This article is part of our The Wheelhouse series.
It's a clean slate.
Opening Day was four weeks ago, but it feels like it has been much longer. When the calendar flips to a new month, it's the same feeling as walking out of the barber shop after an overdue trim.
While owners in shallow mixers have already let the likes of Curtis Granderson, Devon Travis, Dansby Swanson, Byron Buxton, and Tommy Joseph go, those in deeper leagues have likely been forced to sit back and hold those players while hoping their early-season struggles would fade.
Throughout the first two months of the season, we're positioned to act on information that is less than ideal, thanks to statistical sample sizes that are not mathematically actionable. Despite this, it feels as though we are destined to fail if we're too calm throughout the first waves of transactions as new players emerge to take on larger roles following injuries and demotions.
At or near the top of the standings in many leagues, we'll see plenty of owners with Eric Thames, Aaron Judge, and Ryan Zimmerman in their lineups. For fantasy players in eight-team or 10-team mixed leagues, that entire trio was likely undrafted. Waiting for things to normalize/stabilize/continue over a larger period wasn't an option. A decision had to be made two or three weeks ago.
In season long, we the industry, preach patience. It's always been that way. In DFS, patience can be expensive. Day after day, paying for discounted players who remain stuck at a level of production far below their typical norm can drain a bankroll.
Finding the right balance is tricky, though I now believe it's more likely to be found with the appropriate mix of cash games, as opposed to a GPP-centric blend.
Before the Monday breakdown, here's a look at a few players that have struggled mightily through the first month of the season as we consider buying low from a season-long perspective, and targeting these bats on the cheap as lineup pieces on the daily side.
Mark Trumbo, OF, BAL (.202/.250/.298, 2 HR, 11 RBI) -- After hitting a walk-off homer on Opening Day, Trumbo has left the yard just once since. With 47 homers on the ledger a year ago, the decision to re-sign with the Orioles probably stabilized expectations for another big power campaign in 2017. Through 23 games, Trumbo's strikeout rate (23.0%) and walk rate (6.0%) are close to his career marks (24.9%, 6.7%). He's not hitting the ball on the ground at an accelerated clip (43.7% in 2017, 43.6% career).
The biggest difference with Trumbo has been an inability to handle fastball. Last season, Trumbo hit .303 with a .733 slugging percentage against four-seam fastballs (23 of his 47 homers came against that pitch). This season, he's hitting .194 with a .226 slugging percentage against heaters. With Trumbo, we have actually seen this issue surface before, as he struggled to handle top-shelf velocity in 2014 during his only season with the D-backs while hitting .225 and slugging .373 against four-seamers. During that season, Trumbo was slowed by a stress fracture in his foot. No injuries have been reported this season, not even minor ailments during the spring that have carried over, but it's fair to wonder if an undisclosed problem may be fueling his disappointing start.
Tommy Joseph, 1B, PHI (.179/.222/.254, 1 HR, 7 RBI) -- Improved plate discipline in the second half of 2016 has not carried over for Joseph thus far, as he's striking out at a 27.8% clip after posting a 21.6% K% in 107 games as a rookie last season. To make matters worse, he's pounding the ball into the ground at an accelerated rate (54.2%) after generating consistent loft while hitting 21 homers a year ago (37.0% GB%). Joseph was hit in the hand by a pitch in March, which caused him to miss a few games during spring training, and it's fair to wonder if he's been dealing with the lingering effects of that while trying to stave off Rhys Hoskins on the organizational depth chart to begin the season. Joseph thrived against southpaws last season (.841 OPS, seven of his 21 homers), which may be his only short-term utility from a daily perspective. Season-long owners should be hesitant to buy-low via trade, especially with Hoskins tearing it up at Triple-A Lehigh Valley (.338/.427/.636, 6 HR, 11:15 BB:K).
Devon Travis, 2B, TOR (.130/.193/.195, 1 HR, 4 RBI) -- At least he's picked up a pair of stolen bases. At one point, Travis seemed likely to miss Opening Day as he continued his recovery from knee surgery this spring. Unlike many players in month-long slides, Travis' batted profile lacks a sharp drop in hard-hit balls -- his soft/med/hard hit distribution is nearly identical to last season. His groundball rate increase is negligible, and he's not striking out more, or walking less than he did a year ago.
