This slate is one of the best of the season for pitching options. There are viable plays at several price points, which opens up even more paths in the lineup construction process than a typical Friday night.
I’m making a concerted effort to indicate the type of contest I prefer to use players in -- cash (50/50) or tournaments (GPPs) -- which is generally an exercise in estimating ownership rates (or “finding the chalk”) and making sure to have enough variation around the highly-coveted top value plays to have a dangerous lineup.
A strong cash-game play isn’t necessarily a “bad” tournament play, but too many “chalky” players can create a limiting factor in big-field tournaments.
Your constructive feedback is appreciated, and always welcomed.
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Cash: Chris Sale, BOS vs. CHW ($11,500) -- If Stephen Strasburg had not left his last start with forearm cramps, he would likely be the top cash-game option with a home matchup against the Giants. Sale and the Red Sox are a -320 favorite against his former club, and the RotoWire Daily Projections have Sale ahead of Justin Verlander (on the road against Texas) by nearly 10 FanDuel points. While I don’t think the gap between Sale and Verlander is quite that wide, Sale is probably a $12,500 pitcher in this particular matchup. After a pair of disappointing performance in tough matchups, Sale should bounce back nicely against a White Sox squad with an 88 wRC+ (24th in MLB) and a league-leading 27.7% K% against southpaws.
Also consider: Justin Verlander, HOU at TEX ($11,600), Stephen Strasburg, WAS vs. SF ($10,400), Trevor Bauer, CLE at DET ($10,200)
GPP: Masahiro Tanaka, NYY vs. NYM ($8,600) -- As noted in the intro, this is a fascinating night for pitching, and that is especially true in tournaments where several top-end arms are matched up with difficult opponents. Risk tolerance will be key in making decisions, but my initial tournament thought -- if you’re not going to lean on any of the cash-game options above -- is to save a little bit of money and use Tanaka against the Mets. Tanaka has eclipsed 50 FanDuel points in three of his first 11 starts this season, while failing to reach 20 points in three of his turns. Despite pitching for one of the best teams in the league, he’s struggled with consistency, pitching well in some of his difficult spots, and flopping in some of his easier ones. The hope here is that he’ll have a similar upside to Walker Buehler against the Braves and Garrett Richards on the road against the Twins at similar prices.
Caleb Smith, MIA vs. SD ($8,000) -- Smith was knocked around by Arizona last time out, a harsh from a pair of excellent starts against the Mets and Padres in his previous two turns. The Padres continue to strike out a lot against lefties, sitting with a 25.3% K% that currently ranks third in MLB. At this price, Smith is the cheapest home favorite on the board, as the Marlins are -145 favorites against Eric Lauer and company.
Carlos Santana, PHI vs. MIL ($3,500) -- While Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin has settled down after a bumpy stretch in April to begin his tenure with Milwaukee, he’s still a pitcher worth targeting with the occasional left-handed hitter in hitter-friendly environments. Chacin lands in another park that favors hitters Friday with the road start against Philadelphia, and since Santana switch-hits, he’s among the most valuable pieces to build around from the Phillies’ lineup. Since the start of 2016, Chacin has a 14.3% K% against lefties -- third-lowest among the 30 starters pitching Friday -- and while he doesn’t give up a ton of homers, he’s much more likely to give them up against lefties (1.11 HR/9) than against righties (0.65 HR/9).
Other options to consider include: Justin Smoak, TOR vs. BAL ($3,400), Cody Bellinger, LAD vs. ATL ($3,500), Mitch Moreland, BOS vs. CHW ($3,500)
Dee Gordon, SEA at TB ($3,200) -- The Rays will Wilmer Font to begin Friday’s game, likely for two, possibly three innings, before turning to their bullpen to solve the puzzle thereafter. Gordon was on base three times during the series between these teams last weekend, and he picked up three steals over the course of those games, taking advantage of the Rays’ struggle to control the running game. The price, lineup placement and matchup are enough to vault him ahead of the thumpers at the keystone on this slate.
