MLB DFS Picks - Million Dollar Musings: Thursday
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Thursday, August 22nd
We had a slow night for offense on Wednesday, leading to lower than usual scores. But one night does not make a trend, and I’ll assume we go right back to all the home runs tonight, particularly with the Astros and the Dodgers making up for last night’s disappointments. The pitching is a little tricky up top, so let’s dive on in.
Thursday Night Pitching
We’ve got an interesting pitching slate with a few different tiers of options. The two obvious aces up top have at least some question marks around them, but their skill sets still vault them clearly to the top of the list.
ACES WITH MODERATE CONCERN
These are the two highest strikeout pitchers in the league this season at 36.8% K for Cole and 35.3% K for Scherzer. They both combine those elite strikeouts with low walks and below average hard contact. On top of their trustworthy skills, they have strong matchups tonight, with Cole’s being far better in terms of opponent strikeouts. The real issue with these two is not their talent, it’s the questions about their pitch counts. Max Scherzer has missed all of August with a back injury and threw a 64-pitch simulated game to get ready. We might also be adding some weather concerns to his pitch count concerns, and all of that has me completely off of him in cash games tonight. Even in tournaments, this is not anything close to a primary play for me.
Gerrit Cole is the more interesting decision, and tougher to keep off the cash game list. He has a less clear injury or pitch count, having missed a couple weeks with a sore hamstring. He was never placed on the IL, but his last start came on August 7th. His dominance, along with the weak Tigers lineup gives him a pretty high floor and ceiling even if he is somewhat limited. My expectation is that he won’t be on any artificial pitch count, but that Houston would be more likely to pull him after six innings if he’s anywhere over 90 pitches, rather than leaving him out there longer. He has so much per inning upside here that I am still going to try and start with him in cash games on DK/FDRFT, but I do see more reason to save some salary on FD/Yahoo and go lower in cash games. For tournaments, I will want to see the projected ownership to decide how heavily to invest here. He still has the highest upside on this slate, but there are enough paths to a good, not great outing, that I will probably have more lineups without him.
HIGH END TRIO
This is an interesting group that has less upside in their skill sets than Scherzer/Cole, but also come with much lower price tags. The cash game play here would be Mike Soroka with his ideal matchup against Miami. While his 19.7% K rate for the season is not worthy of being called an ace, he is a more acceptable 23.5% strikeout pitcher against right-handed batters, where most of the Marlins line up. That gives him plenty of strikeout upside before even factoring in the strong control and 59% ground balls against righties and a team filled with ground ball hitters. This is my choice for cash games on FD, and on two-pitcher sites, it will be either him or Cole, with my lean being Cole on DK/FDRFT and Soroka on Yahoo.
Noah Syndergaard has a tough enough matchup here, when combined with just a 19.4% K rate against left-handed batters, that I have little to no interest. Yes, he’ll stay in the multi-entry pool, but in comparing to Soroka, it’s just not close for me tonight. The overall skills show a slight lean to Syndergaard, but when you bring in the splits, Soroka against righties is far better than Syndergaard against lefties. Soroka faces a team filled with bad righties while Syndergaard faces at least five lefties and a better opponent.
German Marquez is my favorite tournament option in this tier. He has more strikeout ability that either Syndergaard or Soroka, and he’s upped his game recently with a 28.4% K rate and just 3.1% walks since the All-Star Break. Just like Soroka and Syndergaard, he is very splitsy with far better numbers against righties. The Cardinals are much tougher than Miami and they should have four lefties in the lineup, but he does have the platoon edge against their three best hitters in the middle of the lineup.
My official ranking of this trio are Soroka, Marquez, Syndergaard. If you’re not building a lot of lineups, I would be happy crossing Syndergaard off the list completely.
MID-TIER REAL LIFE PITCHERS
Technically, all the pitchers we’ve already mentioned are also ‘real life’ pitchers as far as I know.
