There are still a few seats left in the DraftKings Live Final on August 26th in Denver. We’ll only address the night games here as we’re focusing on the qualifier. Here’s how I’m going to attack the slate.
Corey Kluber will be on all of my teams. He has the highest ceiling and highest floor on this slate. The former Cy Young Award winner has rattled off double-digit strikeouts in three straight starts and eight of his last nine. He’s expensive, but don’t overthink it. The Yankees rank 11th in K% versus right-handed pitching and haven’t faced the Indians ace yet this year.
Parker Bridwell doesn’t have overpowering stuff, yet he’s still a little underrated. The Angels rookie features a curveball, slider, change and a sinker. He’s an intelligent pitcher that has enough in his arsenal to limit the damage. Fastball ranges from 90-95, with a changeup that separates up to 9 mph at about 86. The change breaks away from lefties and the slider fools righties. I’ve seen Bridwell pitch at least thrice and he hasn’t given up much hard contact and has struck out enough to be useful in daily leagues. The 26-year-old faces the Phillies, who rank sixth in K%, making Bridwell worth the $8,300 on this slate. Most likely, I’m going to pair Parker with Kluber. However, I might have one team in which I am going to move all the way down to Miguel Gonzalez at $4,500 simply because I don’t like the other matchups. Miguel's stuff is not impressive, but for some reason he not too infrequently ends up with a serviceable box score for a dirt-cheap price. He’s not for the risk averse though as he receives his share of beatdowns.
Alex Wood – Some will look for the Dodger southpaw with a quirky delivery to bounce back, and as a lefty, Wood can limit some of the park effects working against him in SunTrust Park. This makes sense and I don’t blame you if you play him. I just find it hard to trust him coming off two rough outings, including yielding nine runs in four-plus innings against the Braves just two weeks ago. I never liked back-to-back outings against the same opponent in a short time span, the recall on the delivery, release angle, velocity, and movement is still fresh.
Tigers – Will be very chalky obviously vs. Chris Tillman and for good reason. Lefties and righties both excel against the Oriole, but right-handed hitters deliver the power.
Astros – Hiding somewhere inside Blake Snell is an elite pitcher. However, he thinks he can walk the bases loaded every inning and get away with it. Even when he’s not walking the store, Snell pitches from behind. In fact, "Ball One" should be his nickname, for that seems to be his favorite pitch. When you get behind in the count, terrible hitters become mediocre, and mediocre bats turn into All-Stars. I could see lots of base runners and numerous fastball counts in this one. This sets up the Astros hitters. In particular, I love Derek Fisher in this matchup. Fisher is a name to file away for the NFBC next year. I LOVE his approach, displaying great pitch recognition and plate discipline.
Beyond Detroit and Houston, I’m not recommending any stacks. Outside of Tigers and Astros, my hitters will be diversified.
Catcher – James McCann, John Hicks, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis
First Base – Lucas Duda, John Hicks, Mike Napoli, Josh Bell
Second Base – Robinson Cano, Scooter Gennett, Ian Kinsler
Third Base – Alex Bregman, Manny Machado, Miguel Sano
Shortstop – (nothing worth spending on, so I would punt, use as little salary as possible) - Dixon Machado, Jorge Polanco/Eduardo Escobar
Outfield – Mike Trout, Justin Upton, all Detroit outfielders, Derek Fisher, Carlos Beltran, Jake Marisnick, Andrew McCutchen, Marwin Gonzalez
Dinelson Lamet has run hot and cold this year. This inconsistency stems from command. The rookie has held opposing right-handed hitters to an amazingly low .114 BA. To give you a feel of just how incredible this is, consider that right-handed batters have hit Clayton Kershaw at a .184 clip. Yes, he is a southpaw, and opposing lefties hit Kershaw at a .245 clip. Any way you slice it, to this point Lamet has been elite vs. RHB. LHB are another story, hitting .301 and leaving the yard six times in just 79 at-bats. Lamet might work as a GPP pivot away from chalky Chris Sale, but the risk is there, and considering the other side brings us to an interesting contrarian play, taking Cleveland left-handed hitters with a little pop. Before quality starts in the last two outings, the Padres youngster yielded six homers and 17 earned runs over a span of 14 innings. When Lamet’s slider flattens out against a lefty with power, it’s not much more than a big cookie sitting out there that will travel a long ways if it’s barreled. I think most people, understandably, won’t want to attack a pitcher that’s been so effective recently, meaning Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall and Bradley Zimmer will have low ownership levels, especially Chisenhall batting down in the lineup. My two favorite Indian plays are Ramirez and Chisenhall.
