On the surface, Yusei Kikuchi against the Astros looks like a terrible matchup and hopefully for those reading, most daily fantasy players will stop there. After all, Kikuchi has an ERA and FIP above five over in 220.2 innings with 42 HRs and 50 Barrels surrendered among 706 batted balls. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a two mile per hour velocity increase last year that’s sustained through two starts this year. Now, he didn’t do much with that velocity, as his ERA remained above five, but his strikeout rate climbed from 16.1% to 24.2%. The culprit was simply a 59.9 LOB%. His worst estimator was a 4.34 SIERA. He’s started his 2021 by striking out 16 of 49, though with just a 9.3 SwStr%. This still may not be enough considering that the Houston lineup is generally full of potent, contact prone bats, but on top of George Springer being gone this year, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordano Alvarez all hit the IL with COVID concerns this week. Should they remain out tonight, Kikuchi prospectively faces a lineup with just one batter above a .200 ISO vs LHP since 2019 and while there still aren’t a lot of strikeouts in this makeshift lineup, the bottom three spots all exceed 25% against lefties over the same time span. With Jacob deGrom officially off the board tonight and other top priced pitchers having major concerns, Yusei Kikuchi could have some unforeseen value in an unlikely spot tonight. He costs less than $9K on FanDuel and only $7.2K on DraftKings.
According to pitcher splits, the most advantageous spot on the board may be in favor of LH Texas bats tonight. Jorge Lopez has generated a 17.8 HR/FB, 9.5% Barrels/BBE and 90 mph EV overall in his career, but when it comes to batters with the platoon advantage, things have been even more destructive. From that side of the plate, hitters have a .397 wOBA that’s backed by a .393 xwOBA. The projected lineup for the Rangers doesn’t include a lot of potency from either side of the plate. In fact, the number of strikeouts in that lineup makes this the highest spot on the board for pitchers. However, the nature of daily fantasy scoring doesn’t preclude both sides of a matchup being advantageous if there are enough strikeouts and home runs involved. Two batters players will want to look at here are Joey Gallo (115 wRC+, .237 ISO vs RHP since 2019) and Nate Lowe (114 wRC+, .218 ISO). Each costs exactly $3.1K on FanDuel and are reasonably priced on DraftKings for the upside. With both players exceeding a 28 K% against RHP over the same span, they could help fill up both sides of the score card tonight.
The Pacers had two questionable players against the Utah Jazz, yet somehow will be missing three players as they prepare for their matinee. Turner will miss his sixth game in a row due to his ankle injury, while McDermott will miss his second game in a row with his own ankle sprain. Sampson was a surprise inactive, as he suffered some back spasms pre-game after not being listed on the injury report; he hasn’t played the last few games anyways. The Pacers have been starting Domantas Sabonis at center in the games Turner has missed, with Justin Holiday as a small-ball power forward, and Goga Bitadze backing up Turner. McDermott has been coming off the bench since the Pacers went to the new lineup. With no Turner, Sabonis and Caris LeVert show big bumps in production; per CourtIQ, LeVert averages 1.18 FPM, up from his 1.04 average, while Sabonis is at 1.34 FPM, up from his 1.27 average. With no McDermott, it should be more minutes for Holiday, Edmond Sumner, and Jeremy Lamb off the bench. Lamb played 30 minutes off the bench last game, so he looks to be biggest beneficiary of McDermott missing. On the one-game slate, the Pacers will be hard-pressed to score points against the tough defense of the Jazz, but Sabonis, Brogdon, Levert, and Lamb will do their best.
Batter vs Pitcher matchups are very polarizing in the daily fantasy community. A lot of the numbers that fall into this category are generally just noise, but when a batter starts piling up plate appearances against a certain pitcher with either a lot of hard contact or none at all, it may be something to pay attention too. Filtering Baseball Savant’s Daily Matchup page for at least 15 PAs and then looking at only HRs and xwOBA, we find that Nelson Cruz has done some damage against Andrew Heaney. In 19 PAs, Cruz has homered three times with a .395 xwOBA. Makes a lot of sense, right? Heaney has long had issues with hard contact in the air (38.7 GB%, 15.2 HR/FB career) and Cruz has made a career out of punishing left-handed pitching. In fact, he has a 224 wRC+ and ridiculous .444 ISO against LHPs since 2019 and has started this year off hot overall (99.4 mph EV on fly balls and line drives, 25.8% Barrels/BBE). In fact, with Coors now officially off the board, Cruz may be the top bat on the slate overall. We don’t have to make this a one off though. Byron Buxton (151 wRC+, .269 ISO), Mitch Garver (176 wRC+, .352 ISO), Josh Donaldson (120 wRC+, .225 ISO) and Miguel Sano (120 wRC+, .291 ISO) have all destroyed southpaw offerings as well since 2019. Maikel Franco, Corey Dickerson, Bryce Harper and David Peralta are the only other batters with multiple HRs in their individual pitcher matchups tonight.
