Million Dollar Musings: Tuesday, August 20th
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Tuesday, August 20th
Happy Tuesday! We’ve got a full slate for tonight with loaded pitching that has come to drown out the memory of Brendan McKay chalk night. With all the good pitching, we have only two games that open with a total of 10 runs or higher, and a handful of spots that are bound to be quite popular. Let’s jump on in and start narrowing down this pitcher pool as much as possible. This will be one of those slates where you can spread out quite far, so don’t fret if your choices differ from mine.
Tuesday Night Pitching
SIX PACK OF ACES
Clayton Kershaw vs Blue Jays – 26.2% K, 5.2% BB, 3.74 SIERA
Shane Bieber at Mets – 30.9% K, 5.1% BB, 3.32 SIERA
Stephen Strasburg at Pirates – 28.6% K, 6.3% BB, 3.62 SIERA
Sonny Gray vs Padres – 28.7% K, 9.3% BB, 3.94 SIERA
Aaron Nola at Red Sox – 26.6% K, 9.2% BB, 4.16 SIERA
Domingo German at A’s – 25.9% K, 5.4% BB, 3.94 SIERA
This is a very interesting group, especially with the increase in strikeouts we’ve seen from Clayton Kershaw recently. If we just take the numbers since the All-Star Break, which gives us six starts, Kershaw is at a 34% K rate that tops the rest of this field. He is now up to seven straight quality starts and has 9+ strikeouts in five of them. I’m still not to the point of putting him in the Cole/Scherzer/Verlander tier of DFS aces, but in comparison to this particular slate of pitchers, he does have as much realistic upside as any of them. He also gets a home game against Toronto who will lose their DH and comes with a higher than average strikeout rate against lefties. On DK/FDRFT/Yahoo, there is very little gap between Kershaw an Shane Bieber, and if paying all the way up in cash games, I side with Kershaw. FD has made it more interesting with a $1,200 gap between Kershaw and Bieber, so let’s take a deeper look at Justin’s cousin. Bieber has been every bit as good as Kershaw recently, and more consistently DFS dominant over the course of the season. Bieber’s control has been outstanding again this season, and combining a consistent 30% K rate with walks in the 5% range is pure eliteness. He travels to an NL Park to face a Mets team with only two significant power threats. The strikeout matchup is slightly better for Kershaw, but Toronto also comes with a little more patience. If we want to believe in the second half surge for Kershaw, which I do, then we’ve got very similar pitchers here in similar matchups. To me, the FD price gap looks too big, and I would use Bieber as the cash game ace there.
Along with Kershaw, the other pitcher who has been surging up to the Bieber level in strikeouts since the All-Star Break is Sonny Gray. He has a 32.5% K rate since the start of July, and while his control is shakier than Kershaw and Bieber, he has a higher ground ball lean in addition to facing a high strikeout opponent in the Padres. He is not quite at level of trust for me that Kershaw and Bieber are at, mostly due to those walks, but it’s close, and his upside matches them. On DK/FDRFT, we see Gray at a very meaningful discount and I think it’s completely acceptable to start with Gray as your SP1 on those sites. I still prefer Bieber on FD, but would mix and match them in tournament lineups.
Stephen Strasburg has not quite looked himself recently, walking multiple batters in his last three outings and seeing his strikeouts dip to 26.3% since the All-Star Break. I would expect a quick bounce back, but even so, he has been less about strikeouts and more about soft contact, which doesn’t help us much in DFS. Add on to that the Pirates being a lower strikeout team than what any of the first three aces have and I’m really just leaving him for multi-entry pivot range. I don’t mean to sound like I’m completely off of Strasburg here, I love the guy, it’s just that we have a lot of pitching options tonight, and he’s not going to make my short list of primary options.
Aaron Nola is just not enough of a strikeout ace to make up for the difficult matchup in Boston on a slate with this many other strong pitching options. A pitcher of his caliber can always win out in any matchup, but it should not be the expectation here and I will be 50 lineups into my Tuesday night before I consider him.
