Welcome back to the DraftKings Playbook Daily Pitcher Rankings. It’s a full 15-game slate, with one day game between the Braves and Cubs, making the main slate 14 games. A few of these top arms are battling head-to-head tonight, cannibalizing each other’s chances to get a win, but that’s ok. I care much more about implied-run totals than Vegas lines because I want to look at the individual pitching performance and not the likelihood that their team out-scores the opponent.
My goal is to help you make the right decisions when choosing your pitchers, but to also help you target the ones that are likely to struggle, making it easier for you to choose your bats. If you’re new or if you have any last-minute questions, please find me on Twitter, @RyNoonan.
Rankings below are based on a mixture of expected output and DraftKings MLB salaries for that day. The ordering is not based on highest projected fantasy totals, but rather by value of each pitcher. To determine the best values in today’s rankings, I run projections that include opponent’s strength, betting situation, handedness, park factor, projected Game Score, power/finesse pitching tendencies along with ground-ball/fly-ball tendencies. We want to take everything into consideration when making our pitcher choices, because they’re the backbone of the lineup.
Take home $25,000 tonight in the $250K SlugFest! Then send me $5K as a thank you. You’re welcome.
Cream of the Crop
There’s no denying that Felix Hernandez isn’t quite as sharp this season as he’s been in seasons past, and perhaps there’s an undisclosed injury that’s the root cause, but that’s pure speculation on my part. Today, he’s simply too cheap to ignore. Fighting through the noise to find an actionable signal is difficult, and there’s a lot of noise in Felix’s last start (-19.2 DraftKings points!). Recency bias is extremely common among most players, but knowing that and working against the grain can give you a huge advantage on a given night. Hernandez is at his best at home in front of The King’s Court, and he faces a White Sox club that’s among the bottom third in wOBA, wRC+ and ISO against right-handed pitching and has the lowest implied-run total of the night at just 3.
Chris Sale @ Seattle Mariners ($13,200)
The jump from $11,600 to $13,200 is quite significant, but that’ll happen after you go out and dominate (47.4 DraftKings points) the Cubs. Sale goes head-to-head with Felix Hernandez tonight in Seattle, a positive park shift for Sale, and the Mariners have an implied-run total of just 3.1. The Mariners have a fairly high strikeout rate against left-handed pitching (21.2%), something that Sale and his 11.9 K/9 should be able to take advantage of all evening.
No one is running hot quite like Madison Bumgarner is right now. His recent stretch of dominance is not uncommon for the big southpaw, especially when the pressure’s on and we’re heading down the home stretch. I’m not a fan of the ‘clutch gene’ conceptually, but there’s something to be said when a guy shows a pattern of playing big when the games matter the most. Bumgarner’s Giants are a in a division and wildcard battle, and each and every start becomes magnified from here on out. Expect another gem from MadBum, and the Pirates 22.7% whiff rate should help him pile up the K’s tonight.
David Price @ Los Angeles Angels ($12,300)
I’m having a difficult time gauging expected ownership tonight with these aces. It’s something that I spend a lot more time on than I used to because I believe understanding the group-think is vital to sustainable DFS success. The Blue Jays are ‘buzzy’, with their torrid post-trade deadline play, and Price has been at the heart of that. He’s a sizable favorite (-151) and the Angels have an implied-run total of just 3.2 runs tonight, but they only strike out 18.6% of the time which negates a bit of Price’s upside here.
Masahiro Tanaka vs. Cleveland Indians ($9,800)
A complete game one-run performance in Toronto against the Jays should get everyone’s attention. It’s the 13 ground ball outs that I love, just as much as the 8 punch outs. Homeruns are at the heart of Tanaka’s struggles (17.1 HR/FB ratio), but if he’s able to keep the ball on the ground he’ll have a much better chance to keep it in the park. He can still miss bats with the best of them (11.2 swinging-strike rate), and while Cleveland gets a positive park shift here, they aren’t a big slugging club against right-handed pitching (20th in SLG%).
Middle of the Pack
Carlos Carrasco @ New York Yankees ($10,100)
Carlos Carrasco’s strikeout upside (9.63 K/9) and ability to contain left-handed bats (.264 wOBA) help his case here in Yankee Stadium and their short right-field porch. When he’s working low in the zone and keeping the ball on the ground (50.8% ground ball rate) he’s one of the best pitchers in the American League. When he’s missing his spots he gets hammered like few do, making him feel more like a high-upside tournament play more than a high-floor cash game option. His ERA (3.63) and FIP (2.88) splits bare that out.
Gio Gonzalez vs. Milwaukee Brewers ($8,500)
The Brewers have been one of the league’s worst offenses’ this season against left-handed pitching (28th in wOBA), and playing this game in D.C. instead of Milwaukee is a sizable negative shift for them here, as well. It’s difficult to trust Gio Gonzalez (3.86 ERA/3.06 FIP), but his above average K-rate (8.0) and huge ground ball numbers (55.7%) make him a bit easier to stomach than in season’s past. He’s been BABIP’d quite a bit this season (.345), which explains the huge ERA and FIP discrepancy. The Brewers 3.1 implied-run total is the second lowest on the slate tonight.
