MLB DFS Pitching Preview: May 25, 2021

Our MLB DFS lineups don’t start and end with pitching. I’m not saying to punt pitcher every night or even every now and then. I’m just stressing that each and every slate does not rest upon our pitching. That said, the pitcher position is so vital because it’s the slot where we can get the most accurate projection in an extremely volatile wing of DFS.

Our pitching 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.

Today is gonna be a little different. Instead of three tiers, tonight is more complex and oversimplifying the process is an injustice to the complexity.

Jacob deGrom

I shouldn’t have to dig into the data to tell you that Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball.

The Rockies have a 78 wRC+ against right-handed pitching.

Citi Field has a 96 wOBA factor downgrade from the average park and a 106 K factor boost.

deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball facing the worst offense in baseball in a great park for pitching.

At $12k on FD and $11.8k on DK, he might still be too cheap on a per-inning basis.

The argument is obviously strong to just jam him in and not give it a second thought, but he isn’t the only great pitcher on the slate, he isn’t the best value on the slate, and his pitch count is questionable.

We’ll get to the other options in this post, but the pitch count is crucial to note when we’re paying this price. Mets manager Luis Rojas said there’s no pitch count, but added they were gonna just track him by inning, which could mean three innings or 75 pitches or 90 pitches, but to actually project him for a full start is aggressive. To not consider the other options is, then, very dangerous.

More dangerous is that we aren’t even gaining much leverage on a great full outing from deGrom, as he should be very close to the most-owned pitcher on both sites, despite capped projections. Because of the pitching diversity, we should expect the common build to be people tightening up the pool of teams people stack and playing a butt-ton of pitchers. We can gain leverage by taking a stand on a tight pitcher pool and diversifying our stacks from there. As we’ll see when we look at other options, there’s a lot of interchangeability in these parts.

Corbin Burnes

The lowest SIERA (2.85) and highest K/9 (13.59) on the slate isn’t deGrom. It’s actually Corbin Burnes, despite Burnes having a 28.6% K-BB rate to deGrom’s 29.3%, 2.78 BB/9 to deGrom’s 1.99, and 1.27 HR/9 allowed to deGrom’s 0/81. The 1.36 K/9 advantage in strikeouts and 0.22 boost in GB:FB ratio changes the run expectation in a neutral park.

That said, these aren’t neutral parks, let alone neutral matchups. The Park Formerly Known as Miller Park is very hitter-friendly, Burnes is a struggle to get to 100 pitches, and the Padres have a 103 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. But this is all baked into the discounted price tag of $10.2k on FD and the insane $9.1k on DK. That said, Burnes still doesn’t project to be the best value on either site, according to THE BAT. But he’s a strong play for raw points, nonetheless, as a top-three pitcher on the slate, regardless of price. Add the discount and he can break the slate.

Max Scherzer

Looking at the performance data and price of Burnes or deGrom’s matchup, it’s easy to ho-hum Max Scherzer, but Scherzer has the longest leash on the slate with per-inning bonafides to run ahead of the two in terms of projection. A 3.03 SIERA with 12.50 K/9 (more than deGrom), 2.07 BB/9, a 28.6% K-BB rate, and only 1.09 HR/9 against a decent Reds lineup with a 102 wRC+ projecting to put out a lineup with a 24.0% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching.

The Reds have power and Scherzer is gonna give up a dong or two, but they strike out quite a bit and he prevents baserunners well enough to give us the “safest” floor, when you keep that leash in mind. Those extra 20 pitches over deGrom and Burnes are pretty valuable volume.

The price we pay for Scherzer in salary is pretty low, but with that is a high price in ownership. There’s little-to-no leverage in playing him as the top-owned pitcher on the slate. For cash games, he’s the easy plug-and-play on both sites. For tournaments, we should be squaring up against the Padres with Burnes or spending down even more on FD; for DK tournaments, it’s easier to play Scherzer — despite the higher ownership — because we can gain leverage at SP2.