I feel bad for Domingo German. He is pitching at a high level, but every time he’s on the mound, he seems to be surrounded by so many other aces that he never gets much credit. If he were on last night’s slate, he would have been high on the list, but tonight, it’s just a tough sell. His control has been outstanding, and it’s allowed him to pitch seven innings in two of his last three starts despite staying under the 100-pitch mark. But his strikeouts are a clear notch below that top aces in the 25% range, and he does have a lower ceiling in pitch count. The matchup is good, the pitcher is good, but I can’t see a way to put him as a primary play on this slate at his salary. I would play him in tournaments before I get to Nola, but that’s as high as I can get him.
Chris Archer vs Nationals – 27.1% K, 10.6% BB, 4.42 SIERA
Archer falls into his own category tonight with similar upside to the aces, but with less consistency and a tricky matchup. His control hurts his innings, as he hasn’t reached seven innings in a start since May. On the plus side, he can make up for that with strikeouts, but the Nationals power combined with Archer’s control makes this a high risk proposition. He’s priced up to the point where he is just a tournament pivot on lineups where you cannot afford anyone in that top tier.
GOOD PITCHERS, GREAT MATCHUPS
Michael Pineda vs White Sox – 21.5% K, 4.7% BB, 4.40 SIERA
Cole Hamels vs Giants – 22.9% K, 8.4% BB, 4.45 SIERA
Aaron Sanchez vs Tigers – 19.3% K, 11.2% BB, 5.25 SIERA
Dallas Keuchel vs Marlins – 18.9% K, 7.8% BB, 4.40 SIERA
We’ve got a quartet of mid-priced pitchers all in very strong matchups. None of these skill sets are anywhere close to the aces, but they all have something going for them in addition to the matchup boost.
The one I’m most concerned with is Cole Hamels. He has made three starts off the IL and has yet to reach 80 pitches, while allowing 12 runs in his last five innings. I would expect they would like to see him start to get stretched out, and part of the reason behind the short outings was just that he was getting shelled. The Giants are a weak enough offense to hope it turns around, but they are not a high strikeout lineups against lefties and for me, he’s going to miss the cut.
Michael Pineda is similar to Domingo German in his ability to pitch fairly deep into games despite a limited pitch count. His control has been his biggest asset this season with 0-1 walks in 10 of his last 12 starts. Add in a White Sox team with the lowest walk rate in the league against right-handed pitching along with high strikeouts and low power and this is close to an ideal matchup for Pineda. He’s not cheap, but fairly priced, and my first attempt at a cash game team on two-pitcher sites will have Pineda at SP2. I’m less enamored with the salary on FD, where it’s only one pitcher and you can get up to German, Strasburg or Gray for only $1,000 more.
Dallas Keuchel had by far his worst start of the year against this Marlins team 12 days ago, but that has to be viewed an outlier based on everything else we’ve seen. I would also view his two decent strikeout games as outliers, as his other eight starts have all looked like classic Keuchel. That means low strikeouts with a bunch of ground balls. The combination of low power, ground ball hitters and low walk hitters should again lead to a bunch of balls being hit on the ground. It’s doubtful he sees a second worst case scenario BABIP game against this team, and if looking for cash game safety at a reasonable price for an SP2, I would say this is your guy. I much prefer Pineda, but we’re looking at a $1,000 gap on DK, so I’d be fine settling on Keuchel if needed. On Yahoo, it’s only a $3 difference, and I’d just find the salary for Pineda.
The even cheaper option in a good matchup is Aaron Sanchez, at home against Detroit. The Tigers are right there with the White Sox as one of the best matchups in the league for a right-handed pitcher. The big difference between Pineda and Sanchez is the control. After that first start with Houston gave us some hope, Sanchez has gone right back to his usual self with seven walks in his last three starts. However, there is no patience in this Tigers lineup and we’ve seen enough strikeout potential in his time in Houston for me to give that upside the edge over his downside in this matchup. I would prefer not to have to use him in cash games, though I’m not ruling it out if I can’t get up to Pineda or Keuchel. But in tournaments, I prefer Sanchez at his lower salary over the other pitchers in this tier on DK/FDRFT/Yahoo.