Returning from shoulder surgery to begin 2016, Travis hit .145/.186/.236 with a homer and five RBI through 15 games. He was great after settling in, hitting .324/.355/.487 with 10 homers and 45 RBI over his final 86 games, and perhaps it's a simple matter of being limited by the knee this spring that has led to another early swoon from the Jays' second baseman.
Alex Bregman, 3B, HOU (.250/.340/.310, 0 HR, 6 RBI) -- Bregman opened the season hitting second for the Astros, but he was dropped to sixth in the order after nine games, and he's since been positioned in the bottom third for each of his last three starts. Although the power outage is disappointing, Bregman's plate discipline is better early on, as he's walked more often and struck out less (9.2% BB%, 18.4% K%) than he did as a rookie (6.9%, 24.0%).
Like Travis, Bregman's soft/med/hard hit distribution is nearly identical to last season, but his Achilles heel has been a massive spike in groundballs. After hitting the ball on the ground just 28.9% of the time in 2016, Bregman's GB% has spiked to 50.7% through 24 games this season.
In looking at how he's been pitched in and around the strike zone, the biggest difference I see is a pronounced lack of damage done on mistakes in the middle third of the zone. With the spike in groundballs, is Bregman rolling over frequently while trying to pull the ball out to left field? As is the case with the quality of his contact, Bregman's pull/center/oppo splits are nearly identical to last season. Opposing pitchers haven't changed much location wise in their approach with Bregman. He is seeing fewer four-seam fastballs and curveballs, with an increase in sliders and cutters. Last season, Bregman hit .297 with a .563 slugging percentage against four-seamers, while he's hit that pitch a a .360 clip (.440 SLG) to begin 2017.
Is Bregman's April the result of a limited number of at-bats this spring while he was with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, or is it merely the result of an approach that is still being refined?
Given the importance of lineup placement in DFS, using struggling players buried in the lineup becomes more problematic, but at a certain point (~$2,500 or less on FanDuel, ~3,300 or less on DraftKings), the lower slot gets offset by the steep discount and the upgrades that become available elsewhere in the lineup.
The first day of May features 11 night games, with a few that have threats of rain intermittently. Wind is going to be a major factor, especially in Cincinnati, Atlanta, Chicago with forecasts suggesting that the wind will be blowing out with gusts of 25+ MPH at all three parks.
Kershaw: ¿Si o No?
The usual play-or-fade dilemma with Kershaw is on the table, though I am always inclined to do the former rather than the latter, especially on FanDuel.
It's strange to see Jason Vargas bridging the gap from Kershaw to the rest of the arms on the board in the skills table. In four starts this season, Vargas has failed to go at least six innings once, and he's allowed more than one run once -- the overlapping circles in this case, are his start last Monday against the White Sox. He's home at Kauffman Stadium this time around, which significantly reduces the chances of long ball damage, even though Kansas City's home park boosts runs more than any park in play tonight other than Fenway.
As noted in this space last week when we first saw this matchup, the White Sox have been surprisingly good against southpaws (fourth in wOBA, .361)
Check out Paul Sporer's write-up of the changes Vargas has made, which date back to his handful of starts last season, over at Fangraphs.
Lance McCullers' results this season don't match the stuff. For those inclined to fade Kershaw, McCullers brings his usual ceiling, which makes him a nice target for GPPs, but keep in mind, only one of Monday's starters has a higher walk rate than McCullers' 11.3% since the start of last season (Dylan Covey).
Luis Severino was the runaway winner of our SXM Show Twitter Poll this morning…
— Fantasy Sports Radio (@SiriusXMFantasy) May 1, 2017
The Jays are still tied for 28th in MLB in wOBA against right-handed pitching. Severino is at home, and his seven scoreless frames last time out at Fenway only adds to the appeal.
If Johnny Cueto were matched up against any of the other Dodgers starters, there would be a much stronger case for using him Monday despite a sluggish April.
Gerrit Cole against the Reds is actually a contrarian call, with respect to the park factors and the matchup. The Reds have the fifth-lowest strikeout rate in the league against righties in 2017, while they have posted a wOBA that ranks eighth. Moreover, Cole's struggles over the past year and change have largely been against lefties, and Great American Ball Park boosts left-handed home runs by nearly 30 percent.
If I were looking to do something different on FanDuel, or to fill a second pitcher spot affordably on DraftKings (or elsewhere), Michael Wacha is my preferred angle.
The Brewers are second only to the Padres in team strikeout rate against righties (26.2%), which paired with Wacha's recouped velocity across the board in 2017, gives the St. Louis righty even more upside than usual Monday.
