MLB DFS Tournament Strategy: Thursday, April 25th
MLB DFS tournament play is unlike that of any other sport. Predicting outcomes with precision is difficult, and player variance is near its peak. There are special considerations when constructing lineups in order for you to find success in the long term. Each weekday, our DFS analysts will examine a specific tournament format and help you understand the application of strategy, via concepts such as pitcher pairings, roster construction, stacking, leverage, ownership, variance, and more.
Thursday, April 25th
This article will have a focus on single entry and 3-max tournaments. These formats are more partial to optimal builds with some basic pivots, compared to mass multi entry (MME) tournaments where you have to cast a much wider net and consider each and every corner of the slate.
Optimal Construction: First Look
- Expected Chalk: There are two things we can be certain about tonight in terms of ownership. One of them is regarding which offense will be the most popular, and the other pertains to starting pitcher. I’ll let you guess on your own which team that will be (it isn’t that hard, and you can also just scroll down a few sections), but we will talk about that pitcher a bit here in this section.
Aaron Nola is definitely going to be the chalk. Even at a surprisingly deep starting pitcher position on a five-game slate, Nola is the fourth most expensive pitcher on FD and DK (third on FDRFT and second on Yahoo). Additionally, he has by far the best matchup of the bunch. Here are the numbers for the projected Marlins lineup in PlateIQ against RHP since the start of 2018:
They also have a heavy groundball lean, which should be right in Nola’s wheelhouse. He is absolutely the chalk, and I even think that will be the case on Yahoo too where he is priced more appropriately.
So the next question we need to address is who the pairing will be with Nola on two-pitcher sites. The way I see it, the decision is pretty binary. You either pay up for Gerrit Cole (surprisingly easy to do across the industry due to soft hitter pricing) or go down to Rick Porcello to get a few more bats.
If I am making a cash game lineup, I think you just do Nola/Cole. And due to that aforementioned soft hitter pricing, I think we will see that be the common roster construction. Ultimately, I think that is a good thing for those of us playing single entry and 3-max tournaments though. If we drop down at SP2, we can find even more upside in our bats.
- A Reason to Like the Optimal Construction: We’ll call the optimal roster construction Nola on FD and Nola/Cole on two-pitcher sites. When we look at what we can do with the bats on these builds, it is pretty clear why we would like this roster construction.
If you put in Nola, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, and Andrew Benintendi on FD, you still have $2,920 left per bat. Rafael Devers is $2,800. Mitch Moreland is $3,300. Michael Chavis is $2,400 at an awful second base position. It’s just too easy.
Do you like having the best pitchers and the best hitters? I certainly do.
- Should We Play the Optimal Construction in Single Entry?: Well obviously this is where things get tricky. If it is easy to get the best pitchers and best hitters, everyone is going to do it!
From a pitching perspective, I think I am going to just eat the Nola chalk in single entry formats. The Marlins lineup is too awful and the price tag on Nola is too discounted from the other good plays at his position. It just gives you too much flexibility with your hitters, so I am officially on board here.
(I promise it isn’t because I recommended a Wheeler fade on Tuesday, and then he went bonkers on the Phillies.)
On two-pitcher sites, I do like dropping down at SP2 in single entry formats to a guy like Porcello. His main problem this year has been allowing way too many walks (14.3% BB% through four starts). He hasn’t been above 5.9% in any of the past four seasons though, so I am thinking he figures this out. He has been borderline elite against RHP since the start of 2018, to the tune of .299 wOBA, .141 ISO, 21.1% K%, 5.4% BB%, 53.2% GB%, and 27.1% Hard%. With a projected seven righties in the lineup for Detroit, I will take the savings on Porcello and get some more upside with my bats.
Pivots for 3-Max Entries
Masahiro Tanaka is probably my next cut, as this projected Angels lineup has struck out only 16.7% of the time against RHP since the start of 2018. $9,600 is too much for that.
Ultimately, since we only have three spots available on FD for a 3-max, my pool will come down to Nola, Cole, Porcello, Caleb Smith, and maybe Trevor Cahill because of a really low $6,200 price tag. How you spread those out is ultimately your call. Do you do 2 Nola and a Cole? Mix in some Smith or Cahill? One Nola, one Cole, and one Porcello? The latter is my lean. Those three are all basically $2,000 apart, allowing you to get a unique roster construction with each build.
We can spread out our pool a little more on two-pitcher sites (Hearn is not available on Yahoo). Again, I am definitely cutting Zimmerman here. And as much as I think Tanaka can strike out any hitter when he has his best stuff, I am going to cut him as well.
I will probably make two more cuts here to narrow things down even further. Cahill does not have nearly as friendly of a price tag on DK/FDRFT (a little better on Yahoo), so I will send him packing for this format.
I am probably going to have to cut Marco Gonzales as well. As much as I’d like to take a southpaw against Texas outside of Arlington, he is priced up at $8,400 on DK and has just not looked good this season (15.7% K% and 6.2% SwStr% through six starts).
