DFS DraftKings FanDuel MLB Strategy Series – nillyJay’s Carnage Report guide

Hello everyone, nillyJay here!  I’m a coach/contributor inside the DFS Army and my main focuses are NASCAR, MLB, bankroll management/cash ladders, and building various tools/models with Excel.  You can find and follow me here on Twitter or, for DFS Army members, in our Slack chat (@nillyJay or just swing by my channel #nillys-garage-nas-mlb).

One of the things I do on the MLB side is provide what’s called a carnage rating, which is basically a measurement of offensive firepower in a pitcher vs offense matchup.  This article will provide definitions and a general approach of how to use it, as well as some more in-depth strategy that can be used for GPP purposes.

An example of a carnage report for a large slate.  We’ll use it as a basis for this article.

The basics

At first glance, it may look overwhelming, but once you have an idea of how things work, it gets pretty easy.  Let’s first define what we’re looking at here:

Carnage – A number (on a scale of 1 to 10) showing the potential offensive firepower of a team.  A lower number favors the pitcher while a higher number favors the opposing offense.

wOBA – The weighted on-base average (wOBA) that a pitcher has given up over their last 5-6 starts.

KSCORE choppodong’s metric for finding strikeout potential.  This combines the pitcher’s strikeout rate with their opponent’s; a 25% strikeout rate on both sides would give a 500 KSCORE.

VKSCORE – My metric for looking at how Vegas sees the game playing out.  This first looks at the KSCORE and then modifies that number based on several different factors.  A higher number favors the pitcher while a lower number favors the opposing offense.

IRT Implied runs total, or the number of runs Vegas thinks a team will score.  This is showing the total of the team each pitcher is facing.

Most of these are color-coded the same; dark red is very bad, red is bad, yellow is average, green is slightly above average, blue is significantly above average, and purple is elite.  These colors are representations of looking at numbers from the pitcher’s perspective.  For offenses/batters, you would simply reverse everything (red being good, purple being bad).

Understanding carnage

So now that we know what the carnage rating is showing, let’s talk about what it’s actually looking at.  In a game like baseball (that is extremely volatile day to day), I am a believer in looking at what players are doing right now.  If somebody was the hottest batter in the league two months ago, that doesn’t do me any good right now if they’re 3 for their last 30 with 13 strikeouts.  I want to know when players are hot, cold, and when they are trending one way or another.

With that in mind, my model is looking at how everyone is performing in various areas.  It’s finding when pitchers are doing good (getting strikeouts, softer contact, going deep in games, etc) and when they’re doing bad (allowing baserunners/walks, giving up extra base hits/home runs, giving up harder contact/fly balls, getting pulled early, etc).  It’s looking at the team they are facing for the same things, as well as neutral factors such as the park they are playing in.

It then gives a ranking between 1 and 10.  A 5 is the exact middle point of a league-average pitcher going up against a league-average team.  However, the neat thing about it is the fact that it’s a “living model.”  That means that as the pitchers do better/worse and the league’s offenses get hotter/colder, the average ranking is also adjusting accordingly.

Using carnage to find cash pitchers

Now that we know what it’s doing, let’s put it to use.  I’ll start with the most basic use of it, which is finding the best pitchers for cash games.  What are we looking for there?  Simple: we want dominant pitchers going up against weak-hitting teams.  We want lots of strikeouts, innings, and overwhelming Vegas odds.  That translates to low carnage/wOBA/implied runs and high KSCORE/VKSCOREs.

Two easy examples of this would be Pitchers A and B.  Both of them fit the bill and stand above everybody else.  We can dig in a little deeper to confirm our selection (BvP, home/road splits, weather, etc) but we can quickly glance at this and know we’re probably making a good choice either way.

There are some others who could also be in the discussion, such as Pitchers DEF, and J.  They would likely be better served as an SP2 option on DraftKings, but are still worth consideration given their decent overall numbers.  On FanDuel, however, I prefer to pay up for the best pitcher I can since I only get to choose one.