A MATCHUP THAT COULD GO EITHER WAY
If this were a slate like we had last night with very few pitching options, I would be quite interested in both of these pitchers. Tonight, it’s of much less interest, although the Bundy salary on FD does give me some tournament interest. Bundy has been all over the place this season, but this is still a guy striking out 28% of right-handed batters while limiting hard contact to lefties. He’ll always be a big risk as a fly ball pitcher in Baltimore, but there is not a lot of power outside of the Hunter Solers in the middle of this KC lineup. It’s just a risky dart throw, but there is some upside.
I would say Brad Keller is more likely to be pretty solid, but less likely to spike a big game. If we see a big game from Keller, it would come from some easy innings, as the Royals have shown a willingness to let him pitch deep into games. The Orioles do have a lot of strikeouts in their lineup, but Keller is still just a below average strikeout pitcher relying more on ground balls. He’s completely fine, but there are better DFS pitchers on this slate.
On FD/Yahoo, I’ll mention Rangers rookie Brock Burke at minimum salary. It is wildly risky to use a young pitcher in Texas in his first career start, but there is some strikeout ability here, and we could hope for a somewhat watered down Angels lineup in the second game of a doubleheader. Burke has made just two starts above Double-A, and his control got shakier as he went up to Triple-A. We’re just flat out guessing and throwing blindfolded darts here, but I think it’s worth a large field tournament play on FD. As a reminder, when I say “throwing blindfolded darts”, I mean that the person throwing the dart would be wearing a blindfold, not that the actual dart itself would have a blindfold on. That would make no sense. Darts don’t have eyes.
Despite the Brendan McKay chalk night disaster, a left-handed starter in Tampa against the Mariners is a strong option at a low salary. There is nothing great about Beeks with a 19% K rate and 8.6% walks, but he’s not too far below average, and he is reliever-priced on DK/FDRFT. He’s gotten 85+ pitches in his last two starts, so I think it’s fair to say that they are using him more like a traditional starter at this point. There are only a couple of righty power threats for Seattle, and a lot of strikeouts in this lineup. I think Beeks looks clearly too cheap here, and he’s definitely a tournament play and not even out of bounds for cash games at this salary.
Because we have the Beeks salary, neither of the pitchers in the Colorado-Arizona game need to be considered in cash games, but we could add them to the tournament mix. Alex Young and Kyle Freeland are both below a 19% strikeout rate, but both have some ground ball ability against right-handed bats. Personally, I just can’t really get behind Freeland against a low strikeout Arizona team that has a .249 ISO from this right-handed heavy projected lineup. He might be fine, but I would just rather play Beeks and it’s not that close. I slightly prefer Young, but he’s also more expensive, and at this point in the pitcher pool, I’m only here for salary relief, so just give me the cheaper Beeks.
You could toss Michael Wacha into this cheap nonsense pool as well if you want to, but he’s just another jabroni that is not as likeable as Beeks in tonight’s matchup.
Pitching Cliff Notes
So, we have a lot of pitching options tonight. Your pool could be as deep as you want it to go, depending on how good of a swimmer you are. I have found myself narrowing my pool further than I expected as I’ve gone through this process.
At the high end, if spending all the way up in cash games, it would be Clayton Kershaw for me on DK/FDRFT/Yahoo, with Shane Bieber getting the nod on FD. But I don’t think it’s completely necessary to pay all the way up if you can two of the mid-tier pitchers by starting with Sonny Gray as your SP1. That would give you the option of Gray/Pineda, Gray/Keuchel or Gray/Sanchez. Your other option is to go with a Kershaw/Beeks combo. Both of those options project similarly for me, and I don’t have a strong lean, this will come down mostly to how you feel about Beeks. On FD, I’m more interested in trying to get up to Bieber in cash games, but would be fine to settle as low as Keuchel with his $7,800 price tag.
Tournaments open up a lot more, but I’m still planning to keep my list shortened. Guys like Stephen Strasburg, Domingo German and Aaron Nola are of course playable, but I will stick more heavily with Kershaw, Bieber and Gray. In the mid-tier, my lean is to go with Aaron Sanchez before Michael Pineda and then Dallas Keuchel or Cole Hamels only if necessary. Chris Archer will remain in my pool, but I’ll put those little floaties on his arms, because I’m worried he’ll sink against Washington.
