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.
There’s some talent on this slate with mixed matchups, so we have a lot of work cut out for us, tonight. Early on, my pool is:
Full slate, so I won’t go through every pitcher, as there are a lot of gas cans, too. If you think I’m leaving someone out, feel free to tweet me. I will confess Zack Greinke and José Berríos are close and might enter my pool. Marcus Stroman has a great matchup, but we can play Kyle Gibson for less in an even juicier matchup, so I left him out, but he’s fine, too.
Lucas Giolito off the IL is way too much of a pitch count concern; for his price, we need volume. He’s projecting very well, with a projected pitch count in the low-80s, so any word that he gets normal workload, and he’s high on my list. Just not aggressively foreseeing that at this moment of the day.
THE ACE — Gerrit Cole
Don’t be scared of Gerrit Cole without the sticky stuff. Since June 23, he has a:
Going into Camden Yards, there could be more concern for lesser control and his awful power prevention than Yu Darvish post-sticky stuff, but that 11.4% is on contact and Cole is inducing chases and not giving up contact.
The Orioles aren’t terrible, so we don’t have to play Cole, but Cole is the best pitcher on the slate and that isn’t close. The control and power concerns with the ballpark are valid reasons to bump him closer to the field, but he’s still way above the field.
THE PIVOTS — Nathan Eovaldi, Frankie Montas
Nathan Eovaldi is firmly the second-best pitcher on the slate and feels safer because he draws the terrible Mariners, who gift strikeouts to all pitchers. Eovaldi’s elite control gets him deep into games for innings, so the context raises his upside into ace territory. He just isn’t Cole.
Cole has that 13-15 strikeout upside every slate against all opponents in every ballpark, whereas Eovaldi is relatively capped. For the price, Eovaldi isn’t a huge step. Battling the megachalk possibility of Cole, his ownership is a huge discount, though. And ownership is a cost. Remember that.
If that’s still too much to spend under the condition of not playing Cole, Frankie Montas draws a tough strikeout matchup, but a great one for run prevention in a great ballpark for doing so. On DK, he’s more than Eovaldi, so the argument is tough; but, on FD, he gets cheaper — where we only play one pitcher. There are a lot of baked-in strikeouts, his control is just a bit worse than Cole’s, and his power prevention has been elite post-sticky: 0.56 HR/9 on a 7.3% barrel rate.
Where I’m not playing Cole, I’m loading up on these two at what could be single-digit ownership on FD. Eovaldi will catch some ownership on DK, but will still be at a huge discount. THE BAT like Eovaldi for more raw points than Cole on DK, so that could put his ownership on the rise, so keep a look out.
THE SP2s — Drew Rasmussen, Jesús Luzardo, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Gibson
Drew Rasmussen has the worse matchup we’re discussing. The Jays are packed with power and don’t strike out much. But Rasmussen has shown elite power prevention and strikeout stuff. Chances are, the Jays win this battle, but we don’t care about what will happen a vast majority of the time. We care about how often the Jays will wet the bed in relation to Rasmussen’s ownership. Rasmussen has the stuff to succeed and any group of hitters can fold any night. This is a solid low-exposure spot for leverage.
The Jesús is a solid pitcher who gives up too much power at times. The Nats really only have a couple of guys to supply it. If Jesús Luzardo can get through he heart of the order, his strikeouts should cruise through this lineup for free. He’s the top spend-down option on both sites, despite his control and power prevention issues, as his K/9 is enough for me. The play is volatile and we should watch ownership before we decide to hit the gas, though. Higher-owned, he becomes a bad play; low-owned, a fantastic play who allows us to do whatever we want for hitting.
Touki Toussaint is all over the place. He can’t find the strike zone, but it might not matter in a great spot for run prevention against the Quad-A Rockies. The Rockies aren’t a great strikeout matchup, but their active roster’s 32.8% O-Swing rate is among the worst in the league this season. This is a sneaky-great spot for Toussaint to rack up the strikeouts. The fear, of course, is whether or not he can command his pitch count to stay in the game long enough.
