Welcome to the Thursday edition of MLB DFS Picks and Pivots, a fantasy baseball column focused on helping you find the best core lineup for this slate of DFS action!
For those of you finding us for the first time, the concept behind MLB DFS Picks and Pivots is to give you a first look at the day’s MLB DFS slate, including our top picks, plays and pivots, using FantasyDraft pricing as a reference to help you build your best fantasy baseball line-up and win big.
Picks and Pivots is not a simple “best plays” column but rather it focuses on slate strategy and roster construction to help give you insight into how I will look to play this slate.
Wednesday’s MLB DFS slate was dominated by the ace of the slate in Justin Verlander, who put up a 33 fantasy point night on the back of 8K’s and 1 ER in 8 IP, on one of the rare nights where paying up for an arm has worked in this early 2019 season. Our boy Jason Vargas trolled us nicely by limiting the Phillies until a bullpen homerun to Rhys Hoskins was able to salvage some of that stack – a very Jon Lester like performance from Mr. Vargas – I may have another new arch-nemesis.
Picks and Pivots is not a simple “best plays” column but rather it focuses on slate strategy and roster construction to help give you insight into how I will look to play this slate. The goal of this article is to dig through the slate, highlight our top plays and help you identify the best slate strategy across your MLB DFS line-ups.
As always, we will look to update our final lineup thoughts throughout the day on our twitter account @FantasyCPR so make sure to give us a follow for all the late breaking lineup news.
Without further ado, let’s get into today’s slate!
MLB DFS – Thursday Pitching Breakdown:
One night after an ace pitcher dominated the slate, we get a five game slate that has significantly better pitching than some of the 10+ game slates we have seen lately with three-four top-tier arms on the hill in Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Aaron Nola and Masahiro Tanaka.
Aaron Nola ($18K) stands out as the cash game SP1 as a massive home favorite (-200) against a Miami Marlins team that has the lowest IRT on the slate at 2.94. Nola has been up and down to start 2019 but the match-ups against the Mets, Nationals and Braves and a road start in Coors will do that while the underlying metrics say this is every bit the same pitcher as 2018.
The 6+ ERA may stand out but positive regression looks to be coming based on the 4.01 xFIP and while the swinging strike rate is down from 12% to 8%, that could in large part be due to the teams Nola has faced as the underlying pitch data – both mix and velocity – are exactly where Nola was in 2018. So chalk the lumpiness in his fantasy performance to date to a simple rough patch to start 2019 and jump all over what appears to be the perfect get right spot at home for Nola tonight.
Masahiro Tanaka ($17.5K) is the cheapest arm of the “top 4” here tonight and with a road match-up against the Angels, he may end up as a better point per dollar option than going up for Cole/Bauer. Tanaka remains remarkably consistent with a mid 20% K rate, a double-digit swinging strike rate, and the ability to induce a high GB rate. The Yankee right-hander has put up 20+ fantasy points in three of his first five starts of 2019 and not only gets a huge ballpark boost against LAA, he also has a favorable pitcher’s umpire in Ryan Blakney who calls 6% more strikes than the average umpire while giving up 4% less runs per game.
Tanaka also has dominated this Angels team in recent years – putting up 25+ fantasy points in 5 of his last 6 starts against them including 28 and 31 last year where he struck out 8 and 9 batters in 6 innings each time while giving up only 1 ER in each start.
While Tanaka is fine, he lacks the elite K upside of the two top arms on this slate, who happen to be facing off against each other in Gerrit Cole ($19.6K) and Trevor Bauer ($18.6K). Both pitchers here have massive K upside with 35% and 32% K rates respectively in 2019 and as we know in MLB DFS, K’s are king.
At first blush, siding with Cole at home seems like the safer route as the Indians line-up is a bit less daunting than the Astros and it also strikes out at a higher clip, so despite a rough outing against Texas last time out, Cole feels like the better option in cash games.
Bauer certainly has the tougher match-up as the road underdog here, but against a right-handed heavy team in Houston, Bauer’s metrics stand out – as he has a 33% K rate against RHB since the start of 2018 and dominated this Houston team in his lone start last season, striking out 13 batters on his way to 30+ fantasy points.