Jimmy Nelson @ Washington Nationals ($8,200)
It appears as if Jimmy Nelson has turned the corner a bit. Over the past six outings Nelson has a 1.99 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, and he’s kept the walks in check without sacrificing his swing-and-miss stuff (10.4 SwStk %). He’s had some actionable handedness splits this season (.365 wOBA vs. LHB’s), but he’s been better of late and the Nationals are scuffling, to say the least.
Johnny Cueto @ Boston Red Sox ($10,000)
Johnny Cueto has shown the ability to ‘out-pitch’ his peripherals throughout his career, and that’s the case again this season. His ERA and FIP are rarely close, and he consistently has a low BABIP and strand rate. I want to dig in to this deeper, actually. For now I think it’s save to project him for what we’ve seen and not expect him to fall ‘in line’ with an expected-BABIP or ERA.
With that said, he doesn’t have quite the upside that the other aces have tonight, facing the Sox in Boston. Cueto’s 7.9 K/9 is just barely above the league average rate, while the Red Sox enter play with one of the lowest K-rates in the game against right-handed pitching (16.8%). Vegas has Cueto as a favorite (-160) but the Red Sox 3.8 implied-run total is a bit higher than the other upper echelon arms.
John Lackey @ San Diego Padres ($9,100)
The lack of strikeouts (6.54 K/9) caps the upside of John Lackey on most nights, but he’s pitched consistently well of late and has a fairly safe floor. His price is a bit higher than I’d like, but the price is drawn up because of his sub-3 ERA (2.87). I think Lackey is a great cash game play tonight though. The Padres have an above average K-rate (21.6%), and roll out a primarily right-handed lineup against Lackey who’s handled righties well all season (.275 wOBA). Don’t expect a 30-point performance, but 20-22 feels pretty safe.
Kyle Hendricks vs. Atlanta Braves ($7,100)
Kyle Hendricks faces Shelby Miller today, and he’s a huge favorite according the Vegas (-176). The Braves are rolling out a less than stellar lineup right now, so I understand the appeal. From a fantasy perspective though, Hendricks upside is capped due to his low K/9 (7.61) and the Braves lack of whiffs (17.5%). I think there’s some cash game appeal here but I’m not going out of my way to roster him in this day game.
Shelby Miller @ Chicago Cubs ($8,700)
Shelby Miller pitches in the lone day game today, on the road against the Cubs. I’m not forcing my way in to any day slates to get exposure, but if you are then I’d consider Miller today. Vegas disagrees, but he has the type of arsenal that can give the Cubs trouble despite his pedestrian 7.58 K/9. His ground ball totals are way up this season (50% ground ball rate), and he’s handled right-handed bats with ease this season (.232 wOBA).
Chris Bassitt vs. Tampa Bay Rays ($6,900)
Looking under Chris Bassitt’s proverbial hood is quite interesting. Looking under his literal hood is a bit creepy, so I won’t do that. Statistically though, there’s a lot to like about Bassitt. At first glance it’s easy to expect regression, with a 2.60 ERA and a 3.65 FIP, so I understand the skepticism. A deeper dive pulls up some intriguing skills. He’s a fly ball pitcher so his .246 BABIP makes a bit more sense, and he’s been stellar against both left (.276 wOBA) and right-handed (.272) bats so far. He’s also limited hard-hit contact as well, with just a 25% clip there so far this season. His matchup against the Rays is plus too, as they’re one of the worst offenses in the league against right-handed pitching, with very little power upside. Bassitt is my favorite sub-$7K starter tonight.
Drew Smyly @ Oakland Athletics ($8,400)
My model really likes Drew Smyly tonight, but I’m a bit skeptical. He didn’t fare well in his return from the DL, as he was hammered by the Rangers in Texas over the weekend, and he was roughed up throughout most of his rehab starts. When he’s healthy he has huge strikeout upside, but even that would be snuffed a little bit tonight with Oakland’s above average contact skills (17.1% K-rate vs. LHP). I’m going full ‘wait-and-see’ mode with Smyly.
Brett Anderson @ Houston Astros ($6,200)
Brett Anderson’s 6.01 K/9 caps his upside, but I’m not going after him with Astros bats tonight, either. A 66.8% ground ball rate is insane. Even though Houston can mash left-handed pitching, the math is quite simple. Don’t target highly efficient ground ball pitchers when constructing your offense. The ground ball rate is backed up with a 25.2% hard-hit contact rate, as well.
Andrew Cashner vs. St. Louis Cardinals ($6,000)
I like winning money, and I like when you win money too, so I can’t recommend that you use Andrew Cashner tonight. With that said, he’s under-priced here at just $6,000. His 62.9% strand rate is more than 10% lower than league average, and that’s difficult to do. It has to be a bit mental at this point, or perhaps there’s something mechanical when he’s working out of the stretch, but he’s been terrible with runners on base. There’s a little strikeout meat on the bone here, which is why I think he’s too cheap, but left-handed bats have crushed him this season (.387 wOBA) and I typically avoid any pitcher with a sizable platoon split.
