Welcome to March 21 MLB DFS action. You’ll find Daily Fantasy Baseball Premium Cliff Notes for March 21 MLB DFS along with LIVE Premium Chat. Make sure you’re using the customizable projections tool, you’re actively participating in the live chat, and you’re reviewing the cliff notes to supplement your research and roster construction process. Very best of luck in tonight’s action!
- In cash games, we recommend focusing on value plays to build your rosters (far right hand column of Projections page linked above). Value plays are those we feel have the highest probability of out-earning their current price tag. By packing value plays into your roster, you’re creating a team with a higher floor.
- In tournaments, we recommend building a core of the best value plays and then complementing them with players who have a high ceiling. This combination is essentially turning up the variance on a strong foundation and we believe often is the best recipe for tournament success.
March 21 MLB DFS CLIFF NOTES
We get an early taste of MLB action on Wednesday and Thursday as the Mariners and Athletics kick off a 2-game series in Japan. And we mean early in more ways than one. These games have a 5:35 AM EST start time. Still, it’s great to have baseball back in our lives.
Before we get into analysis of the second game of the SEA-OAK series, let’s talk a little bit about single game MLB DFS.
Single Game MLB DFS
Over the past year, single game DFS has grown meaningfully across all sports; they are commonly referred to ‘Showdown Slates’. While this initial SEA-OAK series has pretty tame prize pools and buzz (largely because of the timing of the games – early in the morning and a full week prior to ‘Opening Day’), we expect the format to be more popular than last year.
At DailyRoto, we have plans to cover the format in a couple of different ways. First off, starting on 3/28 (‘Opening Day’), our optimizer will be equipped to handle these formats on both DraftKings and FanDuel. If you’re interested to see how that might look like, here is how our optimizer functioned for NFL DFS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmrwhz5g1cI&=&t=1s
From a content perspective, we won’t cover every single showdown slate, but we will have projections and lineup alerts for every single showdown slate. Additionally, we’ll send out specific showdown analysis for Sunday Night baseball over the course of the season.
The Showdown format on DraftKings is pretty straightforward, but please note it has changed from last year. This year, the scoring system is the same as their Classic game format. However, the roster requirements are different.
You will pick 6 players of any position, but you have to designate one player as your Captain. The Captain will score 1.5x their points but will also cost 1.5x their salary.
The FanDuel single game format is pretty format. You pick any 5 hitters you want; pitchers are not included. You designate both an MVP (scores 2x points) and an All-Star (1.5x). Unlike on DraftKings, the salary for your MVP and All-Star does not change. For example, in the picture below, Edwin Encarnacion will cost $9,000 regardless of if you play him at MPV, All-Star, or UTIL.
Right off the bat, I want to say that strategy is something we will have to revisit in a few weeks. How the sites are consistently pricing the games and how the market is reacting are two unknowns at this point that will play a pivotal role in determining the optimal way to play these games.
With that said, there are some pretty clear observations we can make.
If you’re playing cash games, in most circumstances you want to try and fit in both starting pitchers and use one of the pitchers as your captain. This year we have added range of outcome projections to the optimizer, and they do a good job of showing why the emphasis on pitchers is so important.
For tomorrow’s game, Marco Estrada, who is a below average starting pitcher, has a 50th percentile projection of around 13 DraftKings points. Meanwhile, our highest projected hitter in this game (Khris Davis), has a 50th percentile outcome of roughly 7 DraftKings points. Additionally, all hitters have a 10th percentile outcome of 0 DraftKings points, and most hitters have a 25th percentile outcome of around 2 DraftKings points.
The hitter volatility is so extreme, and the impact is twofold:
- Almost any pitcher is going to outscore any given hitter by a handful or more points in most scenarios.
- Because the 10th and 25th percentile outcomes are so low, and thus similar for most hitters, it doesn’t make much of a difference how much money you decide to spend on bats. Thus, being forced to drop down from an expensive hitter to a cheap hitter in order to fit in pitching really doesn’t move the needle on your floor (now if you make that sacrifice several times over, we start getting into some more complicated probability).
