There’s a perception that success in Showdown is all about finding the random backup running back or third string tight end who happens to score a touchdown. That does happen (and can be incredibly frustrating if it costs you a tourney score), but it doesn’t happen as often as you might think. I looked at the data set and tried to come up with a definition of a “scrub,” and while it’s a bit subjective, I think it’s pretty decent: a scrub is a guy who is either less than 5% owned or who is just not a regular on-the-field player (someone who plays fewer than 30% or 40% of the offensive snaps is about where I drew the line). Using this definition, only 24.3% of optimals contained a scrub, so roughly ¾ of tournaments could have been won without needing to dip down into the random Hail Mary play. It’s also worth noting that while, overall, optimal lineups won the large GPPs 51.4% of the time, when there was a scrub in the optimal, the optimal only won 38.5% of the time. Basically, this means that even if some random scrub has a big game and would appear in the optimal lineup, that doesn’t mean you needed him to win a tournament because almost ⅔ of the time nobody is going to have that optimal lineup.
Here’s another data point that I find super interesting: scrub captains are basically nonexistent in optimals. Some people think they can be clever by using a scrub in their captain spot to free up salary to use a bunch of studs, but the data just doesn’t support that strategy. The optimal included a captain with a salary of less than $4,500 (i.e. less than most kickers and defenses) just 4.7% of the time and under $3,300 just 0.9% of the time. You’re really hoping to hit on a Hail Mary if you’re trying to pick a scrub captain.
So what’s the takeaway here? This ties into the next section on game theory so I don’t want to dive in too deeply; but for me, at least, I don’t sweat trying to cover every single base with every random 5th-string wide receiver. When I think about working exposure to scrubs into my builds, I try to keep it focused to two different broad situations. First, I look for guys whose roles have either changed due to injury/performance or guys who may not be on the field a lot but who have a decent red zone role. Second, sometimes I find a lineup of 5 guys that I think is really, really strong, but it needs the 6th guy to be down in the scrub price range. My general rule here is that if scrubs, on the whole, only show up in 25% of optimals, I probably want to be underweight on that across all of my lineup builds and all of the potential scrubs that could be utilized on any given slate.
[ JM’s Notes :: Especially with just how many “scrubs” there are to choose from in any given Showdown slate, this makes so, so much sense. Perception is often stronger than reality; and the perception among much of the DFS player field does seem to be that you need to nail that scrub in order to pull down a big Showdown payout. But there is a lot of value in mostly leaving scrubs alone, and instead building around plays that actually make some level of sense from both a statistical and game flow perspective. It’s a lot like the misconceptions surrounding the main slate: that you need to be contrarian by taking bad plays. Sure, this works out on occasion; but the field goes overweight with this approach (and their chances of guessing on just the right scrub on exactly the week in which this will be the correct approach are infinitesimally small) — making it easy for us to take the win, so to speak, with the plays that actually make sense, while the rest of the field lowers their ROI by regularly “hoping to get lucky.” ]