Francisco Liriano has been better at home than on the road, but he hasn’t been good anywhere. All right-handed Astros are in play, but in particular, George Springer (.333/.731/1.166) is your best bet.
Mike Foltynewicz seemed to solve his lefty problem in 2016, but those struggles have returned this year. That puts Brian Goodwin, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Adam Lind and Stephen Drew in play.
The only completely safe pitching play in cash games is Chris Sale. A good argument could be made for Lance McCullers and Robbie Ray. The former doesn’t always go deep into games and has a slightly lower K-rate on the road. The latter has struggled over his last three starts, giving up five home runs and walking 13. The Diamondback is still very much in the cash game conversation, but I will be looking elsewhere. If you watched him early in the season, yes the former Tiger was dominant, but I lost count of how many fly balls died deep on the warning track. Some are starting to find their way over the fence. Justin Turner, Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger just might help continue that trend.
Jacob Faria will be a popular option and understandably so. You can’t argue with the results. The production per fantasy dollar has been excellent. Having said that, I will be fading him again. He doesn’t pass the eye test. A lot of people that I respect tremendously rave about him. They love his stuff. The two times I’ve watched him, his fastball has been straight as an arrow, and he’s had trouble commanding his off-speed stuff. He doesn’t bring tremendous velocity or movement to the table. So many big fat matzah balls hanging over the plate that, for some reason, nobody can make good contact with. Maybe there’s deception in his delivery. He does seem to hide the ball well, but I need more than just that. I’m likely the only one saying this in the industry, but I’m afraid a blowup is overdue.
Sam Gaviglio is my GPP Hail Mary. Keep in mind, Hail Marys aren’t completed very often. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be called Hail Marys. They’d be called "Safe Screen Passes." The finesse hurler has been very effective at home. Here you’re just shooting for 35 points with a quality start and victory while Chris Sale posts a more modest point total (45-ish). Outside of Boston’s lefty, there’s not a lot of chalk at the top to overcome in order for a shot if you load up on bats and they go off.
So to summarize:
Cash Pitcher – Chris Sale
GPP Pitcher – eat chalk with Chris Sale, or pivot to Dinelson Lamet (risky), or punt with Sam Gaviglio. Wouldn’t argue with Rich Hill either.
Stacks I like – Nationals, Astros.
Contrarian stacks (some risk, meaning you could crash and burn here) – Indians, Dodgers.
I build most of my lineups organically. That is to say, I’m not on team math. I just watch a lot of baseball and try to catch those observable elements that are lost in the noise of commonly used stats, yet might be predictive. That’s how I qualified for Fanduel’s World Fantasy Baseball Championship Live Final in Nashville last year on a single entry into a very large qualifier. Matt Shoemaker was a dumpster fire last year early on because there was no action or movement on his splitter. Suddenly, he "found it" and became dominant, particularly at home where his fly ball tendencies didn’t cost him as much. That was my ticket to Nashville. His salary next time out didn’t reflect the fact that he was a completely different pitcher with this pitch in his arsenal now fixed. That allowed me to load up on plenty of expensive bats in great matchups.
Some things I’ve picked up:
-Target opposing pitchers that are slow to the plate for stolen bases. Yes, you can pick on the Braves catchers Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki, but even more important than catcher pop times (the time it takes from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the time the 2B/SS receives the catcher’s throw) is the time it takes the pitcher to deliver the ball to home plate. More bases are stolen off of the pitcher than the catcher.
-Hot Streaks matter. I look at the last week to ten days. Ideally, if you watch a lot of games, you can spot those guys coming out of a slump that are really starting to barrel up the ball but have been robbed at the warning track or blasts that just went foul, or line drives right at defenders. The pack goes off of box scores and won’t be on them yet.
-Batter vs. Pitcher matters, but often not in a way that is very useful. What I mean by that is some hitters definitely fare better against particular pitchers because they see the ball well coming out of their hand. The problem is BvP stats are usually packaged with a lot of noise leading us astray much of the time. Pitchers might have streaks with increased/decreased velocity, command that comes and goes, or pitches added or removed from their repertoire. You usually have to dig deeper than the stat sheet to get to the truth of the matter.
-Home and Road splits matter for the pitcher regardless of ballpark. Some pitchers are more sensitive than others, or should I say some pitchers adjust quicker/better than others, but there is some variation in the mounds from ballpark to ballpark. It affects the dynamic of pushing off and landing during delivery, which affects release point and command.