So that should leave you with a nice pool of Nola, Cole, Porcello, Caleb Smith, and Taylor Hearn. Hearn will be making his major league debut. The scouting report on him looks to be a bunch of strikeouts, a bunch of walks, and a bunch of flyballs. Volatilityville – Population: Hearn. But that is what we want in tournaments.
Smith has looked absolutely phenomenal in his four starts this year, posting a 33.3% K%, 14.5% SwStr%, 6.9% BB%, 3.10 SIERA, and 30.8% Hard%. I will note that three of his starts have been at home, which is one of the top pitchers parks in the league. So while I absolutely love the upside here, this isn’t some automatic, can’t-miss spot for him against a right-handed heavy Phillies lineup that has a bunch of patient hitters in it.
TOURNAMENT BATTING SITUATIONS TO TRUST
Boston Red Sox
I mean, duh. How much detail do I really need to go into here? Zimmermann is the worst starting pitcher on the slate. The Tigers have one of the worst bullpens on the slate. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are two of the best hitters in the league, let alone of the 10 teams we have to choose from tonight. And their prices are just way too cheap for the type of hitters they are. Their implied run total is more than a half run higher than any other team on the slate.
The real discussion on this slate is not whether we can trust them but rather how do we deal with the massive ownership we certainly will see on them tonight.
HIGH LEVERAGE BATTING SITUATIONS TO EXPLOIT
So I mentioned up above some reasons to like Caleb Smith tonight. But I am quite interested in the other side as well, especially if Smith gains a lot of attention due to his hot start this season.
Let’s put Smith’s 2018 and 2019 numbers next to each other to compare.
2018: 77.1 IP, 16 starts, 27% K%, 11.6% SwStr%, 10.1% BB%, 4.08 SIERA, 28.4% groundballs, 50.8% flyballs, 37.1% hard contact
2019: 23 IP, 4 starts, 33.3% K%, 14.5% SwStr%, 6.9% BB%, 3.10 SIERA, 36.7% groundballs, 38.8% flyballs, 30.8% hard contact
When Smith was bad, he was giving up way too many walks, flyballs, and hard contact. Now again, we haven’t seen it yet this season. Maybe he is just that much better, I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is that he is going to see a bunch of righties tonight, and most of them have no problem taking a walk. And the one lefty he will see is Mr. Bryce Harper, who has posted a .384 wOBA and .241 ISO against LHP since the start of last season.
With this negative park shift for Smith, I can absolutely see the likes of McCutchen, Realmuto, Bryce, Rhys, Franco, and the rest of the Phillies touching him up tonight if he reverts back to more of the 2018 version. And these Phillies have just absurdly high price tags on DK. When it comes time to actually click the button, are DFS owners REALLY going to pay more for Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper than they can for Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez??
Grandy would stand out as a nice cheap one-off on any slate, but we get the added benefit of a big-time leverage spot here with the expected chalkiness of Nola.
The first thing you see when going to PlateIQ is that poor old Grandy is one of the few green spots amongst the other dark red of Marlins awfulness. His 27.3% K% in this split since the start of 2018 says that Nola can absolutely sit him down four straight times tonight. But he’ll also take a walk (13.1% BB%) and can hit for some power (.197 ISO).
You just aren’t often going to find a guy this cheap ($2,400 FD; $3,100 DK) with these numbers that is also hitting out of the leadoff spot. We’ll obviously take a homer from any of our hitters, but a Grandy homer is also negative points for a chalky Nola.
Say you are fading Nola on one of your 3-max lineups and paying up for Cole (and perhaps pairing him with Bauer on two-pitcher sites). I love the idea of immediately plugging in Grandy as a one-off. It offers you plenty of salary relief if you are paying for the other top pitchers, and it is one of the biggest leverage spots on the slate.
CLE one-offs (e.g. Ramirez, Lindor)
Site-Specific Notes: BOS is underpriced on every site (and ownership obviously will reflect that; prioritizing which four bats on FD is one of the hardest decisions of the slate. SEA and PHI are priced way up on DK/FDRFT, so ownership should reflect that too. Jose Ramirez is $3,100 on FD, $4,200 on DK, and $9 on Yahoo; I love him as a one-off against Cole for the same reasons I like Grandy.
Whew boy, this is a tough one. I think today’s edge, in my opinion, is being a tad selective with your Boston exposure. I would think Mookie Betts outpaces his teammates from an ownership perspective; he is usually the higher owned cash game selection and that will filter over into single entry and 3-max formats.
As such, I think we should just lock button J.D. Martinez. Since the start of 2016, Zimmermann has thrown 45% sliders and 41% fastballs (which only average 91 MPH) to righties. Here are JDM’s numbers in that span against those pitches from RHP.
Sliders: .354 wOBA, .520 CXwOBA, .243 ISO
Fastballs (between 90-92 MPH): .627 wOBA, .690 CXwOBA, .622 ISO
So I think we lock him in, maybe be a little different with our other Boston choices (skip Beni and Betts in lieu of lower in the order guys?), and add in a Philly stack to go along with it.
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