Daily Fantasy Decisions: Finding Sneaky Starters

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.

Injured position players to watch/avoid
A.J. Pollock, ARI (hand, DL: possible mid-August return)
Cliff Pennington, ARI (thumb, DL: August return)
Mark Trumbo, ARI (foot, DL: possible mid-June return)
Matt Wieters, BAL (elbow, DL: possible June return)
Mike Carp, BOS (foot, DL: status uncertain)
Shane Victorino, BOS (hamstring, DL: possible mid-June return)
Will Middlebrooks, BOS (finger, DL: out indefinitely)
Welington Castillo, CHC (back, DL: mid-June return)
Joey Votto, CIN (quad, DL: status uncertain)
Nick Swisher, CLE (knee, DL: June 12 return)
Nyjer Morgan, CLE (knee, DL: out indefinitely)
Michael Cuddyer, COL (shoulder, status uncertain)
Carlos Gonzalez, COL (finger, DL: possible mid-June return)
Nolan Arenado, COL (finger, DL: possible early July return)
Danny Valencia, KAN (wrist, DL: out indefinitely)
Ian Stewart, LAA (hand, DL: late May)
Dee Gordon, LAD (hip, DTD)
Yasiel Puig, LAD (hip, DTD)
Carl Crawford, LAD (ankle, DL: mid-June return)
A.J. Ellis, LAD (ankle, DL: mid-June return)
Juan Uribe, LAD (hamstring, DL: possible early June return)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, MIA (concussion, DL: out indefinitely)
Rafael Furcal, MIA (groin, DL:out indefinitely)
Sam Fuld, MIN (concussion, DL: out indefinitely)
Juan Lagares, NYM (family, DL: late June return)
Eric Young, Jr., NYM (hamstring, DL: possible early June return)
Francisco Cervelli, NYY (hamstring, DL:possible mid-June return)
Derek Norris, OAK (head, status uncertain)
Josh Reddick, OAK (knee, DL: possible late June return)
Cody Asche, PHI (hamstring, DL: out indefinitely)
Jedd Gyorko, SD (foot, DL: out indefinitely)
Brandon Belt, SF (hand, DL: late June return)
Marco Scutaro, SF (back, DL: out indefinitely)
Justin Smoak, SEA (quad, DTD)
Michael Saunders, SEA (shoulder, DTD)
Corey Hart, SEA (hamstring, DL: late June return)
Matt Holliday, STL (back, DTD)
Kolten Wong, STL (shoulder, DTD)
Matt Adams, STL (calf, DL: mid-June return)Will Myers, TAM (wrist, DL: early August return)
Ryan Hanigan, TAM (hamstring,DL: possible June 11 return)
Brandon Guyer, TAM (thumb, DL: possible late June return)
Prince Fielder, TEX (neck, DL: 2015 return)
Rougned Odor, TEX (shoulder, DTD)
Mitch Moreland, TEX (ankle, DL: possible September return)
Kevin Kouzmanoff, TEX (back, DL: possible July return)
Jurickson Profar, TEX (shoulder, DL: possible September return)
Colby Rasmus, TOR (hamstring, DL: possible mid-June return)
Maicer Izturis, TOR (knee, DL: possible September return)
Anthony Rendon, WAS (hand, DTD)
Bryce Harper, WAS (thumb, DL: possible early-July return)
Neil Walker, PIT (appendectomy; 15-day DL)

Sunday’s contests were quite successful for me, largely because I focused on a somewhat sneaky starter in Jordan Zimmermann, who threw a complete game shutout of the Padres and struck out a season-high 12 batters. OK, it wasn’t that sneaky; the 28-year-old Zimmermann is clearly an accomplished veteran pitcher with a 48-37 career record and 3.38 ERA. But he had only won twice in his last six starts and had struck out just 19 batters in his last 34 2/3 innings. His salary was among the second tier of starters and he admitted that he felt terrible in the bullpen right before Sunday’s gem—information that I wasn’t privy to until after the game. The main factor in focusing so much attention on Zimmermann wasn’t about recent performance, it was about the upside—the latent value in pitching against a notoriously weak lineup in Petco Park.