Kenta Maeda vs Blue Jays – 26.3% K, 8.2% BB, 4.19 SIERA
Masahiro Tanaka at A’s – 19.3% K, 5.7% BB, 4.58 SIERA
Miles Mikolas vs Rockies – 17.9% K, 4.2% BB, 4.47 SIERA
Tanner Roark vs Yankees – 22.3% K, 7.7% BB, 4.58 SIERA
All four of these pitchers are decent and the type of guys who are matchup and salary dependent in DFS. I’ll start by getting rid of Tanner Roark on DK/FDRFT, but will note that he is just $27 on Yahoo, and even against the Yankees, that is low enough to keep him in the mix. Roark has an impressive 25.4% K rate to righties this season and can hope to get help from his ballpark in limiting some of this Yankees power. He’s been awful against lefties, and though the Yankees best bats are the righties, he’ll still face four lefties surrounded by elite righty power, so he’s really just an afterthought for me tonight.
Masahiro Tanaka continues to see his strikeouts fall to a silly low level, at just 15.3% since the All-Star Break. He hasn’t struck out more than five batters in any of his last 10 starts, and I just can’t get on board with that. If I’m going to play a low strikeout pitcher, just give me the even cheaper Miles Mikolas at home against the Rockies. Mikolas 17-18% strikeout level is not exciting, but at least it’s stayed there, and his control is even better than Tanaka’s. While I’m not looking for any strikeout surge here, it can’t be overstated how much better it is to face Colorado when they are on the road. Of course they are better at home, but the most jarring number is the strikeout difference. At home, they have the 9th lowest strikeout rate at 20.4%, but on the road they jump to the 3rd highest in the league at 26.6%. Mikolas is a low upside pitcher who is BABIP dependent, but I will have him in the mix tonight at his very reasonable salary.
The pitcher in this group who should get the most attention tonight is Kenta Maeda. His strikeout ability is far above the rest of this tier, it really just comes down to his innings. Sometimes he is limited by his own inefficiency, sometime he just gets his pitch count Dodgered. But the good news is that even though the game log looks ugly with the innings, he has topped 87 pitches in four of his last five starts. When he has his best stuff, 90 pitches is plenty for six innings, occasionally even seven. Like just about everyone tonight, he has wide splits with a dominant 31.9% K rate to righties but a subpar 21% K rate with 10% walks to lefties. While he may face up to four lefties, it does help him that Toronto is without a DH and their overall strikeout numbers are far higher than what any of these other pitchers face. The projected Blue Jays lineup has a 25.7% K rate with only one batter below 21%. Maeda would be my clear choice if dipping into this tier for cash games, and on two-pitcher sites, it may be necessary. I also have him at the top of my tournament list among this tier and playable on all sites.
Aaron Civale at Mets – Civale falls into his own tier tonight, and only on DK/FDRFT. On FD and Yahoo, he’s priced out of consideration for me. But on DK/FDRFT, he is considerably cheaper than that Maeda/Mikolas tier, and in the small sample size so far, his skill set looks like it may belong alongside them. He has a respectable 23.7% K with 6.5% walks in his first four starts and the control is no surprise after his 5.1% walk rate in Triple-A. I still somewhat skeptical of his ability to remain above average in strikeouts, with his 8.6% swinging strikes, but he’s cheap enough that even if he’s a 20% K pitcher, he has strong enough control to be worth this salary. He gets a favorable matchup in an NL park against a Mets team with some strikeouts and low power batters lower in the orders and only three real power threats. For me, he is clearly in the cash game discussion as an SP2 on DK/FDRFT. If you want to be able to get up to Cole, Civale is the way to make that happen.
I GUESS I NEED TO MENTION
Ryan Yarbrough at Orioles – Yarbrough has piled up 18 strikeouts in his last two starts with no walks and no runs. He’s facing a high strikeout Baltimore team, so I suppose he needs to be mentioned here. The overall skills are still a better in real life than in DFS skill set, and because of the recent success, he’s priced up to a pretty silly level, but if you want to jump in here and hope these last two starts are repeatable, I wouldn’t call you crazy.
