Welcome back to the DraftKings Playbook Daily Pitcher Rankings. With a matinee in Chicago, we have a 14-game main slate tonight. In the day game, Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants take on John Lester and the Cubs. Both pitchers are solid, but not worth rostering. I’m a fan of getting in on the all-day slate and then fading that one game. My mindset here is that people get in on all-day contests because they’re looking to get exposure to specific players in that contest, so fading them is +EV. Even if they aren’t owned everywhere, they’re owned at a higher percentage then they normally would be. This is a tried and true DFS football strategy (Thursday Night Football), and it applies here, as well.

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. Tonight’s slate is interesting, with very few viable mid-tier options. It’s a stars-and-scrubs kind of slate.

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.

It’s your last shot Friday to qualify for the $4M Fantasy Baseball World Championship!

Cream of the Crop

Jacob deGrom @ Tampa Bay Rays ($12,100) 

It’s difficult to be the best play on the board when Clayton Kershaw and Jose Fernandez are available, but Jacob deGrom has earned his way in to that upper-tier of starting pitchers. He’s been outstanding this season, and part of the appeal is his incredible consistency. He’s been able to limited right-handed hitters to a minuscule .200 wOBA, one of the best marks in the game. Lefties haven’t fared much better (.253), and he has elite swing-and-miss stuff (9.11 K/9). The Trop plays favorably to pitchers, as does the Rays’ 22.2% K-rate (and 91 wRC+).

Dallas Keuchel @ Oakland Athletics ($11,900)USATSI_8558526_168381090_lowres

The bearded-lefty gets a strong park factor boost tonight, pitching in Oakland instead of the juice box in Houston. The A’s have struggled against left-handed pitching this season, with minimal pop and a .298 wOBA. Keuchel’s ridiculous 63.6% ground ball rate helps keep his ERA (2.33) down, and his 19.9% hard-hit contact against rate is by far the best of the bunch tonight, and this is an impressive field of pitchers.

Jose Fernandez @ Atlanta Braves ($13,000)

Swaggy J (a terrible nickname that I JUST gave him) takes the ball for the Marlins tonight in Atlanta. Maybe I shouldn’t just type my stream of thought here, but oh well, Swaggy J it is. The Braves are a team to attack, particularly when Freddie Freeman is out of the lineup. Fernandez (2.13 ERA/1.75 FIP) has absolutely dazzled since returning from Tommy John a few weeks ago. I don’t think any one expected him to return to his dominant ways so quickly, not skipping a beat with a K-rate of 11.13 per nine innings.

Clayton Kershaw @ Pittsburgh Pirates ($15,000)

It’s almost silly to have Kershaw ‘ranked’ fourth tonight, but don’t over-value the specific rankings in this group. This entire top tier is elite and I’m splitting hairs here. The price tag is at fault here; it’s difficult to justify spending $3,000 more on Kershaw than rolling out deGrom vs. Tampa Bay. Obviously, the masses will think that too, making Kershaw a strong tournament play tonight. The Pirates have a huge 23.4% strikeout rate against left-handed pitching, making this feel like a lock for 10+ K’s from Kershaw.

USATSI_7925519_168381090_lowresGerrit Cole vs. Los Angeles Dodgers ($10,800)

Only Clayton Kershaw can make Gerrit Cole a Vegas underdog (+125) at home. Cole’s consistency this season has been incredible. He looked like a different pitcher this April and it’s just continued to roll forward with substantial gains across the board for the big right-hander. The Dodgers haven’t been quite as hot as of late, and Cole makes for a fairly safe cash game play tonight at this price.

 

Middle of the Pack

 

Sonny Gray vs. Houston Astros ($11,200)USATSI_8693424_168381090_lowres

Sonny Gray (2.12 ERA/2.88 FIP) is better than ‘Middle of the Pack’, but the boss says I can only have five pitchers in the top tier, so dems da rules. Gray isn’t quite the elite strikeout pitcher that some of his peers are, but he’s good enough (7.72 K/9) to exploit the Astros swing-and-miss tendencies (24.1% K-rate). Gray has stayed out of trouble this season with a new pitch mix that has resulted in more ground balls, and less hard-hit contact. Both left-handed (.227 wOBA) and right-handed bats (.249) have struggled with him this season. Facing the Astros in Oakland is a plus, as well.

Lance Lynn @ Milwaukee Brewers ($9,600)

The Brewers are enjoying a bit of a post-trade boom here, hanging up crooked numbers despite losing both Carlos Gomez and Gerardo Parra at the deadline. I don’t expect their offensive windfall to continue though. Lance Lynn (2.89 ERA/2.99 FIP) has been Gerrit Cole-lite in a sense this season, with a strong run of consistent quality starts and an improved strikeout rate (9.37 K/9). The Brewers have some power, particularly at home, but their 89 wRC+ on the season versus right-handed pitching is only going to get worse in the second half.

