DFS Pitching Preview: May 24, 2022

Our pitching in MLB DFS isn’t just a source of fantasy points. The price tags on pitchers make it so 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.

The complexity of pitching on this slate is that there’s a lot of noise. Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb, Dylan Cease, and Walker Buehler can all make the claim that they’re aces. But there is one who rises above all of the rest.

ACE OF THE SLATE: Corbin Burnes

Since 2021, Corbin Burnes has the lowest SIERA (2.57), the lowest BB/9 (1.73), the highest K-BB% (29.7%), and the lowest barrel rate allowed (4.7%, tied with Framber Valdez). On top of that, he has 12.28 K/9 and faces a below-average offense in that pitcher-friendly park in San Diego.

The other aces provide so much noise that Burnes is slightly under-owned on DraftKings and massively underowned on FanDuel, according to RotoGrinders early projections. Even as those projections get fine-tuned, Burnes’ company is gonna depress his ownership. Not because people are dumb but because it’s really, really good company.

We don’t have to lock Burnes in or fade. We could go underweight on DK and overweight on FD or underweight on both because we have a hard rule against being over-exposed to anyone. That’s fine. I reject that reasoning because I’d rather enforce low ownership with over-exposure, but this is a risk-tolerance decision for you, the player. I know I’m locking in Burnes in single-entry and three-max contests (SE3).

MME PIVOTS: Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb, Dylan Cease, Walker Buehler

Kevin Gausman is the best of these aces, but he drops down to their level because of the matchup. The projected lineup for the Cardinals has only a 16.4% general strikeout rate and a .200 ISO specifically against right-handed pitching since 2021, so we would have to get lucky for Gausman to nab a strikeout-per-inning. Or do we?

When I see ownership under 10% on a guy who checks all of the boxes in a vacuum — sub-3.50 SIERA, double-digit K/9, sub-2.00 BB/9, under 1.00 HR/9 — I want some action in MME. And in SE3, I want him as my SP2 in a lineup or two. His price really doesn’t make it easy, so (realistically) maybe just one.

Because Logan Webb is too cheap. The Mets are really good, but they’re not very powerful; and Webb has a command-power prevention combo to go seven clean against anyone. Even in Colorado his last start. His 6.33 K/9 this season has to regress toward the mean. He isn’t a double-digit guy, but he should average out around a strikeout-per-inning as the season plays out.

Not that we need it, though. We play Webb not for strikeouts, but for baserunner and power prevention to compile outs. If four or five or those 18-to-21 outs are strikeouts, awesome.

That said, if I’m paying up at SP2 and want strikeouts that we can’t project for Gausman, Dylan Cease is your guy. His 12.60 K/9 since 2021 is the highest on the slate and his 3.35 SIERA is really low, despite 3.65 BB/9. Maybe the walks scare you, but this is why we look to FIP or SIERA instead of ERA. With Cease, we shouldn’t double-count the walks against Cease for which SIERA has already accounted and concluded that he’s a great pitcher.

The Red Sox aren’t an easy matchup, but there are four players in the projected starting lineup with strikeout rates over 25.0%. More importantly, early projections are saying that no one is gonna play Cease because of the preferences for Burnes and Gausman gobbling up the ownership.

The odd man out is Walker Buehler here. And I think that’s wrong. He’ll be more owned than Webb, as he should, because Buehler has a leash and strikes out more batters more consistently. He’ll be less owned than Gausman, but that might be wrong, considering Gausman’s matchup. He’ll be more owned than Cease and I think they should be about even.

Buehler’s per-inning data isn’t impressive, but his ability to go seven-plus in a decent matchup opens up the door for a CGSO more than any of the other pitchers on the slate. That matters. Even if he goes seven, that’s another inning to compile the strikeouts. Remember: we get points for innings, too.

If I’m spending up at SP2, I’m going Cease for the ownership and light-out matchup-proof strikeout stuff, but any of these four are viable spend-up options.

SP2: Framber Valdez, Sonny Gray

Framber Valdez is as good as Buehler and a fair share of the public is projected to see that and double the combo of Webb-Buehler’s ownership. It won’t be chalky-high, but substantial enough to where I’m largely ignoring Valdez. I won’t trade off a slight uptick in HR/9 and barrel rate in Webb-Buehler for the massive downgrade to Valdez’ command. I know I just told you to not double-count, but Webb, Buehler, and Valdez are so close that Webb comes off as safer and Buehler’s volume supplies us a higher ceiling.

And, again, if I’m gonna gamble on shaky command, I’m spending up to Cease who can give me a crapload of strikeouts in return.

And if I wanna gamble on shaky command and spend down, I’ll just go all the way down to Sonny Gray. Gray has pretty average power prevention, but 10.38 K/9, which is way out of Valdez’ league. Gray finally pitched six innings in his last start and draws a terrible Tigers club, whose projected lineup has a whopping 27.6% strikeout rate with only a .145 ISO against righties since 2021.

This is a perfect spot for Gray. The problem is that everyone sees it and will flock in this direction.


We can play Burnes-Gray. Just understand that everyone is doing it. To combat this chalk, we have to: (a) go heavy on the correlation within our lineup; and (b) jam leverage into our lineups with our stacks. You should be stacking 5-3 or 5-2-1 on DK and 4-4 or 4-3-1 on FD anyway, but this is not the time to sacrifice correlation and it’s for damn sure not the time to play the most-owned stacks in large contests. In smaller contests, leverage can simply be utilized through our secondary stacks; but in larger fields, we have to slam the gas on correlation and leverage if we’re playing the same pitching combo as everyone else.

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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4 months ago

Excellent as always.