Note 1: Because this slate has so much pitching to choose from, I am writing about more pitchers than usual so that I can provide information on secondary pitchers as well as the pitchers that I am most interested in. I will use an asterisk to denote the pitchers I plan on prioritizing.
Note 2: The weather looks bad for the Kansas City and St. Louis game. With 13 other games to choose hitters from, I did not include any Royals or Cardinals in my positional write-up. If the weather improves, both teams makes for appealing stacks against less than stellar starters and Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong are all top plays at their respective positions.
Justin Verlander* faces the Chicago White Sox tonight in Houston. Verlander has the second highest strikeout percentage on the slate at 31.1 percent and the third best pCRA on the slate at 3.13 (0.75 runs higher than his 2.78 ERA). The White Sox have struck out 26.0 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season with a 95 wRC+ and .311 wOBA. Verlander has struck out 38.2 percent of left-handed hitters this season with a .252 xwOBA allowed compared to 23.1 percent of right-handed hitters with a .333 xwOBA allowed. Three of the top four hitters in Chicago’s projected lineup hit from the left side and the right-handed bats offer above average strikeout upside for Verlander. Verlander also has a longer leash than most pitchers, so we can count on him going deep into the game which increases his floor as well as his ceiling. I have more interest in Verlander in cash games than tournaments because there is plenty of upside available at SP1 for slightly cheaper price tags but Verlander offers a floor that most of those other pitchers do not.
Caleb Smith* is having one of the best seasons in baseball so far and it largely goes overlooked because he pitches for the Marlins. He has the highest strikeout percentage on the slate at 35.2 percent and his walk percentage has decreased from 10.1 percent last season to 7.7 percent this season. He has the best K-BB percentage on the slate at 27.5 percent, the best xFIP at 2.92 and the best pCRA at 2.82 (the 10 starting pitchers with a pCRA below 3.00 this season are Snell, Cole, Castillo, Strasburg, Sale, Ryu, Glasnow, Smith, Scherzer and Paddack). Smith also has a top-10 called strike plus swinging strike percentage this season. He will face a predominantly right-handed Detroit lineup, which is not an issue as he has struck out 37.4 percent of right-handed hitters this season while holding them to a .267 xwOBA. He has an 18.7 percent swinging strike percentage against right-handed hitters, with swinging strike percentages greater than 15 percent on all three of his pitches. We should not be scared of Smith’s price tag against a Detroit team that has struck out 26.8 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season with a 104 wRC+ and .327 wOBA. Smith may not be the workhorse that Verlander is, but he has thrown at least six innings in six of his last seven starts. The early projection models that I am looking at are not particularly high on Smith, but I will be manually adjusting his projection because there are too many estimators that point to Smith being elite for me to miss out on rostering him because projection models aren’t in love with numbers that he posted in the minor leagues years ago.
Zack Greinke faces the Padres tonight in San Diego. If Caleb Smith were not similarly priced, I would be very interested in Greinke, who has struck out 25.4 percent of hitters this season while walking just 3.3 percent. Greinke ranks 13th in pCRA this season, one spot ahead of Verlander. He faces a San Diego team that has struck out 27.8 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season with an 82 wRC+ and .289 wOBA. Whereas Caleb Smith has an increased strikeout percentage against right-handed hitters, Greinke has struck out just 22.5 percent of righties compared to 28.2 percent of lefties this season- due in large part to his change-up usage to lefties. The Padres have a predominantly right-handed lineup. Greinke should have success in this matchup, but I don’t think that he has as much upside as Smith does and, based on projection models that I am looking at, I expect he will have more ownership.
Domingo German has excellent stuff and a favorable matchup tonight against the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore has an 84 wRC+ and .298 wOBA against right-handed pitching this season, but they have also struck out just 22.4 percent of the time. German has an above average strikeout percentage this season at 26.0 percent, but he has not quite put everything together to turn his 13.3 percent swinging strike percentage into an elite strikeout percentage. He also ranks 36th with a 3.65 pCRA this season which, while it is good, does not compare favorably to several pitchers priced around him tonight. I’m not interested in Baltimore bats because I think German is a talented pitcher, but I can’t get to German with much frequency on this slate because the Orioles don’t strike out as much as the opponents for several of the high-upside arms that are priced around German.
