Our pitching in MLB DFS isn’t just a source of fantasy points. The price tags on pitchers make it so they shape they dictate the freedoms and restrictions of building our lineups. Before reading this article, it’s highly suggested that you read my article, “DFS Pitching Primer,” so the concepts discussed here make more sense.
That we’re not selecting the best players. We’re constructing the lineups which carry the most leverage without sacrificing many projected fantasy points.
Tonight is a short slate, so not a lot of great options, so I thought we’d zero in on DraftKings, where we have to play two pitchers. On DK, we have to know when to play about half of the pool and when to condense the pool. With so much bad pitching, it’s a slate to attack that bad pitching with a diversity of hitter stacks and have a condensed player pool.
And even this condensed pool isn’t super pretty, so you can imagine how much fat we’ve cut:
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Our MLB DFS lineups don’t start and end with pitching. I’m not saying to punt pitcher every night or even every now and then. I’m just stressing that each and every slate does not rest upon our pitching. That said, the pitcher position is so vital because it’s the slot where we can get the most accurate projection in an extremely volatile wing of DFS.
Our pitching isn’t just a source of fantasy points. The price tags on pitchers make it so they shape they dictate the freedoms and restrictions of building our lineups. Before reading this article, it’s highly suggested that you read my article, “DFS Pitching Primer,” so the concepts discussed here make more sense.
Here’s my preliminary pitcher pool for tonight, July 20, 2021:
There are a lot of rosterable pitchers tonight that I didn’t include. Because there are so many, I’m probably staying away from John Means coming off of injury. Tarik Skubal is a strikeout pitcher in a great spot, but his volatility isn’t necessary to take on. Shane McClanahan is a great per-inning pitcher, but the volume is way too uncertain, as a Tampa starter. Alex Wood is having a strong season, but has to face the Dodgers, so I’m out.
That’s not to say that I’m unwilling to take on volume, volatility, and matchup risks. I’d just rather do it with who’s currently in my pool. You can totally play any of those guys and absorb the risks I noted, as they’re all good pitchers — especially in MME. But the focal point of tonight is Nola-Darvish and how to pivot off them or find leverage with them.
TIER ONE: THE ACES — Darvish, Nola
All of the prices on pitching are weird on DK these days, but the most egregious price tag is Aaron Nola on FD. Sad because he can turn it into a great strikeout spot with his skills, flipping the Yankees’ volatility on its head. We would’ve liked to see him closer to Yu Darvish’s tag to put people to more of a decision.
Instead, it puts us to the test. On DK, they’re projected about the same and priced about the same with the exact same amount of projected ownership, so play whoever you want. On FD, Nola is carrying about a 4:3 ownership gap, so do we take the better value and absorb the higher ownership in Nola or spend up to pivot on Darvish?
One approach is to just never play the chalkier pitcher, especially in a tough matchup, but Darvish’s matchup isn’t great — even without Ronald Acuna Jr — because the BRaves don’t strike out much. I sympathize, but this approach is ignorant of the fact that we can play the chalk pitcher and be contrarian with our bats to have a leveraged lineup, despite the chalky pitcher.
Another, for DK, is to not play the Nola-Darvish combo and already avoid the chalky build; but, then, we need to spend down at pitcher to still avoid the chalky build, as I’m pretty sure the chalky build won’t specifically be Nola-Darvish, but it will be two pitchers above $9k.
Another is to completely avoid both Nola and Darvish — or go underweight on them — to populate our exposure more to the other two high-priced pitchers in our pool.
TIER TWO: THE NEAR ACES — Rogers, Garcia
Trevor Rogers isn’t an ace, as we refer to aces in DFS, yet, but he’s crushin’ it his way. Only he, Nola, and Triston McKenzie are qualified pitchers with over 11.00 K/9 on the slate. Rogers has the third-lowest SIERA on the slate. And his HR/9 and barrel rate are displaying elite power prevention. Sure, the Nationals scored 18 last night, but they’re about the same as the Braves — lower strikeout rates and about half the lineup packed with power.
Rogers’ control raises his SIERA and lowers his projection, but we can sacrifice 10-15% of projection to play a guy at 30-35% of Nola-Davirsh’s ownership on DK and about 20-25% on FD. The price tag is on par, but ownership is a cost, too, as we get much savings there that he’s in consideration for single-entry. You can isolate to Nola-Darvish in single-entry, but we should aggressively have at least 15-20% Rogers in MME to be overweight on the field.