Everyone is gonna play Kyle Gibson — I think. He draws the Quad-A Cubs, who strike out a ton. Gibson himself doesn’t have the baked-in strikeouts to lock him in, but his lack of command could induce chasing that helps him compile the strikeouts. We’ve seen him go seven (and even eight) innings this season quite a bit, so his seven shutout innings with six strikeout ceiling is in full effect. The downside, of course, is that those potential strikeouts can easily become walks and he barely last four or five innings, which is why I’m more likely to be defensively underweight on the flocking field than aggressive overweight.
Stats cited are since 2020 unless otherwise noted. Park factors via EV Analytics.
This slate is loaded with pitching talent, but I have a narrow pool a lot faster than I normally would. Without ownership data, yet, we’ll focus more on deductive reasoning to see how I narrowed this pool to:
Instead of analyzing tiers of the pool, this week, we should go down the list of who I’m likely not playing and why.
Carlos Rodón might be the best pitcher on the slate. It isn’t the matchup with the Red Sox that throws me off so much as his pitch count. He only missed one start with a sore shoulder and I wish he missed more and stretched out again in rehab starts. As is, we have no clue how limited he’s going to be. We can gamble on these scenarios often, but there’s enough pitching on this slate that we don’t have to bother our brains thinking much about it.
Tanner Houck is one of the best per-inning pitchers on this slate, but he hasn’t gone more than 5.1 innings in any starts this season. Yet, he’s priced right around the point where we want shots at six innings.
Joe Musgrove is still a really good pitcher post-sticky stuff, but he isn’t elite. Facing the Dodgers on a full slate, I want elite.
Framber Valdez is fine, but there are a lot of baked-in strikeouts on this slate and he has very little. Besides, his FD price is stupid. On DK, he’s viable, but we’ll get to a far lower-owned play under $10k later.
Tylor Megill is a good pitcher, but has some power prevention issues that don’t seem like early-career bad luck. Against the Yankees, we don’t need to test the skill luck factor.
Trevor Rogers is yet another really good pitcher on this slate. He’s as playable as Rodon, Houck, and Megill. Maybe more playable because his power prevention can neutralize the Braves right-handed thump. If he gets lost in the ownership shuffle, he’s the most likely to enter my pool as the day goes on. But, boy, the Braves can really getcha’.
Shohei Ohtani falls in the Musgrove category of a really good pitcher in a crappy matchup. Ohtani’s command has been on since his beatdown in Yankee Stadium, but the K/9 has fallen to 9.00 in the process. The Astros just don’t strike out, so our ceiling looks more like seven innings with five strikeouts than six or seven strikeouts. And this matters because a shutout, let alone clean innings, are hard to come by in this matchup. On DK, though, we could put him in my pool in the case that we have money left over, but we can spend down further for similar production.
Julio Urías has been great this year. The matchup against the Padres isn’t quite Musgrove or Ohtani’s hands-off matchup, but it’s still a left-handed pitcher against a lot of right-handed thump. That said, 9.67 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, and 1.09 HR/9 on a 5.9% barrel rate is all superstrong and no one is gonna play him at this price, so we can spend up to him with the extra salary. But, again, this is similar to Rogers’ situation. Except Rogers is cheaper and in a better spot.
Then, there’s a bunch of overpriced gibberish like Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzales, Madison Bumgarner, and Jordan Montgomery. Volatile plays with little upside like Eli Morgan, Matthew Boyd, and Paul Blackburn. Then, the gas cans like Chris Ellis, Griffin Jax, Daniel Lynch, and Jon Lester. Blackburn has a notable matchup with the Rangers, but should be overowned for the lack of strikeout upside.
I didn’t forget about Adrian Houser. There’s just nothing to say about him.