Clayton Kershaw faces the Rays tonight in Tampa Bay. Tropicana is a great pitcher’s park and the Rays lead baseball with a 30.9 percent strikeout percentage against left-handed pitching. Kershaw has struck out 23.8 percent of hitters this season while walking just 4.6 percent. He ranks 41st with a 3.71 pCRA. There is no question that it is a favorable matchup for Kershaw and that he is likely to have a good game. The issue that I have with Kershaw is his price and talent level relative to other pitchers on the slate. It’s difficult for me to justify rostering the 11th highest strikeout percentage on the slate when he is the fifth most expensive pitcher, especially when several of the pitchers with higher strikeout percentages have favorable matchups themselves. There are many slates where Kershaw would be one of my favorite pitchers, but it’s difficult for me to get to him at a similar price point to Smith or Greinke given that Smith and Greinke both also have favorable matchups and are better strikeout pitchers and overall pitchers than Kershaw at this point.
Zach Eflin is not of interest to me on DraftKings at $9,400 or on FanDuel at $9,100. His matchup against the Cubs is the toughest matchup that I have written about so far as they have a 22.5 percent strikeout percentage against right-handed pitching this season with a 114 wRC+ and .341 wOBA. Eflin’s 19.8 percent strikeout percentage this season sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to all of the pitchers priced around him. Paying for him on this slate is simply an unnecessary risk. Eflin is interesting, however, on Yahoo! where he is just $35. The weather in Chicago is cold with winds blowing in at 15-20 miles per hour, giving us favorable pitching weather. There are several arms priced around Eflin on Yahoo! that are also interesting (Archer, Gray and Teheran specifically) but he is certainly a viable option as an SP2 on that site.
German Marquez is one of the more talented pitchers in baseball in terms of stuff, which shows up in his 13.8 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.9 percent called strike plus swinging strike percentage (17th overall) this season. His strikeout percentage is down from 28.2 percent last season to 24.5 percent this season, but his walk percentage is also down to 4.4 percent. While strikeout percentage stabilizes quickly and is a better predictor of future strikeout percentage than swinging strike percentage or called strike plus swinging strike percentage, Marquez’s strikeout percentage last season and his swinging strike percentage this season do give us some hope that his strikeout numbers trend up in the future. There are a couple of issues for Marquez tonight, however. While the Pirates have produced just a 90 wRC+ and .303 wOBA against right-handed pitching this season, they have also struck out 20.7 percent of the time which is the sixth lowest strikeout percentage against right-handed pitching on the slate. Pittsburgh also has six lefties in their projected lineup. Marquez has struck out just 19.4 percent of left-handed hitters this season compared to 29.4 percent of righties. Last season, he struck out 22.0 percent of lefties compared to 35.2 percent of righties. While the park shift and lack of production from most hitters in Pittsburgh’s lineup are appealing for Marquez, the strikeout matchup and make-up of the Pirates’ lineup keeps him as a secondary option for me on this slate.
Zack Wheeler faces the Washington Nationals, who are as close to full strength as we have seen in a while with Soto, Rendon, Robles and Turner all healthy. Wheeler has a healthy 26.2 percent strikeout percentage this season and, while his 8.6 percent walk percentage is higher than we would like, it is not the end of the world either. The Nationals’ projected lineup has six right-handed hitters plus the pitcher. Wheeler has held righties to a .310 xwOBA and .113 ISO this season while striking out 24.7 percent (compared to 29.2 percent of lefties). For the season, Washington has struck out 25.1 percent of the time against right-handed pitching with an 82 wRC+ and .297 wOBA. While we always want to be careful about using team stats like this as more than a general guideline since they do not account for the specific lineup that the pitcher is facing that day, we want to be especially careful in cases like Washington where a number of their best players have been hurt for portions of the season. Since last season, the average strikeout percentage of Washington’s projected lineup against right-handed pitching (excluding the pitcher) is just 20.7 percent and Robles, Dozier and Gomes are the only hitters above 22 percent. The average wRC+ is 111 with Robles, Dozier and Gomes the only hitters below 100. Wheeler ranks just 57th in called strike plus swinging strike percentage, but he ranks 30th out of 127 pitchers with a 3.55 pCRA this season. He’s a good pitcher who I think I will have on more than zero lineups but who will probably not be a priority for me because of the respect that I have for this version of the Washington lineup.
