Welcome to my MLB DFS Evaluations article! Here I will take a data-driven approach to Baseball as it pertains to both Pitchers and Hitters alike.
I’ll be using an evaluation system that I developed over the last couple months with the goal of producing the most actionable advice possible with the help of macro and micro analytics! There’s a whole bunch of math going on, but it is all for a good cause, I promise.
As you read through this beautiful piece of work, keep in mind that MLB is a sport that thrives on variance. My article is based mostly around GPP thoughts and pivots looking to avoid the chalk and succeed when others fail.
First off, I’ll need to give a little information about my evaluator, the data points on which it reads, and how the eventual grades are derived. The entire thing is based in Microsoft Excel, using data found on FanGraphs, so literally anyone could build it (if you have more free time than you know what to do with, that is). It uses a complex set of formulas and equations to build into master sheets, which are populated with daily information, and sent to another page for daily use.
The Pitcher grades are developed for each individual pitcher, and the Stack grades are developed for each stack of 4 hitters in order on a team. The Stacks are as follows:
- ARI1 (The first 4 batters in the lineup for Arizona)
- CIN2 (The 3-6 batters in the lineup for Cincinnati)
- MIL3 (the 5-8 batters in the lineup for Milwaukee)
Each stack will have its own grade depending on how the variables shake out in the specific matchup. Speaking of variables, for Pitchers, we are dealing with 14 separate weighted variables, while Hitters run 15 separate weighted variables. The overlapping variables are as follow:
- Stadium (Where the game is played)
- Avg (The pitcher’s allowed hitting average)
- WHIP (Walks, Hits per Inning Pitched)
- GB% (The pitcher’s groundball percentage)
- HH% (The pitchers allowed Hard Hit percentage)
- HR/9 (How many HR’s the pitcher allows per 9 innings)
- K/9 (How many strikeouts the pitcher gets per 9 innings)
- wRC+ vs L (Offensive value against Lefties)
- wRC+ vs R (Offensive value against Righties)
- Team LD% (The average of a stack’s Line Drive percentage)
- Team HH% (The average of a stack’s Hard Hit percentage)
- SO% vs L (The average of a stack’s Strikeout percentage to Lefties)
- SO% vs R (The average of a stack’s Strikeout percentage to Righties)
- Total (The implied runs total for a stack)
For Hitters, we have an extra variable in Home/Away, since Away teams are guaranteed a chance at bat in the 9th inning and Home teams are not. These variables have been chosen because I believe they are actionable and show true value when deciding on where to attack in DFS. Each one is weighted with values of 3, 5, and 10 points (depending on importance and percentile) which adds up to 100. The grade that each Pitcher or Hitting Stack gets is then displayed using a formula that adds all those variables up!
Now that we have all the verbiage out of the way, let’s get down to business…
Here we go! This is the first week in a while I haven’t written about Alex Wood being the top rated pitcher in my ratings (and in my heart), so things will be a bit different today. James Paxton is the top rated pitcher for me on this particular Friday slate, as he faces off against the Oakland Athletics at home in Seattle. He faced a little bit of his seasonal regression a couple games ago in Texas (first game in the negatives all season), but he still holds some very solid numbers. His 3.27 ERA is about even with his 3.87 SIERA, he has a 9.06 K/9 over the last calendar year, and a 1.16 WHIP to boot. His .64 HR/9 should push up a bit more, considering he only has a 45% ground ball rate, but that’s okay, as we are assuming at this point that our pitchers will give up one or two HRs with the juiced balls. His matchup with Oakland is good in most aspects, as he has a much higher strikeout rate to RHH while most of the RHH he will face have strikeout rates well above 25% to LHP. He has a lower K/9 to LHH (5.03), but a 52% ground ball rate, and the LHH for the Athletics aren’t very good against LHP (highest wRC+ is Jed Lowrie‘s 93). Plus, we get him at home in a pitchers park. There is a lot to like about James Paxton today, and he is underpriced relative to others on the slate, giving us a nice discount.
