Million Dollar Musings: Thursday, August 9th
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Thursday, August 9th
We’ve got a slow Thursday on tap with just a six-game slate, but it is six games with a couple of interesting matchups. The highlight for me is the James Paxton vs Justin Verlander battle, but there is also a Coors Field game featuring two solid pitchers that will make it a little more difficult than usual to decide how to play it.
Nearly all the hitting ownership is likely to be clustered around Coors Field plus the Yankees and Red Sox, making this a slate highly dependent on lineup construction and game theory.
THURSDAY NIGHT PITCHING
Justin Verlander is the clear top pitcher here for raw points, and will simply be a matter of whether or not to pay for him. He is once again ramping up his strikeouts as the season wears on, with a ridiculous 41.3% K rate and just 3.3% BB over his last five starts. He has double digit strikeouts in four of his last six starts and even as he’s allowing some home runs with his fly ball style, it just doesn’t matter with so many strikeouts and so few walks.
Matchup hardly matters for him at this point, a couple of these recent starts were against weak teams, but he also just struck out 14 Dodgers and 11 Angels. The safest assumption should be that he allows a couple home runs against the decent power of Seattle and they are a good enough contact team that perhaps he ends up near the lower end of his strikeout range. But that is still the highest upside on this slate. Deciding when and where to play Verlander has just as much to do with how you feel about his opponent, so let’s go there and then evaluate.
James Paxton has thrown seven innings in back-to-back starts off the DL, striking out 15 batters with just one walk. He was up to 105 pitches in his last start, so it looks safe to say he’s at full strength. If we step back from the obscene recent form of Verlander and look at full season numbers, there is not a huge gap between these two. Verlander’s 33.7% strikeouts, 4.6% walks and 2.74 SIERA are a tad better than Paxton’s 32% strikeouts, 6.4% walks and 2.94 SIERA, but these are both elite ace skill sets.
The Astros should get Carlos Correa back tonight but are still without Altuve and Springer. This current Astros lineup is very similar to the Seattle lineup, so I don’t see a matchup edge for either ace. Basically, with the way Verlander has been pitching, I’m going to plan on seeing a couple strikeouts more from Verlander than Paxton, with everything else being even. Both guys can throw innings, limit walks and pile up strikeouts. To me, the gap in salary is wider than the gap in talent. If salary ends up not being a big issue, then play Verlander, he projects for more points. But, assuming these dollars matter tonight, I would put Paxton first on the points per dollar list and he will be my top tournament target. In cash games, I won’t decide for sure until we see what hitting values we get in these lineups, but my hunch is I would be using Paxton on DK/FDRFT and Verlander on FD.
HIS HAND, FOOT AND MOUTH ARE OK, SO IS HIS ARM
J.A. Happ vs Rangers – Happ missed 10 days from hand, foot and mouth disease, which he caught from playing in the sandbox with Noah Syndergaard. But the good news is, this wasn’t a baseball related injury or an arm injury, so he should be fine. He hasn’t pitched since July 29th, so there’s some chance he could get a bit of a short start, but I haven’t heard anything to imply that he’s on any sort of pitch count. Happ is not in the Verlander/Paxton stratosphere, but he is the next best pitcher on this slate who is not pitching in Coors Field. His 26.6% strikeouts and 7.2% walks combine with a low 29% hard hit rate that have allowed him to show pockets of dominance, but the consistency hasn’t been there, causing his ERA to sit at a pedestrian 4.05. His control has been at its best in five of his last six starts, and as long as that remains intact, he should be fine here.
There is danger from these big Texas lefties against anyone at this point, but Happ’s 26.8% K and 59% GB to lefties should help minimize that to an extent. He allows fly balls to righties, but has the same solid 26.5% K rate to righties. There are an above average amount of strikeouts in this Texas lineup and just moderate right-handed power. The safe assumption is that we see 5-6 innings here, between the missed time and the Yankees strong bullpen, but the salary is reasonable enough that 5-6 good innings would be acceptable here. I’m not going to go below Paxton in FD cash games, and on DK/FDRFT it’s going to make more sense to go down to a cheap SP2, so I don’t expect to end up on Happ in cash games, but I like him quite a bit in tournaments on this slate.
