It might not be quite the same as Opening Day, but there are still a bunch of good pitchers to choose from today. Here are ten names for you to consider for your fantasy lineups, ranked according to their value, not their projected points.
Top 5 Pitchers
1) Justin Verlander – DET @ MIA – $8,700 – – The Marlins aren’t the easiest opponent to analyze: they don’t score a lot of runs, but also don’t strikeout much. They were top-ten in team batting average last year, but bottom ten in team On Base percentage. Your fear here would be that Verlander doesn’t manage a bunch of K’s, limiting his upside. Nevertheless, a guy who finished 2015 with a 1.09 WHIP should be able to take advantage of a lineup that doesn’t see a lot of pitches and give himself a good shot at racking up a bunch of innings with a shot at the win. I like him a lot as a cash game option and as someone with enough upside to consider in tournament play as well, especially considering some of the other options you have available.
2) Jose Quintana – CWS @ OAK – $8,400 – – In his three spring starts, Quintana had a K:BB ratio of 13:2, even better than the 4.02 ratio he had last year, that landed him inside the top-20 in the league in that category. At the end of the day, that stat says more about a pitcher’s control than his strikeout ability, but when you combine it with a top-40 K/9 ratio, now you just have a pitcher who is dealing. Facing an Oakland team that struggled to extend at-bats or score runs down the stretch, and with Chris Bassit on the hill opposite, you have to like his chances of accumulating a few innings, and possibly a victory, as well.
“Angel Stadium was one of the most favorable ballparks for pitchers in the majors last year”
3) Jon Lester – CHC @ LAA – $10,700 – He’s not #1 because it’s hard to find value in a high-priced National League pitcher opening the season on the road against an AL opponent. But on the other hand, Angel Stadium was one of the most favorable ballparks for pitchers in the majors last year, and Lester has had plenty of success against the top Angels hitters (Trout is 2-for-11 with two singles, a walk and five K’s in twelve at-bats). If he continues to show the form he displayed in the spring (ten strikeouts in five innings in his final tune-up appearance) then he should at the very least serve as a safe cash-game option.
4) Johnny Cueto – SF @ MIL – $9,600 – He is the second-highest priced pitcher on the board but a bit further down in my rankings because, on a new team and coming off a season that saw his ERA balloon from 2.73 in the first half of the year to 4.34 in the second half, I’d just like to see it once before I roster him again. But facing a Milwaukee team that was in the bottom ten in runs scored and top ten in K’s last year, the upside is definitely there.
5) James Shields – SD vs. LAD – $9,100 – I like Shields as an option tonight, despite the 15 runs the Dodgers put up on Opening Day. They might have had a ridiculous 42 at-bats, but they ended ten of them by way of the strikeout. If Shields can get ahead in the count consistently, he should be able to limit their success compared to last night and finish with something right in line with his #11 ranked K/9 ratio of 9.61 from last year. Anytime you average more than a strikeout an inning, you’re doing ok.
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6) Michael Wacha – STL @ PIT – $8,100 – On a night that has a lot of good pitchers with tough matchups, I am intrigued by the upside potential of Wacha squaring off against Pittsburgh. The Pirates scored more than their share of runs last year, but they also finished 7th in the league in total strikeouts. Wacha, for his part, ended last season inside the top 50 pitchers in terms of K’s per 9 innings with 7.59. At only 24 years old, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him improve on those numbers this year.
7) Andrew Heaney – LAA vs. CHC – $7,600 – For all the power and upside in Chicago’s lineup, they still struck out more than any other team in the majors in 2015, and last time I checked, most of the same guys are back again for this year. The big problem here is the matchup with Lester, but this is a situation where, even though there is only the one win to go around, both starting pitchers could prove useful. While the Cubs hit for average at about the same rate against righties as lefties, their power numbers definitely took a dip against left-handers like Heaney, which could mitigate some of the downside here, while leaving the upside intact.
“Odorizzi has also had a lot of success against the top hitters in the Blue Jays lineup”
8) Jake Odorizzi – TB vs. TOR – $8,500 – I actually think it might be against the rules to pick a pitcher facing the Blue Jays in a cash game format, but in a tournament, keep in mind the guy on the mound opposite. Odorizzi is facing off against Aaron Sanchez, who no one was ever sure would open the season in the rotation until a few days ago, and getting granted an early lead has never hurt a pitcher’s fantasy value. Odorizzi has also had a lot of success against the top hitters in the Blue Jays lineup – Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson are a combined 4-for-34 against him over their careers – so if anyone is going to keep this offense in check, he makes sense as a possibility.
9) Shelby Miller – ARI vs. COL – $7,500 – It will be interesting to see what Miller can do this year, getting out of Atlanta and away from a situation that really limited his upside in terms of wins. Despite the fact that he won only six games, Miller last season managed an ERA of only 3.02, showing an ability to pitch himself out of tough situations. If he can bring that type of ERA and his K/9 ratio of 7.5 to Arizona, he should help the Diamondbacks compete in the NL West this year.
10) Jonathon Niese – PIT vs. STL – $6,300 – A pitcher who doesn’t really strike anyone out is not often viewed as much of a fantasy commodity, but if you are looking for a good cheap option to slot into your roster just to salvage some kind of fantasy points, especially in a cash game, you could do worse than Niese. The Cardinals hit .230 and slugged only .355 as a team against left-handed pitching for all of last year, and for $6,300, a long parade of ground balls for 6 or 7 innings give him a shot at a win, and you a chance at some inexpensive value.