Andrew Heaney and Joe Musgrove

Andrew Heaney and Joe Musgrove are two very different pitchers in terms of volatility. But both have great matchups, both are underpriced to different degrees, and both will carry a good ton of ownership for it.

Heaney faces a crappy Texas team, which has a 95 wRC+ and a 25.9% strikeout rate against left-handed pitching in a pretty neutral park. He has power prevention issues, surrendering 1.66 HR/9 after a 9.1% barrel rate, but is basically free to roster. And, again, it’s Texas. Rostering him on FD pays a price too high in ownership, but we can leverage him with Burnes on DK and play whoever we want from there.

Musgrove has a 3.00 SIERA with 12.41 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, and 1.09 HR/9 since 2020, facing a Brewers team with a 97 wRC+ (but in a hitter-friendly park) and a 25.3% strikeout rate. This is a five-figure pitcher we’re getting at a big discount. But — like Heaney — he’ll be heavily owned. I think this is the same play — go underweight or ignore him on FD, while pairing him only with a low-owned pitcher like Burnes on DK.

Lucas Giolito

The next-best low-owned option after Burnes has the added bonus of being in a price tier where no one is gonna play to give us added leverage when we build our hitters. Lucas Giolito has a very volatile 3.58 SIERA with a sexy 11.63 K/9, but 3.19 BB/9 and 1.24 HR/9 on a dangerous 8.1% barrel rate in a hitter-friendly park. What puts Giolito in play is his long leash when he’s rolling, a low price that allows us to play whatever hitters we want, ownership so low that he’s automatic leverage, and a low-key great matchup.

The Cardinals are bad, y’all. They have a .308 wOBA, 91 wRC+, and a 23.1% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching. Giolito’s CGSO upside puts an enormous point-per-dollar value on his ceiling to break the slate. The risk, of course, is that a bunch of walks leads into two three-run-homers and he’s out before the fifth inning, which is why we should limit our exposure to him.

It’ll take under 10% on FD to get overweight on Giolito; under 20% on DK.

Extraordinary Margins

This is all to say that we haven’t even discussed the raw talent of Jack Flaherty in a tough matchup or the Corey Kluber revival (that is completely legit). There’s just too much damn pitching on this slate to consider them for a single-entry tournament or where we’re only playing five — or even ten — lineups because there’s so much high-ceiling value to play. We have to take a stand somewhere. I’m crossing them off, but it’s totally reasonable to cross off deGrom and include one or both of them on DK.

And — oh, by the way — Clayton Kershaw is pitching for free against the A*tros. No one’s gonna play him, so we can go overweight on the field by playing well under 10% of him. But Houston doesn’t strike out, so not sure what we’re expecting a good game from Kershaw to even look like.


I put my money where my mouth is. I’m not tryin’ to hear the boo-hoos when you lose money based on my analysis. Remember that I lost money on those individual decisions, too, as I refuse to write an article without serious skin in the game. A lot of money. Trusting the sound process of chasing leverage over safety pays out well in the long run, and it’s all one long session.

So, I’ll tell you that I’m only playing three-to-five higher-stakes tournament lineups on each site. My pitchers will likely be Scherzer, Burnes, and Giolito on FD with Musgrove in the mix on DK. There’s a huge $150 tournament on FD and a huge $250 on DK, where you can bet your ass that I’ll gamble on deGrom for one of those lineups on at least one site. Instead of playing Heaney, I’m doubling down on the fade by stacking Adolis Garcia, Khris Davis, and Nick Solak — maybe with Joey Gallo — in most lineups for leverage on the field going heavy on Heaney. The leverage from low-owned pitching and a low-owned Rangers secondary stack, then (after all of that), allows me to play whoever I want among the Yankees, Angels, Twins, or Atheltics.

Good luck.

Stats cited are since 2019 unless otherwise noted. Park factors via EV Analytics. Ownership projections via Rotogrinders.

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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