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Tao of Bales: 5 Important Philosophical Thoughts on Daily Fantasy Sports

Jonathan Bales is a DraftKings Pro and the author of the Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series, most recently Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Win at Daily Fantasy Sports. I’ve been getting a ton of requests on Twitter to break down some of my thoughts on…

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Jonathan Bales is a DraftKings Pro and the author of the Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series, most recently Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Win at Daily Fantasy Sports.

I’ve been getting a ton of requests on Twitter to break down some of my thoughts on daily fantasy sports using Friedrich Nietzsche quotes. Haha, yeah right, could you imagine? You guys know I write about what I and maybe three other people in the world are interested in. It’s called being an artist, look it up.

A big part of being an artist is creating things no one likes, but an even bigger part is making people think in ways they never thought before. I can’t actually do that aspect of it—just making things no one likes—but there are lots of other smart people who can.

I’ve touched on James Altucher’s concept of “idea sex” quite a bit in the past, including in last week’s Tao of Bales: The Secrets of Daily Fantasy Sports. Basically, the best and most innovative ideas come from merging two seemingly unrelated fields; take what you know about one thing—literally anything—apply it to something else, and then holy crap you have the greatest idea in the history of mankind or else just a pretty decent idea that maybe you can use or maybe not or an idea that’s pretty poor and probably useless or else a really shitty idea whatever guys I’m not a magician.

One thing I like is philosophy. I read it a lot and apply it to DFS all the time. I mostly like metaphysics and epistemology. My favorite philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche, and my favorite work of his is probably The Gay Science. So now I’m going to take a few Nietzsche quotes from The Gay Science and apply them to daily fantasy sports.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wow Jonathan, is there a chance this article will be so actionable it will make me too good of a daily fantasy player?” I’d be lying if I said that’s not a legitimate concern. And yes, this is going to be on the test.

Bad Science

“Do you believe then that the sciences would ever have arisen and become great if there had not beforehand been magicians, alchemists, astrologers and wizards, who thirsted and hungered after forbidden powers?” In the NFL, there’s some internal conflict within many organizations regarding how much teams should use film and traditional scouting versus analytics. Film is still obviously winning out, but I think that will change over the next decade. Pretty sad it has taken this long for analytics to be accepted at all, but whatever.

The reason I think that is because studying film is more or less unscientific. How do you refute “This guy has great hips?” How do you improve upon “Kid plays with heart?”

Are those things important? Probably, but they aren’t testable or refutable. When I look at measurable and find that X percent of running backs who have succeeded in the NFL run a sub-4.50 in the 40-yard dash, that’s something we can work with. We can test how much certain variables matter and we can create better and better processes for identifying talent.

A scientific approach to the game of football is self-correcting. It improves. That’s why bad science—the magicians and alchemists—is better than no science. Bad science can become good science. Bad theories and analytics improve over time. Studying film, on the other hand, isn’t an evolutionary process. How do you improve upon some dude thinking one individual player has quick feet?

As it relates to DFS, I think you should study and test everything you do. Is this position the best to use in the flex in this situation? Should I always stack? Question everything you believe, and more important, make falsifiable theories. You don’t need to always be right, but you do need to embrace a process that is capable of being improved upon. It’s okay to be an astrologer to start, but put yourself on a path to eventually become an astronomer.

Recency Bias

“Egoism is the law of perspective applied to feelings: what is closest appears large and weighty, and as one moves farther away size and weight decrease.”

The biggest predictor of tournament ownership is recent performance; the crowd loves “hot” players—and not just Jimmy G, am I right?—and overvalues guys who have performed well lately. Those players are the equivalent to an object that is close—it appears ‘large and weighty’—whereas the value of “cold” players typically seems much worse than what it is in reality. The player who busted out last week has perceived value that appears much more robust than the guy who broke out three weeks ago.

That doesn’t mean we should value last year’s performance the same as this year, but check this out:

That’s the value over expectation for players based on their salary change over the past month. As a whole, players with a salary decrease (which typically reflects underwhelming recent play) have performed a whole lot better than those who have seen a recent increase in price. Take advantage of that recency bias, both in terms of pricing and ownership.


“Man träumt gar nicht, oder interessant — Man muss lernen, ebeson zu wachen: — gar nicht, oder interessant” LOL, just kidding. No idea what this means, but I’m sure someone is going to translate it for me on Twitter.


“Examine the lives of the best and more fruitful men and peoples, and ask yourselves whether a tree, if it is to grow proudly into the sky, can do without bad weather and storms: whether unkindness and opposition from without, whether some sort of hatred, envy, obstinacy, mistrust, severity, greed and violence do not belong to the favouring circumstances without which a great increase even in virtue is hardly possible. The poison which destroys the weaker nature strengthens the stronger – and he does not call it poison, either.” Over the long run, the best thing that can happen for a DFS player is to win. Shocker. Short-term, though, immediate success can sometimes be detrimental because it breeds complacency. The most I’ve ever learned about daily fantasy sports has been when I’ve lost. It forces you to really think critically about what you’re doing—be honest with yourself—and figure out how to evolve as a player.

This is related to the idea of taking a scientific process to the game. Don’t put yourself in a position to be overly harmed by losses. Poor players get killed off by losing; great players get stronger by learning why they lost and how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

A related Nietzsche quote is this one: “What are man’s truths ultimately? Merely his irrefutable errors.” It’s far easier to figure out what doesn’t work than what does. Addition by subtraction is an underrated way to become a profitable daily fantasy player.

Cause and Effect

“Cause and effect: there is probably never any such duality in fact there is a continuum before us from which we isolate a few portions – just as we always observe a motion as isolated points and therefore do not properly see it but infer it. The abruptness with which many effects take place leads us into error it is however only an abruptness for us. There is an infinite multitude of processes in that abrupt moment which escape us. An intellect which could see cause and effect as a continuum which could see the flux of events not according to our mode of perception as things arbitrarily separated and broken – would throw aside the conception of cause and effect and would deny all conditionality.” “Team X is 32-0 when they run the ball 30 or more times in a game. Team Y is undefeated when they possess the ball for more than 35 minutes.”

How often do you hear these sorts of stats during games? It’s so incredibly laughable. Even worse, coaches make decisions as if you can’t possibly win without a balanced offensive attack, without “establishing the run.”

Obviously running the ball often and winning the time-of-possession “battle” are effects of being a good team, not typically causes of it. You can simply study first-half efficiency rates and run/pass balance to figure that out.

Yet we still have NFL coaches who can’t see this, who continually run the ball way too often because that’s what the stats suggest they should do. People at the highest level of their profession can’t properly separate cause and effect.

But you can. As a daily fantasy player, your job is to use stats to win fantasy leagues, but it is really to find the right stats that are causes of future success—those that are predictive rather than explanatory. The correlation between rushing attempts and win percentage is an explanatory stat; the correlation between Adjusted Net-YPA and future wins is a predictive one.

Our goal isn’t to explain what happened in the past; it’s to predict the future. Understanding cause and effect—and perhaps even taking a Nietzschean stance of negating the conventional view of it altogether—is the first step in doing that.