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UI professors develops mathematical model for fantasy sports


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I used the "Advanced Draft Sheet" put out by the Huddle a few years back, and it works like a charm, but insisting on not taking a backup RB until the 4th? That's pushing it...




Selecting LaDainian Tomlinson and Steven Jackson with your top two fantasy football picks might seem like a sound strategy, but a University of Iowa professor says it might not be a wise one.


“In fantasy, many people think, ‘Get the running backs early.’ In the last couple years, I have not picked my second running back until the fourth round. I finished best in the league the last two years,” said Jeff Ohlmann, a UI assistant professor of management sciences.


Considering his league consists of eight Ph.Ds and a NASA rocket scientist, outsmarting his opponents is no small feat, but the UI researcher does have an edge — he has been developing a mathematical model for fantasy sports league drafts that helps users determine the right players to select.


“It assesses which players are going to be available at which round in the future,” Ohlmann said. “It keeps track of what your opponents have done to see what will happen in the future.”


His research appeared in a paper he co-authored with two University of Cincinnati scholars called, “A Player Selection Heuristic for a Fantasy Sports League Draft.” That was published in April by The Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.


Fantasy sports are games where owners build rosters that compete against other fantasy owners based on statistics generated by real professional athletes or teams.


The program suggests which would be best player to take at a current selection given who the user rates highest and who the model expects to be taken in the future. To figure that out, it computes the decisions other participants have made with their selections and the players available to predict how the rest of the draft will play out, round by round, selection by selection.


Ohlmann’s model is not a magic bullet to victory. It still requires analytical assessments, primarily on the front end. Users have to tell the model how many points they think the players they are considering drafting will score that season.


In a recent draft, Ohlmann rated San Diego Charger Antonio Gates as not only the best tight end in the draft, but also significantly superior to any other tight end. The model weighed Gates’ value versus the likely spot another participant would select him in the future given their past choices.


Ohlmann ended up taking Gates with the third selection and Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai No. 1. In the same draft, the model suggested that given the factors, Carolina Panther wide receiver Steve Smith would be a better choice with Ohlmann’s No. 2 selection than a second running back.


So far, Ohlmann has had success, and a partner using the model has made the playoffs in his fantasy league the last two years.


Ohlmann said several people have inquired about the program. His next plan is to continue testing the model, then create a user friendly interface and test that, and then possibly down the road commercialize the product.


Although he is a sports fan and enjoys fantasy leagues, Ohlmann has no plans to give up his academic career for whatever fantasy sports glories might await.


“I do like fantasy sports, but I kind of enjoy my position at the university. It’s not necessarily what I want to do with my life. I like being involved with the development of it and solving the complex problems,” he said.



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Interesting, though it seems like his program does the same thing as my relative value spreadsheet in Excel. :D


Say I had the 4th pick in a PPR league. My spreadsheet would tell me to take Addai, a top 5 WR, and Gates too, so his strategy isn't exactly groundbreaking. Especially if all the top RBs are gone.

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