I also didn’t forget about Glenn Otto. The kid has electric strikeout stuff that we’d love on DK in a lot of matchups. But the Athletics don’t strike out much and this ballpark depresses strikeouts. Without an innings ceiling, we should be out. But if ownership funnels way up to Germán Márquez and Ian Anderson, he’s certainly viable.
Leaving us with:
Robbie Ray is the best play on the slate at first glance. This season has been really great for him because he’s finally found his command. With it, his BB/9 has fallen to 2.28 and his HR/9 down to 1.36 this season — despite an 8.7% barrel rate. Sure, he still gets hit hard when he gets hit, but “when he gets hit” is the caveat, as he’s still compiling 11.49 K/9.
Post-sticky stuff (since June 23), Ray’s gone at least six innings in 13 of 14 starts with 11.33 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, allowing only 0.79 HR/9. I’m not a recency bias guy, but this is clearly an elite pitcher finding his stride.
The Orioles are an about-average matchup, Camden Yards sucks for power prevention, but I don’t care. Looking at what we’ve eliminated, there are so many pluses here that the minuses are blips on the radar.
Ownership on Tyler Mahle is usually tough to gauge on full slates. It looks like Mahle will get overlooked, despite having a great season so far because: (a) people don’t realize how much of a strikeout machine he is and (b) people don’t realize how many the Cardinals are against right-handed pitching. In a pitchers’ park at single-digit ownership, yes, please.
This is the chalk on both sites. Ian Anderson is criminally cheap on both sites for the Marlins matchup. So many strikeouts in here that the walks will likely not matter. If we’re spending down on FD, we’re eating the chalk here, but there’s a similarly priced pitcher who’s very similar to whom we can pivot on DK.
No one’s gonna play Germán Márquez because of Anderson’s situation, despite Márquez having slightly more K/9 and less B/9. Sure, Márquez has to battle Citizens Bank Park, but he battles Coors just fine, so why the hell would Philly be a problem. They’re an average, so the ceiling of seven strikeout in seven largely clean innings is certainly in play.
Anderson is the better projection, but Márquez is the better DFS play at microscopic ownership over Anderson’s megachalk.
Both sites are very different on this slate because of pricing, but the overall slate is such that there are no truly great aces. Without ownership data, we’ll focus more on matchups to narrow our pool:
TIER ONE: KINDA’ ACES — Peralta and Ohtani
Freddy Peralta is the best pitcher on the slate, but he’s projected at only 75 pitches coming off of the IL. This doesn’t take him out of play if there’s an ownership gap between him and Ohtani that supplies us leverage. If Peralta is rolling — translation: throwing strikes — then, 75 pitches can get us some game depth to compile Ks with his elite K/9. His ceiling is capped at under 30 points, but his median projection might be good enough if we can get 15-to-20 from our SP2, as well.
Read the rest of this entry »
We’ll look at the three aces, the primary pivot off of the aces, and some DK SP2 options. Here’s my preliminary pool:
We’ll look at the current pool I’m using — the chalk and pivots — and then, cover some questionable plays I’m avoiding for the most part at this time. Right now, this is what I’m looking at:
TIER ONE: ACES — Burnes and Flaherty
Jack Flaherty sticks out like a sore thumb because he’s a legitimate ace and is facing a terrible Tigers team that strikes out a ton. They strike out more often than any other pitcher’s matchup on this slate. He’s also pitched six-plus innings in nine of his 13 starts, so he’s staying in if he’s rolling — and he should roll through Detroit tonight for a quality start, a win, and a shot at nine-plus strikeouts.
THE BAT has Flaherty projected for the most raw points and lower ownership on FD, but pretty high ownership on DK. Sucking the air out of the room is the 500-pound gorilla looming over this slate with another idiom that slips my mind.
Corbin Burnes is the best pitcher on this slate and it isn’t close at all. This season, he’s fine-tuned his control and been a friggin’ serial killer:
35.1% K-BB rate
2.7% barrel rate
These are the only Cy Young digits on the slate. That said, we’re paying for it.
