Cracking DraftKings: Pivoting (From Chapter 3)


By Jeff Pasquino


Pivoting is a term that is getting thrown around more and more when it comes to daily fantasy lineups, but what exactly does it mean? Looking up the term in this book‘s glossary and taking just the first sentence tells us the simplest definition:

Pivoting: A change made to an existing DFS lineup.

That may appear very simple, but one word here is key – existing. That means a full DFS lineup has been constructed by a DFS player for the purpose of entering a contest, and now a change is considered for one or more reasons. This change, or pivot, can be done for any number of circumstances, including the two given in the remainder of the glossary definition:

Pivoting: A change made to an existing DFS lineup. A pivot may be intended as a contrarian strategy to increase the uniqueness of a lineup--switching from a chalk player to another similarly priced player, for instance -- or to account for a late player injury or deactivation.

So now we can better understand the purpose of a pivot. If you wake up Sunday morning and hear that Jamaal Charles is a late scratch due to an injury in pre-game warmups, removing him from your DFS lineup(s) to a similarly priced running back is a pivot move. Alternatively, if you read at Footballguys that Charles is in 50-60% of lineups this week, switching to a different tailback with similar projected scoring can make your lineup more unique in a GPP and therefore can be a shrewd move. 

A word of caution here in managing a pivot move – sometimes a change for the sake of change is not a good idea. While it makes absolute sense to replace a player who is scratched before the game or has a sudden change in outlook (such as a new starting running back due to a player being suspended or injured), last minute changes are sometimes a bad idea. Remember, these pivots are being made against lineups you had already constructed, and you built them based on players you already liked and research you did leading up to kickoff. Making a late swap had better make really good sense, or you will be kicking yourself for doing it.

For those reasons, I like to have pivot players at the ready for Sunday, or even backup lineups constructed just in case a questionable player is either in or out when inactives are announced Sunday morning. This is a big help for my roster construction process, as I have now considered my Plan B in advance if a given player is not going be ready for the game. Of course you cannot predict all the possibilities for your rosters, and that is why we talk about managing multiple lineups and making decisions based on inactive lists in Section V.E. of this book. What you can plan for, however, are possible changes based on players who are deemed questionable early in the week and are players that you really want to get in your lineup if they are a full go come game time. Having ap re-determined roster built around a Dez Bryant in case he can play on Sunday makes a lot of sense if it is just ready to go and be swapped in to contests you have already entered. This is where DraftKings‘ lineup cards are a big time saver. I suggest that you build a lineup card to have for this possibility and use that contingency plan to get a full lineup put into a contest on Sunday morning as soon as the favorable news comes out for a questionable player. 

Benefit #1 of Pivoting – Uniqueness

As mentioned above, having a lineup at the ready for a questionable player saves time and allows you to have built a full roster around that possibility well in advance of last minute news. The added bonus of putting a player into play at the last minute is that you will likely have a higher uniqueness factor for your team in a tournament, as many DFS lineups that were entered well in advance of that news will not have a questionable player on the roster. Getting a questionable stud in play that is suddenly a go for action is a huge bonus, as now your roster not only has that player, but most others will not have him either. If he has a big day, you will likely benefit not just from his performance but also the fact that most of the rest of the tournament will not have him in their lineups.

Benefit #2 of Pivoting – Risk Adjustments

There is another benefit of being able to pivot from one player to another, and this one works hand in hand with DraftKings‘ late swap option. Since a player (or defense) on DraftKings is not locked until their game starts, it is very possible to have a lot of your roster already posting scores by the time the second set of Sunday afternoon games starts – and certainly before Sunday and Monday Night Football begins. If you can look at your roster and assess how things are going – good or bad – for your contest in the middle of Sunday action, you have the option to decide if you want to go more conservative or more aggressive with the rest of your players yet to play. For example, if you are in first place out of 100 people in a 50/50 league with all but one wide receiver left, there is no reason to gamble with that player. Taking a conservative possession receiver like Julian Edelman, for example, is not a flashy play with much upside, but you can bet that he will likely get 5-6 catches and 50-60 yards virtually every week. There is no reason to put in a Kenny Stills or Torrey Smith, who are more of a ―boom / bust‖ option each week. The alternative outlook is also true, of course. If you are trailing big in ahead-to-headcontest or 50/50, get Edelman out of your roster and swing for the fences. Finishing 99th out of 100 is no different than finishing 51st in a 50/50, so you need a player to post a big score to get into the payout zone.

Benefit #3 of Pivoting – Swimming with the Sharks

There is a third benefit for DFS players who pivot either due to inactives or to reduce or increase risk to their rosters – most DFS sharks cannot do the same. Big time DFS players play hundreds of contests each week, and they cannot possibly spend the time it would take to analyze every contest and possibility in the 60-90 minutes before kickoff on Sunday. Smaller stakes DFS players (and those with few entries as well) certainly can, and they can gain an appreciable advantage by using this ability. While it may appear that asmaller-timefantasy owner is trailing in a given 50/50 orhead-to-headcontest, the ability for him or her to go and analyze a particular matchup or roster during NFL action gives that DFS player a positive advantage over a DFS player who is not able to manage such details on Sunday.

Pivot Options

While it is great to have a lineup already built and ready to go and swap into a contest come Sunday once injuries and inactives are announced, there is no way that every possibility can be covered in advance. It also would not be a great use of your time to build lots of lineups that never get used. What is useful is to have a list of players who are pivot options at different price points that you like. Think about that list as a tier of players, much like you would use in a traditional draft in season long fantasy football leagues. There are likely to be lots of wide receivers in the $6,000-7,000 range that you like in a given week, and the same can be said for running backs. Pick out a few for your short list as a just-in-case pivot option if one of your players is suddenly a surprise inactive before game time. That cheat sheet is a great time saver. The one caveat here is to be mindful of any negative correlations you may create by switching from one player to another (such as swapping out one running back for another on your list and then having two starting tailbacks from the same NFL game – usually a negative correlation as it is rare for two backs in the same game to have big games). Even if those correlating events occur in your rosters, having a player in your lineup that is playing is almost always better than one who is not playing at all. So only worry about those correlations if you have extra time to check your rosters before kickoff.

Pivoting is one of those advanced DFS strategies that can really increase your win rate, provided you choose your pivots wisely. That is why I recommend planning ahead — both in terms of creating optimal lineups and preparing a contingency list of players to pivot toward — in case of surprising news (or news that makes you choose between two lineups) on game day. All DFS owners have had that last minute scramble on Sunday morning when a player is unexpectedly sidelined. Nothing leads to bad decisions more than time pressure, but some of that mad scrambling to change lineups can be managed ahead of time because you know it can (and often does) happen. Planning your pivots ahead may take more time, but the rewards you can reap are well worth the effort. 

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