Carlos Martinez, Kenta Maeda, Sean Manaea, and Max Scherzer pull through the top 5, and are the only pitchers with a rating above 50 for me on this slate. Carlos Martinez comes into today with a 52% ground ball rate and a .88 HR/9 over the last calendar year (his ground ball rate is actually the best on the slate), and plays at home against the woeful New York Mets, who have yet to put together any amount of success in about a month. Their wRC+ of 94 against RHP, along with a 19% line drive rate and lower hard-hit percentage, show us a weaker platoon for CarMart to attack, and his strikeout upside is up there with the best on the slate (10.02 K/9 this season). Kenta Maeda plays at home against the Kansas City Royals, who have really turned it up as of late. Maeda has some positive regression coming (69% LOB rate, ERA almost a run above his SIERA) but the Royals have looked much better as of late, and I don’t think this is the sot we want to count on that positive regression to happen. Sean Manaea is the second part of the duel with Paxton, playing at Seattle against the Mariners. He has been better than people have recognized this year, with a 9.38 K/9 and a .83 HR/9, and a respectable 4.04 SIERA just above his ERA. I don’t love the matchup, as the Mariners don’t strike out very much with a healthy lineup, but I think Manaea makes a lot of sense at only $6400 in GPPs as a high upside/low floor option. Max Scherzer is an insane person, and his stats are just as crazy. He gets to tee off on the Atlanta Braves at home, and if Matt Adams can’t play it’s basically just a bunch of weak LHH and Matt Kemp, which would equate to around 15 Ks. That’s pretty, pretty good.
This is a VERY good slate, with pitching options in basically every price point you could want. The offense is surprisingly just as good, so I don’t expect a lot of ownership clumped up besides maybe a majority share on Scherzer. Feel free to go with who you want and don’t worry too much about chalk.
Top 25 Hitter Evaluations
Before we even get into the ratings here, I can pretty much sum up everything for you with one sentence. Derek Holland is pitching in Coors. That is going to draw some insane ownership on Rockies bats, and I don’t even have an argument against it. Derek Holland is good against LHH, but just atrocious against RHH and it shows. 3 of the top 5 rated hitters for me are RHH Rockies bats (Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Story), and that’s mostly because Holland allows 42% hard contact (highest on the slate) a 2 HR/9 to RHH. The only problem with this is that the Rockies have just been freakin awful at the plate since they’re last home stand, and it doesn’t inspire much confidence that they can take care of the matchup effectively. With THAT BEING SAID, Nolan Arenado at home in Coors against a fly ball lefty that allows the most hard contact on the slate to RHH isn’t something I would consider fading, and I’m a contrarian most days. Arenado’s 142 wRC+. 25% line drive rate, and 33% hard-hit rate to LHP over the last year are all fantastic marks and you can’t assume that he will stay in a slump. What better spot to get right than here?
Jose Ramirez is another hitter that ranks very highly, being sandwiched between a whole bunch of Coors hitters. He gets a matchup with Jordan Zimmermann at home, and has been on a bit of a tear lately, with a 7 game hitting streak and a 41 point game in Detroit a couple days ago. Jordan Zimmermann gives up 41% hard contact to LHH, as well as owning a minuscule 30% ground ball rate to the handedness, meaning that when Ramirez makes contact that ball is going to fly. His 145 wRC+ against RHP is one of the best on the slate, and although his 31% hard-hit rate is a little uninspiring I am comfortable ignoring it against someone like Zimmermann. One of the under looked things about this play is that with his multi-position eligibility, you can plug him in at the always lame 2nd base slot and just move along and find value elsewhere (if you need it).
It’s really crazy how many great spots there are on this slate. We have Coors with Derek Holland, Cleveland against Zimmermann, Arizona at home against the Reds and that atrocious bullpen, The Rangers at home against Ricky Nolasco, and the Astros in Toronto in a high power affair with two secondary pitchers on the mound. I’m pretty sure we have all of the top 5 hitting environments in play today, and even though the Brewers aren’t playing at home, they get to play in Yankees Stadium with the short porch which is great for RHH (and they face a lefty!). I’m guessing this will be the highest scoring slate of the year, and it’s going to be very hard to go wrong with your favorite hitters.