There are a whole bunch of pitchers in the lower mid-tier I didn’t mention that are completely viable in large field tournament, but the two I might throw darts at are Dylan Bundy and Brad Keller. After that, we’re down to the cheap stuff, where my preference is Jalen Beeks on DK/FDRFT and some darts (with their eyes closed) on Brook Burke on FD and Yahoo.
Tuesday Night Bats
There are a couple of spots up top that will stand out and then it quickly becomes a jumbled mess of OK, but not ideal situations. The Angels-Rangers game is the prime spot for bats, but it’s the second half of a doubleheader, so we’ll need to keep an eye out on how the first game goes as we could see some unusual lineups in game two. Let’s start there and see where we end up.
I mentioned Burke briefly in the pitching section. This is a rookie who has made just two starts above Double-A, so there’s really no way to know how his stuff is going to play at this level. He’s a left-handed pitcher with some intriguing potential, getting as high as a 32% K rate in Double-A last season. With all this unknown, I am not going to go out of my way to force Angels bats into cash games, and I will lay off the lefties outside of full stacks. Mike Trout is still going to be one of the top bats on this slate, and he, Albert Pujols and David Fletcher have the best contact rates to combat the potential strikeouts from Burke. I don’t plan to play anyone here besides Trout and maybe Pujols as a one off even in tournaments, but I do think the full stack is a fantastic play, as we can hope that Burke is simply overmatched in his first start at the big league level.
We have more of an idea what we’re getting on the other side tonight with Jaime Barria. His reverse splits are not ideal for Texas, but even against lefties, there is power risk from his fly balls. The main issue with the Texas bats is that Barria has a 28.4% K rate to lefties vs just 16.5% to righties. When looking at the power for Texas, it’s mostly left-handed, and it comes with higher strikeout rates than I’d like to see. The leaders in hard hits and ISO against righties are Shin-Soo Choo, Danny Santana and Rougned Odor, but they all come with strikeout rates above 23%. The righty bats of Hunter Pence and even Logan Forsythe line up slightly better against Barria, but when combining with the bullpen, I’m still going to be on the side of the lefty bats. The Angels have added a couple left-handed arms to their mix, so ideally, we’d see them used in the first game today. I’ve got Danny Santana on top of the list (if he plays with his hamstring issue), and then I would go to Willie Calhoun, who is the top contact bat of the Rangers power lefties. Like the Angels, I prefer this as a full stack rather than picking out individual bats.
The next highest total comes in Fenway Park with a very interesting matchup of the Red Sox’s powerful offense against Aaron Nola. I will tell you right off the bat that I think it’s completely unnecessary to mess with Red Sox bats in cash games. It’s a full slate and there are much worse pitchers to pick on. However, even with the high total, this is likely to be about as low owned as you’ll ever have the chance to get Boston bats at home in tournaments. While Nola is a very good pitcher, he has not maintained his ability to limit hard contact that we’ve seen in the past. He’s also been more up and down with the control, coming in with an average 9.2% walk rate. His ground ball lean and solid strikeout ability puts Mookie Betts (15.6% K, 45% FB, 43% HH) on the top of my list for Boston bats, but I think if you’re going to spend up on big bats here, just go all in with at least two or three of these top four. I’d go to Rafael Devers next with his low 14.8% K and then next to J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. Even Andrew Benintendi, Christian Vazquez and Mitch Moreland belong in the stacking mix, but because I’m not expecting ownership to be any issue, I don’t feel the need to overthink trying to get sneaky with a stack. Juts play the best hitters here.
The Phillies are the easier side to get some cash game exposure to this game, both facing a weaker pitcher as well as being cheaper. Brian Johnson has only thrown 22 innings this season and mostly as a reliever, but now he’s needed to fill in for the injured Chris Sale. Even going back to the bigger sample size of 2018-2019, we’re looking at just a 17.7% K rate to right-handed batters with no particular skill at controlling batted balls. I understand completely if you are out on Rhys Hoskins until he starts hitting the ball out of the park again, but I am personally still very much in on his skill set in this matchup at this salary. The guy has more walks than strikeouts against lefties this season with a .280 ISO and 49% hard hits. J.T. Realmuto is priced way up on DK, so not really a viable cash game option, but I love his .288 ISO in tournaments on all sites. Jean Segura is cash game viable with a .303 ISO and just 9.3% strikeouts against lefties. I would then go to Scott Kingery in tournaments, rounding things out with Bryce Harper, who is likely to see some righties out of the bullpen.