Cole Hamels @ Seattle Mariners ($10,300)

Most Rangers pitchers aren’t viable options at home in the summer, but Cole Hamels is on the road tonight in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league. Outside of Nelson Cruz, the Mariners don’t offer a lot of right-handed power that should be feared, and their aggressive approach (low 5.9 BB%) will be exploited by a pitcher of Hamels’ caliber. I’ll be interested to see the ownership levels of these eight ‘studs’ tonight.

Aaron Nola @ San Diego Padres ($6,000)

Outside of the clear top-8 options, Aaron Nola presents the most value and upside at his suppressed priced point. Despite averaging 18.4 DraftKings points per start over his first three outings, Nola is still in the bottom tier of pricing. He’s not without his blemishes which should be expected with any rookie pitcher, but when a strong pedigree arm comes along and pitches well, no one is surprised nowadays. He’s better than his 25% HR/FB rate, and his 7.23 K/9 has some upside left in it when you see that his swinging-strike rate is 11.2%. I like the 51.9% ground ball rate as well, and the matchup is favorable in San Diego against a Padres (91 wRC+) club that’s been a mess for most of the season.

Jordan Zimmermann vs. Colorado Rockies ($7,500)

Facing the Rockies outside of Coors is a plus, but it’s still not some huge market inefficiency that we need to be targeting. On the road against left-handed pitching, yes, but they’ve hit right-handed pitching well this season (.345 wOBA/103 wRC+). Zimmermann has shown the ability to miss bats at times, but his overall 6.62 K/9 leaves a lot to be desired. He and the Nationals are favorites (-162) but I’d much rather save the $1,500 and get the upside of Aaron Nola, for example.

Julio Teheran vs. Miami Marlins ($7,200)

I’m not a huge Julio Teheran fan, but the model likes him a bit tonight in his matchup against the Marlins. Miami’s .285 wOBA and 78 wRC+ against right-handed pitching probably has a lot to do with it. I just don’t like paying for slightly above-average K-upside when the walk rate is north of 3 per 9, and his ERA and FIP are both near 4.50. It’s so top heavy tonight though, so he has some tournament appeal since he’s likely to me very low-owned.

Jake Odorizzi vs. New York Mets ($9,000)

The Mets lineup looks so different than it did a month ago, it’s difficult to gauge how much weight should be given to their season-long statistics (.297 wOBA/91 wRC+ vs. RHP). I’m going to say, not much. The addition of Yoenis Cespedes, who’s better against right-handed pitching than he is even against lefties, has added a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat that the Mets have lacked all season. He’s lengthened their lineup, and it’s having a trickle down effect to players like Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy. Odorizzi has improved his command this season, lowing his walk rate to 2.34 BB/9. The problem is that he has lost a bit of his strikeout upside in the process, making him a league-average strikeout guy right now.

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Texas Rangers ($7,800)

When a pitcher has minimal handedness splits, like Hisashi Iwakuma does, it can be a good and bad thing. It makes him difficult to target and when he’s on he can shut a team down like he did for the majority of his last start against the Twins. The other side of the coin is that when he’s off, he’s extremely hittable by everyone in the lineup. I do like his 51.9% ground ball rate and his elite command, but his 7.19 K/9 has me looking elsewhere against a strong Rangers lineup.

James Shields vs. Philadelphia Phillies ($8,600)

The Phillies haven’t had the influx of talent added to their roster like the Mets have seen, but they’ve been a different club in the second half. Pitching at home as a favorite is a plus for Shields (-162), but his massive platoon splits this season have, and will continue to keep me away. Left-handed hitters have knocked Shields around this season, to the tune of a .372 wOBA. I do like his nearly 10 whiffs per nine (9.79), but I don’t love him here and I think he’ll be highly owned as a popular SP2 tonight.

Andrew Heaney vs. Baltimore Orioles ($8,300)

Andrew Heaney is a talented, young left-handed pitcher, but his bubble is likely to burst before too long. You can’t maintain a 1.97 ERA when your FIP is a run higher (3.05) and your strikeout rate is below average (6.70). It’s also unusual for a fly-ball pitcher like Heaney to give up so much hard-hit contact (38.4%, which is a lot), and have a 6% HR/FB rate. The Orioles haven’t been great against left-handed pitching, but they have the slugging firepower that can do some damage. His .238 BABIP-against is likely to start climbing north sooner than later.

