US Open Projections: How We Select the Top Fantasy Plays
Welcome to our DraftKings fantasy preview for the 2021 U.S. Open.
It’s not the first time we’ve included a fantasy breakdown for a golf tournament, but this will be the first stand-alone article in which we can really dig into how we evaluate golfers from a DraftKings fantasy perspective.
We’ll break down how we project fantasy performance, how we decide which golfers are the best value, and how projected ownership can impact those values.
Our Projection Process
Similar to our win projections, our fantasy projections are done through simulations. When we simulate rounds for golfers, we’re also tracking fantasy points accrued during those rounds. Then, at the end of the simulation, the placement points are added in and we can rank players based on their fantasy performance, attaining a new fantasy leaderboard.
What we’re really interested in is not just average fantasy score for a golfer, but how often they “pop.” Because tournaments contain a highly variable number of golfers, we look at the percentage of time a golfer finishes in the top 10% of the field in fantasy points. This gives us a uniform baseline across tournaments.
The next step is introducing fantasy salary information into our analysis. We create a linear regression for salary and projected top 10% (pT10%) to create an expected top 10% (xT10%) for every golfer, and then use the difference in pT10% and xT10% to create a value metric.
Let’s use some players from this week as an example.
Player Salary pT10% xT10% Difference Justin Thomas 9,700 29.6 35.6 -6.0 Scottie Scheffler 8,500 24.6 24.1 0.5
The chart shows why salary matters.
Looking at Thomas and Scheffler, we see that Thomas has a better chance of finishing in the top 10% in fantasy points than Scheffler does. But since Scheffler costs considerably less to insert into your lineup, his expected value is much lower. Scheffler actually returns a slightly positive value over expected, while Thomas returns a negative value.
So who leads in pT10% – xT10%? Here are the top 10 in the field:
Why so many players in the $7,000 range? Well, there are more players to choose from here and the higher the salary, the more extreme your results have to be to return a strong value.
Ownership is where some game theory comes into play. For DraftKings fantasy, particularly GPPs, the prizes are skewed heavily towards the top. To get to the top, the easiest way is to have the best lineup. However, the odds of having the optimal lineup for any given week is extremely small, and it becomes a game of picking the best golfers who are also owned in the fewest number of lineups.
Let’s say you have two players projected for the same pT10%. Player A is projected to be owned by 15% of the field and Player B is projected to be owned by just 5% of the field. In this example, Player B returns more value to you if he attains his top 10% than if Player A does, since you’re gaining ground on 95% of the field rather than 85% of the field.
Let’s look at this example.
Player Salary pT10% Value pOwn pT10% New Value Corey Conners 8,200 28.1 6.9 6.7 21.5 7.9 Jason Kokrak 7,600 28.1 12.7 16.4 11.7 1.5
Both players have the same pT10%, but Kokrak is $600 cheaper. Using what we learned about value before, Kokrak is the higher value play. But what happens if we look at projected ownership? Kokrak is projected for almost double the ownership as Conners.
There are a myriad of ways to figure out ownership adjustments, but for the sake of simplicity let’s just subtract ownership from pT10%. As we did before, we can use a linear regression to create an expected pT10% – pOwn for each salary and then attain a new value for each golfer that encompasses projected performance, value to salary, and value to ownership.
In this case, both golfers remain positive plays, but Conners jumps ahead of Kokrak because of the lower ownership.
DraftKings GPP Value Plays
So who are we picking?! Well we’ve identified 36 golfers who have a final projected value in the positives. Of course, upon posting we won’t have the most up-to-date ownership information prior to the start of the tournament, but things shouldn’t change too drastically.
Before we introduce ownership, let’s look at traditional value. The first thing we’ll do is weed out players who have such a small chance of finishing in the top 10% that we aren’t really interested in using them. For this tournament that number is 7%. If a player has less than a 7% chance of finishing in the top 10% of fantasy points, we’re excluding them from our player pool.
That leaves 43 players with a positive value relative to expected. So let’s whittle it down a little more using projected ownership. Nine players are removed, and we actually add two back in who were just on the wrong side of traditional value but jump back in due to low ownership.
Below are the nine players we’re removing. For clarity, these are players who we believe have strong value relative to their salary, but are weakened through projected high ownership in GPP contests.
