Ask Your Fantasy Smart Guy: Jonathan Bales and Fantasy Baseball

I like to refer to fantasy football as an industry. That it is. Within that realm exists some sub-industries, and one of the most successful is the one started by Jonathan Bales. He started his Fantasy Football for Smart People series in 2013 and it’s been a rousing success. You didn’t think he would stop at fantasy football, would you? We virtually sat down and I asked the fan too busy to be still sad about the Cowboys about his journey and of course, the book.

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When did you decide to take your fantasy writing talents and begin the Fantasy Football For Smart People Series?

I started the series in the summer of 2012 with “How to Dominate Your Draft.” I really hadn’t done too much fantasy sports writing up until that point – more just NFL coverage – so that was really just for fun for me. I thought there might be a bit of a market for it, especially with the explosion of e-books, but I didn’t expect much to come of it.

That book was popular enough that it propelled me to keep writing, though, and eventually get into more fantasy writing. I slowly transitioned from general sports writing – an industry in which intelligent analysis is basically discouraged in favor of “hot takes,” in my opinion [Zach note: The hawtest] – and into fantasy sports (specifically DFS), where the subscription-based model rewards quality content.

Do you watch much of the combine action? How involved do you get with the offseason, or is it time to focus on baseball?

I don’t watch too much of the combine, but I do study the numbers quite a bit. I’m a huge stat nerd and I place a lot of emphasis in combine results because, well, they work; they help make better predictions. I’m a huge draft fan, and I also think an intricate understanding of rookies can be a huge advantage for fantasy owners.

Who from this year’s rookie class of WRs fits into your “thick” preferences for red-zone scoring guys?

I think it’s a unique year in that the majority of the top wide receiver prospects are big guys: Cooper, White, Parker, Green-Beckham, Funchess. From a strict scoring perspective, it’s not a surprise that Green-Beckham interests me most as a 237-pounder who scored 17 times on only 87 college receptions. [Zach note: From last year’s “A Guide to Winning at Daily Fantasy Sports”, Bales mentioned that bigger, not necessarily taller WRs were the guys to target for higher TD rates.]

How was your 2014 DFS season?

It was great. I love playing daily fantasy football, but baseball is my favorite (and best) sport for DFS purposes. I qualified for the 2014 DraftKings Fantasy Baseball Championship in the Bahamas, which was an amazing time. I had a $12,500 cash there with my lineup, but I was also extremely lucky to have swapped equity with some guys that put me on the right side of variance, so the overall haul there was awesome. I think I had something like only a 16% chance to walk away with as much as I did, so that was a big positive.

I donated back a good chunk of my bankroll in December – my worst month ever as a DFS player, by far – when I went on a nice little cold streak, but overall it was a really profitable year.

Does it help the industry more when “no names” win these big GPP prizes or the “name” grinders like Peter Jennings aka CSURAM88?

I think players like Peter and some of the other big-name guys like that do so much for the industry that it’s always a positive. Having $1 million winners like CSU and Dinkpiece is great because they represent DFS so well and help to spread the word.

And it’s also a positive to have smaller grinders take down big cashes as well because it helps the average player see that they truly can win on any given day.

When the football season is over, why should daily fantasy-ers consider trying out baseball?

They should definitely check out baseball because it’s the easiest sport to profit, in my opinion. It’s also the only sport in which I think you can get away with not watching the game and not losing too much in terms of being a profitable player. [Zach note: I don’t have to watch? Glorious] Baseball is so volatile from day to day that I don’t think you can really learn much from watching. It’s more of a mathematical and game-theory-driven sport, so I think anyone who employs fundamentally intelligent DFS concepts can be profitable.

How does your fantasy strategy translate from football to baseball?

Football is more value-based than baseball. Even though football is also volatile from game to game, the comparison to baseball isn’t close (especially for batters). I can be reasonably confident that my running back will score some points unless he gets hurt, whereas Mike Trout can be a sensational value and go 0-for-5 in any game.

Also, baseball is very standardized – it’s the same binary pitcher vs hitter matchup at all times – whereas football is not at all. You need to care about personnel, schemes, game situations, and a lot of other variables that make watching football valuable. Baseball isn’t like that for me. And in some ways, I think you can perhaps be better at daily fantasy baseball without watching games because you can prevent yourself from getting fooled by randomness.

Read any good philosophy and/or science books lately?

Antifragile is my favorite book that I reference pretty much all the time in my writing. I read everything from Michio Kaku, with The Future of the Mind being his most recent. I also read and re-read Nietzsche all the time, with my favorites being The Gay Science and Beyond Good and Evil. My favorite writer to read on a daily basis is James Altucher.

Talk about all of your fantasy writing work, where can people find you, and why sleep is for wusses.

Right now, I’m concentrated on growing RotoAcademy – my daily fantasy sports school – with some big news coming in the near future. I post updates about most of my writing and products on Twitter @BalesFootball.

Thanks again for talking, Mr. Bales. Check out his 2015 Daily Fantasy Baseball Package, if you’re into that whole “winning money” thing. His latest book is Fantasy Baseball for Smart People.

In case you want to read my original interview with Jonathan, you can get There Still Is No Offseason: Interviews 51-100 of the Ask Your Fantasy Football Expert series.

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