Bullpens are generally an under-considered part of daily fantasy, but one you might want to pay attention to is out in Oakland tonight. Jose Urena has faced just 37 batters through two starts and more than 23 just once in five times out last year. He’s a pretty solid bet to not go much further than twice through the lineup tonight and while his 90.2 mph EV is generally enough incentive to attack, especially with LHBs (.398 wOBA vs Urena since 2019), what’s behind him makes this spot even more appetizing. The Tigers currently own the worst bullpen in the majors this season. With a 7.20 ERA, 6.25 FIP, 5.31 FIP and 4.54 SIERA, it all averages out to 6.06 with no other bullpen averaging worse than 5.29 this season. Oakland is generally one of the more pitcher friendly parks in the league and while that doesn’t change tonight, weather conditions around the country create a situation where positive run environments are a scarcity tonight. Matt Olson (132 wRC+, .260 ISO vs RHP since 2019) looks like a great choice to lead an A’s stack tonight. He’s averaging 100.1 mph on his fly balls and line drives this year and has barreled 15.4% of his contact. Incidentally, the top bullpens on the board belong to the Yankees (2.43) and Padres (2.46), who will be pitching the majority of their games out of the pen tonight, but may be spots to avoid attacking anyway.
In Cincinnati tonight, we have a projected lineup with big time power (four above a .230 ISO vs LHP since 2019) facing a young pitcher who struggles to miss bats and with his control (11.5 BB%, 3.2 K-BB in 48.1 major league innings) in Logan Allen. These deficiencies have driven his wOBA and xwOBA against batters from either side of the plate above .350. Although Allen does generate ground balls, it’s been a bit below 50% against the 168 RHBs he’s faced, giving this Reds’ offense quite a bit of value tonight. This team has started hot out of the gate with six of eight projected starters above a 110 wRC+ overall this season. Nick Castellanos has a 97.7 mph EV on fly balls and line drives right now, but we have Aristides Aquino projected to bat sixth. Aquino has a career .276 ISO vs LHP and costs $2.6K or less on either site tonight. That potentially makes him tonight’s top value on the board. Aquino hasn’t seen a lot of work this year, but does have a 156 wRC+ due to barreling three of his eight batted balls. The Cincinnati offense has a 4.66 implied run line that’s currently sixth best on the board.
After a four game absence due to an ankle injury, Clarkson was upgraded form probable to available and will play in the matinee against the Indiana Pacers. Favors was ruled out however, due to a knee injury; he was originally listed as doubtful, so this should come as no surprise. Clarkson should go right back into his role of sparkplug off the bench, as it doesn’t appear that he will have any minutes restrictions. He’ll take a few minutes away from Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, and Joe Ingles, as well as removing Miye Oni and Matt Thomas likely from the regular rotation. Favors only plays fifteen minutes a game or so as the backup to Rudy Gobert, so those minutes will likely be picked up by Juwan Morgan or Ersan Ilyasova, as well as potentially a minute or two more for Gobert.
The Raptors have a chance of getting one more player back, as they prepare to play the Orlando Magic. Bembry was originally listed as doubtful yesterday due to hamstring soreness, but was upgraded to questionable, a good sign as the Raptors could use the body. They are already without Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and OG Anunoby, and are likely to be without Gary Trent Jr and Jalen Harris, both of whom remain doubtful. Fred VanVleet will be back after missing seven games, and he will likely dominate production. In a sample of only 74 minutes with Lowry, Siakam, Anunoby, and Trent off the floor, VanVleet averages 1.70 FPM with a 44% usage and a 47% assist rate per CourtIQ. There’s no question that those rates are higher than to be expected due to a small sample size, but it does show how VanVleet should dominate the ball. Malachi Flynn has been a popular value the last few slates, but with FVV back, he’ll struggle to produce at the same rate. If Bembry plays, he could be thrust into heavy minutes as Nurse chooses to trust him often. If he ends up sitting, Rodney Hood and Yuta Watanabe will try to pickup some more minutes as one of them would likely get the start.
