DFS Baseball 101: How to Pick a Starting Pitcher in Tournies

DFS Baseball 101: How to Pick a Starting Pitcher in Tournies

This article is part of our DFS Baseball 101 series.

Last week, I covered starting pitcher strategy for heads up and double up (50/50) contests on FanDuel. This week, I expand the strategy to include tournament play and the differences that you need to win a tournament and finish in the top 15-20 percent.

While we had a target score of 35 last week (I would now bump this to 40 based on the recent FanDuel salary changes that lowered 90 percent of the player pool), in a tournament we need to increase the target score to 55-60. With a $35,000 salary cap, we can build a target multiplier.

$35,000 / 55 * 1000 = 1.57
$35,000 / 60 * 1000 = 1.71

This means if we spend $9,000 on a starting pitcher, the expected return is between 15.7 and 17.1, or to make it simple, 16 points. Our target for heads up and 50/50 contests was 12 points. So, the extra four points has to come from somewhere.

Pitching Target Scores Based on Salary Range with a Total Target Score of 60

$4,000-$4,999 - 10
$5,000-$7,400 - 12
$7,500-$8,500 - 14
$8,600-$9,900 - 16
$10,000-$11,000 - 18
$11,500-$12,500 - 20-plus

Only 3 percent of starting pitcher performances resulted in a score of 21 points or higher, so you cannot project anyone for a score like this. When it happens, everything has to go right. That is why in a tournament you need a pitcher in the mid-priced range with a matchup at home, low-run total (7 or less), who can get at least one strikeout per inning and against a weak hitting team that strikes out a lot. If you target 15-16 points, then you will hit about 15 to 20 percent of the time, which makes sense because most tournaments pay out between 15 and 20 percent also.

While this is just a starting point, ideally you want to find the cheapest pitcher who can potentially get you the highest optimal score. The salaries usually correlate with the performance, so this is very challenging, but we can do a deeper dive into the data and build a system.

Let's look at how to target starting pitcher scenarios that can bring back at least 15 fantasy points. In 2014, there were 965 starts that resulted in at least 15 fantasy points from starting pitchers:

- National League vs. American League (522/443 - 54 percent for NL)

- Home vs. Road (532/433 - 55 percent for Home)

- NL/Home vs NL/Road (300/222 - 58 percent favors NL home)

- AL/Home vs. AL/Road (232/211 - 52 percent favors AL home)

There is a clear edge focusing on National League pitchers at home, and for good reason. Fewer runs are scored in the National League because of the pitcher batting. But when you make your pitching selections are you thinking National League first? Most players are just looking at the pitcher and the team they are facing or pitchers they think are good values.

A good example of this would be in Friday's action with Chris Heston priced at $5,800 home against the Angels who have struggled so far this year against right-handed pitching. Heston just needs to get 12 points for a return in value. That could be a box score of six innings, five strikeouts, two earned runs allowed and a win. Also, when American League teams come to the National League, they lose their designated hitter, giving the NL pitcher even more advantage.

Worst Teams (2014 Results - Percent of Time Staring Pitcher Earned Win)

Because you need to get the win 90 percent of the time to hit 15 points or higher on FanDuel in tournaments, targeting the worst teams in the league, especially the ones who allow the most starting pitcher wins is vital. Here are the teams that allowed the highest percent of starting pitcher wins in 2014.

Rangers - 44 percent
*Padres - 42 percent
Twins - 41 percent
Phillies - 41 percent
Diamondbacks - 41 percent
Cubs - 40 percent
Rockies - 40 percent
Astros - 39 percent
Braves - 39 percent
Marlins - 38 percent

Now the Padres look to be better this year compared to 2014, but they are crushing lefties and are middle of the pack against righties.

Teams who allow the Highest Innings Pitched Per Start (2014)

Braves - 6.24
Reds - 6.23
Mariners - 6.21
Diamondbacks - 6.21
Padres - 6.18
Marlins - 6.18
*Royals - 6.16
Phillies - 6.15
White Sox - 6.11
Brewers - 6.10

Much like when we talked about teams that allowed the highest percent of wins to starting pitching, I would remove the Royals from this conversation and add the Rangers who are next on the list.

Teams with the Highest Strikeouts per game (2014)

Astros - 5.77
Marlins - 5.72
Braves - 5.67
Cubs - 5.63
White Sox - 5.57
Padres - 5.57
Twins - 5.20
Reds - 5.17
Phillies - 5.17
Orioles - 5.08

Teams that score the fewest Earned Runs (2014)

Padres - 2.04
Diamondbacks - 2.21
Marlins - 2.22
Reds - 2.26
Phillies - 2.26
Braves - 2.32
Cubs - 2.35
Red Sox - 2.36
Mariners - 2.44
Cardinals - 2.44

Teams that allowed at least 15 Points to Opposing Starting Pitcher (2014)

Padres - 47
Marlins - 46
Mariners - 43
Cubs - 42
Braves - 41
Astros - 40
Reds - 39
Phillies - 39
White Sox - 38
Rockies - 38

Now, let's look at April 2015 and what the numbers say.

There have been 650 starts this season. Approximately 200 resulted in at least a performance that garned a 1.6 multiplier or higher. Meaning that Points/Salary * 1000 = 1.6 or higher.

Average FanDuel Score = 15.19 points
Salary - $7,504
Dollars Per Point - $501 (Salary/Points is another value measure)
Multiplier - 2.06

$5000-$5900 - 24/79 (30 percent)
$6000-$6900 - 56/151 (37 percent)
$7000-$7900 - 45/165 (27 percent)
$8000-$8900 - 47/151 (31 percent)
$9000-$9900 - 16/57 (28 percent)
$10,000 and up - 11/46 (24 percent)

You can see where the $5000-$6900 range pitchers have the highest percentage of finding that upside value needed to finish at the top in tournaments. The question is how do you find those pitchers?
Targeting the bad team is the first step. Here are the number of times these teams have allowed a starting pitcher to hit at least a 1.60 multiplier. This is important because it shows that even mid-tier pitching has had success against them.

Brewers - 11
Astros, Rangers - 10
Reds, Pirates - 9
Diamondbacks, Cubs, Twins, Padres, Giants, Nationals - 8

The Brewers have been dreadful and hit with injuries. The Astros strike out a ton, while the Rangers still can not hit, same as 2014. The Pirates are very right-handed heavy and susceptible to right-handed pitching. The rest of the group is poor offenses all in the National League with the exception of the Twins. ... see a theme here? Eight of the 11 are from the NL.

Here are the pitchers who have been delivering value so far this year, granted this is a very small sample size.

Chris Archer - 4 starts of 1.60 multiplier of better. Archer has been the most valuable starting pitcher on FanDuel in April. Four of his five starts have been elite. We saw this development coming toward the end of last year, and its full force now.

Aaron Harang, Alfredo Simon , Andrew Cashner , Anthony DeSclafani , Carlos Martinez, Chris Heston, Dallas Keuchel, Danny Salazar, Felix Hernandez, Gerrit Cole, James Shields, Jason Marquis, Rubby De La Rosa, Sonny Gray - 3 starts of 1.60 multiplier of better.

Three pitchers from this group are starting Friday: De La Rosa, DeSclafani and Heston.

I recommend Heston because the Dodgers and Braves hit righties pretty strong, where the Angels are struggling.

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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