LA Dodgers vs Sean Reid-Foley
In the time we’ve seen Reid-Foley the past couple seasons, he has shown some decent skills against right-handed bats, but has struck out just 20.7% of lefties with 16% walks and a 47% fly ball rate. He has allowed more hard hits to righties, but those come with some strikeouts and ground balls. I do have interest in Justin Turner here, certainly in stacks, but with those fly balls to lefties, I want to start with the power of Cody Bellinger (.356 ISO), Max Muncy (.268 ISO), Joc Pederson (.272 ISO) and Corey Seager (.239 ISO). Along with Justin Turner, catcher Will Smith has shown an impressive hard hit rate with fly balls against righties, so I can see mixing in both of those righties along with the lefties in Dodgers stacks.
Minnesota Power vs Reynaldo Lopez
The home runs have been down recently for Lopez, but this is a fly ball pitcher against the team that leads the league in home runs. The lower home runs are not entirely fluky, as he has allowed just 29% hard hits since the All-Star Break, but still a 4.5% HR/FB rate in this day and age is not going to last. His batted ball profile is similar to both sides of the plate, but with lower 17.9% strikeouts to lefties and more respectable 23.1% K to righties. Even before factoring in those splits, I would lean to the higher contact lefty power bats of Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco. Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano have as much power as anyone, but they are priced out of my cash game list when factoring in their strikeouts. Polanco is where I’m looking to get in play here in cash games, with all these other power bats as prime tournament options, either on their own or all together in stacks. If not paying all the way up at pitcher, I won’t be scraping for salary tonight, but I would be OK to toss someone like Marwin Gonzalez, Luis Arraez or Jake Cave into the mix if needed as a value.
NY Yankees at Homer Bailey
I am extremely intrigued by this game. This has the feel of a spot that will be completely overlooked, but if this were taking place in Yankee Stadium instead of Oakland, we’d be looking at serious chalk on the Yankees bats. Yes, the ballpark matters, but these guys have more than enough power to hit the ball out here as well. Since moving to Oakland, the hard hit rate of Homer Bailey has remained just as extreme as ever, with a 46% mark over the past month. For the season he’s allowed 45% hard hits to righties and 43% to lefties with below average strikeouts and basically neutral ground balls vs fly balls. He’s not much more than a guy throwing strikes, and he’s facing a team with six batters above a .200 ISO and three of the righties with hard hit rates over 44% with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela. Particularly on DK/FDRFT, these salaries look too low, with Judge, Sanchez and Gregorius down near $4k/$8k. Sanchez is also a standout option on Yahoo at the catcher position. I’m less intrigued on FD, but on all sites, I love the idea of filtering these power bats into tournament lineups.
Houston Astros vs Spencer Turnbull
The Astros didn’t exactly explode last night, slowing down after their 4-run first inning, but we’re not going to have to worry about the same ownership issues tonight on the bigger slate. Spencer Turnbull has been solid against righties this year with a 26% K rate and 50% GB, so it’s a strong lean to Yordan Alvarez (.360 ISO) as the top Houston bat tonight. I love Michael Brantley in real life, but his salary is a little much for me outside of full stacks. After Alvarez, I’m either full stacking Houston, or maybe just taking another cheap bat like Josh Reddick if it’s needed. If Houston can make Turnbull labor through some long innings, the Tigers bullpen offers all kinds of upside for late game fireworks.