Wei-Yin Chen vs. Minnesota Twins ($8,300)
Wei-Yin Chen continues to be overpriced due in part to his 3.20 ERA (4.39 FIP). He’s been able to work his way out of jams (83.1% strand rate) but that’s an unsustainable skill when you don’t miss a ton of bats (7.41 K/9). The Twins have enough thunder in their lineup to take advantage of the positive park shift and Chen’s fly ball tendencies here tonight. There are much better ways to spend your money tonight.
Mike Fiers vs. Los Angeles Dodgers ($7,900)
Mike Fiers has a bit of tournament appeal due in part to his 9.07 K/9, but if I rostered him I couldn’t bare watching it play out. He gives up a hefty amount of fly balls and a ton of hard-hit contact (36.5%), two things that bode well for the Dodgers and their favorable park shift as they play in Houston. Strikeouts can make most pitchers tolerable, but there’s little reason to press your luck with Fiers tonight. Tears for Fiers.
Rest of the Field
Hector Santiago vs. Toronto Blue Jays ($8,000)
It’s difficult to build a case for any starting pitcher against the Blue Jays right now. They’re on fire, and that’s bad news for a fly ball pitcher like Hector Santiago. Despite his 2.86 ERA, he has a 4.10 FIP and has given up a lot of hard-hit contact this season (31.8%). His strikeout upside is mitigated by the Jays low whiff rate (16.9%) and they’re loaded with left-handed mashers.
Justin Verlander vs. Texas Rangers ($7,300)
Justin Verlander has knocked the rust off a bit, pitching well of late including seven shutout innings in his last time out against the Astros. The Rangers have handled right-handed pitching this season (.323 wOBA) and Verlander’s below average strikeout rate and heavy fly ball tendencies make me a bit nervous to trust him here, but I’ll be watching to see if the strikeouts are going to keep coming back.
Colby Lewis @ Detroit Tigers ($7,200)
I’m sticking with my theme here and staying away from fly ball pitchers against good offenses. It’s not always right, but it’s definitely the +EV play. The Tigers have been swinging it well of late, and the return of Miguel Cabrera only helps lengthen their lineup.
Henry Owens vs. Kansas City Royals ($6,500)
The Red Sox young buck has pitched exactly like I expected he would through his first 16 innings this season. Lots of K’s but too many walks and fly balls to make him a viable fantasy asset yet. The news gets worse for Owens here, as his lone asset is negated by the Royals low 14.9% strikeout rate. Keep the walks down, kid.
Tommy Milone @ Baltimore Orioles ($6,300)
Tommy Milone’s profile does not fit well for Camden Yards. He’s giving up 1.46 HR/9 this season, the highest mark on the slate. A fly ball pitcher in Baltimore is not something that you want to be rostering on most night, particularly one that doesn’t miss a ton of bats (6.25 K/9). It’s THAT combination that’s deadly. Some of the best pitchers in the game are what we’d consider to be fly ball pitchers, but they also limit hard-hit contact and can get out of a jam with a whiff, something that below average fly ball pitchers can not do. Look out for Orioles’ right-handed bats tonight (.371 wOBA-against RHB’s for Milone).
Jeff Locke vs. San Francisco Giants ($5,600)
Jeff Locke (4.31 ERA/3.96 FIP) keeps the ball on the ground (50.8%) which bodes well for him on most days even though his upside is limited due to his lack of K’s (6.96 K/9). He’s as league average as league average gets, really. He allows above average wOBA’s to both left-handed and right-handed bats, and is a huge home dog tonight against Madison Bumgarner.
Bartolo Colon @ Colorado Rockies ($6,100)
A fly ball pitcher in Coors is an easy fade, which I’m sure most will do. Please, don’t get cute here. The Nationals duo of Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer pitched pretty well in Coors over the past two days, but Bartolo Colon is not of that ilk. A 6.69 K/9 will not get it done.
Kendry Flores vs. Philadelphia Phillies ($4,000)
What a pitching battle in Miami tonight. Whoa. There’s not a ton of major league data on Kendry Flores yet, with just 7 2/3 innings pitched in relief this season we haven’t seen much strikeout upside. He pitched well in both AA and AAA this season, so there’s that.
Jerad Eickhoff @ Miami Marlins ($4,600)
One of the pieces that Philadelphia received in the Cole Hamels trade, Jerad Eickhoff makes his Phillies debut tonight in Miami. There’s no need to go after Eickhoff on a full slate, but good luck in your debut, young buck.
Jonathan Gray vs. New York Mets ($5,500)
There’s little reason to roster a pitching in Coors, so just don’t. The Rockies have to be pleased with the early returns for Jonathan Gray though. He’s thrown well in his first 15 major league innings, with an ERA and FIP under 3 and a solid K/BB ratio.
David Holmberg vs. Arizona Diamondbacks ($4,300)
The Diamondbacks are my favorite non-Coors offense tonight. David Holmberg has been hit hard by everyone in his first 19 2/3 innings this season, and I like the Diamondbacks to hang a crooked number on the Reds early in this one.