Editor’s Note: As part of our expanded fantasy coverage, this season Baseball America will dedicate a weekly column to daily fantasy baseball, a growing part of the fantasy landscape that offers a lot of flexibility to competitors. These stories will include general tips and strategy, as well as a list of players to target in your daily games each week.
A quick thought before getting started with pitcher reviews and recommendations for this week: If you’re keen on a certain normally less-than-desirable player (for tournament play) based on whatever key focal point piques your interest—hot hitting, salary, matchup, or even a simple hunch—don’t automatically replace that player with a higher-priced option just because you’ve got some extra cash lying around. The ideal lineup doesn’t always exhaust the entire available salary, and you should follow your gut if it’s grumbling for you to roll with a certain player in a bunch of lineups. I’m not advocating peppering your big-money cash games with scrubs, but if you like a certain guy based on more than just wacky intangibles, it doesn’t matter if he’s $400 cheaper than a guy with better numbers.
I was targeting Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco and cheap SS option Zack Cozart in several guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournaments on Sunday and some last-minute changes at a certain OF spot (OK, it was very pricey Mike Trout) freed up some salary. I tinkered with a bunch of my lineups, and before you could say Great American Ballpark, I had replaced Mesoraco, Cozart and Trout, in just about all cases, with an Orioles stack of Matt Wieters, J.J.Hardy and Adam Jones. Not good.
Wieters hit and dinger and had a good day, but the Trout-Desoraco-Cozart combo outshined the Orioles stack by a mile. Granted, it was a bizarre day: The Braves destroyed the top salaried pitcher on the board, and the Reds dropped 12 runs on Tampa Bay. I’m sure things will normalize over the long run, but it’s worth reiterating that daily fantasy sports (DFS) can be a frustrating endeavor—especially this early into the season. Make sure your guys are healthy, in their respective lineups, and there’s not a monsoon threatening to wallop the ballpark—and you’ll be golden. If you really like a struggling team/player to break out in a specific matchup, don’t second-guess yourself too much.
Last week’s Tuesday/Wednesday review
4/8: P Max Scherzer, DET (@LAD): Scherzer’s had a rough time collecting wins so far this season despite a 25/5 K/BB ratio and 2.70 ERA in 20 innings. I recommended him for last Tuesday, and he went 7 innings, allowing two ER and striking out eight batters. While he hasn’t notched that elusive first victory yet, he struck out 10 Sunday at San Diego, where he gave up four earned runs, took a 5-1 loss and only went 5 innings. I really like targeting early-season, tough-luck losers like Scherzer in subsequent starts—his team’s offense has yet to erupt but is price is coming down across the DFS landscape (because he hasn’t won) and he’s still an elite starter.
4/8: P Gio Gonzalez (WAS vs. MIA): I pegged Gonzalez for a quality start on Tuesday, and he didn’t disappoint, throwing just 5 innings but notching a win after allowing just three hits and no ER. Unfortunately, I rolled him out in several of my lineups yesterday, when he got battered around for nine hits and six ER in 5 innings in Atlanta. Gonzalez took the loss and walked four batters (six Ks), giving up a couple of bombs in the process. He remains a solid lefty and top option, but Sunday wasn’t his day.
4/9: P Masahiro Tanaka, NYY (vs. BAL): Tanaka was my start of the week and while he didn’t get a decision, I was on point in my prediction that he’d post double-digit Ks. Tanaka went 7 innings against Baltimore, gave up seven hits and three runs and struck out 10 batters to just one walk. A few Orioles scraped together some hits and he made one crucial mistake (he left a ball up on a three-run homer by Jonathan Schoop), but Tanaka looks like he’s making the adjustment to the bigs well—and he doesn’t seem to be discouraged when he gives up hits.
4/9: P Brandon Morrow (vs. HOU): I also recommended Morrow for Wednesday’s games, and he turned out to be the better start, striking out nine Astros and walking just one batter in 6 innings. While he got touched up in the top of the sixth inning when Alex Presley took him deep for two-run homer, Morrow got a win and is showing he still possesses swing-and-miss stuff; he remains an undervalued fantasy starter.
This week’s Tuesday-Wednesday Pitcher Spotlight:
Tuesday, April 15
Stephen Strasburg, WAS (vs. MIA): Strasburg looked sharp in his last outing (Thursday, 4/10: 6.2 IP, 1 ER, 12 K, 1 BB) at home against Miami, and draws the Marlins on Tuesday. The Marlins have a lot of young, developing talent that may learn a bit from the last matchup, but you can’t fade Strasburg from too many daily fantasy lineups based on what the Marlins may have learned last week.
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY (vs. CHC): I’m going to the well once again with Tanaka, because he’s getting a bit of bad luck and we still haven’t seen his A-game stuff. The Cubs, who collectively have struck out 116 times this season and have drawn only 35 walks, are hitting .241 as a team. I’m a little concerned about a couple of the Cubs lefty sluggers (Anthony Rizzo, Nate Schierholtz), but if Tanaka keeps the ball down he’ll be okay. NOTE: Rain is predicted for Tuesday, so check forecasts before you plug in anyone from the Yankees-Cubs or Braves-Phillies.
