Win @NFLFantasy PPR Leagues w/ ML

So, the past 3 years I have been using #machine-learning (ML) to help me in my family based PPR #fantasy-football league. When I joined the league, the commissioner and my partner’s father, said I would never win using statistics as the basis of my game play. Being cut from the “I’ll show you” aka “well, fine…I’ll prove it to you” cloth that some of us gals working in the tech industry dawn as we break down stereotypical walls and glass ceilings, is something I’ve always enjoyed about my career and love that there is an infographic to tell the tale courtesy of mscareergirl.com (only complaint is the source text in white is basically impossible to read but at least the iconography and salaries are legible):

glass-ceiling-2-620x400

infographic provided by Danyel Surrency Jones on mscareergirl.com

I’ve never whined that in my industry, I tend to work primarily with the male species or that they are “apparently” paid more *on average* because some survey says so.  My work ethic doesn’t ride on gender lines — This train departs from the “proven value based on achievements earned & result in commensurate remuneration” station (woah, that’s a mouthful).  I take challenges head-on not to prove to others, but to prove to myself, that I can do something I set my sights on, and do that something as well, if not better, than counterparts. Period. Regardless of gender. And that track has led to the figurative money ‘line’ (or perhaps it’s literal in the case of DFS or trains – who’s to say? But I digress…more on that later).

Money_Train

So, I joined his league on NFL.com, so aptly nicknamed SassyDataMinxes (not sure who the other minxes are in my 1 woman “crew” but I never said I was grammarian; mathematician, aka number ninja, well, yes;  but lingualist, maybe not.

Year 1, as to be expected *or with hindsight*,  was an abysmal failure. Keep in mind that I knew almost absolute nothing when it came to Pro Football or Fantasy sports.  I certainly did not know players or strategies or that fantasy football extended beyond Yahoo Pick ‘Em leagues, which again, in hindsight, would have been a great place to start my learning before jumping head 1st into the world of PPR/DFS.

At its core, it requires you pick the weekly winning team from 2 different competitors and assuming you have the most correct picks, you win that week. If there are no teams on BYE that week, you have 32 teams or 16 games to “predict outcomes” ; a binary 0 or 1 for lose or win in essence. Right? Never, she exclaims, because WAIT, THERE’S MORE: you have to pick a winner based on another factor: point spread. Therefore, if 0 means lost and 1 means won, you get a 1 per win EXCEPT if the spread of points is less than what the “book makers” out of Vegas determine to be the “winning spread” – You could technically pick the winning team and still get a goose egg for that matchup if the team did not meet their point spread (ooh, it burns when that happens). The team that wins happily prancing around the field singing “We are the Champions” while you are the loser for not betting against them because they were comfortable winning by a paltry lesser amount than necessary – Ooh, the blood boils relieving those early games – especially since my Grandmother who won that year picked her teams based on cities she liked or jersey colors that her ‘Color Me Happy’ wheel said were HER best COOL tones; the most unscientific approach worked for her so many times I now think she actually IS A bookie running an illegal operation out of her basement, which fronts as ‘her knitting circle” – Yah, as if any of us believe that one, Grandma :)! (She is a walking football prediction algorithm).

So, something as seemingly simple as Yahoo Pick ‘Em can actually be harder than it appears unless you are her. But, still…markedly easier than a PPR league; and light years easier than DFS/Auction style fantasy leagues when it comes to predicting gaming outcomes at the player, weekly matchup and league perspectives.

Hindsight is such a beautiful thing (*I think I have said that before*) because to espouse all of these nuggets of knowledge as though I am the Alliteration Arbiter of All –> The Socratic Seer of Scoring Strategies…And again, as always I digress (but, ain’t it fun!).

OK, let’s continue…So, we’ve established that fantasy football gaming outcomes requires a lot of *something* — And we’ve established that just cuz it seems simple, or did, when trying to predict outcomes along a massively mutable set of variables  *wait, why didn’t I just READ that sentence or THINK it when I started! If I could go back in time and ask my 3 year younger:

“Self, should I stop this nonsense now, alter the destination or persevere through what, at times, might seems like a terrible journey? *HUM, I think most pensively*.

And then answer myself, just like the good only-child I am:

“NEVER – Self, nothing worth getting is easy to get, but the hardest fought wins are the most worthwhile when all is said and done and remember,  don’t let the bedbugs bite; YOU’RE bigger than them/that.”

