MLB DFS Cash Game Approach


Some folks don’t like to play cash games in DFS and just want to play GPP contests to go for the big rewards. I mean, who doesn’t want to hit big one night and get a massive reward? There are a lot of players who play strictly GPP, but I still grind away at cash games, which are 50/50 contests on DraftKings and FanDuel. Since we’ve been putting in cash cores all year, let’s talk about how I approach things every night.

Note: For GPP plays for today’s slate, check the Expert Plays feature in our Optimizer.

Contest Selection 

Before we get into any lineup building, there is an element that we have to nail down. Picking the right contests for cash games is just as important as when you play GPP. I always play single-entry 50/50’s (SE) because that means every other player has just one entry. 

When you play 50/50’s, you’re going to see lineup trains, which means a lot of people with the same lineup. Since there are a plethora of sites out there, you inevitably run into the same lineup in cash a lot, so there is no need to make that train even bigger in contests where you can play multiple lineups. 

I also try to reserve one small-dollar GPP to play my cash lineup. A lot of people eat a ton of chalk in SE contests, and that’s a huge reason Alex Blickle always preaches to be different in those contests when playing GPP. While I 100% agree with that, the cash lineup you do play tends to hit the cash line in SE GPP when it hits the 50/50 contests, so it’s hopefully a little extra money in your pocket. I love to target 50/50’s that are SE and only have a few hundred entrants to give myself the best shot. 

Starting Pitching 

Every slate is going to be different, but there are nights where choosing the pitching is very easy. When I go to build my cash lineups, I start at pitcher first, because that guides the type of hitting I can afford. Due to the hard work of Alex and others, we have the most accurate ownership projections in the industry. When we’re in the MLB Ownership Projections tab, I scroll to the “Pown” SE portion of the screen to help guide my decision – 

This picture is from the Monday, June 17 slate, and this is a great example of pitching being relatively easy. The first thing I do on Monday is put Paul Skenes into the lineup. He’s projecting for 20% more than any other pitcher on the board, so it’s not a debate if we should play him or not. Will there be slates where that approach doesn’t work? Yes, and you only need to go to the day before to see why. Dylan Cease was easily the most popular pitcher in cash games against the Mets, but he got obliterated. You can look in hindsight and say, “Well, if we didn’t play Cease, we could have cashed easily” and you’d be right. The thing is, it doesn’t work like that. If we had hindsight, we could take down every slate, and when a pitcher like Cease or Skenes is so popular, he’s getting locked into my cash game lineup. If Skenes scores 25+ DK points at 80% and you don’t have him, that’s difficult to overcome. 

After locking in Skenes, the decision point becomes the SP2, and Yusei Kikuchi certainly has the lead. With only three pitchers above 20%, those are really the three I’d be considering. Since they are only $700 apart, there may not be a huge difference in the style of build, but this is where projections enter the chat. Kikuchi is around 10% more popular, he’s projected for 6.72 more DK points and he’s projected for two more strikeouts. To me, it’s not worth saving $700 when there is that large of a gap in the projected points. As long as the ownership stays around the same, picking our pitchers on Monday is pretty easy. 

Not all slates are this easy, however. Sometimes we have 3-4 pitchers all checking in around 25-35%, and then it gets a little tougher. When I run into a slate like that, it’s much more of a puzzle, and we have to use the popular bats as a guide as well. For example, if hitters like Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodriguez are two of the most popular hitters, it tells us that we’re likely going to need a cheaper pitcher. So if we have 3-4 pitchers who are all around the same popularity, but one is under $8,000, I may lean toward that pitcher as one of my cash game options and plug in Witt/Rodriguez. 

If the popular hitters are all under $4,500, that would tell us that we can spend more on pitching out of the 3-4 who are most popular. Since everything has to work together, there are slates where we need to build some of the bats first and then start doing the pitching combo, even though it’s nicer when there is a clear path at pitching. The important thing to remember is that we’re not exactly going after the best play, we’re using popularity as our guideline. In turn, it requires shutting off the brain to some degree. 


Filling out the hitting is a lot more complex to cover in just one article, because every single slate is so different. There are a couple of rules I try to live by regardless of slate, though. Keep in mind, there are always exceptions to this rule, but it’s a good starting point at least. 

Look for cheap leadoff hitters 

This doesn’t always happen every night, but there are times when teams give us a hitter in the leadoff spot who isn’t always in that slot and not priced as though they are in that role. A good example of this rule is Michael Stefanic of the Los Angeles Angels. He’s not an everyday player (that’s being kind, he’s played in six games), but when the Angels face a lefty, he sometimes leads off. Normally, lefty Nolan Schanuel is the leadoff hitter for Los Angeles, but if righty Stefanic leads off at $2,500, he turns into a strong cash game play. It’s not that we expect him to go nuts, but he affords a lot of other aspects that can go off. There are slates where hitters like Stefanic can reach 60-70% in cash games. 

