When Zack Greinke ($10,600) was traded from Arizona to Houston, it seemed like a luxury. Not that any GM would ever say no to taking on a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber – he’d limited opposing hitters to a paltry .258 wOBA across the first four months of the season – but the Astros didn’t “need” the future Hall of Fame right-hander. Greinke was set to play third fiddle to Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the only two pitchers with even an argument for winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2019. Greinke would be able to just sit back and ride the coattails of easily the league’s most fearsome 25-man roster.
Well, for as nice of thought as that may have been, Houston certainly needs the 36-year-old this evening. Down 2-0 to the Nationals and headed to Washington for Game 3 of the World Series, Greinke is about to throw the most important innings of his career. But does that make him DFS viable? Let’s break it all down.
Washington NationalsAnibal Sanchez’s ($9,200) past two starts have been about all the Nationals could have asked for. In the NLDS versus the Dodgers, Sanchez pitched into the sixth, allowed a single earned run and stuck out nine. He would top himself just a few days later, carrying a no-hitter deep into Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cardinals. In total, he’s maintained a 0.71 ERA across 12.2 innings of work, striking out 14 opponents and maybe benefitting slightly from the league’s insistence to go back to the dead-ball era. At least, that’s what a 5.01 xFIP and a 64.3% fly-ball rate would suggest. Still, I think the biggest thing to remember is that these performances haven’t simply come out of nowhere. Once you eliminate a shaky April from Sanchez’s stat line, you realize he pitched quite well in 2019. From May 1 on, the veteran managed a 3.36 ERA over 134 frames, holding batters to a .284 wOBA and .308 xwOBA. We have to collectively realize that this was someone who, as recently as last season, induced the lowest qualified average exit velocity in all of baseball (83.7 mph). With an array of offerings and the savvy of a man with 14 years of experience under his belt, Sanchez is not out of place making this start.
When it comes to Washington’s bats, I’m more inclined to attack Greinke with right-handers than I am with lefties. Though the expected wOBA produced against the Astros’ starter is nearly identical from both handedness groupings, RHBs had a clear advantage in launch angle throughout the course of the regular season. This was evident in the fact that Greinke possessed a league-low 2.48 ERA whilst pitching to left-handers, the direct result of his 23.9% fly-ball rate within the split being the second-lowest mark among the 88 qualified SPs. It’s not like this was random circumstance, either. Greinke’s simply utilizes his change-up more to LHBs than to righties. The pitch, which generated a 60.6% ground ball rate this year, has a 32.2% usage rate when Greinke’s in a right-on-left situation, where he only uses his change in 10.2% out counts right-on-right.
Because of this, I’d rather pay-up for Anthony Rendon ($10,200) than Juan Soto ($10,000), especially with Houston demonstrating in Game 2 that they’d actually intentionally walk the 21-year-old All-Star. I’d also be avoiding Adam Eaton ($7,600) and Asdrubal Cabrera ($8,000) – who might get the call over Ryan Zimmerman ($7,000) with his career numbers versus Greinke. Really, from a value perspective, the Nationals’ most tempting positional player might be Howie Kendrick ($9,200). The 36-year-old was primarily used as a platoon bat early in 2019, but, by year’s end, Kendrick owned the team’s highest xwOBA in right-on-right plate appearances at an eye-popping .413. This also wasn’t a case of Kendrick’s success being front-loaded at the beginning of the calendar. In fact, during the final two months of the regular season, Kendrick slashed .404/.443/.649 within the split.
Finally, as it pertains to finding a cheap bullpen arm, there’s honestly only one guy to trust amongst Washington’s collection of relievers. With Daniel Hudson ($7,600) still priced as a starting pitcher, Sean Doolittle ($3,000) is the lone RP that provides any sort of safety for the Nationals. The left-hander’s appeared a team-high seven times so far in these playoffs and, more importantly, he toed the rubber in six of Washington’s past eight games. Additionally, he’s pitched into a second inning on four occasions within this span.
Houston AstrosFor as much as I’d like to have faith in Greinke in a spot where his back is up against the wall, his last three outings haven’t exactly been all that inspiring. The veteran conceded three home runs in his opening outing of the playoffs against Tampa Bay, two more in his second start versus the Yankees then had to be pulled mid-way through the fifth in Game 5 of the ALCS at New York. That’s a tough recent track record for the slate’s highest-priced option.
Still, there’s nothing from the regular season to suggest that Greinke is finished or over the hill. From an advanced metrics perspective, the 36-year-old is actually coming off arguably his second-best campaign in the past decade. Greinke’s 3.22 FIP was the eighth-lowest qualified mark in baseball. He surrendered the eighth-fewest home runs per nine (0.91), possessed the sixth-best K/BB ratio in MLB (6.23), and was one of only five starting pitchers with a WHIP below 1.00. Knowing that the Nationals sported the National League’s second-lowest strikeout rate against right-handers (21.0%) and its lowest swinging strike rate overall (9.5%) should limit Greinke’s upside and keep him from Captain’s Pick consideration; yet there’s no reason to think he can’t be viable in a utility spot.
As for the Astros’ hitters, I believe a key point of data to consider when contemplating each’s value is how they handled the cut-fastball from right-handed pitchers in 2019. It’s basically the pitch that’s turned Sanchez’s career around. After toying with the offering in 2017 with the Tigers, Sanchez’s usage of the cutter has jumped over the past two seasons, going from 16.6% in 2018 to 23.3% so far this year. Some Houston players have destroyed right-handed cut-fastballs this season. Jose Altuve ($9,800) is hitting .417 with a .375 ISO off of the pitch, while Michael Brantley ($7,200) owns a .489 average and .681 slugging percentage when producing a batted ball event from a cutter. Others have struggled significantly. Alex Bregman ($9,000) and George Springer ($9,600) have slugged just .478 and .389 respectively off cut-fastballs, and teammate Yuli Gurriel ($7,800) didn’t muster a single extra-base knock off of a right-hander’s cutter all year. Salary constraints and lineup positioning should also impact your decision-making here, yet don’t overlook Sanchez’s reliance on his newly discovered weapon.
THE OUTCOMEIt has been the case with many of the Showdown slates so far in the MLB Playoffs, but the first thing you have to decide is whether or not you want to fit both pitchers into your lineups this evening. Though neither starter is as alluring as the four men we’ve already seen make outings in this series, each is skilled and successful in their own more subtle way and both teams opened up with implied team totals below four runs. If forced to choose between the two, I’d side with Greinke; however, I’m not looking to use either at 1.5x value with the absence of elite strikeout-upside. Instead, I’d be leaning towards Jose Altuve ($14,700 CP) or (Howie Kendrick ($13,800 CP) to Captain my build.
Final Score: Houston 5, Washington 3
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