Daily Fantasy Decisions: Selecting A Starter

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. For the introductory column, Antonio D’Arcangelis reviews some of the basic rules to follow in composing your daily fantasy lineups, and a brief guide to some of the players he likes for Opening Day.

In last week’s intro, we discussed some of the basics of daily fantasy baseball, reviewing some of the main factors affecting your choices.

This week, we’ll take a quick look at how important it is to select starting pitchers who can eat innings, rack up strikeouts, and notch wins—or hopefully a combination of all three. Since most daily fantasy sites dole out points based mainly on those factors (IP, Ks and Ws), you’ll always want to pay up for the elite guys facing weaker lineups they can dominate. It’s much easier to fill out middle infield spots with cheap options in good L/R matchups than it is to find a bargain pitching option poised to dominate a particular lineup.

Up until the late 1970s, the league leaders in innings pitched routinely cracked 300 IP—they drew more starts and went deeper into games. Now, it’s rare to find a starter that exceeds 240 IP in a season. Similarly, strikeout totals have dipped and K/9 rates have increased with more specialization among situational relief options.

Here are last season’s leaders in IP, Ks and Ws:

IP Pitcher K Pitcher W Pitcher
241.2 Adam Wainwright 277 Yu Darvish 21 Max Scherzer
236 Clayton Kershaw 240 Max Scherzer 19 Adam Wainwright
228.2 James Shields 232 Clayton Kershaw 19 Jordan Zimmermann
224.2 R.A. Dickey 226 Chris Sale 18 Bartolo Colon
222.2 Cliff Lee 222 Cliff Lee 17 Matt Moore
220.0 Cole Hamels 219 Adam Wainwright 17 C.J. Wilson
219.2 Hisashi Iwakuma 217 Justin Verlander 16 Clayton Kershaw
218.1 Justin Verlander 216 Felix Hernandez 16 Chris Tillman
214.1 Max Scherzer 214 Jeff Samardzija 16 Jorge De La Rosa
214.1 Chris Sale 209 A.J. Burnett 16 Francisco Liriano

While a few names pop up in all three categories (Wainwright, Kershaw, Scherzer), a lot of the guys who racked up wins last season did so because they got a lot of run support. Let’s face it: Wins are dependent results, not statistics. Stick with the guys who can go deep into games and get a strikeout per inning. Even though many sites generously reward the W, leave the wins up to the baseball gods and stick with the studs for your pitcher slot.

If you have any additional questions about daily fantasy games and strategy, hit me up on Twitter (@LouisLipps). I’ll be happy to get to your questions when possible. On to my recommendations for
Sunday:

Sunday (4/6) Starter Review:

P – Yu Darvish, TEX (@TB) – I figured Darvish would be ready to go (neck stiffness pushed him from Opening Day but he threw 86 pitches in a bullpen session last Tuesday). He gave up seven hits and a walk but didn’t give up a run, struck out six in 7 innings and notched a win.

P – Chris Sale, CWS (@KAN) – He fanned eight on Opening Day en route to dispatching the Twins and I liked his matchup versus the lefty-heavy Royals lineup. He only struck out six but featured his late-sinking two-seamer prominently and went 8 innings, giving up four hits and no runs.

As I mentioned above, it’s relatively rare that a low-level starter will make you money on days when there are aces with good matchups, so remember to spend up if there are top studs available. These performances are examples of that rule. Let’s look at the next couple of days:

Tuesday pitcher spotlight

P – Max Scherzer, DET (@LAD) – The Dodgers can hit, but Scherzer strikes out a ton of hitters and used effective breaking stuff on Wednesday against Kansas City. He and Gio Gonzalez (WAS vs. MIA) are the only starting pitchers I’m considering for Tuesday’s contests.

Wednesday pitcher spotlight

P – Masahiro Tanaka, NYY (vs. BAL) – Tanaka gave up a solo home run to Melky Cabrera to open the game on Friday night but settled down and looked dominant in seven innings (six hits, two ER). He struck out eight batters against Toronto but I’m anticipating a possible double-digit K total facing the free-swinging Orioles on Wednesday. He’s my top starting pitcher target, with Toronto’s Brandon Morrow (vs. HOU) a close second.

Hot hitters to watch this week:

1B/OF Mark Trumbo, ARI – Trumbo has five homers in 35 ABs this season and plays three games in San Francisco before heading back home for a series with the Dodgers. His value increases a bit against lefties.

OF Charlie Blackmon, COL – He’s 13-for-24 heading into Monday’s series with Chicago, and he’s getting valuable ABs at the top of the potent Colorado batting order. His price is still pretty cheap, but it won’t be for long.

OF Angel Pagan, SF – Pagan is a grinder, and he’s underrated for being a good hitter and capable base stealer. The Arizona pitching staff is going to be a problem this season, so look for Pagan and the Giants to exploit them in some high-scoring games this week.

OF Ben Revere, PHI – The speedy outfielder still hasn’t hit a home run in his career, but he’s already notched four SBs and is hitting atop the Phillies order.

OF Juan Lagares, NYM – With Chris Young on the shelf, Lagares has made the most of his opportunities and is an extremely affordable daily fantasy play. I’ll be targeting him as a punt option against lefties as long as he’s in the Mets lineup.

Injured position players to avoid
Evan Gattis, ATL (Flu, DTD)
J.J. Hardy, BAL (back, DTD)
Will Middlebrooks, BOS (calf, DL)
Shane Victorino, BOS (hamstring, DL)
Dexter Fowler, HOU (illness, DTD)
Yasiel Puig, LAD (thumb, DTD)
Josh Willingham, MIN (wrist, DTD)
Oswaldo Arcia, MIN (wrist, DTD)
Mark Teixeira, NYY (hamstring, DL)
Jed Lowrie, OAK (leg, DTD)
Jose Reyes, TOR (hamstring, DL)
Ryan Zimmerman, WAS (shoulder, N/A)

SS Hanley Ramirez, LAD – Han-Ram hit two homers on Sunday night, and I’ll be targeting him and Troy Tulowitzki all this week, fading the middle and low-salary shortstops. With so much value available among the bargain outfielders, it’s worth spending up for your middle infielders.

2B Jose Altuve, HOU – I really like Altuve’s upside this season, especially with Jonathan Villar emerging and the Astros lineup developing a bit more power and run-producing ability. He should excel in the games against Toronto and their relatively weak pitching staff.

Remember–keep your eye out for bargain catchers (and utility infielders/fourth outfielders) with good L/R splits against opposite-handed pitchers—and make sure they are in the lineup on that particular day. If a big name catcher (platoon regular) is getting the day off, it’s an excellent chance to peg some value and spend the rest of your player salary on bankable starters and stud hitters.