In tournaments, it’s important to take a contrarian stance somewhere. The volatility in projection accuracy for MLB along with the wide range of outcomes for both hitters and pitchers will reward reasonable risk takers over the long run, especially with the top heavy payout structures that we’re seeing in tournaments most days.
While it’s not as easy to play specific ‘game flows’ in MLB as it is in NFL, you can still build your team around some macro outcomes.
If you’re playing for a low scoring game, use a double SP approach, but also, don’t be afraid to sneak in a relief pitcher. We will have some base relief pitcher projections available in the optimizer this year. In a low scoring game, many hitters will hit their 0 – 25th percentile outcomes (0 – 4 points). At that point, it makes sense to take a stab on a high strikeout rate relief pitcher who has a decent probability of being used in the game. Because of the uncertainty around whether or not a relief pitcher will pitch, the ownership here is likely low.
Obviously, if playing for a high scoring game, you’ll want to stack teammates. Either play for a blowout on one side, stacking one team’s pitcher with four of their hitters (you need to take at least one player on the opposing team) or fade starting pitchers altogether, which should allow for high priced bats in good spots in the order on both sides.
If you want to be consistently contrarian playing for the above ‘game flows’, one way to do so is to pivot. If the game has a somewhat high total, the field is going to be mashing bats. That may be the time to play for a low scoring game because the likely payoff if you’re right increases. Conversely, stacking against a high owned pitcher in a single game format creates about as much leverage as possible.
Other ways to be contrarian:
-Don’t be afraid to use bottom of the order bats in your stacks, especially if they have speed and/or power upside.
-If you’re playing a more traditional team (mix of both pitchers and a couple of bats from both sides), at the very least you will want to switch up your captain selection. Our 90th percentile projections for hitters will help to pinpoint potential low owned bats who have a realistic chance of achieving a high ceiling.
-Leave money on the table.
Unfortunately, the FanDuel setup doesn’t dictate itself towards much analysis over strategy since you’re only dealing with hitters. In cash games, there’s not much of an edge – simply take the highest projected hitters with an emphasis on those that hit up in the order (maximize plate appearances). Keep in mind, the away team hitters generally have higher plate appearance expectations because they’re guaranteed a ninth inning of at bats.
In tournaments, there are fewer ways to get contrarian given the setup. Since the salary on players does not increase if you put them in your MVP or All-Star spots, ownership in those spots likely ends up too condensed on the more obvious hitters. The best type of hitter to target when considering upside and ownership is likely an event-oriented (HRs or SBs) player who isn’t hitting in the top four lineup spots and perhaps lacks the platoon edge.
SEA versus OAK
Alright, let’s finally dig into the second game of the Seattle-Oakland series opening that is the 2019 season. We’ll do so from a DraftKings perspective. It’s an interesting slate as we have a pitcher making his MLB debut versus a pitcher coming off a down 2018 season.
On the Oakland side, we have RHP Marco Estrada. There is no way around it last year; Marco Estrada was awful. In 143.2 innings with the Blue Jays, Estrada posted a 5.64 ERA, 5.44 FIP, 5.79 xFIP, career-low 16.4-percent K rate and yielded a career-low 24.0-percent ground ball rate. Still, he strikes out just enough batters that he is at least worthy of cash game consideration on DraftKings (largely due to the reasons stated above in the macro strategy session). He rates as the superior per-dollar investment of the two pitchers but that is partially due to the the Athletics being listed as a small favorite.
On the Seattle side, we have 27-year old rookie Yusei Kikuchi. In eight seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions of the Japan League, Kikuchi managed a 2.77 ERA and 903:371 K/BB ratio in 1010.2 total innings. Over the course of his last four seasons, he posted a K/9 rate at least 8.0 and he has now walked fewer than 2.5 batters per nine innings in back-to-back seasons. We’re projecting Kikuchi to allow a .321 wOBA and .177 ISO to RHBs, which is likely the side of the plate you want to focus on in cash games. Unfortunately, there is no sample size for Kikuchi at the Major League level so our projections are based on common sense and an approximation of his skill set. Most of FanGraphs’ projection systems have him between a 3.8-4.3 ERA pitcher, 4.10-4.40 FIP pitcher with a 3.1-3.3 BB/9 rate and 8.4-8.8 K/9. In other words, he is projected for around a 23.0-percent K rate and 8.6-percent BB rate. These are solid but not unspectacular numbers and there is a small advantage that likely goes to the pitcher in their first big league game since there is no film on them. We are projecting Kikuchi for a higher K rate versus both sides of the plate, making him the safer alternative to Estrada, even as the underdog in this game. In terms of raw points, Kikuchi is projecting for nearly a full point more than Estrada.
