DFS Pitching Preview: May 27, 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.

There’s a lot of really good pitching in shaky matchups that are fine to play in mass multi-entry, but our primary targets should be the two aces with the matchups on their sides.

ACES OF THE SLATE: Shane Bieber, Sean Manaea

Let’s clear the air here with some matchups.

The Tigers projected lineup against right-handers since 2021: .288 wOBA, .137 ISO, 26.4% strikeout rate.

The Pirates projected lineup against left-handers since 2021: .293 wOBA, .150 ISO, 23.3% strikeout rate.

Shane Bieber faces the Tigers and is much cheaper on both sites than Sean Manaea against the Pirates. Sure, the Pirates are terrible and Manaea has shown some real ceiling, but Bieber has one of the best ceiling matchups on the slate. And, at his best, he goes deep into games with double-digit strikeout upside. Hell, he might have the best complete game shutout upside on the slate.

The reason why we still entertain Manaea in this tier is that Bieber’s K/9 is way down to 9.07 this season, while Manaea’s up to 10.10. So, there’s a small sample argument that the two are about the same in terms of strikeouts. Again, what puts me over the top is this Tigers matchup with Bieber’s larger sample of elite strikeout stuff and the pricing. Priced similarly, I’d still lean Bieber, but it’s close.

The more valid argument for Manaea over Bieber could be ownership, but the existence of Justin Verlander on the slate makes both pitchers’ ownership pretty equally palatable. If there were an ownership gap between Bieber and Manaea, I could be swayed in smaller field contests to go Manaea, but we’re not seeing that, yet.

OTHER ACES: Justin Verlander, Brandon Woodruff

It’s weird to call these two “others” because they’re really great pitchers. Justin Verlander isn’t striking many guys out. The argument for him is that he doesn’t need more than seven or eight strikeouts to get a complete game shutout of his own. Only two players in the Mariners projected lineup have wOBAs over .330 — Jesse Winker and Ty France — against right-handed pitchers since 2021, so that CGSO isn’t out of reach. Verlander will be owned, but not overowned because of Bieber and Manaea gobbling up a ton of ownership.

The argument for Verlander is that he’s the best pitcher on the slate, has a decent matchup, and can compile the best fantasy outing for us, despite not striking out 11 or 12.

I can’t see the argument for Brandon Woodruff. He’s really good and maybe the best pitcher on this slate with a sample. Of pitchers on this slate with 110-plus innings since 2021, Woodruff is:

1st in SIERA (3.27)
2nd in K/9 (10.68, behind Bieber’s 11.38)
1st in K-BB% (23.3%)

On any normal slate, Woodruff and Verlander are in the top tier, but Bieber and Manaea have such extremely favorable matchups — for run prevention and strikeouts — that Woodruff sinks to the bottom of these four because matchups are serving as glaring tiebreakers.

Woodruff’s matched up with the Cardinals, who aren’t dangerous for power, but cap the ceilings of opposing pitchers by only having a 19.2% strikeout rate across their projected lineup. This is Astros levels of low. Woodruff would be an MME prospect — like Verlander — if only we could trust the innings to the point of the three we’ve already discussed. But we can’t.

Woodruff hasn’t pitched into the seventh inning once this season and has only completed six twice in eight starts. The per-inning data is great, but this is a slate where that quality start and win are gonna mean so much on FanDuel and one of our pitchers should go deep on DraftKings.

CHEAP SP2s: Jon Gray, Garrett Whitlock, Jeffery Springs

I normally go to the cheapies last, but the optimal tactic tonight will be to go cheap at SP2 where we can go Bieber plus either Manaea or Verlander. Not that the $7k-$8.5k range is empty; just that this range is far sexier.

Weird to call Jon Gray a sexy play, but — at $5.5k — the site is begging us to play a lot of him. The Athletics are terrible against everyone. Against right-handed pitching, their projected lineup has a .293 wOBA, a .147 ISO, and 23.1% strikeout rate. For the price, this isn’t far off of Bieber and Manaea’s matchups. Sure, Bieber and Manaea are better, so we should try to play those two, but “we live in a world with a salary cap,” as our friend Dean Shavelson likes to say, so Gray is a fine substitute.

Gray’s 9.36 K/9 since 2021 is fine. Not great, but fine. If we want more innings — but with an 80-pitch count — we can go to Garrett Whitlock or Jeffery Springs.

Whitlock faces the Orioles, who have five guys in their projected lineups with strikeout rates over 23.5%. Four guys at 25.0% or higher since. And Whitlock has 10.27 K/9 over his 106.1 innings over that span. There’s no question he’s good and he’d be up with the top-four if he could go 95-100 pitches, but we’re pretty sure he can’t. He should’ve in our MME pools because we’re getting great per-inning stuff at only $6.8k.

Springs has some of the best stuff on the slate, but the Yankees projected lineup’s strikeout rate against lefties is only 18.6%. Springs’ stuff is more electric than Whitlock, but the lack of volume is scarier when there’s more of an uphill battle to generate strikeouts.

MID-RANGE SP2s: Trevor Rogers, Jose Quintana

Trevor Rogers faces a tough offense in the Braves, but the Braves projected lineup strikes out 24.6% of the time against lefties since 2021 and Rogers has 10.15 K/9 over that stretch. Jose Quintana has a whopping 10.33 K/9 since 2021; not a great matchup, but no one’s gonna play him.

It’s doubtful that people play either and that’s where they’re valuable. Most roster builds will be double-ace or an ace with Gray. We can differentiate our entire lineup by sprinkling these two around lineups because virtually no one is playing any pitching between $5.5k and $9k.

GLARING OMISSIONS: Alek Manoah, Carlos Carrasco

These are matchup-based omissions on a slate where matchup matters so much. It matters so much because of the aces in excellent matchups tipping the scales. Alek Manoah is a really good real-life pitcher with excellent power prevention, but the Angels lineup in the very hitter-friendly Angel Stadium carries way too much risk for the ~$10k price tag. Carlos Carrasco is interesting because he’s at Citi Field, but his 7.58 K/9 this season is just too low; I prefer the Phillies bats in a high-contact scenario.

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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