Eduardo Rodriguez* has struck out 25.7 percent of hitters this season and has encouraging underlying numbers despite his 4.89 ERA. He ranks 19th with a 3.31 pCRA that is 1.58 runs better than his ERA and he ranks 30th with a 30.5 percent called strike plus swinging strike percentage this season. He will face a predominantly right-handed Toronto lineup and he has held righties to a .280 xwOBA and .099 ISO this season while striking out 25.7 percent. Toronto has struck out 25.3 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season with a 66 wRC+ and .268 wOBA. Outside of Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Randal Grichuk, there is not much that concerns me in the Jays’ lineup. Toronto offers more strikeout upside and less quality hitters against Rodriguez than the Nationals do against Wheeler and Rodriguez has been the better pitcher of the two this season. Rodriguez gets the nod for me at this price point.
Chris Archer is a volatile pitcher in a matchup with some upside against the Rockies tonight in Pittsburgh. Archer has struck out 25.6 percent of hitters in his first six starts this season, with a 12.0 percent swinging strike percentage, but he has also walked 12.0 percent. Last season, he struck out 25.4 percent of hitters while walking a more manageable 7.7 percent of hitters. His 4.80 xFIP this season is lower than his 5.58 ERA, but it is still terrible. He finished last season with a 3.59 xFIP, however, so we don’t want to take too much away from his 30.2 innings pitched this season. His plate discipline numbers are down across the board this season, as his swinging strike percentage is 1.2 points lower, his first-pitch strike percentage is 5.7 points lower and his o-swing percentage is 6.4 points lower than last season. His average fastball velocity this season is 93.5 miles per hour compared to 95.3 miles per hour last season, though he averaged 94.2 miles per hour in his most recent start which was his highest of the season. Colorado has struck out 24.3 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season with a 78 wRC+ so there is reason to expect Archer to have success. At $8,000 on DraftKings, $7,100 on FanDuel and $37 on Yahoo!, he is one of the higher upside per dollar options on the board – just keep in mind that he also comes with plenty of risk.
Jose Quintana is affordable and faces the Phillies in favorable pitching weather tonight in Chicago. Quintana has made some improvements this season, increasing his strikeout percentage from 21.4 percent last season to 23.2 percent this season while lowering his walk percentage from 9.2 percent to 6.9 percent. His 3.71 pCRA backs up his 3.68 ERA to this point. Once we get past the price point, weather and the fact that Quintana is just an all-around decent pitcher, we quickly run out of reasons to be excited about him. The Phillies have struck out 20.1 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season and we know that they will make pitchers work deep into counts. They have been league average in terms of production with a 100 wRC+ and .320 wOBA. Also working against Quintana is the presence of just one left-handed bat in the Phillies’ projected lineup. Quintana has struck out 32.0 percent of lefties this season compared to just 20.5 percent of righties while holding lefties to a .288 xwOBA and .087 ISO compared to a .318 xwOBA and .171 ISO for righties. Quintana is the perfect example of a pitcher who projects well from a median projection standpoint but leaves a lot to be desired when looking at tournament upside.
Spencer Turnbull* is my preferred option in this price range as he takes on the Miami Marlins. Turnbull has struck out 23.7 percent of hitters this season while walking 9.5 percent. The walk percentage is not ideal, but it doesn’t limit his upside so much as it limits his median projection. Turnbull’s 3.91 pCRA is identical to Zach Eflin’s, who is $1,800 more expensive on DraftKings while facing the Cubs instead of the Marlins. As we know, the Marlins are terrible. They have struck out 26.6 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season with just a 64 wRC+ and .260 wOBA. Their projected lineup features six right-handed hitters and Turnbull has struck out 29.8 percent of right-handed hitters this season while holding them to a .280 xwOBA and .078 ISO.