Atlanta Braves vs Elieser Hernandez
Hernandez has shown some strikeouts to right-handed batters, but that’s it. He is allowing fly balls and hard hits to both sides of the plate, with his strikeouts to lefties down at 18.3%. This Marlins bullpen is also one of the worst in the league and I like this Braves team in all formats tonight. If salary is no issue in cash games, Freddie Freeman is by far my top first baseman on the slate. I would also look at Ozzie Albies (16.9% K, 42% HH) in cash games, and then from there, I’m stacking the rest of the top of the order with the righty bats of Ronald Acuna and Josh Donaldson in tournaments. If Rafael Ortega gets the start, he showed enough power in Triple-A along with speed to be worth an add to stacks, and even a cheaper one off option.
Chicago Cubs vs Tyler Beede
Beede has barely pitched well enough to survive at home, and away from San Francisco it’s been uglier with a 6.23 ERA and just 18.8% strikeouts. He has allowed a .388 wOBA to lefties on 47% hard hits, 16.6% K and 10.9% walks. That’s just bad anywhere. He allows the hard hits to righties as well, so even with more strikeouts, Nick Castellanos, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are tournament playable here. But I would be focusing on the lefties with Anthony Rizzo joining Freddie Freeman at the top of the first base pool, Jason Heyward with his .380 wOBA out of the leadoff spot and the power of Kyle Schwarber (.276 ISO) and Ian Happ (.278 ISO) being strong tournament plays with their strikeout risk lower than usual against Beede.
We are already getting to the danger point of too many offenses in play. We’ve seen this a lot on full slates recently, where the difference between the top offense and the 15th best offense is so small you can hardly see the difference. But I don’t think it does you any favors for me to keep rattling through every team in the league. If multi-entering tournaments, there are more stacks and power one offs that will make my list, but the 10 teams listed above are where I’m setting my priorities. Past that, this is what is next in line for me:
Milwaukee Brewers at Michael Wacha – DK has bumped Trent Grisham back down below $3k again tonight, so he’ll be a useful salary piece in cash games. Wacha has shown below average skills across the board to lefties, so give me Christian Yelich at the high end, with Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal mixed and matched into tournament lineups.
Washington Nationals at Chris Archer – Archer is too good to prioritize against, but we’ve seen him go really bad at times. Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon are the keys to a stack and playable on their own along with Matt Adams.
Tampa Bay Rays vs Tom Milone – Milone is not bad, but basically just throws a bunch of strikes to righties and is backed by a weak bullpen. Tommy Pham and Travis d’Arnaud are the top targets here, with cheap power options like Jesus Aguilar and Mike Zunino.
Cleveland Indians at Steven Matz – Matz is another solid pitcher, but essentially just average against right-handed batters and this is a dangerous offense with six straight righty bats with power upside. With the bullpen factor added in, I’d start with the three switch hitters, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana, adding the righties Yasiel Puig, Oscar Mercado and Roberto Perez in to stacks.
St. Louis Righties vs Gio Gonzalez – Paul Goldschmidt is my third favorite first baseman, after Freeman and Rizzo, and the rest of the righty power bats have some intrigue against the average skill set of Gonzalez. He’s not so bad that I want to go out of my to attack him, but I do have Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong joining Goldschmidt on the list of options tonight.
Story’s About Arenado at Alex Young – Young has struck out just 17.1% of righties this season, and while he has a solid 52% ground ball rate, he’s been hit hard. I would go to Trevor Story first with his harder hits and higher fly ball rate, but both he and Nolan Arenado have plenty of home run power and fly ball ability for this matchup.
Hitting Cliff Notes
Happy Afternoon! If you’re just reading this for the first time, just pretend this part has been here all day. Maybe it has, you don’t know…Anyhow, I’ve been starting at all the potential stacks for a couple hours, and I really truly do not have a strong sense of a favorite or even a clear way to rank them. I will tell you that I am spreading out wider than usual with hitting tonight, and will have most of my lineups built around a stack. Here are my rankings for favorite offenses, but the difference between #1 and #10 and even #20 is miniscule tonight, so don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong if your list is completely flipped upside down.
1) Chicago Cubs
2) LA Dodgers
3) Atlanta Braves
4) LA Angels
5) Texas Rangers
6) Houston Astros
7) Philadelphia Phillies
8) Minnesota Twins
9) Boston Red Sox
10) Arizona Diamondbacks
Image Credit: USA Today Sports Images
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