Turning our attention to Thursday’s "all-day" slate…
It’s Max Scherzer, and then everyone else. The National League Cy Young award winner at home against the Diamondbacks, who strike out a good bit. It’s going to be difficult not to eat chalk in cash, and in GPP there’s no clear, easy pivot. However, when the talent is thin at the top of the pitching slate, that’s when it makes sense in large tourneys to fade the chalk. If the chalk blows up, that gives you an edge plus a lot of extra salary to throw at hitters.
Danny Salazar leads the league in strikeout rate. Unfortunately, he racks up the pitch counts early. This year, he’s been having trouble locating his changeup early. Hitters then sit on his fastball and pound the young Indian in the early innings. At some point, he "finds" it and it’s smooth sailing from the second or third inning on. Someday soon he’s going to find it out of the gate and will post a 60+ point total on Fanduel. The problem this week is he’s on the road facing a division opponent that sees him a lot. Still, he’s the closest thing to a pivot if you want to get away from Scherzer without sacrificing upside. Ivan Nova at Great American Ball Park is also worth a look. The Pirate is safer but lacks Salazar’s K potential.
Zach Eflin has a good fastball but not much else. On top of that, when he gets behind in the count, he uses his fastball almost exclusively. That’s not a good recipe for success, and a lot of people will stack the Cubs against him. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad play, but here’s the thing. Nobody in their right mind will be using Eflin. For some odd reason, he’s been very effective living off of his fastball. The Cubs haven’t seen him before, so the first time through the order he’ll have that advantage. If you are looking for an insane punt play in a GPP opening up salary elsewhere, this is your guy. There aren’t that many quality pitching plays and if the few at the top of the ledger don’t pan out, with a little luck, Eflin could come away with 35 points and the highest upside possible from your hitters. Just don’t complain if he gets lit up because that wouldn’t be all that surprising.
My favorite bats for Thursday:
1B – Freddie Freeman, Ryan Zimmerman, Yonder Alonso
2B – Daniel Murphy, Jose Altuve, Neil Walker
3B – Jake Lamb, Yangervis Solarte, Yuli Gurriel
SS – Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor, Asdrubal Cabrera
OF – Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Billy Hamilton, Michael Brantley
Stacks to consider: Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates
We’re looking at a very small slate of just four games this evening. There are sloppy slates, there are ugly slates, and then there are slates like tonight. A lot of chalk and a lot of garbage, with little in between. The choice will be where you want to punt to save salary and where to conform to the chalk. This is being written Wednesday night, so make sure you check the weather and latest news and injury updates.
Paul Goldschmidt – Whenever Goldy faces a southpaw, just lock and load. Jeff Locke yielded 13 homers and a .305 batting average against right-handed hitters in 2016.
Albert Pujols – Posted a 1.259 OPS over the last five games heading into Wednesday night’s matchup against the Atlanta Braves. Pujols has a reverse L/R split thus far in 2017, but I think that’s just due to a small sample. Lefty rookie Adalberto Mejia has struggled with both sides of the plate.
Devon Travis – Hop aboard the Devon Travis train while he’s hot. He’s launched four homers in the last nine games. Not much else of interest here at the keystone.
Brian Dozier – When I’ve watched JC Ramirez this year, he’s been very good at getting strike one early…almost too good, grooving one in the wheelhouse right out of the gate. I could see Dozier taking him deep in his first AB, but I don’t want to pay the freight here.
Josh Donaldson – I will be fading Jake Lamb since he’s facing a lefty, leaving Donaldson as the only attractive play at the hot corner. He will be chalky.
Punt Plays – Luis Valbuena, Derek Dietrich.
Andrelton Simmons – The former Brave has been seeing the ball very well of late, riding a 12-game hitting streak as of Wednesday, batting .408 with two home runs over that stretch.
JR Riddle – 53% hard contact rate over the last week and facing Zack Greinke, so no one will be on him.
Russell Martin and Sandy Leon.
Mookie Betts and Jose Bautista will be chalky and for good reason. Marco Estrada will probably give up at least one home run to a Yankee, possibly two, but it’s roulette trying to guess who his mistake pitch will be thrown to, and Estrada will limit the damage, so I wouldn’t stack Yanks. A "one-off" is the most I’d do.
Yasmany Tomas – He’s been cold and I don’t usually like to grab my lineup from the freezer. That being said, Tomas crushed lefties last year, slashing .364/.690/1.112 against southpaws. His 2017 splits tell a different story, but one I’m not listening to given his solid BvP versus Jeff Locke.