 

Using carnage to find cash batters/mini stacks

Finding your batters is easy; just look for the exact opposite of what we just went over.  At a quick glance we see that teams facing Pitchers Q and S look to be in really good spots, so we could look at their lineups and find batters that are running hot.  When I find teams in good spots like these, I like to try and grab one or two batters from them (i.e. a two-man cash stack).

The classic batter list that I put out every day, which can be found here, makes it easy to pinpoint the hot batters on these teams.  I put a handful of them in my MLB Cash Academy articles, but the rest are for VIPs only!

We can see that teams facing Pitchers GI, and have the highest implied totals, so we can expect some players from those teams to be chalky.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to look for some of them who are running hot and/or have good BvP to use for cash games, because we don’t want to miss the 50% owned batter that hits a home run or two.

Remember that carnage is looking at the whole picture, not at individual batters.  It may be telling us that 7 of the batters are all a bit cold, but if a couple of them are still doing well, we can certainly take them in a good matchup.  Pitcher I is a good example here.  His carnage slightly favors him (likely because most of the team he’s facing is in a slump), but his wOBA is on the high side.  We could look at the other team and find the one or two guys that are running hot to take against him.

 

Using carnage to find GPP pitchers

Since we’re playing it safe in our cash lineups, we can get riskier in GPPs.  Pitcher P is a prime example; his carnage rating and wOBA aren’t the greatest, but his KSCORE/VKSCOREs are both really high and his IRT is really low.  This tells me that he might not have the best floor for cash game use, but certainly has a high ceiling for GPPs.  We’re favoring upside (strikeouts) here and disregarding the safety we need for cash games.

For GPPs I like to find the cheaper pitchers with high KSCOREs, regardless of what most everything else looks like.  We’re embracing risk here, so I don’t mind taking a few shots on those that have a potentially high ceiling, even if their floor is super low.  That’s why we don’t use them in cash games!  Of course, we’ll often find cheap pitchers with low carnage ratings and high KSCOREs, and those are ones we certainly want some exposure to as well.

 

Using carnage to fade GPP pitchers

We always want to avoid pitchers who get blown up, and using carnage can be an effective way of doing that.  There are obvious ones to avoid (generally those with high carnage/IRTs), but we can find some other good fade targets too.  For example, let’s look at pitcher E:

Pretty decent numbers here, and we’ve already established that he is probably a good choice for cash games.  However, his KSCORE is a bit on the low side, and this would be especially worrisome in times where pitchers like this have a KSCORE that’s in the 300-range.  Basically, we’re not considering fading them because they might get blown up.  It’s because their ceiling might be too low to help us win a GPP.

 

Using carnage to find GPP batters/full stacks

Pitcher P fits the bill here too, so let’s start with him.  Most people would see the 3.68 IRT and think to look elsewhere for their batters, but there are things here telling us to dig deeper.  While a 5.94 carnage rating isn’t necessarily bad on its own, it’s pretty high when compared to the low IRT and high KSCORE he has.

The high wOBA sort of confirms this, so we would want to take a look at the opposing team to see who is running hot and/or has good BvP against this pitcher.  This is an example of trying to figure out when Vegas is “wrong.”

The team facing Pitcher M is in a similar spot:

Stacks from this team might even have a higher ceiling due to the lower KSCORE and higher wOBA.  The same rules apply here; you’d want to research the batters and find the best ones to use for your stacks.

Of course, we can always go with the easy targets, such as Pitcher Q:

Good numbers (for the opposing offense) all around, so this team would probably be a chalky GPP stack.

 

Using carnage to fade GPP batter stacks

Two of the previous examples showed “sneaky” examples (pitchers P and M) of using carnage, but It can also be used to help find the chalkier stacks as well.  The examples we’ll use here are teams going up against pitchers GIKLQ, and T:

Since we know a lot of people just look for high IRTs and stack away, we can get a better look at the matchup and decide which of those chalky stacks are worth avoiding.  We already know that the teams facing pitchers I and Q are in good spots, so we could probably just eat some of that chalk and move on.  For now, let’s focus on how to handle the other teams.

