DFS Baseball 101: How to Pick a Starting Pitcher

DFS Baseball 101: How to Pick a Starting Pitcher

This article is part of our DFS Baseball 101 series.

It's April, baseball is back, your tax return came back and your daily fantasy baseball bankroll is in play. All is good in the world. I love being back writing about daily fantasy baseball and proud that I was recently named the 2014 Fantasy Sports Writer Association Baseball Writer of the Year. The bar has now been raised because I have all intent on defending my crown.

The first two weeks I wrote about basic strategy on FanDuel and DraftKings. This week I delve into the most important piece of daily fantasy baseball: Selecting your starting pitchers in cash games. Cash games are defined as Heads Up or Head to Head and 50/50s or Double Ups. They are called cash because the win rate is 50 percent and the best way for you to build your cash (bankroll).

The target score for cash on FanDuel is 35 points and the starting pitcher stats are as following:

IP = 1 point
K = 1 point
ER = -1 point
W = 4 points

A win is potentially worth 11-12 percent of your total score. If you nail the win, you are in pretty good shape to win your cash games. If you do not nail the win, then you will need either a phenomenal performance from your pitcher or hope your lineup has several home runs.

But let's not just focus on the win, you also need innings, strikeouts and few earned runs allowed. Because there are only four categories to worry about with FanDuel, it makes building a criteria to follow much easier.

Let's start with the baseline average statistics for starting pitching. These are the 2014 averages based on every start last year (4,856 starts).

W = 0.35 x 4 (1.4)
IP = 5.96
ER = -2.53
K = 4.87
AVG Pitching Score = 9.7

9.7 will not win cash games, you need at least 12, minimum, to be consistently in the win column. Note the win percentage -- you are only going to hit the win on average 35 percent of the time. How often does a pitcher score at least 12 fantasy points on FanDuel? It was 37 percent in 2014 (1,797/4,856). So the win is 35 percent and 12 points is 37 percent, see the correlation here?

So, what do we want to look at for building our winning pitching system?

Home vs. Road?

Home - 980 (55 percent); Road - 817 (45 percent)

American League vs. National League?

AL - 9.4; NL - 10.0 (slight edge taking NL team)

NL/Home = 10.62, NL/Road = 9.38

AL/Home = 9.55 AL/Road = 9.29

Even more of an edge taking a NL team at home, we are getting closer to that 12-point total we need.

Now, let's look at correlation (mutual relation of two or more things). The first correlation we will look at is wins plus strikeouts.

(Number of Strikeouts = Percent of Win)

0 = .10
1 = .20
2 = .23
3 = .29
4 = .30
5 = .35
6 = .38
7 = .45 (We need at least 7 K to hit our target)
8 = .48
9 = .56
10 = .56
11 or more = .63


5 = .25
6 = .38
7 = .49 (We need at least 7 IP to hit our target)
8 = .64
9 = .91

Earned Runs/Wins

0 = .68
1 = .53
2 = .39 (We need 2 ER or less to hit our target)
3 = .24
4 = .13

To sum it up, we need pitchers who can go at least seven innings, strike out seven batters and give up two earned runs or less. That puts us in a position to get the win at least 50 percent of the time to consistently win cash games on FanDuel.

Taking home favorites in the National League in low projected scoring games (run totals of seven or less) is a good starting point. Also, pitchers who get at least 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. This really narrows the field of pitchers to select from in a given day. Sometimes it might only be one or two pitchers from which to choose. Paying up for your starting pitcher on FanDuel is a must. You do not want to take chances with pitchers below $8,000. It will usually be one of the top three favorites of the day according to the Vegas lines and the one with the lowest run total.

Starting Pitchers with at least seven strikeouts and seven innings pitched in 2014 (number of games)

1. Clayton Kershaw - 21
2. David Price - 21
3. Corey Kluber - 19
4. Felix Hernandez - 17
5. Johnny Cueto - 17
6. Adam Wainwright - 14
7. Jon Lester - 14
8. Max Scherzer - 12
9. Cole Hamels - 12
10. Chris Sale - 10
11. Garrett Richards - 10
12. Jeff Samardzija - 10
13. Madison Bumgarner - 10
14. Stephen Strasburg - 10
15. Tyson Ross - 10
16. Yu Darvish - 10
17. Zack Greinke - 9
18. Julio Teheran - 9
19. Jake Arrieta - 8
20. Masahiro Tanaka - 8

If you only took pitchers from this group in 2014, these are the numbers (600 starts)

W = 0.48
IP = 6.75
ER = 1.98
K = 6.99
AVG Pitching Score = 13.69

Think of this group of starting pitchers like your big hands in poker (Texas Hold EM). These are your AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, AK, AQ, AJ, KQ type of starting hands etc. You want to play "tight" in your heads up and double ups on FanDuel especially as a new player. It does not mean to play these pitchers blindly. Pick your spots. Look for when they are heavy favorites (-150 or greater) at home versus weaker starting pitchers or teams that strikeout a lot. Also when the run total is less than or equal to 7.5.

The other thing to look at with this group of starting pitchers is how many times did they produce a disaster start (five points or less)? 38 ... a little more than five percent of the time.

Let's expand a little more and go with seven points as a threshold. Just 108 times did this group produce a start of seven points or less (14.5 percent). So, approximately 85 percent of the time you are getting at least eight points from this group of starting pitchers. The biggest thing you need is getting the 12-point threshold, but also not falling below the eight-point floor that is critical to producing winning lineups.

Now, there are pitchers from this group who will fall out this year and others who will emerge, so you want to track their 2015 results also with the 2014 results.

Here are the next 20 pitchers who could break into this group -- Alex Wood, Bartolo Colon (yes, really), Brandon McCarthy, Carlos Carrasco, Chris Archer, Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, Drew Hutchison, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Gio Gonzalez, Jacob deGrom, Jake Odorizzi, James Shields, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Phil Hughes, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray and Yordano Ventura.

These are the pitchers I would be confident using in heads up and double ups under the optimal circumstances as we talked about: heavy favorite, at home, pitcher friendly ballpark, low run total, against a team that strikeouts a lot.

Next week, I will tackle how to select starting pitchers for tournaments and the differences.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Michael Rathburn plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: burnnotice, DraftKings: burnnotice, Yahoo: burnnotice, Fantasy Aces: burnnotice, FantasyDraft: burnnotice.
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Michael Rathburn
Known as “Rath” in the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) community, he has helped run operations for two prominent daily fantasy sports startups. Michael has taken his insider knowledge and expertise in daily fantasy sports to the content side. Rath won the 2016 FSWA "Baseball Article of the Year, Online" award and was a finalist for the FSWA Best Baseball Series in 2011.
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