Diallo was added to the injury report with a knee injury, and is questionable to play in the tankfest that is the Pistons vs the OKC Thunder. The Pistons are already without half of their team: Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Rodney McGruder, Dennis Smith Jr., Cory Joseph, and Wayne Ellington have all been ruled out due to various ailments and resting. If Diallo does end up sitting, Frank Jackson will likely end up in the starting lineup for him, as the Pistons don’t have many other options to play shooting guard. With all the injuries, the Pistons currently have eleven bodies, and would have ten if Diallo sat. The best play looks to be Isaiah Stewart, who should get the start at center; at a cheap salary across the industry, he’ll have a great opportunity to make value. Josh Jackson, Saddiq Bey, and Killian Hayes will all likely have to play big minutes. CourtIQ doesn’t have too much data with all the Pistons off, so following the minutes and the starting lineup will be key news as we await for Diallo’s status.
After missing the last four games with a hip injury, Lonzo is officially available to play against the Washington Wizards. Lonzo was listed as questionable, upgraded to probable last night, and now is good to go. Lonzo should reclaim his role as starting point guard, moving Eric Bledsoe over to the shooting guard and moving Naji Marshall to the bench. With Lonzo back, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson will lose some usage and assist percentage, while the minutes for Marshall and James Johnson will be gone almost entirely. In the game with the highest total on the slate, Lonzo should be a good play along with Ingram and Zion.
The highest upside spot on the board tonight (as determined by average batters faced per start and opposing projected lineup strikeout rate without regard to a pitcher’s own ability) belongs to…Jorge Lopez on Friday night. The potential Texas lineup finds six strikeout rates above 25% vs RHP since 2019. Lopez is a pitcher we generally want no part of due to his tendency towards the long ball (career 17.8 HR/FB, 9.5% Barrels/BBE), but with a park upgrade and 55.6 GB% so far in such a strong spot at just $6K on DraftKings, perhaps he’s an acceptable GPP lottery ticket behind deGrom.
Spot number two belongs to Jose Urquidy, who may see five Mariners above a 25 K% in Seattle. He still may be priced too high for comfort on DraftKings ($10.1K), but is a full $3K less on FanDuel where it might not be a terrible idea to pay down if you’re worried about deGrom’s ownership tonight. An under the radar name might be J.T. Brubaker, who carries a modest 23.5 K% and 11.3 SwStr% since the start of last season, but finds himself in Milwaukee against a lineup that may not have a batter below a 22.7 K% vs RHP and that’s even projecting Christian Yelich (back) to return. Brubaker is $7.5K or less on either site. Mike Foltynewicz and Mike Minor also find themselves in high upside spots against the Orioles and Blue Jays respectively (yes, that Toronto lineup has power, but a lot of strikeouts in it), but the former has just a 5.9 SwStr% so far this year, while the latter has major weather concerns, though he is below $7K on either site.
Back in the glory days, we’d take a look at tonight’s highest priced arms, see Jacob deGrom at Coors and Max Scherzer at home against…well, anyone and that would be it. Problem easily solved, but circumstances and conditions have dictated that it’s still likely a no contest, but very likely in the other direction.
Scherzer has a 17.7 SwStr% that’s second best on the board on Friday night with a 29.5 K-BB%. The problem has come when batters make contact, as he’s generated more Barrels (six) than ground balls (five). His velocity is also down a mile and a half per hour. In fact, he only had one game with a lower average exit velocity last year than either game this year. Meanwhile, deGrom is sitting on a 22.1 SwStr% that would be an average strikeout rate on today’s board and Coors is no longer an immediate cross off for opposing daily fantasy pitchers. To start with, the Rockies project a lineup that includes just two batters above a 100 wRC+ and only three below a 25 K% vs RHP since 2019. Then we can look at a weather forecast which predicts freezing temperatures and snow showers (though Kevin thinks they’ll still play) that should take some of the sting out of Coors. Jacob deGrom is not only your top pitcher on Friday night, but potentially still the top value on either site at $11K.
Additional high end options also have key concerns, as Walker Buehler has just eight strikeouts with a 6.1 SwStr% through two starts. He’s allowed four Barrels and his velocity is down over a mile per hour. He also has to face the San Diego offense with Fernando Tatis Jr. back. Steven Matz is not only a great shock as the third highest priced pitcher on FanDuel, but the forecast projects this game as the most likely to not play in Kansas City. Jose Urquidy is also a pitcher who exceeds $10K on DraftKings, but does not belong that far north in the spectrum. He does find himself in a high upside spot in Seattle against a projected lineup with just four players south of a 25 K% vs RHP since 2019. As always, ownership projections should play a key part in decision making, but deGrom is not a pitcher to be avoided at Coors tonight.