Pitcher G: This team has the highest IRT so they’re sure to be popular.  However, a 4.08 carnage rating and .246 wOBA are both very respectable numbers, and that’s telling me that this pitcher isn’t just letting teams go wild on him.  The KSCORE is really low, which indicates that this pitcher is one that allows a lot of contact.  Perhaps they are a “groundball pitcher” that mitigates a lot of damage (hence the low wOBA).  If that’s the case, we may want to fade this offense since their potency could be very limited here.

Of course, it could also be because they have a really good defense behind them, or they’ve been lucky.  We could check their xwOBA to see if it’s significantly higher than their wOBA.  If it is, we may want some exposure to this team after all.  If they’re fairly equal, however, that gives us a good reason to consider a fade.

Pitcher K: Basically the same as above, but with slightly more favorable numbers for the offense.

Pitcher L: Similar to the above examples, but this time we have a pretty decent KSCORE in the mix.  This could be a good time to fade the offense and use the pitcher to hedge against what could be a popular GPP stack.

Pitcher T: Pretty decent numbers here, but no carnage rating.  I’ll explain why that is in the FAQ section, but for now, I would treat this scenario the same as I did with pitcher L.

 

FAQs

I’ll add to this section when needed, but for now here are some common questions I get asked:

Why do some pitchers have N/A for their carnage rating?

A: This is usually due to one of two things.  The first being that if a pitcher is fresh off the DL, they don’t have any recent history and I can’t get an accurate number for them.  I won’t use numbers from several months (or seasons) ago since that doesn’t fit the theme of what I’m looking for.

The second reason is that some teams are starting pitchers that only throw one or two innings.  If they aren’t projected to pitch for at least four innings, they won’t have a carnage rating.

Does carnage use DFSA grades?  If not, which is better?

No, carnage does not use DFSA grades.  They are entirely different metrics and I don’t use them in my model (I start from scratch with raw data for everything).  As for which is better, I don’t believe that one is any better than the other.  I think they are both excellent and can be used individually or together to help confirm your research.

I tried to use this last night and it totally bombed.  What happened?!

While I do have the utmost confidence in the carnage rating system, we have to remember that baseball is a long and extremely volatile sport.  There are 2,430 games played in the regular season and we expect the best hitters to fail about 70% of the time.  That’s a lot of randomness spread out over a long period of time.  It would be impossible for any stat/metric to be “correct” every day!

Like any sport, having a good process and sticking to it over the course of the season is the way to combat the volatility.  Try something for a week and if it doesn’t work, make some small adjustments and try again.  Don’t jump to a completely different approach tomorrow just because one didn’t work out today.  Good plays don’t always work out and bad plays will sometimes win a tournament.  That’s just how DFS goes, so it’s important to stay disciplined and trust the process.  The results will come!

Why aren’t there projections on this chart?

I believe in focusing more on the matchups themselves than the projections.  I tend to use them as tie-breakers or as a way to let the Domination Station sort things out after I’ve set it up the way I want it.

Can carnage be used for other things like sports betting?

Absolutely!  Carnage is not limited to just DFS, it can be applied anywhere.  For example, if Vegas gives a team 3.5 implied runs but they’re facing a pitcher with the worst carnage/wOBA on the slate (and they have several batters running hot), it might not be a bad idea to place a bet on the over.

I read all of this and I still don’t understand how to apply it.  Can you help me?

Sure can!  Reach out to me in Slack, we can discuss anything you’re not getting.  You can always find me in my channel #nillys-garage-nas-mlb or just send me a DM @nillyJay.

Closing thoughts

Remember that just like any other stat/metric, carnage can be used by itself or in combination with others.  For cash games, take the simple approach and go with the obvious plays.  For GPPs, get creative and embrace some risk.  If you think you’ve found something, trust your gut and take a shot.  If you’re not sure, you can always reach out in Slack to see if anybody else has a similar idea or get some feedback on your findings.

For those of you not in the DFS Army yet, I’d encourage you to give us a look and consider joining up.  We discuss stuff like this every day in Slack and we do it for every sport.  We don’t hide content behind any other paywalls or anything like that.  One price gets you everything we offer and you can even use promo code NILLY to get 10% off the life of your active membership.  Until then, best of luck!