Ariel Jurado at White Sox – How bad are the White Sox against right-handed pitching? Surely not this bad! And yet, maybe. The projected lineup has a 24.3% K rate with the lowest walk rate in the league at 5%, and just a .160 ISO and .323 wOBA. For comparison’s sake, the Tigers are at a 23.3% K rate with 5.2% walks. Jurado is not good, and the White Sox are getting Yoan Moncada back tonight giving them a little more power in the lineup, but against right-handed batters, Jurado is an 18.8% strikeout pitcher with 52% ground balls and he doesn’t beat himself with walks. It shouldn’t be too necessary to goof around in this price tier tonight, but as far as the nonsense goes, this is the one I’d be willing to throw a few blindfolded darts at and hope for 10 DK points.
Pitching Cliff Notes
With Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole up top, it’s a clear edge to Cole, both with the matchup and injury concern. I may just completely remove Scherzer from the player pool tonight, as you really don’t want a guy with a bad back trying to swim.
To me, Cole looks so pricey on FD/Yahoo, that I am not going to force him into cash games at all cost. I can still get here on DK/FDRFT, but on FD/Yahoo, Mike Soroka makes just as much sense in his great matchup. German Marquez and Noah Syndergaard can join Cole and Soroka in tournaments, with Marquez being my preference.
As we get into the mid-tier, there’s a group of decent real life pitchers, and Kenta Maeda is the standout for me, certainly on DK/FDRFT. For a cash game SP2, it’s either him or down to Aaron Civale. On Yahoo, you could get away with Miles Mikolas if necessary, although I prefer Soroka/Maeda to Cole/Mikolas if those are your choices. On FanDuel, I can’t consider going any cheaper than Soroka in cash games, but in tournaments, Maeda is a standout and Mikolas is cheap enough to get into the mix as well.
Thursday Night Bats
This slate features four teams with projected totals up near 6 runs that should make up the bulk of the ownership, and then another five teams near a five run total. I also see a good mix of stacks plus one offs to like, so you should be able to go a few different directions tonight. We’ll start off with those top four teams and then start branching out.
Houston Astros vs Jordan Zimmermann – Raise your hand if you think the Tigers win again tonight. OK, put your hands down goofball. Zimmermann is actually the kind of pitcher that can back into some unexpected quality starts with his low walks to righties, but he doesn’t miss bats, and he gets hit hard. If the BABIP is against him tonight, this will be a monstrous blowout where you need a Houston stack to win. But I don’t think it’s a must stack by any means with just 3.4% walks to righties meaning they will have to string together a bunch of hits to make those big innings happen. With his low strikeouts and slightly worse numbers to lefties, Yordan Alvarez (.360 ISO) is my top choice here, followed by Alex Bregman (.255 ISO) and George Springer (.291 ISO). This is also a spot I’ll be willing to play subpar cheap bats like Josh Reddick and Jack Mayfield for the purpose of salary relief on a team that could be at the top of the board. With Reddick, we can be nearly assured of contact with his low 11.4% K against the low 15.3% K of Zimmermann. The Astros are my top stack of the night, but I am also targeting the power bats as individual tournament options, and I would love to get Bregman or Alvarez in cash games if it fits.
Atlanta Braves vs Sandy Alcantara
Alcantara continues to have more real life success than what his underlying metrics suggest, and when combining with his pedigree and how much scouts liked him, I’m sort of buying into him as a guy who will be able to outperform his ERA estimators. His low 16.4% strikeouts and high 11.2% walks have him with a scary 5.72 SIERA, but his ERA is still hanging around a respectable 4.35 and he’s only allowed more than four runs in five of 24 starts this season. What I see with the splits is a guy who is just pitching around lefties with 13.6% K and 12.4% BB, while doing his best to limit hard contact to righties. He’s still at a below average 19.9% K to righties with nothing outlandishly good in the batted balls, 43% GB and 34% hard hits. When I look at the Atlanta lineup I see three lefties that can get on base along with too much hard hit ability from the righties to think that he can skate by here. If salary is no issue in cash games, I would play both Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies, though I don’t think Freeman is a necessity at his salary with the likelihood of walks. But those are the two I would start stacks with, while adding in Ronald Acuna and Josh Donaldson and then just using the bottom half of the lineup as fillers for different versions of this stack. We’ve also seen the Marlins bullpen turn into the worst in the league and it just adds to the upside of the stack. I prefer the Astros batters individually tonight, but both stacks have equally endless upside.