I often look at the past six games’ strikeout totals for a quick idea of what kind of numbers to expect, but in this case I tossed out the recent history and chalked it up to early-season adjustments and a relatively high BABIP. I knew Zimmermann carried a career K/9 ratio over 7.00, and I knew the Padres lineup was prone to striking out. I anticipated some run support and figured he’d go deep into the game (he had gone eight innings in his most recent start—a win over the Phillies), and it paid off.

Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to focus more on the opposing lineup than the pitcher’s recent struggles, especially if it’s a proven winner who’s endured some understandable difficulty and/or bad luck, and the matchup provides a context for success. Going forward, I’ll be looking for similar opportunities from Matt Cain, Cliff Lee, David Price and Justin Verlander, among others. It’s always a good idea to target good pitchers who aren’t piling up wins but can miss bats and take advantage of weaker lineups.

Last week’s Tuesday/Wednesday starter review

June 3

Gerrit Cole, PIT (@SD)—Cole pitched well enough on June 3 at San Diego to pick up a win (5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO) but is now on the 15-day DL retroactive to June 4 with right shoulder fatigue. He’s expected to miss at least two starts and early reports are that there is no structural damage, just normal wear and tear. The 6-4 righthander had lost some command and is being replaced in the rotation by the pedestrian Jeff Locke, who should be avoided.

Zack Wheeler (Photo by Rob Cuni)

Zack Wheeler (Photo by Rob Cuni)

Zack Wheeler, NYM (@CHC)—His latest start was somewhat of a disaster (3.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO), but Wheeler was pretty solid on Tuesday, striking out seven Cubs in 6 2/3 scoreless innings and yielding just two hits and two walks. Consider Sunday’s effort a minor setback and continue to utilize Wheeler’s upside in tournament play against weaker-hitting teams in pitcher-friendly parks. He’s still a low-cost option who can strike out batters in clumps.

June 4

Stephen Strasburg, WAS (vs. PHI)—Strasburg gave up four runs on Wednesday against the Phillies, but only two were earned (he was victimized by a two-run John Mayberry homer in the seventh inning), and the dazzling righthander picked up a win to improve to 5-4 on the season. He was very effective missing bats, striking out 11 and walking none over seven innings. I’ll continue to deploy Strasburg when the cheaper options don’t present enough upside.

David Price, TAM (vs. MIA)—The dynamic Price gave up five runs—albeit just one earned—in 7 1/3 innings Wednesday, striking out 11 Marlins in a tough-luck loss. He’s been masterful when it comes to whiffing batters and maintaining control, as he didn’t walk a batter and improved his season SO/BB ratio to an amazing 101/9 over 91.2 innings. The Rays defense has been to blame on a few occasions, but Price is a relatively safe option in both head-to-head and tournament play going forward.

This week’s Tuesday-Wednesday Pitcher Spotlight:

Tuesday

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka (Photo by Tomasso DeRosa)

Masahiro Tanaka, NYY (@SEA)—Tanaka is learning how to grind out wins, and it’s not just a matter of luck. He’s at 9-1 on the season despite relatively poor run support and boasts a 2.02 ERA—tops in the AL. Other than the fact that the Seattle lineup is loaded with powerful lefties, there’s plenty to like about his chances on Tuesday, including a good shot at double-digit strikeout total and a big park to contain some longer fly balls. He’s my top pitcher of the day, and you’ll need to scour the daily starting lineups for some high-upside platoon/utility players to offset his cost.

Adam Wainwright, STL (@TAM)—In his last start, Wainwright threw eight shutout innings but the bullpen couldn’t finish off the baserunners he left for them in a 2-0 game, resulting in a no-decision. This time, his team faces a hittable right hander in Jake Odorizzi and the punchless Rays offense doesn’t pose much of a threat. There are a few other interesting, if not exciting options on Tuesday (see below), but I’ll be focusing most of my action getting behind Wainwright and Tanaka.