GOOD, SOMETIMES GREAT, OVERPRICED PITCHER
Rick Porcello at Blue Jays – Porcello is probably a better real life pitcher than J.A. Happ but he doesn’t have the strikeout upside to warrant this salary. As we saw in that brilliant start last week, he can occasionally make up for that lower strikeout rate with innings, but those 7+ inning outings have been few and far between. He has been very fortunate with BABIP recently despite a bump in hard hits, and the skills remain just good, but not DFS great. He has a 23.9% K rate over the past month with solid 6.5% walks, but a .254 BABIP on 40% hard hits. He is a threat for power from left-handed bats and the strikeouts are a below average 19.7% to righties.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m down on Porcello, I’m really not. He’s a very good pitcher who I would expect to see a quality start out of tonight. But he costs almost the same as James Paxton tonight and more than J.A. Happ, and he shouldn’t cost that much. He’s absolutely playable as is almost everyone on this short slate, but this is not someone to target at this salary.
GOOD PITCHERS IN COORS
We’ve got two pretty good pitchers in Coors Field tonight, and they are at salaries where maybe they deserve a look on a small slate, but there are some clear reasons to steer clear here. For Ross Stripling, he missed 10 days with a toe injury (his hand and mouth were A-OK!). While he should be fine, this is a guy who is always on a pitch count to begin with, so any potential for a shorter outing is a problem. He was already at a six inning ceiling, regularly sitting in the 90-pitch range. He also relies quite a bit on his curveball that is likely to lose some effectiveness here. I’m a huge fan of his skills, and would call him the third best pitcher on this slate, but this matchup will drop him below Happ on that list for me tonight. Even at home, there are still a fair amount of strikeouts in this Rockies lineup and we’ve seen them get beat at home enough times that it’s certainly possible for good pitchers to keep them in check. I have no issue using him in a few multi-entry DK/FDRFT tournaments simply based on his skill set vs salary, but a pitcher fresh off the DL with limited pitches to begin with going into Coors Field is just not the kind of thing to be excited about.
The magical run that Anderson was on has officially come to an end after three straight starts with three walks, no more than four strikeouts, and allowing 11 runs in his last 10 innings. For the season, he is simply an average pitcher with a 22.5% K rate, 8.7% walks, 4.05 ERA, 4.25 SIERA. We’ve seen enough good starts from him to know the talent is in there, and in certain matchups, even at home, he would be very playable especially at this price point. But he faces a Dodgers team whose projected lineup carries just a 17.6% strikeout rate against lefties with a high 11.9% walk rate and above average power. Just because he’s dirt cheap on DK/FDRFT, if you are building 20+ lineups, sure throw him in a couple just in case, but this matchup screams stay away.
THE CHEAP STUFF
This late night game in San Francisco is the likely landing spot for the chalky SP2 in cash games tonight. Despite the disaster in Arizona last week, Andrew Suarez looks like the default cash game SP2 with his strong 22.3% K, 5.2% BB, 3.64 ERA and 3.33 xFIP at home this season. The only flaw in his skill set is hard hits to right-handed batters, and his home ballpark helps him reign that in. His strikeouts are below average but not bad at 20.4% to righties with solid 6.9% walks and 45% ground balls. Against lefties, he has been very tough with 22.4% K and 61% ground balls. There is not a huge ceiling here against a below average strikeout team that should get mostly right-handed tonight, but their power is not a huge threat in this ballpark. Because of the barren mid-range tonight, the only real options for cash game pairing on DK/FDRFT are Verlander or Paxton with Suarez, or Paxton/Happ. Happ is more than twice as expensive as Suarez and even if we see a 10-point outing from Suarez, I would be happy with that at his salary tonight.