This piece is still a work-in-progress, and admittedly, I don't really like a position-by-position flyaround since the site-specific value plays articles are built that way already.
Let's try something new….
Targeting Dylan Covey
It's all about Covey's lack of experience right now, and until he proves that he can get big league hitters to swing-and-miss, he's going to be a frequently targeted arm every fifth day. Maybe it's smarter to avoid struggling offenses even when the matchup is exceptional, but even then, it's probably better to get light exposure than it is to have no exposure at all.
Mike Moustakas, 3B -- The added pop Moustakas was showing prior to suffering a torn ACL appears to be real. At this point, Moose is the Royals' best power threat. He's $3,500 on FanDuel, and $3,400 on DraftKings, which is an even better deal when you account for the salary cap difference between the two sites.
Eric Hosmer, 1B -- Hosmer could have easily been written up as one of the featured struggling players above, but he's only $2,800 on FanDuel ($4,000 on DraftKings).
Salvador Perez, C -- $3,000 on FD, $3,400 on DK. Perez hits in a more prominent spot in the order than many catchers, and at a position where chasing the long ball is more difficult, using him in a righty-righty matchup is acceptable, even though there are a few other backstops I'd rank ahead of him.
Targeting Andrew Cashner
The Royals' offensive futility this season will likely makes the Astros the most popular stack on FanDuel for Monday night. Low prices on several key players also helps. Andrew Cashner has had trouble with hitters on the both sides of the plate going back to the start of last season, so getting the platoon advantage isn't necessarily a priority here.
Jose Altuve, 2B -- If I'm limited to one Astro on Monday, it's Altuve. The discount is approximately $500 on FanDuel right now, where he's an even $4,000.
Evan Gattis/Brian McCann, C -- Writing this prior to the release of all lineups, I am assuming, perhaps wrongfully, that we won't have our choice of both Gattis and McCann. There is only a $100 in price on FanDuel, but a $500 difference on DraftKings (Gattis is more expensive, and rightfully so on both sites).
Yulieski Gurriel/Alex Bregman, 3B -- Gurriel has been on a tear in recent weeks, and while the knock on him continues to be a lack of home-run pop, he's carrying a sub-10.0% K%, putting him in position to pile up plenty of RBI in a strong Houston lineup. As noted above, Bregman has been getting buried in the bottom-third of the order, which makes it a bit more difficult to rely on him in the short term.
The outfielders -- George Springer, Josh Reddick, and Carlos Beltran -- are all fine plays as well. If Reddick is hitting second, he's the best "value" of the trio on both sites. Generally speaking, taking chances on Beltran might be better when the Astros get matched up against a left-handed starter, but he should be fresh after a breather Sunday.
The Phillies-Cubs matchup has an over/under of 10.5 -- two runs higher than every other game on the board this evening. Winds are expected to be blowing out at a minimum of 15 MPH.
For the Phillies, the two usual suspects on the right side should be considered:
Maikel Franco, 3B -- Franco cashed in against Wei-Yin Chen with a grand slam last week, but he's been somewhat quiet with just one extra-base hit in the four games since. Overall, his improved plate discipline this season bodes well for his chances of taking another big step forward as the season rolls along.
Cameron Rupp, C -- He torched me on the last recommendation, but I am willing to go back to the well, particularly, with a $2,300 price tag on FanDuel. Rupp is hitting .310/.348/.595 against lefties dating back to the start of last season.
On the Cubs side, only Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant cost more than $3,500 on FanDuel (they're at $4,700 and $4,300, respectively). Most of the Cubs' bats are at $4,000 or on DraftKings, making them surprisingly affordable there as well.
Picking on Vince Velasquez still feels somewhat counterintuitive, but he can be very homer-prone at times (his 1.54 HR/9 since the start of last season is the fourth-highest among Monday's starters), and the conditions point to a very high-scoring affair at Wrigley.
Also, if you want to fade me from a season-long perspective, I have Anderson and Velasquez active in Mixed Tout Wars with their two-start weeks.
Marco Estrada has been excellent against lefties for more than a year now, making me wonder if he's built to deal with Yankee Stadium better than we would expect. Maybe avoiding all sides of Blue Jays-Yankees is optimal from a hitting perspective, I'm really not sure.
I really don't understand why Manny Machado is $3,300 on FanDuel.
Good luck tonight!