Stacking Keeps You Flexible

Stacking Keeps You Flexible
Photo by Robert Collins / Unsplash

It's clear we're going to be talking about Week 17 correlation a lot this summer.

You know which side of the argument I'm on. My life-changing lineup included a farcical George Kittle/Hunter Renfrow mini correlation.

But I expect the pushback on Week 17 game stacking to have some legs this year. Following Underdog's decision to award more of the BBM4 prize pool to the regular season, there's an argument that playing for Week 17 is less important. At the very least, if you already thought the Week 17 stuff was overblown, more regular season prize money will likely reinforce that opinion.

However, Underdog's regular-season prize structure contributes to extremely top-heavy Week 17 payouts this year.

It's vital to understand this top-heavy payout structure in light of how difficult it is to make the finals in the first place.

The Difficult of Making the BBM4 Finals

If you max BBMIV as an average drafter, you can expect to advance 25 of your teams. (With an expected advance rate of 2-in-12, 150 entries would yield 25 playoff teams.) You'd then be expected to advance out of Week 15 at a 1-in-16 rate... for an expected semifinal showing of 1.6 teams.

With another 1-in-16 cutdown, maxing BBMIV is expected to advance just 0.1 teams to the finals. In other words, the expected rate of making the finals as a perfectly average drafter is just one team in 10 years.

That's pretty daunting.

Regular-Season Prizes

Fortunately, the finals aren't the only way to have a profitable season in the tournament.

Finishing at or near the top of the regular-season standings would be incredibly profitable. And these prizes provide another path to winning, independent of the playoffs. But you also have very long odds of a significant regular-season payday. Even finishing 51st out of 677,376 teams earns just $3,000—less than the $3,750 price tag to max enter the tournament.

And of the $5 million in regular-season prizes, $2.25 million will be paid out in $250 increments. These winnings will help reward a lot of different drafters for excellent teams. But those prizes aren't what we're playing for.

Finishing First

Although BBM now has more regular-season prizes, the top money is still in Week 17. The top payout in Week 17 is now 6x as large as the regular-season first-place prize, after being only 2x last season. I plan to play for the top prize.

But, given what I laid out above, simply making the Week 17 finals is already a considerable achievement. And yet, if you completely flame out in the finals, it's going to hurt. A ticket with a realistic shot of cashing for $3 million comes with a min-cash of just $1,000.

Moreover, finishing 51st—in the 88th percentile—is worth only 5x a last-place finish. Granted, $5,000 is a nice chunk of change, but it's still 600x less than the first-place prize.

Even finishing 11th—a top 3-percentile finals outcome—pays out 200x less than the first-place prize.

Hell, finishing third is worth 10x less than finishing first. This is not a tournament where you're just happy to be there in Week 17. You need to play to finish first.

Game Stacking Increases Weekly Ceiling

Fortunately, there are some levers we can pull to increase our odds of finishing not just near the top but at the very top. And... one of these is to game stack Week 17.

In his Best Ball Manifesto, Mike Leone found game stacking to be a pivotal contributor to expected value.

"The data shows that your ability to win a 470-person field can increase by ~50% by game stacking."
"In Week 17, ideally, you have between 6-9 total game-stacked players, where a player is considered “game-stacked” if they are on the same team as your QB or any opposing skill player."

Leone's findings were based on all 17 weeks of 2022 data, which increases the odds that game stacking is meaningfully adding ceiling to best ball lineups. In other words, his findings aren't simply reflecting what happened in one week last season.

But this means that Leone's research used non-playoff weeks. Most stacks in these weeks – Week 6 or what have you – were created without intent. And because those stacks were created by chance... they were likely put together without reaching.

This is one of the most important things to remember when attempting to build out Week 17 game stacks—correlation is an edge as long as we're also following drafting fundamentals.

Adam Levitan recently reiterated this point.

If you are newer to best ball, Adam's framing is what I recommend. In addition to thoughtfully thinking through your exposures, Adam's list covers the best ball fundamentals. These concepts are the blocking and tackling of fake football.

And you can't ignore the fundamentals of the game, or you'll have no chance of making the finals in the first place.

But, if you're comfortable with the basics, you may not be thinking about correlation enough.

Accomplishing Multiple Things at Once

If you don't think about correlation at all but expertly execute best ball fundamentals, you'll likely have an excellent advance rate. And based on Leone's Best Ball Manifesto, playoff advance rate probably is underrated, at least among hardcore drafters.

However, a pure advance rate-style drafter is likely leaving serious value on the table by not optimizing for the top prize in Week 17. And, again, a respectable showing is not what we're playing for; we're playing for first place.

At the same time, a drafter who zones in on correlation at the expense of the fundamentals is likely to have an incredible Week 17 team... that never makes the Week 17 final.

The goal is to do both things at once.

Staying Flexible

One of the potential mistakes that drafters can make when building stacks of any kind is getting overly focused on "completing" the stacks they've started.

Sometimes, it does make sense to draft this way. If you draft a quarterback without stacking partners, it makes sense to prioritize pairing him with at least one pass catcher. But... if you've drafted the pass catcher(s) first, I recommend fighting the urge to become overly focused on "finishing" that stack with a QB selection.

Instead, we want to be thinking about building in correlation throughout the draft, even without the quarterback—which I outline here:

Thinking about Sniping my QB? Do It.
Pat Kerrane argues that QB points are the most replaceable element of a best ball lineup and that 3+ stacks are desirable even in 2QB lineups.

Stacking without the quarterback isn't just a helpful backup plan for when you get sniped; it's a vital part of what I'm trying to do in every draft.

Because, in my experience, building a fundamentally sound team with Week 17 correlation is far more manageable when I'm attempting to game stack more frequently, not less.

When I think about correlation more, the difficulty of adding it in drops because I'm willing to build teams with several "incomplete stacks".

Except, I don't call them incomplete stacks; I call them mini correlations or mini game stacks.

But the point is, building "incomplete stacks" is something I'm actively looking to do—because stacking increases my flexibility throughout the draft.

BBM4 Example

Take this Best Ball Mania IV draft as an example:

Evidence Based Analysis Delivered to Your Inbox