With Cole on the other side of this game and Nola/Tanaka in “safer” spots, Bauer feels like the arm in this group that gets the lowest amount of ownership and has demonstrated that his ceiling is every bit as high with 28+ fantasy points in four of his first five starts in 2019. One interesting note on Bauer looking at this season, he has ramped up his use of the cutter to right-handed batters, throwing it only 10% of the time in 2018 versus 21% in 2019 and what really stands out is the whiff rate on this pitch, which generated a 48% whiff rate in 2018 and a massive 65% whiff rate in 2019.
My take: Nola feels like a lock into one of your pitching spots here today and the question then becomes with other ace do you pair him with? Tanaka has the track record and the salary savings while Cole gets the less imposing line-up, with the higher K equity and gets an added benefit of pitching at home – both of which seem “safer” than Bauer which for cash games is fine, but for GPP’s, is making me lean towards the Indians ace.
MLB DFS – Building Around Bats:
On a small slate like we have tonight, with four elite arms pitching, the offensive options will be clearly limited to the same player pool everyone else is looking at and while you can play leverage and stack the Astros, Indians, Angels or Marlins – I think there is a path where you can take far less of a YOLO approach and still get what you want.
The clear top options from Vegas perspective are the Red Sox and Mariners, the only two teams with 5+ IRT and with Jordan Zimmermann and Marco Gonzales opposing them, they both make for elite stacks. What is interesting to me on FantasyDraft is how pricey the Mariners hitters are, with every single bat in the top 6 of the line-up costing $8K or more with the top 4 in particular all costing $9-$10K.
I bring this up because stacking the Mariners with two elite arms is nearly impossible, which leads me to the Boston Red Sox, who sit in a pricing level where you can stack them AND still afford to pay up for two high-end arms.
Now listen, stacking the Red Sox here against Jordan Zimmermann, arguably the worst arm on the slate, is by no means sneaky and I expect guys like Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Mitch Moreland to be extremely popular as a result.
On slates like this, rather than take 2-3 guys from the most popular stack, my advice is you either go all-in or all out – full stack or full fade and nothing in between. On FantasyDraft remember you can stack up to 6 batters from one team, meaning a full on 1-6 Boston stack is viable here today – Andrw Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Mitch Moreland, J.D. Martinez, Xander Boegarts and Rafael Devers.
Every single hitter in this 1-6 has a .180+ ISO mark versus RHP since 2018 and Zimmermann is giving up a .200+ ISO mark to hitters from both sides of the plate as a fly ball pitcher who is giving up 37.1% HC the last two years.
We see this so often where the 3 man heart of the order stack of Mookie/Mitch/JD will be massively owned and tonight where this trio costs you on average $8.7K per batter, it will and should be massively owned. So either you fade it, or you build off it and go 6 Red Sox deep and get all the batters around them.
What you are hoping for is as you spread out the stack the ownership spreads out with it. How many will stack all the way down with Boegarts and Devers or simply build a 1-4 Red Sox stack and stop there?
Or even better, go with a wrap around stack with the 8/9 punts like Jackie Bradley Jr. ($5.5K) and Sandy Leon ($5.4K) and then stack up the 1-4 bats to give you added stack equity with the benefit of salary savings.
MLB DFS – Sample Lineup and Slate Overview:
Please note – this sample lineup is meant to be illustrative only and should not be used as a plug and play line-up.
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SP: Gerrit Cole
SP: Aaron Nola
Red Sox Wrap Around Stack
2 Slots Remaining – $8K per batter
Slate Overview: So rather than simply carve out a sample line-up here today, I opted to go more with a construct to prove my point. You have the ability to lock in two top arms, in this case two of the three most expensive while also full on stacking the best offense on the slate with the highest Vegas total – and you still have $8K per batter for the last two hitters on your roster.
As always, keep an eye on line-ups – if we get another “free play” like we did yesterday with Stevie Wilkerson who was basically $1 on every site on Wednesday, it could be that one-off salary saver that opens up another big bat or pitching upgrade into your line-up.
Stay tuned to Fantasy CPR for all the latest MLB DFS news and analysis each and every day across FantasyDraft, FanDuel and DraftKings.