Brandon McCarthy, ARI (vs. NYM) – I don’t do this a lot, but I kind of like McCarthy as a Wednesday sleeper on a day with a bunch of top-dollar aces facing good lineups in hitter’s parks. He’s pitched better than some of his stats indicate so far this season and the Mets lineup isn’t exactly Murderer’s Row. I like his chances to get a win behind a big offensive output from the D-Backs.
Drew Smyly, DET (vs. CLE) – Smyly has been touted by several experts as a possible breakout starter this season and has pitched well in relief thus far. Because of rainouts and off days, he’s yet to start for the Tigers in 2014, but Wednesday he gets the hill. The southpaw (who has surrendered just two hits to 20 batters so far this season and has an excellent 3.55 career K/BB ratio) is worth considering in spacious Comerica Park on Wednesday facing the Indians lineup, which gets a lot of its power from the left side of the plate.
Hitters to watch this week:
Adrian Gonzalez, LAD: Gonzalez hit .409 with four HRs and 11 RBIs this past week. He’s been very aggressive at the plate and is on a 9-game hitting streak, smashing the ball to all fields. He currently sports a four-game homer streak and remains a solid value 1B on most daily fantasy sites. Yasel Puig is also back in the lineup for the Dodgers, though he has been relatively quiet so far.
Dee Gordon, LAD: Speaking of the Dodgers, Gordon is off to a great start this season, hitting .400 (16-for-40) with nine steals, five runs, five RBI and even a home run. He’s still relatively cheap on most sites so don’t hesitate to start the young speedster, especially against righthanded pitching.
Anthony Rizzo, CHC: Rizzo is starting to look comfortable at the plate and isn’t just relying on power to make it work. He hit .391 last week and now travels to Yankee Stadium for some righthanders and the short right field porch. Nate Schierholtz is also a player to watch in the Bronx this week, especially on Wednesday facing Michael Pineda—a fly ball pitcher with just a two-pitch arsenal.
Prince Fielder, TEX: Fielder has been awful so far this season, hitting just .149 (7-for-47) with no HRs and just three RBI. While I’d avoid him against Felix Hernandez on Wednesday, his price is depressed across the industry and he’s bound to pick up his game eventually—though he’s missing a lot of the protection he had in Detroit and the Rangers’ bats aren’t smoking yet.
Chase Utley, PHI: Utley looks like a new man this season, and he hit .563 last week despite a battle with the flu that forced him to miss a couple games. He’s now cheap, but there’s no better 2B to target in cash games right now than Utley. It’s just like old times —with he and Ryan Howard making up the heart of any Phillies stack.
Justin Upton, ATL: The Braves lineup is on a tear right now, and it has a lot to do with Freddie Freeman (slashing .442/.519/.814 in the first 12 games) and Upton, who hit .491 with five HRs last week. There’s a lot to like about the Braves offense in 2014, and Jason Heyward appears to have shaken whatever plagued him last season.
Carlos Beltran, NYY: He’s coming off a .423/3 HR week, and has shown power from both sides of the plate. If Beltran can stay healthy this season, he’ll be a huge part of the Yankees success—along with the steady Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann, who’s finally heating up.
Dean Anna, NYY: With several members of the Yankees infield nursing injuries, Anna could get a lot more ABs in the coming week, and he’s minimum salary on most DFS sites. He’s worth a look as a bargain option in a productive lineup. Also keep an eye on 3B/IF Yangervis Solarte, who’s off to a hot start (.357/.413/.500), although it’s a very small sample and his BABIP is an unsustainably high .417 after the first 12 games.
Adam Eaton, CWS: Eaton (who hits lefties just as well, if not better, than righties) has scored 14 runs so far this year and until yesterday had five straight multi-hit games. He’s batting leadoff for the White Sox, has a .900 OPS in 13 games, and for a guy who’ll likely be playing every day, is still at a relatively low salary. I’m also keeping any eye on Dayan Viciedo, who is now the Sox regular LF after Avisail Garcia went down with a shoulder injury. Viciedo clubs lefthanded pitching (.325/.364/.553 in 320 career AB) and is worth a start whenever the Sox are facing a southpaw.
Marcus Semien, CWS: Semien has a starting job for now at second base (Gordon Beckham is on the DL with an oblique injury), and the 23-year-old has good plate discipline and pop for guy without much major league experience. He’s worth watching as the season progresses, and may have more overall upside than Beckham.
Josh Donaldson, OAK: Donaldson has hit safely in seven straight games and has three HRs in his past four games. He’ll be one of the more consistent offensive options for the Athletics this season and makes a great undervalued road play in hitter’s parks.
Remember—before plugging in your lineups, check the weather for possible rainouts and delays. Use special caution with starting pitchers in games that could be delayed after the first couple innings, since most starters will not continue after longer delays, or not start if they’ve warmed up and then had to sit for an hour or so before game time.