Christian Yelich – It may seem like I’m picking on Zack Greinke. I’m really not. This is the ugliness that one is faced with on a four-game slate. Yelich does hit right-handed pitchers well.
Punt Plays – Kole Calhoun, Byron Buxton, Eric Young Jr.
It’s really simple: Zack Greinke, Marco Estrada.
JC Ramirez – The only pivot off of chalk that doesn’t nauseate me.
The rest of the pitchers? A revolting dung heap. No, I don’t trust CC Sabathia in Toronto. I personally will be fading Greinke because of the salary. He’s not a bad play, but the salary takes too many quality bats out of my lineup and he's always susceptible to that random bad outing out of nowhere. Estrada and Ramirez will likely be the only two pitchers in my lineups on DraftKings.
The 2017 NFBC draft season is in the books. We hit the Big Apple for the first time, and returned to the Windy City the following weekend. The Main Event in New York bucked the trend of obsessing over elite starting pitching, as the elite and potentially elite arms went later than I expected. It allowed Andy Saxton, drafting from 1.6, to start off with: Nolan Arenado, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto and Chris Archer, giving him probably the strongest team foundation in the league. It remains to be seen if Archer can repeat the level we saw him display after the All-Star break, when he improved his K/BB ratio from 2.7 to 5.4, and lowered his ERA from 4.66 to 3.25. A full season of the latter would make Team Saxton the early favorite.
It was a small turnout in Chicago this year, but there’s something special about this group. You can sense a strong sense of camaraderie among the regulars, along with a fierce competitiveness, and a depth of baseball knowledge that rivals scouts I’ve talked with. These aren’t merely stat nerds. These guys know baseball. This made it impossible to execute my plan. I had to pivot more times than a politician at a fake news conference. The most interesting plan was Rotowire’s Derek Van Riper from 1.15:
1.15 – Madison Bumgarner
2.1 – Noah Syndergaard
3.15 – Kenley Jansen
4.1 – Aroldis Chapman
Instantly envious, I wondered why I didn’t KDS 1.15 and do the same thing? ERA, WHIP, K’s, Saves are all a slam-dunk, locked up. No chasing saves on FAAB. Just sit back and construct your offense and grab an occasional pitcher that slips. Of course he’s got power and speed issues that will have to be fixed on the wire, but nobody leaves the draft table with enough stats to win the national. You will have holes; you just get to choose where they will be.
Switching gears to the NFBC Rotowire Championship and potential waiver pieces for this weekend:
Jeremy Hellickson – The market was heavily influenced by spring training stats, more so than I’ve ever seen before, despite the fact that there’s little correlation between spring training stats and regular season stats over large sample sizes. A poor spring is the only explanation I can come up with for Hellickson being available in some leagues.
Ariel Miranda – Excelled at Safeco over a small sample size last year (3.16 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) and will be rounding out the Seattle Mariners rotation while Drew Smyly is on the shelf.
Brett Anderson – Theo Epstein raved about the former Dodger this spring. The southpaw is more of a streaming/matchup option in 12-team leagues, and will take the mound for the defending World Champions.
Wily Peralta – Made some adjustments during a demotion in 2016 and returned a different hurler, posting a 2.92 ERA and a 7.4 K/9. The arsenal includes a fastball that averages 94.8 mph but at times straightens out, making it easier for hitters to square him up. Still, he's worth a stash on the cheap to see if the improvements stick.
Tyler Anderson – Yes, the Brew Crew did a number on his ERA, but I’m looking at the 8 K’s, 1 BB in 5 IP. Don’t give up on him yet.
Shelby Miller – Longtime readers know that I called last year’s implosion. When is moving to Chase Field EVER a good thing for a pitcher? And yet, he’s shown increased velocity this spring along with more life and movement on his pitches. I’m willing to pay a buck to park him on my bench and see what happens. He might be a valuable piece to plug in for road matchups.
Ryan Schimpf – Homered off Kershaw this week. If you need 30-homer power from a middle infielder, the Padres third baseman is your huckleberry. He currently qualifies at 2B but should add 3B eligibility in a couple of weeks.
Pablo Sandoval – Yes, the new, improved, leaner Kung-Fu Panda went undrafted in some leagues. He should be a useful hitter for fantasy purposes this year.
Yangervis Solarte – 20+ homers and .280 AVG at the hot corner.