April showers may bring May flowers, but they can also leave daily gamers with some ugly zeros in their lineups. The relative prevalence of early-season postponements is just one factor to consider with Opening Day around the corner, as the daily game is a bit different early in the season.
There are no hot bats or arms to lean on for the first few days, and the colder April weather favors pitchers. However, most managers carefully manage their starters early in the season, meaning there won’t be many eight-inning, 110-pitch outings to go around.
With early prices largely based on past performance, daily gamers will likely find that their favorite early season picks align closely with their favorite players in season-long leagues. The breakout season you’re expecting from player X, if it happens, will be priced in to his DraftKings salary by May or June. There’s no better time to take advantage than right now, when you can score elite, unproven talent at a very reasonable salary.
Now, on to some of the top picks for the first few days of the season, with a special eye on Monday’s Opening Day slate….
Sonny Gray, OAK, $6500 – Confession: Sonny Gray is the aforementioned player X. He has the talent of a No. 1 starter but the price of a No. 5, and he’s slated for an Opening Day nod at pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum, albeit against a solid Cleveland lineup. That’s hardly a nightmare matchup, and the Indians essentially have the same lineup that finished with the ninth-most strikeouts in the majors last season. With DraftKings’ format heavily rewarding punchouts, we have yet another reason to bet on unproven talent early in the year. Of course, Gray is no unknown, after posting a 2.67 ERA and 67:20 K:BB ratio over 64 innings (12 appearances) last season. Looking to the end of the week, Gray’s second start of 2014 – a Saturday afternoon home game against the Mariners – also looks rather appetizing,
Tanner Scheppers, TEX, $4700 – Scheppers’ status as the Rangers’ Opening Day starter has more to do with injuries than anything else, but daily gamers should still appreciate the chance to land a starting pitcher at a reliever’s price. Scheppers worked exclusively out of the bullpen in his first two seasons, compiling a 2.64 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 89:33 K:BB over 109 innings. Those numbers won’t blow you away, but they certainly aren’t bad, and spring reports on the right-hander are almost universally positive. Furthermore, this isn’t a last-minute desperation play by the Rangers, as Scheppers has been stretched out all spring. He probably won’t top 100 pitches in his first few starts, but six or seven innings should be within reach. The early schedule sets up well, with Scheppers scheduled to face the Phillies at home on Monday, before he pitches in Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Chris Sale, CHW, $10,000 – Quite clearly established as an elite pitcher, Sale carries a price tag that falls short of 10 other hurlers’, despite drawing a friendly Opening Day matchup against the Twins. The lefty is easily my favorite choice among the many frontline starters in action Monday, and I may ride him again in his second start, which is scheduled for next Sunday against the Royals.
Other intriguing options: Julio Teheran, ATL, $7,700, (Mon. at MIL, Sat/Sun at WAS), Ricky Nolasco, MIN, $7100, (Mon. at CHW, Sun. at CLE), Matt Moore, TB, $7100, (Tues. vs. TOR, Sun. vs. TEX), Gio Gonzalez,, WAS, $9500, (Wed. at NYM), Gerrit Cole, PIT, $7900, (Wed. vs. CHC)
A.J. Pierzynski, C, BOS , $3500 – Pierzynski opens the season in a loaded lineup at a very reasonable price, and his first two games come against a manageable pair of right-handers in Baltimore’s Chris Tillman (Monday) and Ubaldo Jimenez (Wednesday). With David Ross likely to see most of the playing time against lefties this season, Pierzynski is best avoided on Thursday against Wei-Yin Chen. Most starting lineups are predictable for the first few days, but there are few sure things, and rainouts are more common in April than at any other time during the season. DraftKings has a cool feature that shows you projected weather conditions while you pick your lineup, but it’s still best to at least check back in before the first pitch, be it for weather or lineup confirmation.
