This article is part of our DFS NPB series.
Thursday's slate includes one less game than usual for a weekday, as the early Giants-Dragons tilt isn't on the ledger. That naturally narrows the options to a degree, and has led me to focus on two pitchers as opposed to three, albeit with one alternative. I'm also honing in on just one team-based block of hitters, as I'm not expecting on a lot of offense Thursday.
As usual, I'll examine a handful of hitters at three fairly different price points across the salary scale and also provide several other players to consider. We'll finish off with the aforementioned lone stack suggestion that I think could deliver above-average fantasy production.
Daiki Iwashita ($11,500) gives you a nice discount behind the two highest-priced arms on the slate (Keiji Takahashi and Masato Morishita) and checks in with a solid average of 16.2 DK points across his first three starts. Iwashita has notched double-digit fantasy-point tallies in his each of those outings thus far, and he's been highly effective keeping the ball down with a 28:12 GB:FB ratio. That's led to Iwashita surrendering just one home run through his first 15.2 innings and helped him generate a 3-0 record and impressive 2.30 ERA. The opposing Lions check in as a slightly above-average matchup on paper for Iwashita as well, as they come in with a pedestrian .251 average and the second-fewest home runs (24) in the Pacific League.
Hayato Yuge ($10,000) churned out three consecutive quality starts to start the season before only going three innings his last time out due to an elevated pitch count. Yuge isn't without warts – he's allowed three home runs over his first 21.2 frames and faces a Buffaloes team that's started to hit – but the left-hander is averaging 16.4 DK points in his two home starts and sports an impressive 2.91 ERA. Yuge also boasts excellent control, and despite the aforementioned trio of round trippers allowed, can usually be counted on to keep the ball down – the southpaw yielded just five home runs in 43.1 innings in his rookie 2019 campaign and a 34:15 GB:FB ratio thus far this season.
ALSO CONSIDER: Masato Morishita ($12,600)
Seiya Suzuki ($8,300) is now averaging 12.6 DK points per contest after racking up 20 DK points against the Tigers on Wednesday, a game in which he reached safely in three of four plate appearances. Suzuki has double-digit DK-point tallies in five of his last six games overall, part of a 10-game stretch during which he's slashed .325/.404/.550. The slugger has also made more impactful contact on the road, where he's belted 11 (four doubles, one triple, six home runs) of his 16 extra-base hits for the campaign. The pitching matchup works in his favor Thursday as well – opposing starter Shintaro Fujinami is making his first start of the season and pitched to 4.12 and 5.32 ERAs in 2017 and 2018, respectively, his last two non-injury-shortened seasons.
Norichika Aoki ($6,400) is enjoying yet another strong season at the plate, with his mammoth 27-fantasy-point outburst Wednesday pushing his season line to .318/.414/.612 with 14 extra-base hits (nine doubles, one triple, five home runs) and 16 RBI. The lefty-hitting Aoki has also done his best work on the road, where he's hitting .351 (13-for-37) with three of his homers and nine RBI. Then, consider Aoki comes in arguably swinging the bat better than at any point this season, as he's posted a .414 average and logged 10.9 DK points per contest over the last 10. The matchup versus right-hander Shinichi Ohnuki could also work out in the veteran's favor, as the BayStars starter has allowed 10.7 hits per nine innings, including a 1.14 HR/9, during his season-plus career.
Brandon Laird ($5,600) is getting on base consistently in recent games, but he's still underperforming on the power front of late with just two extra-base hits (one double, one homer) over the 39 plate appearances covering his last 10 contests. In contrast, Laird came into 2020 having averaged an XBH every 2.6 games over the previous five seasons of his career, a stint during which he also eclipsed 30 homers on four occasions. Given his bargain price and the fact he checks into Thursday's contest with a six-game hitting streak, Laird is worthy of consideration against Lions starter Kaito Yoza, who's already allowed four home runs across the first 22.1 frames of his NPB career on the way to a 5.24 ERA.
Akira Nakamura ($4,300) continues to thrive during his delayed start of the season, as he's now slashing .353/.425/.500 over his first 10 games with a home run and seven RBI. Nakamura has been a better road than home hitter during the small sample, but he's gone 2-for-6 with a double and an RBI in his last two home games, which have come against Fighters pitching. His price certainly keeps the risk low, and the matchup against Fighters starter Drew VerHagen could work in his favor. The right-hander has been somewhat uneven while acclimating to NPB hitters across his first four starts, pitching to plenty of contact while yielding 25 hits, including four home runs, over his first 21.2 innings.
Christian Villanueva ($4,100) is a tournament-only option on the other side of the Fighters-Hawks matchup against southpaw Shunsuke Kasaya. The left-hander has pitched to 7.00-plus ERAs in each of the last three seasons (including over five appearances this year) and has had issues with both location and the long ball in his career. Meanwhile, Villanueva brought an outstanding history against left-handed pitching into NPB from his days in MLB, as the slugger slashed .341/.391/.738 with 16 home runs and 28 RBI across 138 plate appearances versus southpaws over his season-plus with the Padres. Villanueva's .205/.271/.341 season slash is why you should definitely keep him away from your cash game lineups, but his 17- and 18-fantasy-point tallies in two games over his last 10 offer a glimpse of how he could pay off as a sneaky low-owned, low-salary option in GPPs.
Stack to Consider
ALSO CONSIDER: Kotaro Yamasaki ($3,200)
As discussed in Aoki's entry, Ohnuki has been quite hittable over his brief NPB career, and the Swallows are a squad equipped to potentially take advantage with a .260 team batting average.
Putting a Swallows stack together Thursday isn't an expensive endeavor by any means, starting with Sakaguchi, who's averaging 7.1 DK points and posting a .292 average/.414 OBP in 13 road games. The veteran is usually a dependable contact hitter (17 strikeouts over 123 plate appearances) and has already drawn 22 walks as well, so even his lack of power can be offset with his frequent presence on the basepaths.
Aoki's positive attributes were discussed earlier, while Murakami makes for an excellent way to follow him and offers plenty of upside relative to salary. The left-handed slugger is in the midst of an outstanding start to 2020, as his 2-for-5, one-homer performance Wednesday pushed his season slash to .380/.466/.610 across 118 plate appearances. Now 27 games in, Murakami's drastic improvement over his 2019 sophomore campaign appears legitimate, and he's already sporting 15 extra-base hits (11 doubles, four homers) on his resume. Also consider Murakami has done his greatest damage on the road, where he's hitting .404 and averaging 11.8 DK points across 13 games.
Finally, Escobar is the matching salary-saving bookend to Sakaguchi, and he checks into Thursday with a red-hot .314/.391/.439 line over the last 10 games. Escobar admittedly won't get you much on the power front, but at his price and with a .383 average and 9.8 DK points per his 12 road contests, he can be considered against a contact-heavy starting pitcher like Ohnuki.