Alternatives: Jonathan Schoop, BAL at TOR ($2,900), Starlin Castro, MIA vs. SD ($3,200) *GPP only...I don’t think he’s very good at baseball, but I’m not sure the guy pitching him baseballs to begin Friday’s game is very good at baseball either*
Max Muncy, LAD vs. ATL ($3,100) -- While Cody Bellinger should garner the most attention of the Dodgers’ bats against Brandon McCarthy and the Braves, Muncy’s price is simply too low when you account for his production, lineup placement, and matchup. Thanks to an extremely friendly price on Anthony Rendon ($3,600) at home against a lefty, Muncy can be left mostly to tournaments since Rendon is the optimal cash-game play. Since being drafted out of Baylor by the A’s in 2012, Muncy has had decent raw power, but he struggled to tap into it above High-A as he was hitting the ball on the ground too frequently. With a 45.8% flyball rate, his approach has changed for the better, and while his 23.7% HR/FB might be too high to become his baseline, it might not be a complete fluke.
Alternatives: Rendon, Rendon, Rendon. Also, Jake Lamb at Coors against German Marquez ($3,900), Matt Carpenter ($3,800), and Mike Moustakas (tourneys only) at $3,900. There are plenty of UT options to consider here, and Christian Villanueva ($3,000) is also a tournament option for those who are not rolling out Caleb Smith as their pitcher.
Daniel Robertson, TAM vs. SEA ($2,300) -- It’s all about value, and I’m not sure why I can’t take my eyes off this Rays-Mariners matchup. With the 2.0 version of Robertson, we’re still dealing with a very limited sample, but what we’ve seen thus far is a strong split against lefties that leads the Rays to use him in a prominent spot in their order. Against southpaws, Robertson has walked more than he’s struck out, while swatting three of his five homers this season, and posting a .260/.406/.520 line.
Alternative: Zack Cozart is $2,900 against Lance Lynn, making him one of my favorite cheap pivots if you’re not buying into Daniel Robertson. Manny Machado ($4,400) is a fine option against J.A. Happ if you’re paying up, but Francisco Lindor at the same price against Michael Fulmer gets a similarly difficult matchup and probably comes with a much lower ownership rate. Keep that in mind if you’re paying up at shortstop in tournaments on this slate.
Tommy Pham, STL at CIN ($3,600) -- The temporary surge in whiffs appears to be over for Pham, as he’s fanned just twice over the last six games after a rough patch at the plate to close out May. The power-speed combo here continues to be underpriced, but the prolonged slump last month is likely the driving factor. Cards bats will be popular against Matt Harvey and the Reds, but Pham and Matt Carpenter are the two checking in at the top of my list as I consider St. Louis hitters for one-off plays in my lineups.
Yasiel Puig, LAD vs. ATL ($3,400) -- Choose your own adventure against the Braves -- Bellinger and Muncy are strong considerations. Since the start of last season, Puig has a higher OPS against right-handed pitching than Giancarlo Stanton (who costs $4,600 with a much tougher matchup against Jacob deGrom on this particular slate). Especially since it’s a righty-righty matchup, Puig might get overlooked with 14 games to pick from. The Dodgers’ offense started to wake up during their early-week series against Pittsburgh, and while Puig has been hitting sixth recently, he’s viable option -- at least in tournaments -- in Friday’s matchup.
Josh Reddick, HOU at TEX ($2,600) -- Reddick returned from the DL earlier this week, but was given the day off Thursday, so it’s important to keep an eye on his status leading up to first pitch even if he’s on the initial lineup card Friday afternoon. Doug Fister has horrendous splits against left-handed hitters, which makes Reddick one of the most intriguing value plays in the outfield if he’s in the mix for the Astros. Since the start of 2016, Fister has allowed a 1.61 HR/9 and .378 wOBA to left-handed hitters. Reddick was hitting sixth in the order earlier this week when he returned to the lineup against a left-handed starter, but don’t be surprised if he’s in or near the bottom-third of the batting order after he was dropped by manager A.J. Hinch prior to his DL stint.
Alternatives: Hunter Renfroe, SD at MIA ($3,100), Nelson Cruz, SEA at TAM ($3,700), Joc Pederson, LAD vs. ATL ($2,400)