Top Stacking Evaluations
Okay, Let’s talk through a couple of these matchups, because there is a lot to offer in terms of stacking today and I think it would be a mistake to just default to Coors on a such a juicy collection of spots. We start with my highest rated stacking opportunity with the Cleveland Indians against Jordan Zimmermann and a rating of 72. Do we have a park factor? No, not really. The Indians play in a mostly neutral park that is more affected by humidity because of the lakes nearby than anything, but oddly enough the Indians are a significantly better team at home than they are on the road. The combined K/9 for this matchup of 7.24 is the 4th worst on the slate, and the HR/9 of 1.81 combined is actually the highest (just above the Brewers 1.75). The ERA of 5.28 is about in line with the xFIP, so we know that things are running how they should and can trust how bad they have been. The Indians have been heating up lately, scoring 5+ runs in 6 games over the last 10, including 3 games over 10 runs. It will be very easy to overlook them in this matchup, and I expect Ownership to be low.
Next, we have the Yankees at home against Junior Guerra. This matchup offers the best opportunity for players to get on base as a whole, with a 4.96 BB/9 (a 12% clip), and is followed up by a 1.75 HR/9 overall. The 78% LOB rate seems like a bit of a lie to me, considering the two stats I just gave don’t really scream for players to be stranded. Junior Guerra has been very bad this year, with a K/9 only slightly better than his BB/9 (7.09 to 5.52, respectively) and owns a 2.36 HR/9, and he makes up the majority of the ceiling stats we are looking at in this matchup, but the Bullpen has the worst walk rate in the league at 4.4 BB/9 (which is crazy). The Yankees are obviously a powerhouse of a team, with a 143 wRC+ against RHP in the front of their batting order and a 125 wRC+ in the middle, giving no real hope for a break for whatever pitcher is on the mound here. They might end up scoring 10+ runs in this matchup and beating Coors entirely.
I don’t know who Felix Jorge is, but he looks pretty bad. Even with him being a bad pitcher, I do not trust the Orioles to take advantage of such a great matchup. I think in GPPs, it makes sense to throw them in as filler since all of them are incredibly cheap after what feels like a year long slump, but I wouldn’t consider a full stack even if they are getting the worst bullpen in the league.
A couple other very good stacking spots are the Rockies at home against Derek Holland (obviously) and the Diamondbacks at home against Tim Adleman (double obviously). My only issue with either of those is ownership levels, and with such great spots for the Yankees and the Indians I just can’t justify it in GPPs. In cash, it’s all a different story, as the Rockies would be mostly an insane fade, but to fit someone like Scherzer it would make for a very tough fit. There’s definitely going to be some fun scores on the slate.
Top Picks for the Slate
Pitcher: James Paxton ($8500)
Now, I also really like Max Scherzer on this slate, but we need to find an SP1 with upside that doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg. Therefore, my pick for the slate is my highest rated pitcher, James Paxton. Paxton plays at home against the Oakland Athletics, who have a 24% strikeout rate and a lower hard-hit rate against LHP even if they do have a couple lefty masher on their squad (Khris Davis and Ryon Healy come to mind). Paxton is a little more homerun prone to RHH, but has close to a 10 K/9 to the handedness and should find a lot of success against the swing-happy righties in the lineup. The lefties he will face, namely Matt Joyce or Jed Lowrie, are very bad against LHP and should provide some easy outs along the way. With a wRC+ of 79 against LHP, Paxton has the best overall matchup (as well as a nice advanced stats matchup) on the board and should be a staple in both cash and GPPs alike. He has proven himself to be a valuable starter and I don’t think this start will show any differently.
Team Stack: New York Yankees
We have so many stacks to go through tonight, and honestly any of them are going to be viable. I’m looking at things at this point from an ownership perspective, and I think of the top 5 owned stacks that the Yankees will end up being the 3rd or 4th highest owned stack in GPPs behind the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and maybe the White Sox. Now, it’ll be important to get a bead on things for me because I’m going to aim for a contrarian approach today, and if the Yankees are getting highly touted, I may jump over to an Indians stack. But, for the sake of not being able to read the future, I’m going to go ahead and choose the Yankees as my favorite.