LA Dodgers vs Jacob Waguespack – The Big Wag has turned things around recently, but really just on the surface. He’s still not striking batters out or limiting hard contact, although you could make the case from his splits that he has the batted ball edge in this matchup. In the small sample size, his batted ball issues have been against righties, with a 47% hard hit rate and .250 ISO, but just a 29% hard hit rate and .051 ISO to lefties. In looking at his zone profile, he is throwing the ball in all different spots to lefties, but never inside, spraying a mix of high and low and outside, and he’s pretty clearly more willing to just throw strikes to righties. The Dodgers are no ordinary lefties, but it’s still enough that if I’m going to spend on one big individual bat in cash games, I’d rather play an Astros bat who is more likely to see a pitch to hit. This also means that I will go out of my way to have Justin Turner in my Dodgers stacks around the more obvious lefties. Of course, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson and Corey Seager are playable in all formats here, but I’m not chasing them as much as I would against a guy with weaker splits.
Tampa Bay Rays at Asher Wojciechowski – I cannot figure out what the consensus opinion is on Wojciechowski. It started as thinking he was the worst pitcher in the world, then was all a sudden the best, now I don’t know, but it feels more like he’s underrated again. What we know for sure is that this is an extreme fly ball pitcher in Baltimore, so regardless of which way the strikeouts and walks go, I would be happy to hunt for some power here. But we’re also seeing what looks like well below average splits overall to lefties with a 20.8% K rate and 10.4% walks along with all those fly balls. I still worry about his strikeout ability to righties being real, so I will not prioritize any righties here in cash games, and even in stacks, will start with the lefties. Austin Meadows is the prime option here with his team high .250 ISO and .391 wOBA, and then we’re looking at the plate skills of an affordable Ji-Man Choi as a cash game option. After those two, I prefer the overall talent of Tommy Pham and Travis d’Arnaud before getting to the other lefties like Kevin Kiermaier and Eric Sogard.
TIER TWO OFFENSES
As I’ve looked deeper into these numbers, I’m not seeing as much gap as I expected between those top four teams and this next group:
Washington Nationals at Steven Brault
Brault has been real-life good with a 4.06 ERA and has even seen the strikeouts come up recently. But the numbers against righties are still so unimpressive that with the way the Nationals have been hitting the ball, I’m firmly on the side of Brault-regression tonight. His only plus skill to righties is a moderate 46% ground ball rate and I’m certain that Anthony Rendon doesn’t care about that. His .295 ISO, .433 wOBA and 51% hard hits with line drive and fly ball ability makes him one of the top overall bats on this slate. After Rendon, I’m mostly looking here as a source of salary relief with three other righties carrying hard hit rates above 38% with Brian Dozier, Howie Kendrick and Kurt Suzuki. Juan Soto, Trea Turner and Adam Eaton are not on my radar outside of stacks.
As always, I prefer the Rangers against right-handed pitchers, but Ross Detwiler is a very low strikeout lefty who has not been able to pitch deep into games. He’s all about ground balls with dangerously low 14% strikeouts to both sides of the plate. I’m mostly interested in a full stack here, hoping for bad BABIP for Detwiler and an early trip into the bullpen, but there are plenty of fly ball hitters here if you want to get a little sneaky. The tournament one off here at low ownership is Rougned Odor. He still hits the ball hard and in the air against lefties, he just struggles with contact which less of an issue against Detwiler. We also have some very cheap bottom of the order bats with at least some hope for upside based on their minor league numbers Nick Solak and Scott Heineman. If stacking, I want Hunter Pence and Danny Santana along with Odor, and then will start looking for salary relief.
