It’s the first huge Friday slate of the MLB season. We’ve got the chance for 13 games on the featured slate. I say “chance” because, for some reason, they keep scheduling games in Detroit before June. It’s just not going to work, Manfred. Anyway, let’s break down the top pitching options taking the hill this evening.
1. Gerrit Cole, HOU vs. TEX, $12,100
I’ve never been the biggest Cole supporter. Sure, it’s fun to see a guy light up the radar gun, as the former Pirate has done consistently throughout his career, but the strikeouts have never come along with the velocity. So, what’s changed? Well, his pitch repertoire, for one. In his first two starts as an Astro, Cole has weaned himself off his fastball dependance and started throwing his slider and knuckle-curve more often. This, as one would expect from his career swing-and-miss rates of those two pitches, has led to a 19.6 percent swinging strike rate and 22 strikeouts in 14 innings — outlandish, unsustainable numbers, yet evidence of a positive shift.
This should all continue into tonight’s game against the Rangers, who already have come up versus Cole this young season. They managed two hits and struck out 11 times that day and that was with the services of Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus (both now on the DL). Yikes.
2. Mike Clevinger, CLE vs. TOR, $9,500
Much like Cole, Clevinger has been phenomenal to begin 2018, surrendering just a single earned run through two starts. Still, for those who fell in love with the Indians’ SP last year for his high strikeout rate and high ceiling, there might be some concern about the lowly 17.7 percent strikeout rate that has come with these two otherwise fantastic outings. Look no further than the matchups. Only four teams can claim to have a strikeout rate below 20 percent on the season: the Angels, the Pirates, the Red Sox and the Royals. Clevinger has had the privilege of facing both Los Angeles and Kansas City to kick off his season.
Tonight, he’ll draw the Blue Jays who, despite leading the American League in isolated power (.191), have their flaws. Most notable and relevant to this conversation, Toronto has the third-highest strikeout rate against right-handed pitching. Expect Clevinger to get back to doing what he does best.
3. Eduardo Rodriguez, BOS vs. BAL, $8,500
Rodriguez’s first start of the season — a game last Sunday against Tampa Bay — was really a mixed bag when it came to fantasy. There were obvious positives, namely the seven strikeouts the lefty was able to coax out of a less-than-inspiring Rays lineup; however, there were clear negatives, like using 92 pitches to get through just 3 2/3 innings. Efficiency always has been the struggle with Rodriguez. He’s so talented and his stuff is so filthy, yet, he’s got Scott Kazmir Disease — he wastes far too many pitches. In fact, of the 18 batters Rodriguez faced Sunday, 11 worked themselves into three-ball counts.
Now, while no longer-term cure is known for SKD, the Orioles are the ultimate placebo pill. They swing at everything and, more often than not, they miss. The Orioles not only have the highest strikeout rate in baseball (27.2 percent), they also have the highest swing rate (48.4 percent). If this isn’t the matchup where Rodriguez can thrive, I don’t know what is.
4. Zack Greinke, ARI at LAD, $11,300
I won’t admit that I’m not a little terrified of the fastball velocity down at 88.8 mph. That’s a pretty significant red flag in 99.9 percent of starting pitchers; however, in the case of Greinke, he might be able to pull through. I mean, more than anything, it’s still early in the season — a season that began with Greinke having to miss the latter half of spring training. The velocity might come back. Still, the fact of the matter is, it hasn’t been there so far in April, and while the ERA might reflect that, the underlying numbers certainly don’t.
Greinke has a 2.84 FIP, a chase rate above 40 percent, and a 14:0 strikeout to walk ratio. It’s hard to say anything too derisive about a pitcher who has an infinite K/BB figure. The Dodgers, for their part, have also been pretty underwhelming. Los Angeles ranks fifth-worst in wOBA (.285), sixth-worst in wRC+ (80) and sixth-worst in ISO (.115). To say they miss Justin Turner would be a massive understatement.
5. Lance Lynn, MIN vs. CWS, $7,500
Editor’s note: Tonight’s game between the Twins and White Sox has been postponed.
I’m going back to the Lance Lynn well. The fact of the matter is, Lynn is two different pitchers. He was successful against the Astros because he’s dominant when facing RHBs — a 0.95 WHIP from 2017 signifies that pretty clearly. He struggled against the Pirates because he can’t pitch to left-handed bats. Not to mention the quality of Pittsburgh’s LHBs so far this season, who are currently hitting right-handed pitching to the tune of a .391 wOBA. The White Sox lack premier left-handed bats. The majority of their veteran power hitters (Jose Abreu, Matt Davidson, Avisail Garcia, Welington Castillo) are righties. This favors Lynn.
On top of that, much like Baltimore, the White Sox are a free-swinging organization. Chicago has the third-highest swing rate in the league at 47.4 percent — a figure that should assist Lynn considering he’s walked more opponents (10) than he’s pitched innings (9) in 2018. Could it blow up in your face? Definitely. However, at $400 cheaper than Vince Velasquez, a near identical high-upside/low-floor pitcher, I’ll save some money and likely get some differentiation from the pack.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.