Pricing is incredibly loose, and as a result, it’s difficult to imagine not using both pitchers in a cash game setting with Kikuchi as the best captain choice.
The top bat on this slate is a close call between Khris Davis (OAK), a RHB facing Kikuchi, and Mitch Haniger, a RHB facing Estrada. Last year, Estrada posted some extreme reverse-splits, as he allowed a .389 wOBA to RHHs and .322 wOBA to LHHs. This trend has held true for the entirety of his career (.322 wOBA allowed to RHHs and .299 wOBA allowed to LHHs) so the trend is legitimate. Meanwhile, Haniger owns reverse career splits as well, with a career .362 wOBA against RHP and .345 wOBA against LHP. This is the perfect mix of two reverse-splits players facing one another. Advantage: Haniger. Davis holds tremendous power (42, 43, and 48 HRs the past three seasons) and he homered in yesterday’s game which made it three straight opening days for him with a dinger. Also, the guy has hit *exactly* .247 for four straight seasons, making him some sort of wizard.
The only bat with an ISO split in this game remotely close to that of Davis is Edwin Encarnacion (SEA).
Aside from the makeup of both starting pitchers, Derek Carty of RotoGrinders had this note on the ballpark, which also gives the edge to power hitters:
Other power bats that will hold the platoon edge and likely hit in a good lineup spot are Matt Chapman (OAK) and Stephen Piscotty (OAK).
From a value perspective, the Oakland side has some of the most interesting bats due to both pricing and a higher implied run total. We don’t have an official lineup yet, but it’s possible that the team rolls out the same lineup as yesterday which included Ramon Laureano ($5,600) in the leadoff spot and Chad Pinder ($5,000) hitting fifth. Jurickson Profar ($4,600) hit seventh yesterday after producing a .341 wOBA and 108 wRC+ against LHP in 2018. The post hype sleeper finally broke out with the Rangers last year, posting a 20-10 line with a .204 ISO and .341 wOBA overall.
On Seattle, low priced power is found in the form of either Ryon Healy (SEA) or Domingo Santana (SEA). Both are slated to start against RHP in likely Top 7 lineup spots and, to reiterate, Estrada is more susceptible to right-handers. Furthermore, Estrada only struck out right-handers at a 15.8-percent rate and allowed a 2.08 HR/9 rate to righties compared to a 17.2-percent K rate and 1.54 HR/9 rate to lefties. At the bottom of the lineup, Ichiro Suzuki (SEA) is expected to continue to draw the start, but he is an extreme pinch-hit risk and is best served for tournaments.
Speaking of tournaments, a Mariners stack with Kikuchi and fading Estrada seems to be the best choice from a correlation and upside perspective. The Mariners are listed as underdogs which is a bit surprising considering the season Estrada suffered through last year. Some ways to deviate from the field if doing that are to use a hitter in the captain spot over Kikuchi or to include Matt Olson, who has the second highest baseline ISO on the team but is likely lower owned and doesn’t project well because of the L/L matchup with Kikuchi.
If you want to play for a real low scoring game and use a relief pitcher, our highest projected relievers on the Seattle are Shawn Armstrong, Anthony Swarzak and Ruben Alaniz (in that order), but their bullpen structure is still somewhat unclear. However, Hunter Strickland is the closer, and he received (and converted) the first save opportunity yesterday with Cory Gearrin and Zac Rosscup registering holds. Strickland should be the top priority out of the bullpen if pairing with the starter. Our projections are assuming the guys who pitched yesterday are less likely to pitch today. On the Oakland side, if going ultra-contrarian, Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, and Joakim Soria (in that order) are the highest projected.