DFS Pitching Preview: August 5, 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.

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:

August 5 Pitcher Pool
FD DK SIERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BBB% Opp *Opp wRC+ *Opp K%
Framber Valdez $9,700 $9,500 3.55 8.98 3.10 0.76 6.1% MIN 89 24.3%
Sonny Gray $9,300 $9,000 3.70 11.45 3.75 1.02 4.7% PIT 76 24.2%
Nestor Cortes $5,500 $7,000 3.81 10.49 3.57 1.56 5.7% SEA 89 26.7%
Touki Toussaint $8,500 $7,000 4.23 10.89 4.35 2.18 11.4% STL 90 22.4%
* – vs. handedness of starting pitcher

Because we only have four pitchers, we won’t separate them into tiers for today. We’ll take them one by one. They’ll all be fairly owned, but we’re getting leverage with bats today, I think, and we can discuss that later.

Framber Valdez — $9,900

If there’s an ace on the slate, it’s Framber Valdez. His SIERA is the lowest on the slate and the Twins are pretty bad without Josh Donaldson in the lineup, striking out at a fairly high clip to mitigate the fact that Valdez just struggles to get a strikeout per inning. Also, the Twins are dependent on power against left-handed pitching, and Valdez has excellent power prevention.

Valdez’ 0.76 HR/9 is the best on the slate and this is all legit, as he surrenders only a 6.1% barrel rate — 4.4% this season.

But he doesn’t project at the best because the strikeout upside is lacking. He’s as close to safe as there is on this slate, but safety doesn’t win tens of thousands of dollars in one night.

Sonny Gray — $9,300

Sonny Gray has the highest K/9 and the best power prevention on the slate. His 1.02 HR/9 has to be ballpark-manipulated because his barrel rate is a slate-low 4.7%. This elite power prevention against a Pirates team with relatively no power with which to begin, coupled with their raised strikeout rate without Adam Frazier and Gray’s elite baked-in Ks are a recipe for the best per-inning play on the slate.

Gray can get blown up and that’s the risk, but he gives up zero or three home runs in his starts. Seldom somewhere in the middle. And these blowups always happen at home in the Great American Small Park. That’s the risk.

But the added fact that this is an excellent situation to give up zero with the strong probability of six or seven innings and we have the best projection on the night.

The argument for Valdez over Gray is that the megachalkiness of Gray isn’t backed up with consistency, so there is some leverage in play Valdez at a 5:3’ish ownership gap. but Valdez is gonna be so heavily owned himself that I’m not sure the leverage we get is enough.

Nestor Cortes — $7,900

Per inning, Nestor Cortes is a very, very good strikeout pitcher drawing maybe the best strikeout matchup in baseball. His HR/9 is up there, but we should care more about the 5.7% barrel rate, given his small sample. The Mariners not only strike out a ton, but they live and die on the solo home run, so Cortes is his own only enemy.

Cortes can get a little wild, so he can take himself out of the game with walks and driving up his own pitch count. But he did pitch five innings his last start in Tampa when he walked zero after 4.2 against Houston when he walked two. The word is that they want him to go deeper into games. Probably because they need someone, anyone, to go deeper into games.

The price is high for his innings history, but we can project his ceiling in the range of six innings, making him a really good tournament play. His ownership is higher, even for a shorter slate, but he’s still only gonna be the fourth-highest in ownership among pitchers.

Touki Toussaint — $7,400

Touki Toussaint, more than anyone on this slate, is his own worst enemy. His K/9 is strong and the matchup is sneaky-great for run prevention. Also, Busch Stadium is a great park for pitching and he should get the win.

The downside to Toussaint is that he’s one of the most blowup-prone pitchers in baseball, with 4.35 BB/9 and an 11.4% barrel rate allowed. To amplify these risks, he should the second-highest to Gary among pitchers in ownership.

Sure, the price tag is cheap. Too cheap. But ownership is a cost.

Why not _____?

Triston McKenzie is similar to Toussaint, but McKenzie has to face the Jays.

Ross Stripling projects well, but his 2.14 HR/9 is unnecessary at $9,200 when we can just absorb the same power risk for pennies on the dollar with Toussaint.

Dallas Keuchel is interesting in better ballparks, but without the strikeouts, he needs to get deep into games, so we want an opponent more below-average.

Tyler Anderson is a good pitcher, but we shouldn’t be targeting the Yankees with left-handed pitching that isn’t elite.

Wil Crowe in the Small Park, Griffin Jax against the Astros, Wade LeBlanc against the Braves, and Daniel Lynch as a White Sox team that crushes left-handed pitching should need to be explained.

So, that’s why my pool is only four pitchers. And there’s an argument that it’s one or two too large.

Stats cited are since 2020 unless otherwise noted. Ownership projections via Rotoginders at 11:00a.m.

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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