Luis Garcia isn’t an ace and won’t be one any time soon, but he’s really good. SIERA has fallen to 3.80 this season, as his K/9 has risen to 10.23, and Cleveland is kinda’ trash. They don’t strike out much, but the strikeout matchup is on par with Darvish and Rogers’ matchup. We can take the same strikeout matchup and raise our run prevention at a fraction of the ownership of Nola-Darvish.
On FD, Rogers and Garcia allow us to play whoever we want after them, as they’re bunched in the middle of the absurd Darvish-Nola price gap. On DK, we can play Rogers or Garcia with Nola or Darvish, but the builds are gonna be about the same, as the salaries are pretty pooled together. Play Rogers or Garcia while spending down at SP2 and we can play whoever we want in our stacks.
TIER THREE: VALUE AND LEVERAGE — Marquez and Dunning
The four I mentioned above are clearly the best plays and taking risks on Means, Skubal, McClanahan, and Wood are all fine plays on FD, but German Marquez is underprojected and Dane Dunning has an outside shot to getting six innings in great matchups for run prevention and strikeouts to get cheap’ish leverage at SP2 on DK.
Marquez is a supersolid pitcher at Coors Field, I’ve written here before and I’ll do it again:
If you told us that that was being put up against the friggin’ Mariners in any ballpark, we scream like Sally, “YES! YES! YES!” His price tag is a little on the higher end than we’re accustomed to, but it’s about adequate and no one’s gonna play him. He’s probably my primary SP2 to get me to Nola or Darvish (I’m not sure yet, don’t bother me!) and whatever bats I want on DK.
Dunning has a nut matchup against the Tigers, as well, in a much better park at a greater discount. He isn’t cheap because he’s bad. He’s cheap because we never know if we’re getting four or five-plus innings out of him. I’m saying that there’s enough of a chance to complete six that we can go 5% in MME, still be overweight on the field, and literally just play whoever we want because no one is playing pitchers in that price tier, so he alone gives those lineups a ton of leverage throughout our lineups.
Stats cited are since 2020 unless otherwise noted. Ownership projections via Rotoginders at 11:00a.m.
Usually, I give you the six or seven pitchers in my pool and have at it, but tonight is a bit different. There are four pitchers that are so obviously the only the most-rosterable that they’re dominating the ownership over the field.
Pitching can be complex in DFS, but it’s simple on some slates.
Just play Jacob deGrom.
Salary, matchup, ownership, leverage. These are all reasons to not play deGrom 100% if we’re mass multi-entering. But his salary is a little too low, his matchup is less overwhelming than we may think, the ownership is high but the gap between him and Corbin Burnes is tight, so the leverage gained by going to that primary pivot is small relative to the gap in their projections.
Looking at deGrom’s violent stats since 2020, he’s clearly too cheap. There’s a great argument that he should be $13k on both sites. He has a:
36.3% K-BB rate
As for his matchup, sure, there are big names on the Braves, but they’re just above-average since 2019 against right-handed pitching:
22.9% strikeout rate
The strikeout matchup isn’t great for us, but deGrom can strike anyone out. The Braves’.191 ISO against right-handers is scary, but deGrom’s power prevention is elite.
deGrom will be the highest-owned pitcher on both slates, but RotoGrinders currently has his ownership identical with Burnes on FanDuel. On DraftKings, there’s a gap, but Burnes is still projected to be owned by over a third of the field.
Burnes is a great pitcher in a great spot, making him a great play, but is he close enough in projection to deGrom? I don’t think so. THE BAT has the two ceilings nearly 11 points apart in favor of deGrom on FD and about seven points on DK. This is a huge drop in projection for not much leverage in ownership, bringing us back to salary.
The argument for exposure to Burnes on DK is that he’s a ridiculous $9.2k — $2.3k less than deGrom. Despite deGrom being underpriced, the two might be comparable plays per-dollar because Burnes’ price is a clown show.
But, of course, DK is a two-pitcher site, so playing Burnes doesn’t carry the opportunity cost of not playing deGrom. We can just play both. On FD, that cost exists.
Personally, I’m playing about 100 lineups on FD with at least 75 deGrom. Because of deGrom and what the deGrom-Burnes pairing does, there aren’t many options among hitters there before we get to builds that are too chalky. If I find it too difficult to differentiate on DK, I might only play five lineups.
PIVOT: Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson is the primary SP2 pivot off of Burnes on DK. His $7.1k price tag is also insanely low. His 3.79 SIERA and 10.18 K/9 are both better than Luis Castillo, Tony Gonsolin, Adam Wainwright, and Patrick Corbin, who are all more expensive.
