will take a strong pitcher facing a scary offense over a mediocre pitcher facing a poor offense if Vegas favors the strong pitcher more.  I will lean on Vegas very heavily when selecting my cash game pitcher for the day.  TIP – If Clayton Kershaw is pitching, and healthy, just take him in cash.  I don’t care if he’s facing the 1929 Bronx Bombers.  He will carry a -180ish tag from Vegas and still be the most favored pitcher on the slate most times.

When it comes to hitters, we look for higher scoring games and a pitcher in more of a coin flip contest, or even an underdog, to win the game.  It sounds simplistic, but these are the basics for you to start building your knowledge around.  Rostering hitters from games projected to score more runs will lead to competitiveness night in and night out.

TIP 6 – Weather Plays a Huge Role in MLB

Granted we have a lot of indoor stadiums where weather doesn’t play a part, we also have a lot of outdoor stadiums where it gets cold, where it rains, and where the wind blows hard.  It pays to pay attention to weather forecasts in MLB.  Again, don’t get cute and avoid those zeros!  If there is a significant chance of rain or showers in your ballpark, don’t take players from that game.  I know it’s tempting because ownership will be lower in DFS, but it’s not worth the risk in cash games.  Save that fancy, overthinking crap for your GPPs.

You can’t often survive a pitcher in a great matchup not returning for the 3rd inning after a long rain delay.  You need at bats from your hitters.  It’s likely you can’t overcome losing an at bat due to weather, and you certainly can’t overcome a rain out in the 4th inning that renders your hitters from that game completely useless for the day.  When you see weather uncertainty, scratch that game off your list for your cash lineup.  Thinking I’m full of shit won’t pay in this regard.

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TIP 7 – To Stack or Not to Stack

No sport benefits from stacking more than MLB.  There is nothing quite like seeing the bases loaded with a couple of your hitters while watching a power hitter you rostered walk up to the plate.  If you haven’t experienced him hitting that homerun and your subsequent flying up a DFS leaderboard, well my friend, you are missing one of the purest joys in all of daily fantasy sports.  I guarantee you when it happens, you will spike your beer and give your remote one of the best bat flips your kids have ever seen as you strut around the living room.

That said, it’s risky.  Loading all of our hitters into a single game to attack a pitcher is devastating when it doesn’t work out, and baseball is full of failed opportunities.  Cash games are about mitigating risk, not encouraging it.  We might target a specific pitcher or three, but we are going to be cautious about stacking more than about 2 or 3 hitters from a single MLB lineup.  You can overcome a poor night from 2 of your hitters.  You can’t overcome it often when three of them fail to hit that starter that barely deserves to be in the majors.

I have no issues mini-stacking offenses.  I love doing so when a cheaper, bench player (or recent call-up) draws a start and bats high in the order.  But, I’m not going overboard and looking to full on stack the 2-5 hitters in cash games.  I’d much rather take the 2-3 from one offense, the 1-2 from another, and the 4-5 from yet another.  This spread, or casting of a wide net, will dodge those duds while still correlating nicely when the games I’m in score runs.

Reviewing the Tape

If you learned anything, it should be “don’t get cute” in MLB cash games.  We don’t mind taking some risk, after all MLB is loaded with volatility and nothing is truly safe, but we want to do so in a calculated fashion.  Select smart pitching.  Spread out a little across a few offenses.  Watch Vegas for indicators, and watch the weather for riskier ballparks to avoid.  Add all this together and you have a solid foundation from which to enjoy a long season of baseball.  You can find me sitting in the front pew most days since baseball is religion to me.  Baseball is also a sign that winter is over and all is right with the world again.

Hopefully, this gets you started building your first MLB lineup and dabbling in a very fun sport.  If you have questions, I’m in our VIP slack chat (DFS Army) and on Twitter again @ChoppoDong.  Remember, we also cover all the major sports with coaches and experienced regulars ready to help you in whichever sport you choose to pursue.