Wilson Ramos, C, WAS, $3200 – Wilson Ramos, Rob Brantly, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Travis d’Arnaud, John Jaso, and George Kottaras. – Those are your catcher options at $3200, and with apologies (not really, though) to Salty, Ramos is quite clearly the best of the bunch. In fact, there are 26 catcher-eligible players starting the season with a price tag higher than Ramos’ $3200, and maybe half of those make for a better play, prices being equal. With his long-term health a non-factor in daily games, Ramos can be fully appreciated for his excellent production per plate appearance. I’d probably be using him anyway, but it doesn’t hurt that Ramos opens his season against the Mets’ Dillon Gee (Monday) and Bartolo Colon (Wednesday), while many of the top catchers will face aces.
Brandon Moss, 1B/OF, OAK, $4200 – Oakland opens the season against Cleveland right-handers Justin Masterson (Monday), Corey Kluber (Tuesday), and Zach McAllister (Wednesday), making Moss a decent bet to start all three games of the series. It’s not a particularly difficult slate for the beginning of a season, and Moss has 45 home runs in 651 plate appearances against right-handers over the last two years. He had a modest 7.2 fantasy points per game on DraftKings last season, but that was because he only started 115 of his 145 appearances. The big lefty mashed 29 homers in those 115 starts, comparing favorably to the likes of Pedro Alvarez and Edwin Encarnacion.
Matt Carpenter, 2B/3B, STL, $4200 – Carpenter gets to start 2014 in the Great American Ballpark, against a Cincinnati rotation without Mat Latos. Not that Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake are batting practice, but the matchups could be worse, and Carpenter is 10-for-16 against Bailey, who’s scheduled to pitch Wednesday. The other BvP numbers – 1-for-3 vs. Cueto, 2-for-10 vs. Leake – don’t offer much information, but daily gamers should still be pleased to get an elite second baseman at a not-quite-elite price. Carpenter’s 8.6 fantasy points per game matched Robinson Cano’s for second place among second baseman last season, with both falling just a bit short of Jason Kipnis’ 8.8.
Marcus Semien, 2B/SS, CHW, $2100 – While I’ll mostly be targeting medium-salary players early in the week, Semien looks like a good bargain-bin option, as he carries dual-eligibility in the middle infield and was recently named the White Sox’ Opening Day starter at second base. He struggled to a .261/.268/.406 slash line in just 71 big-league plate appearances last season, but earlier in the year he’d been raking at the Double-A level, and he held his own with Triple-A Charlotte somewhere in between. Semien’s rapid ascent in the Chicago organization perhaps feels a bit forced, but he’s already 23 years old and has a minor league track record that suggests excellent plate discipline with good power potential. At this price, I’m happy to get someone who is safely in the lineup and a talented hitter, even if it’s unclear whether that talent is big-league ready.
Jayson Werth, OF, WAS, $3700 – It’s no secret that he’s much better against lefties, but Werth more than held his own against right-handers last season, producing a .309/.382/.501 slash line. The price seems to overstate the extent of his splits, as Werth is still easily an above-average batter against right-handers. What’s more, the 34-year-old outfielder owns a .324/.378/.500 slash line versus Mets’ Opening Day starter Dillon Gee. Other $3,700 outfielders include Alejandro De Aza, Colby Rasmus (vs. David Price), Ryan Raburn and A.J. Pollock. Werth doesn’t belong in that group by any stretch of the imagination.
Kole Calhoun OF, LAA, $2700 – An Opening Day matchup against King Felix isn’t too attractive, but at this price, Calhoun just might be worth it. Either way, the 26-year-old outfielder should offer excellent value early in the season, given that his strong 2013 cameo is supported by a similarly impressive minor league track record. He’s been overlooked due to his lack of an elite tool, but Calhoun doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, and his ceiling as a batter is higher than what he’s getting credit for.
Other intriguing options: Chris Owings, SS, AZ, $2200, Brandon Belt, 1B, SF, $3600, Chase Utley, 2B, PHI, $4100, Jordy Mercer, 2B/SS, PIT, $3100, Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL, $3100, Carlos Gomez, OF, MIL, $3900