Look for specialist hitters 

This is an extension of looking for cheap leadoff hitters, and a good example is Randal Grichuk of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s also not an everyday player, but when they see a lefty, he typically hits no lower than fifth, he’s around the $3,000 range and has a .356 wOBA and .147 ISO against lefties. When we get players like that in the top half of a lineup, they are easy to fill in our cash lineups. Another example is catcher Mitch Garver of the Seattle Mariners. When they see a lefty, he’s bordering on a lock for me because he eats up a catcher spot that we generally go cheap at anyway (more on that in a minute), and he has a .267 ISO against southpaws. These hitters that are cheap and bring tangible upside are great components of cash game contests. 

Avoid 7-8-9 hitters when they are at home 

I don’t like playing hitters lower in the order in general, but you have to be especially aware when they are at home. There is a solid chance you could lose out on a plate appearance at the end of the game if the home team is leading, since they won’t hit in the bottom of the inning. There are exceptions here and there, especially when we’re talking about punt options. An example would be some of the players the Orioles have called up this season like Jackson Holliday. Unless a hitter is just wildly popular for some reason, I try not to use those ones lower in the order. 

Don’t use a hitter against your pitcher 

I just violated this rule recently when David Peterson was our pitcher against Miami and we played Jake Burger, but 99.5 times out of 100, we’re not going to do that. This is self-explanatory, because every time your hitter does something, your pitcher loses points. 

Go cheap at catcher 

I try not to spend too much at the catcher position unless someone like Will Smith or William Contreras is wildly popular. With so many positions to fill, it’s typically going to be easier to build a full lineup if we’re not spending a lot of salary on the catcher spot that lacks difference-makers. I love to be under $4,000 unless I feel backed into a corner to play an expensive catcher. 

Avoid stacking 4-5 offensive players on non-Coors slates 

This rule somewhat goes out the window when we have games in Coors, like on Monday when the Dodgers visit the Rockies. Every single Dodgers hitter is over 15.5% projected rostership, so we likely want to have 4-5 Dodgers. But on normal slates, I don’t like stacking more than three hitters from one offense. Even if we love an offense, it’s baseball. There are going to be nights when offenses don’t do what we think, and that can derail a cash game. Coors is a little different, especially when it’s an offense on the level of the Dodgers (even without Mookie Betts). 

Alright, now that we have some general rules, let’s use Monday as the primary example. Once we lock in our pitching duo of Skenes and Kikuchi, I take a look at ownership for the entire slate to see how the hitting shakes out – 

Even though Shohei Ohtani is a staggering $7,000, it’s not deterring anyone from playing him. When a hitter as talented as Ohtani is roughly 10% higher than any other hitter on the slate, he’s going into my lineup. 

The next aspect to tackle is where to play him. Since he can be played at 1B or outfield, it matters, and the Dodgers take up the first five outfield spots. Cavan Biggio (he can be a 3B option as well), Jason Heyward, Andy Pages and Teoscar Hernandez are all over 15%, while no other outfielder is over 12.8%. I’m leaning toward playing him in the outfield because Paul Goldschmidt is also popular at 1B and only $3,900. We’re still going to need some affordable hitters in this build. 

This would be a good example of how the core might look by the end of the night because all we need is a cheap catcher and we can spend a reasonable amount on shortstop. 

Final Thoughts 

It can be a little difficult to talk about cash games in just one article since every slate is built differently, but that is what we do have the Discord for. I’m always happy to answer questions about anything, and I want to address one more thing that Alex brings up, because cash games aren’t as popular as they used to be. The train of thought in DFS was always to play cash games to help cover the losses from GPP, but that can backfire – 

If you’re losing both cash and GPP, you’re going to lose more money than just focusing on GPP alone. Plenty of pros have migrated to playing GPP only, and I totally understand why. I always have played cash games, and some of the reason why is just the mental aspect. I can hit cash more often than GPP, and when it’s a long baseball season, it helps me to see some green on plenty of nights. I view playing cash and GPP together as not needing a two-track mind, because cash doesn’t require as many decisions. Since we’re using ownership as our guide, that’s building the majority of my lineup every night. It also helps me to know where the chalk is falling to try and get different in GPP. But that’s just me. We’re all different, and if you want to play cash, this should help you find some success.

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