This article is part of our DraftKings MLB series.
This is an interesting slate. Few true aces are taking the mound, but plenty of pitchers who have proven to be effective will throw Sunday. That leaves a pretty clear delineation of haves and have nots, though there is some interesting decision points to make based on salaries. Let's dig in.
There are a few aces on the slate, with Brandon Woodruff ($9,400) in particular jumping out as a safe option worth paying up for. However, there appear to be a lot of misvalued options, which makes it easier to justify foregoing the safety of Woodruff to build in more upside with bats.
The first of those options is Eduardo Rodriguez ($8,200). He draws a big mismatch with his counterpart being Nick Margevicius. The matchup is also appealing as the Mariners only have a .291 wOBA and 91 wRC+ against southpaws on the season. Rodriguez himself has been excellent, racking up an impressive 18:2 K:BB. He also faced 22 batters in his last outing – an increase over his first two starts of the campaign.
If you're looking to exploit matchups, both Danny Duffy ($8,000) and Matt Shoemaker ($6,300) fit the bill. The Tigers have a dreadful offense and Duffy has managed to turn the clock back a bit with his early-season success. While he will come back to earth, this should be another spot for him to excel. His value is a bit of a sticking point, as more skilled pitchers such as Luis Castillo ($7,600) – more on him in a second – check in below Duffy's salary.
Using the same logic, pivoting to Shoemaker makes sense. He's coming off a bumpy outing and his skills have been indisputably worse than Duffy's of late, but the Pirates remain one of the most exploitable matchups in the league. The bottom of their order gave Michael Pineda some problems Saturday, but J.A. Happ nearly no-hit them only one night earlier.
Speaking of bumpy, Castillo has had a panic-inducing start to the 2021 campaign. Sunday stands out as an opportunity for him to get on track, but he'll face a Cardinals team that is strikeout prone and has yet to get on track as a whole despite formidable individual pieces. Add in that it should be around 60 degrees by first pitch - Castillo doesn't like to pitch in the cold, as confirmed by his agent - and this is a spot for a gem. Finally, considering his relatively poor start to the season, he's been allowed to face a minimum of 21 batters in each of his outings. That means even if he surrenders a few earned runs, he should have enough trust from manager David Bell to work off some of the damage.
Nelson Cruz ($5,400) feels like a gimme in this scenario. Despite being in his age-40 season, Cruz has scalded the ball early on and has red across his statcast page. He'll draw a matchup against Wil Crowe, who has surrendered 12 earned runs across nine innings of work the last two seasons. Sometimes it's worth digging deep into the numbers and other times it's appropriate to use common sense.
J.D. Martinez ($5,700) is another free square on the slate. Though "free" isn't an appropriate word, paying down at pitcher provides some room for luxury with bats. Nick Margevicius is actually not all that homer prone relative to other pitchers on the slate, but he's certainly not a matchup to shy away from. Martinez has produced a .616 xSLG, 90.6 average exit velocity and a 12.5 percent barrel rate when facing southpaws this season.
Jed Lowrie ($4,500) has been one of the biggest – yet quietest – surprises of the season. After an injury-ravaged 2019 and 2020 campaigns, it wouldn't have been surprising to see him retire. Now back with the Athletics, he's hit the ball very hard and been productive to begin 2021. On Sunday, he'll have the opportunity to square off against John Means – who has a lengthy track record of being susceptible to the long ball – in one of the league's best home run parks.
Kolten Wong ($3,200) has hit well since returning from the injured list, so he appears to be fully healthy. He's also retaken the leadoff spot and draws a matchup against Jake Arrieta, one of the most hittable pitchers on the slate. Add in the fact Wong can get it done with both his legs and his bat, and the salary is too low to pass up.
Both Rougned Odor ($2,700) and Aaron Hicks ($3,100) have enjoyed their stay in Cleveland for the Yankees' weekend series. They'll be in a good position to keep producing as Triston McKenzie has struggled to both keep the ball in the yard and keep runners off base due to a 10.5 percent walk rate – one of the highest on the slate.
Stacks to Consider
As previously mentioned, don't overthink this one. Crowe has an exploitable skill set that the Twins should be able to take advantage of. Buxton appears to have truly broken out early on this season and Donaldson has been effective when healthy. Alex Kirilloff ($2,000) and Jake Cave ($2,000) are bargain bin players that make it possible to get reasonable exposure to the matchup.
With a number of quality pitchers on the slate, it's relatively easy to zero in on the matchups to exploit. The Red Sox have one of them and its best hitters all hit left-handed pitching well. This stack is slightly less desirable than the Twins because there are fewer cheap ways to get exposure, so rostering them requires full buy-in. Even so, the matchup and quality of the hitters in the stack dictate it appropriate, making this one of the better combos on the slate.
This could be an interesting contrarian play. Arihara is starting to get some notice after delivering 11.1 combined scoreless innings across his last two starts. However, by statcast metrics, he's pitched well over his head. Those figures are more descriptive than predictive, but it still suggests Arihara is going to have a come-back-to-Earth performance or two in the future. One game after the White Sox offense struggled to produce and heading into a matchup against a hot pitcher means the timing may be right for a stack.