- $9300 – Xander Schauffele
- $8900 – Tony Finau
- $8600 – Will Zalatoris
- $7600 – Jason Kokrak
- $7600 – Shane Lowry
- $7300 – Max Homa
- $7100 – Carlos Ortiz
- $7000 – Robert Macintyre
- $6800 – Lanto Griffin
The two players we add back in are:
- $10900 – Jordan Spieth
- $8400 – Daniel Berger
So what does that leave us with? Now we’ll get into our familiar format of breaking down players by salary.
It’s no surprise that we’re going with Jon Rahm. He’s our pick to win, and no one is really close in our modeling for this tournament. Jordan Spieth, the second highest priced golfer, isn’t projected to garner much ownership. In spite of his hefty salary, the value is too good to pass up.
- $11,200 – Jon Rahm
- $10,900 – Jordan Spieth
Collin Morikawa is our favorite of this lot. He’s being wildly underpriced, as he’s actually projected for our second highest pT10% this week. Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed are all likely to have high ownership, but like Morikawa, their projection to salary values are simply too good to pass on.
- $9,500 – Collin Morikawa
- $9,200 – Viktor Hovland
- $9,100 – Patrick Cantlay
- $9,000 – Patrick Reed
Here’s the first range where we see ownership projections really come into play. As mentioned above, Finau and Zalatoris showed strong value relative to salary, but have been removed from our pool due to ownership concerns. Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler had less value to salary, but we’re getting a big ownership discount on them and they’re both viable pivot options off of Finau or Will-Z.
Webb Simpson and Louis Oosthuizen are our strongest overall values in this range. When the par 5s are short and scorable, Simpson is not quite as good, but when it takes three shots to get to the green and probably a fairway wood for the second shot, few are better.
- $8,700 – Webb Simpson
- $8,500 – Scottie Scheffler
- $8,400 – Daniel Berger
- $8,300 – Tyrrell Hatton
- $8,200 – Corey Conners
- $8,100 – Louis Oosthuizen
- $8,000 – Justin Rose
- $8,000 – Cameron Smith
Now we’re fully invested in the ownership game. A player like Christiaan Bezuidenhout gets a huge boost because he isn’t likely to be heavily rostered. The fact of the matter is, most of the players in this range have less than a 20% chance to finish in the top 10% in fantasy points, so any kind of high ownership projection is likely to push a player out. The exceptions for us are Paul Casey, Abraham Ancer, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Charley Hoffman. All four are severely underpriced and even high ownership would not turn us away from them.
- $7,900 – Paul Casey
- $7,900 – Abraham Ancer
- $7,800 – Matthew Fitzpatrick
- $7,500 – Joaquin Niemann
- $7,400 – Brian Harman
- $7,200 – Charley Hoffman
- $7,200 – Christiaan Bezuidenhout
- $7,200 – Stewart Cink
- $7,200 – Garrick Higgo
- $7,200 – Branden Grace
- $7,100 – Kevin Streelman
- $7,100 – Matt Wallace
- $7,000 – Ian Poulter
- $7,000 – Matt Jones
Like the $7,000 range, any high ownership projection is almost an instant ejection from our $6,000 player pool. This range also offers an opportunity to play some foreign tour golfers FRACAS rates highly but are almost entirely unknown to most fantasy players. Marcus Armitage, Chan Kim and Rikuya Hoshino fall into that category, and all are so low priced that you can probably fit Rahm and Morikawa into the top of your lineup. We mentioned Kim and Armitage in our U.S. Open preview, but Hoshino is a new name.
The 25-year-old Japanese golfer has been hovering around the top 100 in the official world golf rankings for the better part of two years. This year, he’s taken a significant jump in the right direction, winning twice on the Japan Golf Tour. He’s played just twice on mainland United States (and once in Hawai’i) with little to show for it, but it’s rare for a foreign tour golfer to have instant success in America.
Hoshino’s performance at the PGA Championship was uninspiring, but he lost nearly eight strokes putting in two rounds, which made his score considerably worse than how he actually struck the ball. He struggled with the putter and put two tee shots out of bounds, something he’s not known for in Japan. Otherwise, he had a stellar performance striking the ball. At just $6,100, he’s someone we’re willing to use sparingly, and with projected ownership under 1%, he could really lift a lineup.
- $6,900 – Brendon Todd
- $6,800 – Bernd Wiesberger
- $6,700 – Adam Hadwin
- $6,500 – Troy Merritt
- $6,500 – Marcus Armitage
- $6,500 – Brendan Steele
- $6,100 – Chan Kim
- $6,100 – Rikuya Hoshino
Design by Matt Sisneros.