Kevin Gausman @ Los Angeles Angels ($5,400)

Kevin Gausman comes in as a strong value play if you’re looking to go cheap with your SP2 tonight. The young flame thrower is finally getting a chance to stick in the rotation, and while facing Albert Pujols and Mike Trout (ON HIS BIRTHDAY NO LESS!! NARRATIVE ALERT!!), is never ideal, he does have tremendous upside. He’s limiting hard-contact this season, with an above average 30.6% soft-hit contact rate, and has the swing-and-miss arsenal to improve on his 7.55 K/9.

Edinson Volquez vs. Chicago White Sox ($7,700)

Edinson Volquez hasn’t pitched quite as well of late compared to how well he pitched at the beginning of the season, and there’s no much value or upside here. The White Sox are another one of the league’s terrible first half squads that turned it on a bit in the second half, because of course, #baseball. A below average strikeout rate and above average walk rate are enough for me to stay away.

 

Rest of the Field

Robbie Ray vs. Cincinnati Reds ($6,800)

(Chase Anderson is starting tonight, not Robbie Ray like was originally reported)

Robbie Ray has a similar profile to Andrew Heaney in a lot of ways. He’s managed to skate by with a tiny HR/FB rate despite being a heavy ground ball pitcher who’s giving up a ton of hard-hit contact (37.7%). On a warm night in the Arizona desert the ball flies, and I’m not willing to bet on his 3.01 ERA when the rest of the under-the-hood stats look like this. He’s a ‘pass’ for me.

Jorge de la Rosa @ Washington Nationals ($6,500)

I like Jorge de la Rosa’s ability to miss bats (8.45 K/9) but a walk rate north of 4 will always keep me away. Huge walk rates limit pitcher’s upside and their ability to work deep in to a game. The trickle down effect there is quite simple. Less outs/strikeouts/opportunities for win etc. The list goes on and on. The Nationals don’t walk a ton, but there are better values on the board tonight.

Daniel Norris vs. Boston Red Sox ($6,400)

Daniel Norris is getting a chance to pitch every fifth day for the Tigers after coming over in the David Price deal. The former Blue Jays prospect has shown a bit of reverse split action here early on (.408 wOBA) but the sample size is still fairly small. His 4.76 FIP leaves a lot to be desired though, so I’m staying away until I see a string of strong outings.

Nathan Eovaldi vs. Toronto Blue Jays ($6,200)

A pitcher who gives up hard-hit contact north of 30% is a no-go for me against a strong slugging lineup like the Blue Jays. It’s just that simple. Eovaldi has pitched better of late, but there’s no enough upside or value at his current price point to try and get cute and use him against the Blue Jays (.330 wOBA)

Tyler Cravy vs. St. Louis Cardinals ($4,500)

All the Cravy puns. All of them…

Ok, I guess my point is, don’t pass the Cravy tonight, pass ON the Cravy. (Oh man….) The Cardinals are feisty enough offensively to make this a short evening for him, and they’re starting to play better after scuffling a bit earlier this summer. There’s no strikeout upside here (5.40 K/9) and that’s the only reason that you should consider using a sub-$5K pitcher.

Mike Pelfrey @ Cleveland Indians ($5,100)

Mike Pelfrey’s 54.7% ground ball rate has really helped keep him out of trouble this season but he still….he’s not very good. I’ll almost never use a pitcher with a 4.26 K/9 and neither should you.

Cody Anderson vs. Minnesota Twins ($4,400) 

Cody Anderson is another no-upside option, with just a 3.57 K/9. He has your run of the mill extreme handedness splits right now, as he’s really keeping right-handed bats in check (.252 wOBA), while allowing left-handed hitters to mash him (.342 wOBA).

John Danks @ Kansas City Royals ($5,700)

John Danks has been so frustrating to DFS player this season. It’s not because anyone is starting him, but he’s pitched well against some good lineups when he’s been heavily targeted. I’ll continue to bet against him, and right-handed bats (.377 wOBA) in particular have hammered him this season.

R.A. Dickey @ New York Yankees ($6,600)

Things have been on the up and up in Toronto of late, landing both Troy Tulowitzki and David Price just before the trade deadline. This feels like as good of a time as any to point out that the Jays traded Noah Syndergaard and Travis D’Arnaud to New York for the services of R.A. Dickey (4.06 ERA/4.59 FIP). Ouch. Stay away from the knuckle-baller in the Bronx.

Joe Kelly @ Detroit Tigers ($4,400) 

AL Cy Young Award favorite Joe Ke….errrr. Oops. Sorry Joe.

If you’re looking to use Tigers tonight then I suggest using their right-handed bats due to Kelly’s reverse splits this season. (Hello, J.D. Martinez.)

Good luck!