Thursday, Dec 8th
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Best Ball: Cash Games

BY :: XANDAMERE

Most of the focus around Best Ball is on tournaments (much like DFS!) because they’re exciting and offer the chance to win life-changing money. But there are also smaller Best Ball contests available across all major sites ranging from 3 to 12 entries. These contests aren’t exactly “cash games” as we’re used to thinking about them in DFS, in that they don’t pay out the top half of the field (though I think it would be awesome if some site decided to implement that), but they’re fairly close; some of them pay out winners each week (like Yahoo), whereas others just pay out the top few teams (generally the top 20-30%) at the end of the season.

I wrote about this format last year and noted that I had an ROI of over 50% in “cash game” best ball contests. I’m not sure how long that’s sustainable, but I managed it again last season, so my sample size of 2 years feels pretty decent here. Will these leagues always be so soft? Probably not. With every new format of DFS, best ball, etc., we tend to see the games start off very soft as people learn how to play them well, and then those contests sharpen up over time. We’ve seen this pattern play out over the years with DFS as a whole, then with smaller formats like DK’s Tiers and Showdown, we’re seeing it right now with prop bets, and we’re seeing it with best ball. Can you make life-changing money playing these types of best ball leagues? Unlikely (unless you play a TON or unless your definition of life-changing is quite different than mine), but with a little preparation and a little practice, you can make best ball cash games a solid part of your overall DFS/sports portfolio and feel confident that you’ll make some decent money at it. For full transparency, my ROIs resulted in net profits of something around $500 for each of the last two seasons. I’m not buying a private island or anything, but for effectively no actual work, I’ll take the free money and use it to pay for some tournament buy-ins. As we like to harp on around here, every edge matters. 

Let’s first consider what makes these leagues soft. First, the format is still relatively new. And, given that the sample size is an entire football season, we just don’t have good data around what’s successful. This means people are essentially flying blind – it’s like the beginning days of DFS in which people were just focused on figuring out who the good individual plays are and not thinking at all about how those plays come together to form an actual roster. The second reason these leagues are soft is that what little best ball content exists is all focused on the big tournaments. People go into these leagues building things like hyper fragile or zero-RB builds that might be appropriate to a massive tournament but which take on too much variance for a cash-type format. So, people don’t have much of their own data or experience to help them figure the format out, and the existing content isn’t going to help them. 

The important thing to understand is that best ball tournament builds are built around a series of assumptions. If you draft Christian McCaffrey in the first round, you’re assuming that he’s going to be healthy and productive all year, and so you aren’t likely to invest a ton of additional draft capital in the RB position (nor would you really consider drafting CMC’s backup), because if he gets hurt you almost certainly aren’t in a position to take down 1st place. Best ball tournaments are about leaning into and smartly leveraging variance. 

Cash game leagues are the opposite: they’re about minimizing variance in order to increase your odds of a profitable finish. You don’t need to beat tens of thousands of other users. You only need to beat 9 or 11 (depending on site/format).

Cash Game Framework

Here’s the meat of things – a list of guidelines you can use as a framework which, along with a solid list of rankings (our friend Hilow has put those together for OWS right here), should set you up for a profitable season of cash leagues. 

  • 1: Avoid role uncertainty, especially with earlier-round picks. You want to pick guys where you feel highly confident in their role, not guys where IF things play out the way you hope, they would be a bargain at their ADP. This season some examples are guys like JaVonte Williams (talented, but we don’t know how the workload split with Melvin Gordon will play out), Michael Thomas (just coming back from injury, hasn’t really played in ages, we don’t know how good he’ll be or how much he’ll play), or Antonio Gibson (likely not used in a bell-cow role, Washington just drafted another RB). Remember, you’re trying to maximize floor in this format. 
  • 2: While the trend in best ball is to go WR heavy, in cash games, I tend to prefer the opposite. There are a LOT of viable wide receivers out there, but there are very few true 3-down running backs in today’s NFL and only a handful of top-tier tight ends who are a threat to put up 20+ fantasy points any given week. You want to maximize your roster’s floor top-to-bottom, and in my view, the best way to do this is to prioritize getting 2-3 RBs and your primary TE in the first 5 rounds. Remember, we’re drafting for floor, and while later RBs/TEs can still have strong ceilings (especially handcuff RB picks if the guy in front of them gets hurt), the floors of those guys are awfully shaky. 
  • 3: I also try to prioritize a top QB since the gap between top QBs and the middle tier has been growing in recent years, but frankly, QBs tend to be so aggressively drafted that I don’t often get one in the top 5. I’m willing to reach a little bit for one (especially if I feel super strong about my other early picks), but I prioritize RB and TE over QB in the early going. 
  • 4: Don’t shy away from drafting the handcuff to one of your early-round RBs, if the handcuff is a super clear one. In tournaments, this is viewed as a no-no because if your early-round bell-cow RB gets hurt, your roster is probably drawing dead for first place. But in cash games, remember that our goal is simply maximizing floor, so adding an RB handcuff can do that while costing you minimal upside. I only do it when the backup is a clear situation, though. I’ll pick up Alexander Mattison if I have Dalvin Cook on my roster, but I’m not going to take guesses at a super-murky backup RB situation on a team where there isn’t a clear number two guy who would definitely step in if there’s an injury.
  • 5: For overall roster construction, in tournaments, the most common build is 2-5-8-3 (or a very slight variant thereof). In cash games, I most commonly find myself landing on 2-6-8-2 (one extra RB and only 2 TEs, assuming that I’m successful in landing a premium TE). So, from an overall roster construction standpoint, I don’t vary enormously from chalk builds, with the primary difference being that I tend to invest more at RB than most tournament builds do. I’ll roster 6 RBs even if I have 3 bell-cows, while in tournaments, the general wisdom is that if you get 3 bell-cow RBs, you probably want to keep your roster to just 3 or 4 total running backs. The difference here is all about maximizing floor and still giving yourself a chance to win even if one of your top guys goes down. 

Does this seem pretty simple? It should. These leagues are soft and armed with just a solid list of rankings as well as the principles laid out above. You should be able to crush them. You’re welcome for paying for your OWS subscription and some extra pocket money for the season. 🙂