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.
Sometimes, it pays to go against the grain. Across the fantasy landscape, you’ll see hundreds of articles every week telling you to start streaking hitters and nasty pitchers who haven’t been roughed up in eons. I recommend consistent starters and hot hitters all the time. But a lot of the big money in guaranteed prize pool tournaments often goes to daily fantasy competitors willing to roster a low-salary hitter or a guy with less-than-exciting batter vs. pitcher (BvP) data.
Last week, we saw a few top pitchers get torched, and this weekend, the Diamondbacks dropped 18 runs on the Dodgers in a game that Clayton Kershaw (1.2 IP, 6H, 7ER) started. Arizona hit five HRs (Paul Goldschmidt smacked two) and tallied an obscene 21 hits and six BB—while the Dodgers were forced to use catcher Drew Butera as a pitcher for two-thirds of an inning.
You’ll set yourself apart from the field if you can isolate an ace pitcher primed for a poor start and stack against him, or feature a low salary pitcher who’s missing bats and going deeper and deeper into games.
I’ve had most of my success with lineups that feature at least two or three hitters rostered in less than five percent of the field’s lineups. Just because nobody else is focusing on them, it doesn’t mean you can’t give them a shot—unless there’s an obvious reason (rainout, injury) why you shouldn’t be carrying them in your lineups.
Last week’s Tuesday/Wednesday starter review
Adam Wainwright, STL (vs. CHC)—Wainwright didn’t pitch a great game or pick up a win, but he had a quality start, going six innings and giving up two earned runs, seven hits and a walk. His four strikeouts were tied for his second lowest output of the season, and his SO/9 has dropped off since his first four starts. This wasn’t a good day to start such a high-priced option, but he’ll take the hill again on Tuesday against the D-Backs, who are heating up. Given some of the other options, I’d look elsewhere for some better value.
Stephen Strasburg, WAS (@ ARI)—Strasburg took his third loss of the season in Arizona, striking out six batters but yielding three earned runs on eight hits in seven innings. He’s still showing excellent control (no walks on Tuesday) and remains a recommended play in most matchups against weaker opposition. His main problem is poor run support; he’s gotten just 24 runs from the Nats lineup in nine starts.
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY (@NYM)—Tanaka continues his excellent start, tossing a four-hit shutout with zero walks and eight strikeouts in Citi Field last Wednesday against the Mets. Tanaka got ahead in counts with a few first-pitch breaking balls against the Mets’ better hitters and hit the corners with some well-placed fastballs before going to his trademark diving splitter for swings and misses. He and Brian McCann always seem to be on the same page despite the language barrier and I’m looking to continue trotting out Ma-Kun the next time he’s on the bump.
Johnny Cueto, CIN (vs. SDP)—Cueto’s start was pushed back until Thursday due to rain and once again, he threw a complete game shutout, whiffing eight and giving up just three hits and two walks. His 1.25 ERA and 72.0 IP harkens back to the Dead Ball Era—the last time a starter went at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer over his first nine starts (Harry Krause, 1909 Philadelphia A’s). There’s nothing to suggest he should be faded in his upcoming daily fantasy starts.
This week’s Tuesday-Wednesday Pitcher Spotlight:
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY (@CHC) and Johnny Cueto, CIN (@WAS)—The salaries keep climbing (both pitchers cost more than $10,000 on FanDuel), but you should continue to get these guys in your lineups when possible. Focus on the following pitchers if you’re paying up for top hitters on Tuesday:
Anthony DeSclafani, MIA (vs. PHI)—The rookie replacement for the injured Jose Fernandez was impressive in his major league debut on Wednesday, striking out seven Dodgers in six innings and scattering seven hits and a walk (he gave up two earned runs, one coming on a HR by Carl Crawford). The Phillies have some dangerous lefty hitters but DeSclafani is minimum salary for a pitcher on most sites and has great upside as a tourney play.
Yordano Ventura, KAN (vs. CHW)—Ventura isn’t necessarily cheap, but he’s not as expensive as a handful of other top starters and he’s facing a White Sox lineup that’s without Jose Abreu. His ERA is down to 2.40 on the season and he’s striking out 9.80 batters per nine innings—an excellent metric considering he’s walking slightly fewer than three batters per nine innings.
Max Scherzer, DET (@CLE)—Scherzer will likely be the top salaried pitcher in the board Wednesday, but he hasn’t lost to the Indians since 2012 and he’s having another excellent season (6-1, 1.83 ERA, 73 SO) for the Tigers. He’s my top play for Wednesday.
Tanner Roark, WAS (vs. CIN)—Roark has been a pleasant surprise for the Nats this season (3-1,3.65 ERA in eight starts), and the paltry Reds lineup is even more depleted with the recent loss of Joey Votto to a quad injury. Roark is worth a look on a day when most daily fantasy players will be reaching for more expensive options.
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 this week:
Cards hitters: The reigning NL champ Cards still haven’t hit their stride and remain a few games back of the Brewers, but a series with the D-Backs might be just what they need to heat up. Matt Holliday has had a lot of success against Bronson Arroyo (4 HR in his last 42 AB) and while I’m a fan of D-Backs starter Brandon McCarthy (Wednesday vs. Wacha), the next two pitchers they face (Wade Miley, Thursday vs. Lance Lynn; and Homer Bailey, @CIN vs. Shelby Miller) were both roughed up in their previous starts.
Yankees hitters: The Yanks traveling out of the Bronx isn’t such a bad thing when they get to face the Cubs in Wrigley. Get the usual lefties (Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson) in there against righties Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija and stay tuned for Thursday’s matchup against the White Sox.
Royals hitters: The White Sox pitching staff is a truly rudderless bunch without ace Chris Sale holding down every fifth start. While the Royals are hitting just .254/.306/.359 as a team this season, I’m buying low on this bunch and predicting big things from Sal Perez and Eric Hosmer this week.
Mariners hitters: When the Mariners leave expansive Safeco, they usually mash. This week, they travel to Texas and face some less-than-stellar pitching. Robinson Cano could easily double or triple (even quadruple) his HR total by week’s end, while OF Dustin Ackley and James Jones provide great value.
Blue Jays hitters: Normally, Blue Jays hitters drop in value when they leave their Canadian confines, but they don’t lose their hitters’ advantage in Fenway, where they’ll face Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz before drawing the much tougher Jon Lester on Thursday. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Juan Francisco all have multiple-HR potential every night out.
Other hitters to target this week: Miguel Cabrera, DET; Josh Donaldson, OAK; Shin-Soo Choo, TEX; Adam Jones, BAL; Adrian Gonzalez, LAD; Freddie Freeman, ATL; Evan Longoria, TAM; Devin Mesoraco, CIN; David Ortiz, BOS