Ivan Nova is just as good a real life pitcher as Suarez, but he has a little less ceiling with his 16.7% K rate. Nova has topped five strikeouts just four times in 21 starts and they have been falling even further recently at a silly 9.9% over the past four starts with a 6.4% swinging strike rate. There’s just not much to see here.
Yonny Chirinos or maybe Jake Faria and The Tampa Carousel – The latest report is that Yonny Chirinos is likely to carry the bulk of the Rays innings tonight, but of course we know how that story goes. It does seem likely enough that it is viable to mix Chirinos in with Suarez/Nova on DK/FDRFT as that cheap SP2 option. Chirinos has been about as good as Suarez this season with a 22% K rate and 7.9% walks, with hard hits being his biggest issue. Baltimore is a beatable team in this ballpark, so at 4-5 innings from Chirinos, I would want some shares. I have him well behind the pitchers in San Francisco, who we know are actually pitching tonight, but Chirinos will hit my list in multi entry tournaments. On FanDuel, Chirinos is all the way down at $5,800, a significant savings over Suarez/Nova, so I may have a GPP share there as well. But then, just a few minutes ago, there is a news report that Jake Faria is “ready to go”. Last I heard Faria was going to start on Saturday, so I don’t know if this means he’ll pitch tonight? basically, somebody will pitch for the Rays, and if you want to risk a cheap zero, I would still lean Chirinos.
PITCHING CLIFF NOTES
Unless you are building an extreme amount of lineups tonight, this is a pretty straightforward slate. In cash games on FanDuel, just use Justin Verlander, and if you need that extra $1,800, then shift down to James Paxton. Even in tournaments, as much as possible, stick with those two aces who are heads and shoulders above the crowd. The salary drop to J.A. Happ is meaningful enough to use some shares of him in tournaments as well, and then the next stop is all the way down to a risky Coors Field Ross Striping or a low ceiling Andrew Suarez. Becasue of how strong the high end bats are, I do think it makes sense to build some tournament lineups on FD with these cheaper pitchers mixed in.
On DK/FDRFT, using Andrew Suarez as an SP2 in cash games allows you to get up to Verlander or Paxton without much trouble at all, as those pairings leaves you with over $4k/$8k per bat. In tournaments, you can play around with a Paxton/Happ combo, or skip over the two aces and just hope that they have merely good and not great starts. I would throw a little Stripling in the tournament mix just to get some different builds, but for the most part, this is a Verlander/Paxton/Happ/Suarez slate for me.
THURSDAY NIGHT BATS
The Coors Field game still tops the list with the high total of the night, but with two decent pitchers there, the Yankees come in with the highest team total on this slate, and the Red Sox are not far behind. Everything outside of those spots will be off the beaten path tonight.
The skill set from Ross Stripling leaves us with nothing attackable. Against lefties, he has an extreme 30.5% strikeout rate with just 23% hard hits. Against righties, his strikeouts are at 25.4% and his hard hits a closer to average 34%. Those splits will give Nolan Arenado the edge over Charlie Blackmon as the high end Rockies bat to pay for in tournaments, but neither of them will rank as cash game spends for me. I would rather spend the salary in other places, while saving these Rockies for tournaments. The case can be made to stack the Rockies here given that it’s a six-game slate and they likely won’t be very popular, but that’s about the whole case right there. The Dodgers bullpen has been outstanding recently, so even if we only see 5-6 innings of Stripling, this is not a stand out spot. It’s Coors Field, you’re always allowed to stack it, but there is just no reason to do it other than the fact that it will likely be unusually low ownership.
The Dodgers side is a bit more interesting against Tyler Anderson, but this is also just a situation where if this game were being played in a different ballpark, it could be easily ignored. Anderson is an average strikeout pitcher to both right and left-handed batters at 22-23% with below average 40% ground balls and a solid ability to limit hard contact. I simply want to start with hard hit ability against him, as we just want to get balls hit hard and in the air and let the altitude do the rest.