Shaun Anderson is cheap and pitching in San Francisco, which makes him a pitcher worth mentioning. Anderson is making his second Major League start tonight after striking out 25.2 percent of hitters in 35.0 innings at AAA this season and 23.7 percent of hitters in 94.0 AA innings last season. He is San Francisco’s number eight prospect according to FanGraphs. The problems for Anderson are that he will face an Atlanta offense that is good, posting a 105 wRC+ and .330 wOBA with a 21.7 percent strikeout percentage against right-handed pitching this season, and we should not expect him to go deep into this game. Anderson averaged exactly five innings per start at AAA this season and he went 5.0 innings in his first start with the Giants. We have a pitcher that is unlikely to go deep into the game and needs to rack up strikeouts efficiently against an Atlanta team that does not strike out frequently. That is a problem. Basically, if you need a cheap SP2 and are too scared to roster the next guy that I am going to mention then you can look here.
Sonny Gray* is simply underpriced for his talent level. My exposure to him will vary by site. He is cheap at $6,700 on FanDuel, but we only need one pitcher and Chris Archer is only $400 more expensive in a more favorable matchup so I would not expect to get to much Gray on FanDuel. Gray is affordable on Yahoo! at $36, but there are other arms around him in better matchups (Archer, Eflin, Teheran) so that will limit my exposure somewhat. On DraftKings, however, I love Gray in tournaments because he is just $6,700 and the options around him are Erick Fedde (hasn’t thrown more than 49 pitches in a game since April 23 at AA), Shaun Anderson (see above), Lance Lynn (facing Seattle in Texas), Michael Wacha (bad/weather), Michael Pineda (facing Angels), Homer Bailey (bad/weather) and Trevor Cahill (bad/facing Twins). I am not going to type out the numbers for all of those pitchers, but feel free to look them up on your own and compare them to the following numbers for Gray. Gray’s 26.2 percent strikeout percentage is tied with Zack Wheeler for the third highest on the slate behind only Smith and Verlander. His 30.4 percent called strike plus swinging strike percentage is 33rd among all starters who have thrown at least 300 pitches and trails only Smith, Verlander, Marquez, German and Rodriguez on this slate. His 3.54 pCRA is 0.76 runs better than his ERA and ranks 29th among 137 qualified starting pitchers this season. It is better than every pitcher on this slate except for Smith, Greinke, Verlander, Rodriguez and Marquez. In addition to all of that, Gray has the second highest groundball percentage on the slate behind Marcus Stroman. The only real negative that I can point to for Gray is his 8.7 percent walk percentage. Yes, his matchup against the Brewers in Milwaukee is scary because it is a hitter’s park and they have a .183 ISO, 102 wRC+ and .324 wOBA against right-handed pitching this season. There is also upside there, however, as Milwaukee has struck out 25.3 percent of the time against right-handed pitching. There are six righties in Milwaukee’s projected lineup. Gray has held righties to a .293 xwOBA and .124 xISO while striking out 22.9 percent. There are three lefties in the projected lineup, and they are the most dangerous hitters in the lineup. He has been even better against lefties this season, however, striking out 31.2 percent with a .281 xwOBA and .120 xISO. There is no denying the risk in this spot, but the numbers indicate Gray has been the sixth or seventh best pitcher on this slate this season (at worst) and he is the 21st most expensive pitcher on DraftKings. I think Milwaukee is good, but not that good.
Gary Sanchez has a great matchup against David Hess. Hess has allowed a .425 xwOBA and .402 ISO to right-handed hitters this season while striking out just 16.2 percent. Sanchez has a .315 wOBA and .244 ISO against right-handed pitching since the start of last season with a .361 xwOBA and .286 xISO.
Robinson Chirinos is getting expensive, but he still offers power upside tonight against Dylan Covey and the White Sox. Covey has allowed virtually no power to right-handed hitters since last season with a .094 ISO but he has also struck out just 13.7 percent of right-handed hitters. Chirinos’s biggest issue as a hitter is his inability to make contact as he has a .217 ISO against right-handed pitching since last season.
