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Pitchers and Stacking

By James McCool | Paydirt_DFS


To stick with the idea of stacking from the last strategy piece that Jefe posted (in podcast form) I wanted to delve a bit deeper into when you should be aiming to stack a 5-man group of hitters or if you should drop down to a 4-man group. There is a pretty good intuitive rule of thumb that you can use when you are hand building lineups that has saved me a lot of headaches and improved my process over the years, and it depends entirely on the pitchers that I plan to use.

If you have been here for a while, you know that a lot of what I aim to do as a player and as a teacher is to think like a lineup builder or an optimizer, and look for ways to incorporate that into single entry and hand building practices. What an optimizer is going to do is try to build the most competitive team using a combo of high upside and high value players, and when you’re stacking you’re mostly doing the first part. Sure, there’s going to be some value guys involved in a stack here or there but the real anchor to your night will generally be $4,500+ in salary. What this means is that in order to fit a competitive stack, your average salary remaining per player has to be strong enough to fit the heavy hitters as well as good enough one-offs if you plan on using just a single stack.

We can take a team like the Red Sox for example and try to stack them on DraftKings. You have Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers all well over $5,000 in salary, meaning that if you stack them with J.D. Martinez and, say, Christian Vazquez, you are looking at around $23,000 in salary dedicated to your stack and you still need another five players to fill out, leaving you with an average remaining salary of $5,400. This is where we start talking about pitchers.

So, if you want to take Gerrit Cole for $12,000 you now have just $3,750 remaining per player for another pitcher and three more hitters, which is going to be really rough. Even if you take a pitcher that is just $6,000, you are only going to have $3,000 remaining per play for the three hitters and there’s no guarantee that there will even be players that cheap available at the positions you need. That’s not even to mention that they may have virtually no upside and be a wasted pick. This is where understanding how to think like an optimizer comes in handy.

Something that was taught to me by a really smart guy a couple years ago is this: Optimally, if you plan to use a pitcher that is $10,000+ you should be trying to build a 4-3-1 stack, because you’re going to need the savings from the one off to make things work correctly. If you are planning to use a pitcher that is below $10,000, you should always be aiming to use a 5-3 or a 5-2-1 stack because you can “afford” the correlation cost. It’s a really straightforward idea that I think not enough people consider when they go into a build from the start.

The math carries over to Fanduel as well, although the pricing is generally cheap enough that you can fit what you need without much sacrifice. But it stands to reason in every situation that if you have a Gerrit Cole or a Max Scherzer, you’re goal should be to stack the three most important players first and then pull your value plays together before trying to find the fourth.

In thinking this way, you’ll avoid a huge issue that a lot of players make in trying to force a high upside pitcher or stack: You will be less likely to use players that suck (have no upside) and more likely to fill out a competitive roster. consider that if you take that 5-man Red Sox stack that projections for 65 fantasy points to fit a pitcher that has a projection of 25, you may have to take three dud players with projections of 4-6 points each for a projected outcome of 105 points (excluding the second pitcher). If you take a 4-man stack that projects for 55 fantasy points, a pitcher projected for 20, and can now afford four other hitters with projections between 8-10 points, you’re projected outcome is around 110 in the same instance. It’s math, I tell you!


So, in closing, if you are planning on using a top tier pitcher on the slate, it will likely benefit you more to forgo a small bit of correlation with the fifth man of a stack and use a mid-range upside one-off instead rather than attempting to force a full 5-man group and having to pick three bad players instead of one. if you use a pitcher with high upside in the mid-range, you are better off getting the full 5-man build and using quality one-offs or a secondary stack to finish it off.

I hope this helps you to think a bit more optimally in your hand built lineups and gives you a bit of direction in continuing to think more logically.


Let’s make some (mathematical) bread.