Everyone is seeing this, though, so his projected ownership is near 50%.
I like going overweight or massively underweight on high-owned plays and the former will make all of my lineups difficult to leverage upon if I go overweight on deGrom, Burnes, and Anderson, so Anderson is probably only getting one of five lineups. There’s an argument toward going Burnes-Anderson in 10-to-20% of lineups. The argument being that by not pairing the two with deGrom, we’ve already created leverage in the deGrom omission, coupled with the average salary leftover being $2.3k higher allowing us to have lesser constraints than the field.
LEVERAGE: Adam Wainwright
If Framber Valdez were lower-owned, he’d be analyzed more, but I’m not playing a ~35% Valdez on a slate with deGrom and Burnes. Frankly, it’s the Valdez red herring that’s making deGrom and Burnes palatable plays.
If I decide to put 20-plus lineups on DK, my departure from Burnes and Anderson probably begins with Adam Wainwright.
Wainwright is pitching in Coors, but has a price tag that will deter ownership. We don’t love to play a pitcher in Coors, but the field doesn’t have the stones to do so at all, and this can be exploited to a small degree — well under 10% — and gain leverage over the field.
Wainwright isn’t very good, but he isn’t bad and the Rockies are outright terrible. They have a 78 wRC+ against right-handed pitching since 2019 with a 25.0% strikeout rate. Sure, Coors is a launching pad, but Wainwright’s 6.5% barrel rate allowed since 2020 is right about at the threshold before we start getting scared. And Wainwright’s 8.94 K/9 this season is more than enough to exploit the Rockies’ contact woes.
Wainwright’s Achilles’ heel is left-handed power, but the Rockies don’t have any. Charlie Blackmon is a shell of himself with a 5.3% barrel rate since 2020, and he’s the best they’ve got.
Wainwright is probably a bad single-entry play because the other four pitchers we’ve discussed project better, but in MME, we should want some.
Huge slate for Tuesday night, so let’s get right into the pitchers that I’m currently considering in my pool:
We’re gonna divide these pitchers between the best projected, how we can pivot, and how we can maximize our leverage.
PROJECTION — Gerrit Cole, Lucas Giolito, Max Scherzer
There are five pitchers on FD between $10.2k and $11.0k and four between $10.0 and $11.0k on DK. Gerrit Cole leads the way in projection on both sites. He’s the most expensive on DK, by a hair, but $400 cheaper than Zack Wheeler on FD. He’s looking to be close to the highest-owned pitcher across the board. Lucas Giolito has the next-highest points projection, but the highest projected ownership because of his price. The point-per-dollar advantage allows us more flexibility with our lineups than Cole, but playing him carries huge ownership for a full slate.
Max Scherzer is a strong pivot off of the two, carrying about 75% of the ownership Cole and Giolito will at around 85-to-90% of the point projection. Scherzer has the worst matchup of the three in terms of run prevention and is in the worst ballpark for home runs, but has the only good matchup for strikeouts.
Cole and Giolito are both facing teams with horrible track records against right-handed pitching, but they don’t strike out. Cole has to pitch in home run-happy Yankee Stadium, but his Achilles’ heel is home runs against left-handed hitters, and we’re not scared off by Jarrod Dyson and Nicky Lopez. Giolito’s weakness is still shaky control and home runs, but PNC Park has an 85 home run factor — miles below the 116 of Giolito’s home ballpark.
This is all to say that all three are great plays in that: Cole is the best pitcher on the slate with a great matchup; Giolito is the best value; and Scherzer will be the lowest-owned of the three in the best strikeout matchup as a heavy strikeout pitcher. Cole and Giolito carry heavy ownership risks and the requirement that we find leverage over the field through contrarian hitter stacks; Scherzer carries the risk of getting mashed for two or three home runs, not to mention that he’s just coming off of injury. But the injury could lower his ownership as the day goes on, as it’s probably capped in the 20% range.
Play any one of these three. Just build the right lineup around them as to not have too much cumulative ownership.
In MME, we should have some exposure to all three in 50-or-more lineups. But building 20 or five or one, we don’t have to play any of them.
PIVOTS — Freddy Peralta, Charlie Morton
Freddy Peralta isn’t a top-two pitcher on his own team, but he competes to be a top pitcher on this stacked slate, as we can see by the numbers above. His control is shaky and this is a tough strikeout matchup, but: no one is gonna play him; the strikeouts are so heavily baked-in that I don’t care about the matchup; the matchup is great for run prevention; and none of the top-five pitchers on this slate have great strikeout matchups anyway.