Burnes is $1,200 more than Flaherty on FD and $1,000 more on DK. Instead of facing the bum-assed Tigers in a pitchers’ park like St. Louis, Burnes has to face a strong Reds lineup in a hitters’ park like Milwaukee. So, there is added risk.
I don’t — personally — think this risk is enough to sway me from the best pitcher on the slate. Flaherty is a really good pitcher. But it would take a great pitcher or maybe 150% of Flaherty’s ownership to take me away from Burnes on either site in single-entry.
In MME play, there’s a decision to be made. I expect the field to spread ownership around to a lot of good pitching that we have on this slate, I’m taking a strong stance by going overweight on both guys. The field wants to have enough lineups to spread exposure. I want to counter that by being potentially overexposed to the two cleat-cut aces.
TIER TWO: THE DK SP2 — Márquez
Germán Márquez isn’t cheap in a vacuum, but he’s way too cheap for the skillset and situation. This is a Coors Field pitcher with only 0.83 HR/9 on a 4.7% barrel rate and near 9.00 K/9. This is a really good pitcher. Add that he’s facing the Cubs and their high strikeout rate against right-handed pitching and I DGAF how the wind is blowing; he’s the best SP2 play on DK.
That said, everyone is seeing this terrible Cubs dynamic and will jam him in, which forces us to call back to savings on Flaherty from Burnes. More importantly, it raises the necessity for us to not play Flahety-Márquez or Burnes-Márquez lineups too freely, as those will be the two chalk combinations. We can play them; we just need to stack off the board when we do.
And we don’t have to play those pairings. There is a wealth of pivots on this slate.
TIER THREE: PIVOTS — Morton, Megill, Berrios, Morgan
Charlie Morton is still a really good pitcher. Where he ranks on this slate among qualified pitchers:
3rd in SIERA
4th in K/9
4th in K-BB%
2nd in HR/9
5th in barrel rate
Morton faces a tough power matchup in the Yankees, but he neutralizes power. The key to this play is that the Yankees have a few guys who strike out a bunch and Morton has baked-in strikeouts. No one’s gonna play him.
Tylor Megill is more than just a background Game of Thrones character. He’s a pretty good pitcher with baked-in strikeouts, decent control, and strong power prevention, who can go six innings, if he’s rolling. The Giants are a really tough matchup, but Citi Field is a great pitchers’ park. There aren’t any good SP plays under $7,000, so we have to consider sprinkling him around.
José Berríos is probably the pitcher after Morton in a bad matchup that I’m considering most. The White Sox are about as bad a matchup as the Yankees, but they strike out more often. This is a guy who can go seven innings against anyone any given night. Remember that more innings equals more strikeout opportunities and, hell, we get fantasy point for innings, too.
Last and certainly least, we have to discuss Eli Morgan. He isn’t any damn good. He walks too many guys and is a launching pad when contact is made. But this is a great run prevention situation. The Rangers are worse than the Tigers and Cubs and we’re considering passing over Burnes for Flaherty and Márquez. We can save a lot of money in some lineups and get the nut matchup. Sure, it can blow up in our faces, but this is baseball.
Baseball is a risky game on which to make wagers of any sort. The temptation on a slate where there is really good pitching is to eliminate all of the high-risk situations as unnecessary. This is incorrect.
Tournaments are won by calculating when to embrace variance. Doing so at SP2 with a guy who struggles to prevent power because he can strike out a man per inning is totally fine. Especially on a slate where the cheapest guy we want to play is $8,200.
Tonight, we have a full slate with a lot of options and at 6:00 a.m., I’m in favor of a robust pitching pool and a condensed pool of diversified stacks for hitters. Because, well, we can’t play everyone, and I rarely favor balance over taking a stand. Currently, this is my pitcher pool. We’ll go through the three tiers of these pitchers and briefly sum up why I eliminated others in the end.
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:
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.