MLB DFS Pitching Analysis: May 4, 2021

There’s a long pre-packaged intro that I have queued up to introduce this weekly post, but I’m not gonna use today. Let’s cut the crap and get to business:

Just play Jacob deGrom.

Now that that’s out of the way, FanDuel is solved, so we’re gonna focus on the SP2 slot on DraftKings — just for today. Instead of tiers, we’re gonna look at three types of construction and focus more on game theory than the skills of the individual players and their matchups. Think about lineups, not players.

BUILD ONE — CHALK: Pivetta and Minor

Pitching is pretty rough in the mid-tier price ranges, but this is where people always go to pair with the high-priced stud. Without an obviously underpriced pitcher, the field will largely flock toward the best matchup and the best ballpark.

Nick Pivetta is a ticking time bomb, but he has that best matchup. The Tigers have an 83 wRC+ against right-handed pitching with a 25.1% K rate and Pivetta can turn walks into Ks really fast with a high chase rate from opponents. Mike Minor is pitching is probably the best ballpark for depressing home runs in MLB. We might think it’s batspit crazy to go here, but the smart people with the smart hamsters on the smart wheels have all projected these two to be in half of lineups.

They’re not bad plays, relatively speaking, in a vacuum. Both can go six — or even seven innings, if the walks are down — and strike out a man per inning, which is great for the prices. But if everyone’s playing them, it gets really hard to just “differentiate elsewhere.” There are times to kick this can down the road with pitching and find leverage solely with hitting, but when everyone is spending the same amount on hitting and almost no one is willing to leave much salary on the table, the end result turns into the same lineups as a whole.

The best way to differentiate from a chalk pitching duo on DK isn’t to just pivot within the price range, but to exit a price range altogether.

BUILD TWO — DOUBLE ACE: Bauer

Trevor Bauer isn’t projected at Rotogrinders, but he should come in low-owned because he’s only $400 cheaper than deGrom. But we can play them both, stack a cheap team or two, and have a build with a lot of leverage. Not just because of the double ace differentiation, but because the differentiation creates a completely unique build as a whole.

And there’s so much upside in Bauer. The second games of doubleheaders can have crap lineups, he has dominance in his repertoire that only deGrom has on this slate, and this being a seven-inning game adds the bonus of a complete game shutout to his ceiling.

If you’re thinking, “Easy for you to say, Alex, just find a cheap stack or two, herpderp,” the Rays, Mariners, and Nationals are free. Astros are pretty underpriced, too. You’re welcome.

BUILD THREE — MAXIMUM LEVERAGE: Nola and Happ

Aaron Nola doesn’t have the complete game shutout upside that Bauer has because Nola would have to pitch nine innings to get there, but the run prevention and K upside is probably better against the Brewers than Bauer gets against the Cubs. We could take the same double ace building principles with Nola — who’s only $300 cheaper than Bauer — apply them here with even more leverage because no one is playing Nola with deGrom and Bauer so similarly accessible.

J.A. Happ is kind of a crazy play because he flat-out sucks now, but the Rangers have a 26.1% K rate against left-handed pitching, and so much of the power on which they heavily rely — Joey Gallo, Nate Lowe, David Dahl, and even Willie Calhoun — comes from the left side. Fading the power of Adolis Garcia and Nick Solak will be a sweat, as Happ gives up a lot of power to right-handed hitting, but his price is so stupidly high at $8,600 that no one is gonna play him, despite the K per inning upside. Are we playing Happ in single entry or in one of five lineups? Probably not. But there’s a shot at six decent innings here for a few MME dart throws.

Happ is a perfect seque to our conclusion that pitching is rough enough that we just play deGrom. It’s the GTO move where we let others make the mistake of fading him to get cute or over-leverage. Let those other people pay the rake.

Stats cited are since 2019, unless otherwise noted.





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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