Honorable Mention: J.R. Murphy, Omar Narvaez, Danny Jansen, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa
Dan Vogelbach is expensive but he has the platoon advantage against Lance Lynn in Texas. In addition to a decent matchup against Lynn, the Texas bullpen is terrible and has two lefties, one of which threw 50 pitches on Saturday which could keep him out of tonight’s game. Lynn has limited left-handed power since last season after struggling with it earlier in his career, but he has also struck out just 17.1 percent of left-handed hitters over that time. Vogelbach has a .402 xwOBA and .261 xISO (.413 wOBA and .312 ISO) in 170 at-bats against right-handed pitching since last season.
Brandon Belt is in a terrible park for hitters, but he still has plenty of success there with better than a .382 wOBA and .260 ISO at home against right-handed pitching since 2017. He will face Shaun Anderson, who is making his second Major League start. While Anderson has some talent, Belt is inexpensive and offers plenty of upside here.
Tyler White remains inexpensive in tonight’s matchup against Dylan Covey. White is another Houston hitter with massive power. Covey eliminates the contact issue and, while he has been good at limiting power, I will take my chances on a cheap hitter with a .219 ISO against right-handed pitching since last season who I expect to put the ball in play.
Honorable Mention: Edwin Encarnacion, Luke Voit, Kendrys Morales, Daniel Murphy, Jesus Aguilar
Kike Hernandez is hitting fifth tonight against the Rays as Dave Roberts set his lineup perfectly for Hernandez. Hunter Wood will get the “start” for Tampa Bay and there is a good chance that Hernandez will not hit in the first inning. If Jalen Beeks starts the second inning, that would give Hernandez a matchup against the left-handed Beeks in his first at-bat. If not, he will still be facing Beeks in subsequent at-bats at a very cheap price tag. Hernandez has a .343 wOBA and .251 ISO in 451 at-bats against lefties since 2017 and his price tag makes up for the fact that he is hitting in Tropicana Field.
Ketel Marte faces Matt Strahm, who has been mediocre this season. Strahm has struck out 23.3 percent of righties while allowing a .311 xwOBA and .204 xISO. Marte has posted excellent numbers from the right side of the plate with a .378 wOBA and .238 ISO against left-handed pitching since 2017. The biggest issue for Marte is that the Padres have a good bullpen and he will probably be forced to hit left-handed throughout the latter part of the game.
Honorable Mention: Rougned Odor, Dee Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Robinson Cano, Starlin Castro
Alex Bregman is expensive, but he is also one of the best hitters in baseball. Bregman has a .400 wOBA and .260 ISO against right-handed pitching in 538 at-bats since the start of last season and he has been one of the better hitters on Houston at driving two-seam fastballs, which is Covey’s go-to pitch. Bregman has a .409 xwOBA and .193 xISO against the pitch since last season with a 16.7 degree average launch angle (which indicates he is not pounding the ball into the ground).
Eugenio Suarez faces left-hander Gio Gonzalez in a favorable hitter’s park tonight in Milwaukee. It remains to be seen what this version of Gonzalez has to offer as he has thrown just 262 pitches to right-handed hitters this season, but Suarez has a .409 wOBA and .264 ISO in 314 at-bats against left-handed pitching since the start of the 2017 season.
Asdrubal Cabrera homered twice last night and gets a good matchup tonight against Tommy Milone, who I had no idea was still in professional baseball until last night. Milone has allowed a .438 wOBA and .307 ISO to right-handed hitters with a 17.0 percent strikeout percentage since 2017. Cabrera has just a .328 wOBA and .115 ISO from the right side of the plate since 2017, but the price tag and ballpark help make up for those numbers. He also will get to face a weak, and predominantly right-handed, Seattle bullpen once Milone is knocked out of the game.
Honorable Mention: Justin Turner, Miguel Sano, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Brian Anderson
Carlos Correa has a .369 xwOBA and .211 xISO against right-handed pitching this season as it appears that his power has returned and the young shortstop will continue to improve at the plate as long as he stays healthy. Correa has not had much success against two-seam fastballs over the last few seasons, but it is difficult to put much stock into that since his numbers were down overall as he was playing through various injuries.