Other options: Madison Bumgarner, SF (vs. WAS); Justin Verlander, DET (@CHW); Corey Kluber, IND (@KAN); Francisco Liriano, PIT (vs. CHC); Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA (vs. NYY); Josh Beckett, LAD (@CIN)

Wednesday

Yu Darvish, TEX (vs. MIA)—The opposing starter hasn’t been announced as of Monday afternoon, but Darvish shouldn’t have much trouble dispatching the Marlins on Wednesday at home. It’s a free-swinging bunch and even if Darvish gives up a home run or two, he should get the requisite run support and strike out plenty of batters to offset the negative run values.He’s coming off a poor outing against the red-hot Indians, but there’s not as much experience and fewer quality left-handed batters among the Miami lineup.

Chris Young, SEA (vs. NYY)—On a day with many aces starting, it’ll be hard to find a cheap option, but Young offers some upside based on his pitching smarts and confidence in his home park. If you have any questions about Young’s highly specialized approach to his craft, read this fascinating account from Eno Sarris of Fangraphs, who spent some time battling with Young over high fastball data. I’m a fan of cerebral pitchers who challenge baseball’s prevailing ethos, and Young seems to have a good grasp of how to make the most out of his 6-10 frame and decreasing velocity.

Other options: Johnny Cueto, CIN (vs. LAD); Matt Cain, SF (vs. WAS); Wily Peralta, MIL (@NYM); Michael Wacha, STL (@ TAM); Drew Smyly, DET (@CWS); Cole Hamels, PHI (vs. SD)

NOTE: Make sure you check the weather forecast and any changes in probable starters from the revised schedule. There’s not much worse than a zero from one of your starters—and it’s usually avoidable if you’re prudent about the risks you’re willing to take.

Hitters to watch/target this week:

Yoenis Cespedes (Photo by Bill Nichols).

Yoenis Cespedes (Photo by Bill Nichols).

Athletics hitters: I really don’t need to tell you how productive the A’s lineup has been, but here’s a quick stat: The A’s are batting 252/.338/.419 as a team and have hit 76 HRs this season—third in baseball behind the Blue Jays and Rockies. John Jaso, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss are all worth a look, and even the rest of the cheaper position players can fill out your lineup nicely.

Braves hitters: The Braves have been quite disappointing with their bats this season, but a four-game series in Colorado against questionable pitching should help bolster their offensive numbers. This could provide some excellent value to daily fantasy owners deploying them in contests and players like Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis should be targeted across the board. Even rookie Tommy LaStella and the always flaky B.J. Upton are worth a look.

Tigers hitters: The Tigers have some big bats in Miguel Cabrera (if healthy), Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter, and they’ll likely hit well in Chicago this week when the face the White Sox. Also, 3b Nick Castellanos as well as OFs Rajai Davis and Austin Jackson can provide some periodic pop and have inexpensive salaries you can use to fill out some lineups.

Astros hitters: The mighty young Astros lineup has been quite impressive over the past few weeks, with rookie George Springer and Jon Singleton showing off some serious power. The Astros have a .773 team OPS in June, following up a .745 team OPS in May. Look for big weeks from the aforementioned sluggers as well as Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler and Chris Carter in the series with Arizona and its bevy of rag arms.

Indians hitters: They haven’t been hitting too many homers, but this Indians lineup is hard-hitting bunch and they should benefit from a two-game series in Kansas City and then a trip to Fenway. Lonnie Chisenhall and David Murphy mash against righties, and Michael Brantley is one of the game’s best young hitters. Veterans Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Bourn provide solid production and upside, and Jason Kipnis is starting to heat up at the plate after missing some time with an oblique injury.

Other hitters to watch/target this week: Ryan Zimmerman, WAS;  Pedro Alvarez, PIT; Andrew McCutchen, PIT; Xander Bogaerts, BOS; David Ortiz, BOS; Oscar Taveras, STL; Matt Carpenter, STL; Alex Gordon, KAN; Eric Hosmer, KAN; Juan Francisco, TOR; Edwin Encarnacion, TOR; Jose Bautista, TOR; Adrian Beltre, TEX; Shin-Soo Choo, TEX; Paul Goldschmidt, ARI; Miguel Montero, ARI