The White Sox get a boost with Yoan Moncada expected back, so there’s at least a little more power to look for here. Ariel Jurado throws strikes and doesn’t miss bats or limit hard contact. His best skill is 52% ground balls to righties, so Moncada will be my first look here as the top power lefty, but guys like Jose Abreu, James McCann and Eloy Jimenez are viable in large field tournaments. This team is just not good enough to want to stack unless max entering and is the reason why I’m willing to consider Jurado as a cheap nonsense pitcher.
These are both decent real life pitchers, both solid bullpens and a pitchers park. But we also have some very nice salaries on big power bats that are likely to see pitches to hit. Masahiro Tanaka isn’t striking anybody out and he’s still getting hit hard. His even lower strikeouts to lefties put Matt Olson (.263 ISO, 51% HH) at the top of my list here followed by Matt Chapman (.248 ISO, 44% HH). Khris Davis remains way too cheap on DK/FDRFT for his power upside, and I would play him in all formats there.
Tanner Roark is a little bit of a trickier matchup for the Yankees with his splits, but the good thing about his better numbers to righties is that it comes with a lot of pitches in the strike zone. I’m less concerned with the strikeout risk on Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge than I am interested in the power, with a clear lean to Sanchez and his higher fly ball rate. Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela also hit the tournament list for me. Roark’s numbers against lefties are far worse, with just an 18.9% K rate and .397 wOBA allowed, putting Didi Gregorius (.201 ISO, .344 wOBA) and Brett Gardner (.261 ISO, .377 wOBA) onto the list and keeping the cheap Mike’s, Tauchman and Ford in the tournament mix.
As far as full teams go, that pretty much covers it, but we do have some interesting tournament one offs hanging around, including:
Baltimore Righties vs Ryan Yarbrough – Yarbrough has looked like a superstar in his last two outings, and the overall numbers are good enough without much hard contact allowed that Baltimore bats are quite far down the list tonight. But until we see more of this strikeout ability, I’m still willing to look at the trio of Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander and Renato Nunez in tournaments.
It’s not crazy to play a left-handed bat against Syndergaard with his basically average skill set vs LHB. Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis are all above a .200 ISO and 40% hard hits against righties and none strikeout more than 17% of the time. It’s not high on the list at all, but viable in large field tournaments.
Aaron Civale only has 24 innings in the majors, but in that time, the splits have been pretty wild and reversey. (reversey?). He has a 33.3% K rate to lefties and just 16.7% to righties. It’s such a small sample size that I’m not overreacting to it, but given that Pete Alonso is the best hitter here to begin with, he would be my first look at a tournament one off. Michael Conforto and J.D. Davis will also remain in the pool for adult swim time.
I just can’t get behind playing right-handed bats against Marquez outside of a max entry format, but he’s an average pitcher to lefties, and my old friend Matt Carpenter is $3,400 on DK tonight. It’s been a rough year, but this is too cheap for a guy with 43% fly balls and 46% hard hits.
We know the Colorado bats will see pitches to hit from Miles Mikolas. He has been hit much harder by lefties, so give me Charlie Blackmon up top here, though Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are both on the list as well.
Hitting Cliff Notes
This is one of those slates that has become more muddled as I’ve dug in. When I first glance at a slate, I sometimes have strong lean to a certain group of teams or style of lineup building. At first glance of tonight, I was thinking the Astros, Dodgers, Rays and Braves would be a very clear top four. They still are my top four, with the Astros first, but all of them have some reason to be wary of going to heavily on stacks. As a result, I’m likely to be spreading out a little further than I expected in tournaments, and I will also have some non-stack lineups in tournaments tonight.
If I can spend on a couple bats, I start with Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman, followed by Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies. I don’t see a lot of separation between the stacks, but this is how I have them ranked:
1) Houston Astros
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Tampa Bay Rays
4) LA Dodgers
5) Texas Rangers
Image Credit: USA Today Sports Images
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