Or something along those lines, perhaps…

NEVER was my answer because in 2015 and 2016 (Years 2 and 3),  I was #1 in the league and won those coveted NFL.com trophies and a small pool of money. But what I won most of all was bragging rites.

Champion

Oh baby, you can’t buy those…

Not even on the Dark Web from some Onion-Routed Darker Market. Especially the right to remind a certain commissioner / neighsayer du jour / father-in-law-like that my hypothesis of using ML & statistics ALONE could beat his years of institutional football knowledge and know-how. I also won a 2nd NFL-managed league that I joined in Year 3 to evaluate my own results with a different player composition.

So Year 1 was a learning year, a failure to others in the league but super valuable to me. Year 2 was my 1st real attempt to use the model, though with much supervision and human “tweaking” ; Year 3, non-family league (league #2 for brevity sake; snarky voice in head “missed that 4 paragraphs ago” – Burn!), I had drafted an ideal team, rated A- .

Year 3 being a double test to ensure Year 1 wasn’t a double fluke.  Two leagues played:

League #1 with the family, was a team comprised of many non-ideal draft picks chosen during non-optimized rounds (QB in round 2, DEF in round 4 etc). But the key in both Year 2 and 3, was spotting the diamonds in the rookie rough – my model bubbled up unknown players or as they are known to enthusiasts: “deep sleepers” that went on to become rookie-of-the-year type players: in 2015, that was Devonta Freeman (ATL); in 2016, that was ‘Ty-superfreak’ Hill aka Tyreek Hill (Chiefs) and even better, Travis Kelce (who had been on my roster since 2015 but rose to the occasion in 2016, BEEEG-TIME) .  That has always been a strength of my approach to solving this outcomes conundrum.

So, that all being said, in this Year 4, I plan to blog PRE-GAME with my predictions for my team with commentary on some of the rankings of other players. Remember, it isnt just a player outcome, but it is player outcome in relation to your matchup that week within your league and in the context of who best to play vs. bench given those weekly changing facets. Some weeks, you might look like a boss according to NFL.com predictions; but in fact, should be playing someone else who might have a lower-than-you-are-comfortable-putting-into-your-lineup prediction. Those predictions folks HAVE ISSUES – But I believe in the power of model evaluation and learning, hence the name Machine Learning or better yet, Deep Learning approaches.

Side note: reminds me of that “SAP powered” player comparison tool:

fantasyimageswhich was DOWN / not accessible most of the aforementioned season when it was being hammered on by fans in need of a fantasy fix (reminds me of an IBM Watson joke but I was keep that one to myself ) – whomever is at fault – you should make sure your cloud provider “models” out an appropriate growth-based capacity & utilization plan IF you are going to feature it on your fantasy football site, NFL.com.

Next posting will be all about how I failed during Year 4’s draft (2017) and what I am planning to do to make up for it using the nuggets of knowledge that is an offshoot of retraining the MODEL(s) during the week – Plus, I will blog my play/bench predictions which will hopefully secure a week 1 win (hopefully because I still need to retrain this week but not until Wednesday :)).

In a separate post, we’ll talk through the train…train…train phases, which datasets are most important to differentiate statistically important features from the sea of unworthy options sitting out waiting for you to pluck them into your world. But dont fall prey to those sinister foe…They might just be the “predictable” pattern of noise  that clouds one’s senses. And of course, scripting and more scripting; so many lines of code were written and rewritten covering the gamut of scripting languages from the OSS data science branch (no neg from my perspective on SaS or SPSS other than they cost $$$ and I was trained on R in college *for free* like most of my peers) – well, free is a relative term, and you take the good with the bad when you pull up your OSS work-boots –> R has its drawbacks when it comes to the viability of processing larger than life datasets without herculean sampling efforts just to be able to successfully execute a .R web scraping script without hitting the proverbial out of memory errors, or actually train the requisite models that are needed to solve said self-imposed ML fantasy football challenges such as this. Reader thinks to oneself, “she sure loves those tongue twisting alliterations.”

And gals, I love helping out a fellow chica (you too boys/men, but you already know that, eh) — Nobody puts baby in the corner, and I never turn my back on a mind in need or a good neg/dare.

Well, Year 4 — Happy Fantasy Football Everyone — May the wind take you through the playoffs and your scores take you all the way to the FF Superbowl 🙂

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