The Yankees own an insane 117 wRC+ against RHP, and are built with guys that can mash pretty much any handedness. We love to take the RHH guys when playing at the Yankees stadium as well, as the wall is shorter over in left field giving better chances for the ball to leave the park when pulled. Junior Guerra is slightly better against RHH, with a 45% groundball rate and a 29% hard contact rate allowed (compared to a 35%/38% split to LHH), but those numbers hardly matter against the likes of Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge (167 and 169 wRC+ to RHP, respectively). His 2.36 HR/9 and 5.52 BB/9 are both some of the worst marks among rotational starters in the league, and once he gets knocked out the Bullpen is just as bad about letting players on base with the worst walk rate in the league. It’s very hard for me to imagine the Yankees score less than 5 runs on regular hits alone, much less homeruns. I love stacking up the middle of the order here, going with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorious, and whoever they decide to throw out at 1st base. We may even get a nice salary relief treat with Clint Frazier possibly taking 1st and costing only $2,700. Let’s cross our fingers for that one and hope he hits 6th or 7th for a little continuity!
Infield Hitter: Nolan Arenado ($5200)
A 142 wRC+, 25% line drive rate, and a 33% hard-hit rate against LHP, facing off against Derek Holland who allows 42% hard contact with only a 38% ground ball rate, and a HR/9 of over 2 against RHH.
I’m a contrarian, not an idiot. Lock button ACTIVATED.
Outfield Hitter: Ryan Braun ($4600)
Ryan Braun coming off the DL has been hitting very well, collecting a hit in every game since returning along with 2 HRs and at least 5 points in every game. His wRC+ of 156 against LHP is one of the best marks on the slate, and his 47% hard-hit rate is actually pacing everyone else, giving him a significant HR edge on almost anyone else around his price point. At $4600, we are getting no discount on his upside, but he is everything that we like to use at Yankees stadium in a power righty up against a LHP with a lower ground ball rate to his handedness (40%). Overall, I prefer Ryan Braun as a one off instead of part of a stack because I respect the Yankees bullpen, but wouldn’t blame you at all for having him as part of a RHH stack with Santana and Broxton. He will be a low owned pivot that can do wonders if the chalk falls apart.
Value: Manny Machado ($3800)
It is insane that Manny Machado can even get to a price point this low, and there comes a point when the upside is just so much for a price that you are playing the person regardless of who he is up against. For us, the matchup is fantastic up against Felix Jorge and the Twins bullpen in Minnesota. Felix Jorge is actually part of that bullpen, so this is an entire bullpen game against one of the worst BPs in the entire league. I know that Manny has been bad, but if he can’t get anything going in 4 Abs in this matchup he will be on the “do not play list” until further notice. His wRC+ of 85 against RHP over the last year is uninspiring to say the least, but against a pitcher with a K/9 less than 6 and a Bullpen with a combined SIERA of 5.3, You have to imagine he gets on base a couple times. All we need is 10 points from him to reach some great value, and he has 30 point upside in any matchup. If you aren’t going Arenado, or you want to differentiate yourself somehow, this is how I would do it.
I would be staying as far away as I possibly can from the huge GPPs tomorrow, and it’s mostly because I think the cash line is going to be ridiculous in an MME format. I will be mostly looking to play in the lower entry stuff and single entry tournaments (even though I do that regularly) and would suggest doing the same. The reason there is that in smaller pools, chalk is much higher concentrated and when it fails you can pass a large chunk without having to worry about people scripting and having hedge stacks and so on and so forth. On a slate with a LOT of options, and lots of ways to build, it’s a good idea to avoid the crowds and play in the 3-man and 5-man games. Build up your bankroll a little bit.
May variance be with you, and I’ll see you at the cash line.
As always, you can find me on Twitter and shoot me any questions you have! I’ll do my best to help all the way to lock! Good luck, and I hope you find the green!