We’re getting such a discount on Peralta that — when we factor in the ownership — I’m heavily considering him for my single-entry contests on both sites. His strikeout stuff is probably the best on the slate right now. His power prevention is stronger than the three we just discussed, who’ll carry more ownership. So, why not?
On DK, with five guys carrying SIERAs of 3.50 and lower, the popular build will be to spend $19k or more on two stud pitchers. This means that value hitting will be over-owned. We can pivot off of the entire field and play whatever hitters we want by rostering Charlie Morton as our SP2 at a fraction of the price. Morton’s SIERA falls short of the aces, but it’s still under 4.00 and his K/9 is a pubic hair from being double digits. His 3.18 BB/9 for this season is a bit concerning, but his 0.86 HR/9 on that 5.1% barrel rate more than makes up for it.
Morton isn’t a top-five pitcher on this slate, but he doesn’t have to be at that price. His point-per-dollar rating on DK is the highest of all palatable pitchers, so he will carry ownership, but it should closer to 30-to-35% instead of the projected low-20s at which we currently have him. So, if we devoted 40% to him, that’s 40% of our overall builds differentiating from around 75-to-80% of builds. He will require that we find leverage in our hitters, but we’ll have more options to do so than the vast majority of the field playing the same two or three value stacks.
MAXIMUM LEVERAGE — Zack Wheeler, Clayton Kershaw
Zack Wheeler and Clayton Kershaw coming in at single digits is a massive mistake on behalf of the field that we should exploit.
Wheeler is a guy whose newfound strikeouts aren’t a flash in the fan. They’ve been a long time coming, as his lower strikeouts of the past were coming with consistent 95-to-96 mph heat. Now, he up to averaging 97.5 mph this season and the K/9 is up to 11.02 with continued elite control and power prevention. He probably has the best control and power prevention on the slate. Combine the Ks with that and I seldom care about salary or opponent when the ownership only requires that I go 10% to be overweight on the field. The matchup isn’t great, but it isn’t tough. Wheeler’s power prevention and velocity can make almost any team look like cats trying to bite their own ears.
Kershaw is just in a crappy spot. The Padres are a buzzsaw. But we’re talking sub-5% ownership, so we can play him at ~8% and be overweight. In recent years, his K/9 trailed off to the 9.00 range and he was getting blasted for bombs here and three. This season, his K/9 is way up to 10.60, his control is still elite, and his HR/9 is way down to 0.92. Kershaw isn’t matchup-proof anymore, but he can be just fine against anyone and put up the fantasy points for us to cash in on the slight possibility of a dominant performance. We don’t need him to dominate 35% of the time here at low exposure and ownership.
Marcus Stroman has a 4.28 xERA and only an 11% soft contact rate. I don’t trust that he’s as great as his results have shown and this matchup sucks. Playing him on this stacked slate is gibberish.
Andrew Heaney gets slapped in the face with bags of dongs way too often. And Angel Stadium is a sneaky-great home run ballpark.
Blake Snell has a bad matchup. But his control and power prevention are so terrible that I just can’t consider him when he needs strikeouts against a team that’s hard to strike out. And if he pitches great, how many innings do we get? Do we even get six? Strong pitcher that I normally love to play because he doesn’t need six innings to get ten strikeouts, but this is the wrong slate.
Zac Gallen is the one I feel I can most regret leaving out of the pool. He’s the guy we didn’t discuss who I’m most likely to play. We gotta love 10.39 K/9 against the Brewers’ strikeout-heavy lineup in Arizona with the roof closed. We gotta love his price. I might only play five lineups on DK and double-stud only one, so he could find his way into my pool then.
Stats cited are since 2020 unless otherwise noted. Projections via THE BAT; ownership projections via Rotoginders at 11:30 a.m. CST; park factors via EV Analytics through June 22, 2021.
Tonight’s slate is a bit of a mess. The better pitchers are in bad places, the decent pitchers have been volatile, and some of the best matchups are drawn by the worst pitchers. It’s early in the day. A lot will change, but we’ll discuss these pitchers for now:
We have the fullest of full slates tonight, as every team is playing and there are quite a few aces on this slate. And we can’t play everybody. But there’s also only so much everyone else can play, leaving us great spots for leverage. Today, we’ll look at the aces to which we want the most exposure, the aces on whom we have to be overweight for leverage, and the best cheap play on DK — where we have to play two pitchers.
Here are the pitchers we’ll discuss today: