DFS Pitching Preview: August 26, 2021

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.

We’ll look at the three aces, the primary pivot off of the aces, and some DK SP2 options. Here’s my preliminary pool:

Aug. 26 DFS Pitcher Pool
FD DK SIERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Barrel% Opp Opp wRC+* Opp K%*
C. Sale $10,700 $10,200 2.43 11.70 0.90 1.80 3.8% MIN 87 24.3%
M. Scherzer $10,500 $10,400 3.17 12.17 2.48 1.35 9.6% SDP 109 20.5%
Y. Darvish $9,900 $9,900 3.26 10.90 1.91 1.13 7.1% LAD 116 21.2%
E. Hernandez $7,600 $7,600 3.33 11.09 1.67 2.09 8.8% WSN 89 23.6%
Z. Gallen $7,900 $7,200 3.95 10.52 3.54 1.30 7.6% PHI 96 22.6%
Y. Kikuchi $7,700 $7,300 4.06 9.49 3.51 1.46 9.5% KCR 99 20.4%
* denotes versus handedness of SP

TIER ONE: ACES — Sale, Scherzer, and Darvish

Chris Sale is back with a vengeance. Only 89 and 71 pitches in his first two starts, leading us to believe he’s on an innings limit more than a pitch count. Because he rolled through a decent Orioles team and a bad Rangers team through those ten innings. He struck out 13 on an 18.8% swinging strike rate and a 33.1% CSW rate, only walking one batter. Tonight, he gets another sneaky-good matchup against the Twins.

With the other two aces facing each other in tough matchups, we can lean here for tournaments. Sale hasn’tpitched more than five innings, but that doesn’t mean he’s on a limit tonight. We wanna be ahead of when he pivots to a 90-plus pitch count. The ownership is already gonna be heavy. I don’t think waiting and seeing is a smart move because that just means we get there last.

Max Scherzer is in a bad spot, but he’s Max Scherzer. If anyone can get a floor game out of a great offense and go seven innings doing it, he’s one of the few guys. The ownership is deterring me here, though. If I’m spending money on chalk, I’d rather it not be Scherzer against power bats, as his Achilles’ heel is that near double-digit barrel rate.

Playing Scherzer is all formats is totally reasonable. I’m just not doing it at all in single-entry where the ownership will be sky high. I’d rather the ownership be low because of the matchup or — of course — the matchup be better. These are two pretty significant unchecked boxes.

If I’m just banking on skill and volume and calling the matchup a near-wash, I’d rather play the single-digit-owned Yu Darvish. Scherzer and Darvish aren’t basically the same play, let’s make that clear. Scherzer has the clear edge in historical data and projection. But the historical data is close enough that I prefer Darvish for a fraction of the ownership.

Coming back to Sale: Sale isn’t safe for volume, but he’s closer to safe per-inning than Scherzer and Darvish. For the price, we would like innings safety, but remember that the matchups remove innings safety from Scherzer and Darvish. In that sense, they’re close to even. Sale being the better talent in the far better matchup, it should be a surprise to see Sale having the edge in ceiling projection while Scherzer has it in median projection.

I don’t know who I’m playing in single-entry, yet. I just know it won’t be Scherzer. As for MME, I might be a little over the field on Sale, about double the field on Darvish, and underweight on Scherzer. Making single entry complex on both sites is that we don’t have to spend up.


Yusei Kikuchi has a terrible strikeout matchup, but one per-inning is always in the cards for him and he will definitely pitch six or seven, if he rolling. And he should roll.

It’s a great run prevention spot for Kikuchi, as his only issue in the long ball, and Salvador Perez is the only great power bat from the right side. Kikuchi is historically a neutral splits hitter, but Mike Matheny might not see that and bench Ryan O’Hearn for a bum.

Kikuchi is risky as hell, but he’s also cheap as hell on both sites and projecting through the roof. He can certainly be played on FD in any format and is the primary SP2 on DK. So much so that we can have DK lineups that ignore the aces and SP1 Kikuchi with other great SP2 plays.

TIER THREE: DK SP2s — Hernandez and Gallen

Where we’re playing an ace without Kikuchi, we should be pivoting toward Elieser Hernandez and Zac Gallen.

Hernandez faces a Quad-A Nationals bunch in Miami’s extreme pitchers’ park. The problem with him is that we’re paying high ownership for an innings cap we’re not liking to this point. I wouldn’t play Sale-Hernandez because we could only get ten innings from our SPs pretty easily. If they were lower-owned, we can gamble on them busting out for six or seven, but Hernandez will be high-owned. Nevertheless, it’s a great spot for him.

We can play Hernandez with Darvish and ignore ownership among hitters. We can play him with Kikuchi and play whoever we want.

Gallen is getting ignored and he’s in a good spot. He’s a strikeout pitcher facing a below average team at a reasonable price tag. What’s there not to love?

We don’t need to start him on FD, but he’s the guy to whom I probably want to have the most SP2 exposure as a pivot off of Kikucki. Pair him with Kikuchi and the world is our oyster.

DFS isn’t about playing the best plays. It’s about building the best lineups by mixing in the best projections with the best projections that the public is ignoring. In Kikuchi on FD and Gallen on DK, we can find a lot of leverage without having to make the more expensive and uncomfortable gamble on Darvish. But, remember that leverage is supposed to be uncomfortable. Safe lineups don’t win tournaments.

Stats cited are since 2020 unless otherwise noted. Park factors via EV Analytics.

Alex Sonty is a professional DFS and poker player, while contributing to RotoGrinders and FanGraphs, as well as serving as a part-time political science professor in Chicago, IL. He’s been playing fantasy sports since 1996 and entered the DFS realm in 2014, currently playing high-stakes MLB and NFL cash games and GPPs. He is a Chicago Tribune and SB Nation alum, while holding a J.D./M.A. and L.L.M. from DePaul University.

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