This puts Matt Kemp (.294 ISO, 49% HH), Manny Machado (.217 ISO, 38% HH) Justin Turner (.143 ISO, 46% HH) and Chris Taylor (.197 ISO, 38% HH) as the Dodgers targets. Matt Kemp is too cheap on all sites, with Turner and Taylor being affordable enough for cash game consideration. Full Dodgers stacks are fully playable, but be aware that there is a lot of pinch hit risk here, especially for Enrique Hernandez. This Dodgers lineup could possibly set up with all of Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Max Muncy and Yasmani Grandal on the bench, and that could even affect Kemp, Taylor or Puig later in the game, though we don’t really know how they’ll play it. The Dodgers side of this game is well ahead of the Rockies side for me in both cash games and in tournaments, either as stacks or one-offs.
NY Yankees vs Ariel Jurado – I expect the Yankees will be the chalk tonight, at home against Ariel Jurado, who has just a 10.9% K rate and 40% hard hits allowed in his first three career starts after just a 13.9% K rate at Double-A. He has some ground ball ability and solid control, but it’s asking a lot for a guy with this low of strikeout rate to go into Yankee Stadium and not get shellacked.
I will start with the fly ball lefties of Didi Gregorius (.233 ISO, 45% FB) and Greg Bird (.194 ISO, 51% FB), followed by the fly balls at Gleyber Torres (.242 ISO, 46% FB) and then the big outfield duo of Giancarlo Stanton who looks to be heating up and Aaron Hicks. There is nothing sneaky about saying to play 2-6 for the Yankees tonight, and tournament ownership is almost certain to be an issue here. On a short slate, there will be plenty of traffic on the other parts of this stack as well with Miguel Andujar and Brett Gardner. The way to play this a little differently would be to use these guys as one-offs rather than full stacking, and hope that you can catch the home runs, while the surrounding pieces are not friends of BABIP tonight. It is always possible that a stack fails against a low walk, ground ball pitcher. Personally, it’s Gregorius and Bird that I would be flying with as one-offs.
Boston Red Sox at Ryan Borucki – This is an interesting situation tonight. On the one hand, the Red Sox have a high team total and are coming off a couple of big games. On the other hand, Ryan Borucki has been piling up soft contact like it’s going out of style and comes in with a 2.30 ERA in seven starts. His lone bad start came in Fenway Park against this team, so maybe it’s the Red Sox righties that are the cure for what the rest of the league hasn’t been able to solve. Borucki was a good pitcher throughout the minors, so this is not a huge surprise, but his strikeouts are low enough that he is going to run into some trouble at some point, and he’s also not going to have a 0% HR/FB rate forever. Against right-handed batters, we’re looking at a below average 17.1% strikeout rate, average 43% ground balls and low 27% hard contact allowed. He is piling up 57% ground balls to lefties with just 23% hard contact, so the lefties are off the list here outside of full stacks.
It’s going to be a battle of the soft contact of Borucki against the big four righties up top and their hard hit ability. I haven’t yet seen enough from Borucki to assume that he can get past Mookie Betts (.395 ISO, 41% HH), J.D. Martinez (.188 ISO, 47% HH), Steve Pearce (.294 ISO, 38% HH) and Xander Bogaerts (.147 ISO, 40% HH). There is nothing past those four that stands out so the lower in the order bats, all with hard hit rates below 28% are only for filtering into stacks for me. I assume the Yankees stacks will see the most ownership, followed by the Dodgers and then these Red Sox righties. Just as was the case with the Yankees, the way to potentially be a little different here is to not just stack them all together. It’s the obvious suspects of Betts and Martinez that top the list, with Steve Peace being cash game playable at his salary.
Toronto Lefty Power vs Rick Porcello – Porcello is not an easy pitcher to pick on, but while his strikeouts are high at 26.7% to lefties, he does allow a big 41% hard hit rate and 41% fly balls. The Toronto first base combo of Justin Smoak (.272 ISO, 37% HH) and Kendrys Morales (.202 ISO, 45% HH) are affordable bats with power upside to get away from the chalkier Pearce/Bird lineups in tournaments.
