How Does FanDuel's New Utility Position Alter MLB DFS Strategy?

FanDuel is adding a utility position and combining catcher and first base into one position for daily fantasy baseball in 2018. What are the big takeaways from these changes?

During the 2017 season, the Cleveland Indians gave you a bit of a headache if you were playing daily fantasy baseball on FanDuel.

"Is today an Edwin Encarnacion day? Or can I save some cash and roll out Carlos Santana?"

Because both players were eligibile at first base, you could roster only one of them. And if you were like me, you often chose wrong.

You no longer have to do that.

Starting in 2018, you will now have the ability to use both those guys if you so choose thanks to the addition of a utility position. Additionally, you will no longer be forced into using a catcher as that position will be combined to be one position with first base.

The scoring rules and salary cap both remain the same. While this utility addition may not seem like a major change, there are still a few takeaways to discuss. Let's crank through those now.

Stacking Is Now Easier

In the beginning, we talked about Cleveland's offense and how this change would allow you to use both Encarnacion and Santana. This year, that's between Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso, but it's certainly not the only situation in which this new rule will make things smoother.

Whether it be the Milwaukee Brewers' fountain of exciting outfielders or dueling first basemen for the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, and Toronto Blue Jays, we're going to want to stack teams that have multiple talented players at the same position. If we're barred from using one of those guys, it forces us either to reduce the number of players in our stack or dip lower in the batting order. Neither of those options is optimal.

Additionally, there are teams like the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs that are brimming with players who occupy multiple positions. On some days, they're going to be in the lineup with players eligible at the same position, stirring about additional barriers to stacking. With offenses as potent as those, we want exposure where we can get it, and having that extra flexibility is a blessing.

As a result, we should be aggressive with our stacking right out of the gate in 2018. Stacking has always been the ideal strategy for MLB -- every base hit by one player increases the volume expectation for each of his teammates -- but it wasn't always as feasible as you'd like. We don't have the positional excuse anymore. As such, we should adjust by further emphasizing this in our process.

The key previous downside mentioned before is that the presence of two first basemen on the same team could force you to settle for a three-man stack within that offense. While stacking three players is preferred to not stacking at all, there's a clear advantage to going with the full four.

The table below shows the average score for tournament rosters on FanDuel in 2017 based on the maximum number of teammates that were on the same roster. In other words, a "four" in the "Max Players Per Team" column means that roster had a full, four-player stack.

Max Players Per Team Average Score Standard Dev.
1 116.9 34.9
2 119.1 35.6
3 120.2 37.0
4 121.8 38.9

Not only did the rosters with four teammates have higher average scores, but they also carried higher variance. That's what we want in tournaments because higher variance means higher upside. And it's a pretty significant gap between the four-player teams and those with just three.

Just think about it this way. A team with a four-player stack that winds up one standard deviation above the mean scores 160.7 FanDuel points. For a three-player stack, it's 157.2. If you're not stacking as hard as possible, you're simply leaving money on the table.

With this new utility spot, there's one less obstacle to stacking. It's a strategy that makes sense anecdotally, the data backs it up, and it's now a bit easier than it was before. That seems like a rousing positive.

Catcher's Not Quite Dead Yet

Those of you who hate using catchers will certainly be digging these rule changes. If you never want to use a catcher ever again, you won't have to. But that doesn't mean you can't in the right scenarios.

First, though, let's just look at the difference between the two positions. Here are the league-wide stats for both first base and catcher during the 2017 season. It's not even a contest.

In 2017 wOBA Hard-Hit Rate FD Points Per PA
First Base .345 36.5% 2.51
Catcher .309 31.8% 2.14

On a per-plate appearance basis, first basemen scored 17.3% more FanDuel points than catchers. That's not even factoring in that first basemen often get more plate appearances by hitting higher in the lineup. So, more often than not, you're going to be filling that hole with a first baseman.

Still, though, catchers aren't completely out of the equation. There are going to be various situations that could keep them in your life, whether it be in the utility slot or at first base.

The first is if a player is simply a masher at the position. For example, Gary Sanchez had a .368 wOBA in 2017 as a catcher, which would have ranked 11th among qualified first basemen. Add in that Sanchez plays in a great park with a tremendous offense, and you can understand why he -- or others who can pump out some long balls -- would still be in play.

The second goes back to our previous section on stacking. If you're loading up on a team that has a catcher hitting high in the order, you'd be wise to at least give him consideration. You'll want to make sure he's not preventing you from rostering a better player at a different position, but catchers should still be on our radars for stacking purposes.

The third is related to game theory. Because you no longer have to roster a catcher, the ownership on those players will naturally go down. If you believe that a catcher is in a great matchup and capable of exploiting it, then it's not a bad idea to toss him out there. If others are avoiding a player in a good matchup simply because of the position he plays, we should be inclined to do the opposite and get some exposure.

Finally, catchers will likely wind up being cheaper than most first basemen. This means we can still turn their way if we're in desperate need to save salary. Ideally, this would not prevent us from loading up on a juicy stack or forgoing a more desirable option at another position, but these situations will arise. Catcher can still be a value outlet when necessary.

Again, this isn't to say you need to use catchers. You probably will not for most lineups. But it's good to stay studied-up on those lil pups in case one of these aforementioned scenarios arises, which they absolutely will from time to time.


If you want to keep with the old tradition and roster a catcher and a first baseman, you can still do so. That means that adding a utility spot doesn't drastically alter DFS on FanDuel. But as we've discussed, it does give us a lot more flexibility.

We already should have been aggressive in our stacking with baseball. This will allow us to be even more so. Teams with multiple talented players eligible at one position will no longer give us the night sweats. We can just embrace them and load up on the stacks.

On top of that, it gives us a bit extra game theory to consider. Not only can we still use a catcher by plugging him into our utility spot, but we can double up on other low-used positions like shortstop or second base, as well. Heck, the masochists out there can even use two catchers if they want. That construction will be on multiple tournament-winning rosters this year because of how little ownership it will carry. It's just going to happen.

As the year goes along, we'll learn more about the impact of this change and how it alters our rosters. But the takeaways right now seem positive in that they make stacking easier and give us extra creativity, and it's hard to turn those two perks down.