Jorge Polanco faces Trevor Cahill tonight, who has allowed a .423 xwOBA and .290 xISO to lefties this season on 327 pitches. His knuckle-curve, previously a strength, has just a 9.4 percent swinging strike percentage to lefties with a .302 xwOBA and .222 xISO allowed. As discussed on this morning’s Early Bird podcast with EMac, I think that Cahill’s curveball release point is too far from his fastball release point and hitters are having an easy time recognizing the pitch. The difference has gotten somewhat smaller in recent starts, but it has still not returned to being non-existent like it was in previous seasons. Until we see that happen, I will continue rostering hitters against Cahill. Polanco has a .397 wOBA and .205 ISO against right-handed pitching since last season and he also has stolen base upside as Cahill is awful at holding runners.
Gleyber Torres has one of the best matchups on the slate against David Hess and the Orioles’ bullpen. Hess has allowed a .402 ISO to right-handed hitters this season and Torres has a .348 wOBA and .186 ISO against righties since last season. In 138 at-bats this season, Torres has a .369 xwOBA and .232 xISO against right-handed pitching.
Honorable Mention: Manny Machado, Corey Seager, Brandon Crawford, Zack Cozart
Joey Gallo may go a bit overlooked since he is in a lefty-lefty matchup and he is expensive, but that makes him a great tournament option. Tommy Milone has been better against lefties than righties since 2016, as we would expect, but he has still allowed a .214 ISO to lefties while striking out just 19.1 percent. The Mariners also have a weak bullpen that the Rangers can attack throughout the game if they get to Milone early. Gallo is a very good hitter against left-handed pitching as well, with a .359 wOBA and .302 ISO since 2017.
Eddie Rosario gets the same favorable matchup as discussed for Polanco earlier. Rosario has a .347 wOBA and .227 ISO against righties since last season and, while he has never stolen more than 11 bases in a Major League season, most humans with two working legs can steal on Trevor Cahill and Rosario easily meets this rule of thumb.
Shohei Ohtani remains inexpensive at just $4,200 on DraftKings and $3,800 on FanDuel. He injured his finger last night, but tests were negative so there is a chance that he plays tonight. If he does, he will face Michael Pineda who has always been home run prone and no longer features excellent swing and miss stuff. Pineda has struck out just 15.7 percent of left-handed hitters so far this season while allowing a .204 xISO. Ohtani has a .418 wOBA and .322 ISO against right-handed pitching since debuting for the Angels last season.
Michael Brantley has a .388 wOBA and .206 ISO in 542 at-bats against right-handed pitching since the start of last season and Dylan Covey has not been as successful at limiting power to lefties as he has to righties over that time. Covey has allowed a .360 xwOBA and .192 xISO to lefties since last season while striking out just 17.9 percent.
Randal Grichuk is a nice leverage option tonight against Eduardo Rodriguez, assuming that he is one of the more popular pitchers on the slate. Rodriguez is having a very good season, as discussed at length earlier, but Grichuk has a ton of power and is affordable. Grichuk has a .343 wOBA and .204 ISO in 182 at-bats against left-handed pitchers since last season so the upside is there.
Nick Castellanos is a similar play to Grichuk in that he is facing one of the better pitchers on the slate, but he has power at a cheap price. Caleb Smith has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, but he has allowed a .189 ISO and .175 xISO to righties and he will be pitching in a hitter’s park instead of the friendly confines for pitchers in Miami. Castellanos has a .432 wOBA and .204 ISO in 171 at-bats against lefties since the start of last season. If I had to choose between only rostering Smith or only rostering Castellanos, my answer would clearly be Smith. Castellanos has value as a one-off in large field tournaments, however.
Honorable Mention: Mike Trout, Mitch Haniger, George Springer, Hunter Pence, Christian Yelich, Max Kepler, Aaron Hicks, Yasiel Puig, Jay Bruce, Franmil Reyes, Tommy Pham, Josh Reddick
Top Stacks: Yankees, Rangers, Mariners, Astros, Twins
Top Off the Board Stack: Rockies- not sure how much I will personally get here but they would be my recommendation if someone asked me for a completely unowned stack with the potential to break a slate