Tampa Power vs David Hess – Hess is probably the worst pitcher on this slate, but he falls in a tough spot to attack in a pitchers ballpark in Tampa against a low power opponent. He is a pitcher with low strikeouts, 12.2% to righties and 16% to lefties, allowing high fly balls and moderate hard contact to both sides of the plate. That has resulted in a .243 ISO to lefties and .241 to righties. The stand out bats here are C.J. Cron (.232 ISO, 38% HH) and Jake Bauers (.248 ISO, 45% HH). We are already running into a problem here where all the top power pivots off of the big games are first basemen, so we can’t jam them all in. On DK/FDRF, Bauers can go in the outfield as well, making him the top option there. While you can stack or mini-stack against a bad pitcher like Hess, I don’t think you need to pair these guys together. They could cobble together some big innings, and adding in guys like Joe Wendle or Kevin Kiermaier is fine, but home runs are the name of the game here, so feel free to use Cron and/or Bauers on their own. A full Tampa stack does feel viable here in tournaments, with the higher end bats sprinkled around it.
Texas Power at J.A. Happ – On a bigger slate, I wouldn’t be looking here at all, but there’s not a lot to go around tonight. The ideal thing to find against Happ is right-handed power, where these Rangers really don’t stand out. I guess Robinson Chirinos (.254 ISO) as a DK catcher is the best thing we’ve got. Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Jurickson Profar are all acceptable, but to me they fall so far down the list tonight that I can barely see them. I would prefer to just take some shots on the elite power of Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor, and hope for a Yankees blowout, avoiding the best parts of the bullpen.
Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bullpen – The Orioles are going to see the usual handful of unpredictable Tampa relievers. This continues to make it really tough to target bats against as most of these relievers are decent, and we don’t get the chance to see disaster starts or multiple disaster innings, as they can just move on to the next guy if someone is off their game. Baltimore got a few home runs last night, and these hitters are so cheap on DK/FDRFT, that I do quite like filtering in Tim Beckham, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis as GPP one-offs. There is no reason to target these bats, but the salaries are ideal for filling out those last few spots around expensive stacks.
On this small of a slate, this game may not go quite as overlooked as usual, but it should still have just a fraction of the ownership of most of these other games. There is nothing ideal about either side here, but we should see at least a couple runs on both sides. Ivan Nova’s ridiculously low strikeouts to lefties puts them all into play, but there just isn’t much here. Brandon Crawford is the top lefty bat, but it’s quite a stretch to play him ahead of Machado, Gregorius, and Bogaerts tonight. Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria have enough fly ball and hard hit ability to get past the ground balls from Nova, but again they just aren’t standouts on this slate.
Pirates righties can be considered against the 45% hard hits of Andrew Suarez. There isn’t a ton of righty power here, but Starling Marts (.198 ISO), David Freese (42% HH), Francisco Cervelli (.188 ISO) and Josh Harrison (.183 ISO) are moderately viable. If moderately viable is what you’re looking for!
Going Completely Bonkers – Seattle at Houston
Justin Verlander is probably going to give up a home run tonight, maybe even two. He will strike everyone else out, but in a large field tournament, maybe play an off-the-wall Nelson Cruz or Mitch Haniger. Sure, why not. One of the Astros righties could get a hold of one of Paxton as well. Alex Bregman is where I would look here. You only live once!
HITTING CLIFF NOTES
It’s going to be tough to get away from the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers tonight. In cash games, just play those spots and get on with your day. In tournaments, ownership is bound to be a huge issue in these spots. One way to get away from it is to play the Rockies stack, or to simply avoid these three games and try to find the right power bats from Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa and Texas, but yikes on trying to beat a large field of Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers with those teams. I would prefer to split up my exposure to the top teams and hope that no one of them explodes for the 15 run game, but that we have a few 7-8 run games where you can find the correct mix of home runs from those teams.
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