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…
Let’s jump right into things with the top rated pitcher for the slate Mike Montgomery, a rating of 64 overall, on the road against the Baltimore Orioles. Mike Montgomery is a relief pitcher turned starter as the Cubs try to find identity and nail down a starting unit. He has been relatively reliable throughout the season, with an inflated ERA of 5.54, but solid underlying stuff that shows he should drop down towards his SIERA number of 3.89. His 9.0 K/9 is nice, but is muddied by his 3.6 BB/9 and 1.47 WHIP. One of his biggest strengths is his groundball rate, which is a sparkling 59% (second best on the slate), and helps to keep his HR/9 numbers reduced and to get him through innings. Montgomery’s score is not only held up by good underlying stats, but a fantastic matchup with the Orioles and their 25% strikeout rate to LHP. I also love the price at only $7800, and he may be forgotten in the middle tier of Pitchers.
James Paxton, Jon Gray, Mike Leake, and Charlie Morton are the rest of the pitchers in my top 5 ratings, and apart from Mike Leake who doesn’t really have a lot of upside, every one of these guys is worth consideration. James Paxton was my favorite pitcher in my last article, and continues to be very good at limiting scoring opportunities through a good K/9 (9.06) and solid WHIP (1.16). Jon Gray plays against the Mets (in New York, not Colorado) and gets his first real road start of the year against a Mets team that struggles at home and swings plenty (20% strikeout rate to RHP). Mike Leake looks good on paper, with a 56% groundball rate and a 28% hard-hit rate, but I don’t want to attack the Pirates who hardly ever strikeout and have been catching fire up to the ASG. Charlie Morton is very interesting to me today against the Minnesota Twins, as his 10.14 K/9 over the last year is the highest on the slate and the Twins strikeout at a 23% clip to RHP. Carlos Carrasco doesn’t quite top the ratings but is highly inconsideration as my top GPP option due to the extreme strikeout tendencies of the Oakland Athletics (27%, highest on slate).
Pricing is going to make this a very interesting slate to navigate. Carlos Carrasco has by far the highest ceiling of all the pitchers but is definitely priced accordingly, and I don’t think people climb that ladder. Seems to me the more obvious route is taking two mid priced pitchers, likely someone like Jacob Faria and/or Johnny Cueto against the Padres, and paying up for bats (which we will get into). This could be a slate that avoiding the chalk makes you plenty of cash if you can stomach Carrasco and some lower priced hitters, since Faria has some regression headed his way (Me thinks). Interesting slate for sure.
Top 25 Hitter Evaluations
Starting the Hitters off strong with Buster Posey against Clayton Richard and the San Diego Padres! Buster Posey is not the best offensive catcher in the game at this point, but he is certainly top 5 and his strength is up against LHP. His 155 wRC+ and minuscule 9% strikeout rate to the handedness are both top 1% on this slate for all hitters, and his 37% hard-hit rate against LHP is more than enough for us to be confident in his upside. Clayton Richard is a groundball specialist, but struggles mightily against RHH. His 5.24 K/9 to the handedness is very low and his 1.61 WHIP, matched with a .373 OBP, means Posey should get on base at least 2 or 3 times in this game (assuming he doesn’t go yard with one of those ABs). Posey is pretty expensive, and it’ll depress his ownership, making him an intriguing GPP play based on ownership and upside combined.
Domingo Santana, Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy, and Paul Goldschmidt line out the rest of my top 5 hitters and it’s not like I really needed to tell y’all to play any of these guys in their matchups. Domingo Santana gets a great spot against Nick Pivetta and the Phillies Bullpen, while also playing at home in the hitter friendly confines of Milwaukee. Matt Carpenter still has a low price tag of $3800 (regularly $4500+) and rocks a 116 wRC+ matched with a 23% linedrive rate against RHP, while Gerrit Cole has just been atrocious on the year (7.86 K/9, 1.59 HR/9, 4.48 FIP). Daniel Murphy is playing at home against Tim Adleman who has a 27% groundball rate and a 2.0 HR/9 to LHH. Paul Goldschmidt gets R.A. Dickey (as well as 35% ownership). All of these guys are worthy of being the staple in your lineups, and it’ll be difficult to choose between all of them as their price tags would make it very difficult to choose where to lay a flag.
I think we are going to see a lot of lower ownership on guys like Daniel Murphy and Adam Duvall as people spend all their cash on the Arizona Diamondbacks, but that could very well be a mistake. I know that Dickey sucks, that’s not a secret, but the Diamondbacks haven’t faced a knuckleballer in the last 2 years (since beginning of 2015) and we don’t know how that’s going to work out. The Diamondbacks will be chalk, and I just think that on the road and against a weird pitcher, they may struggle more than people will expect!
Top Stacking Evaluations
Oh goodie, the Phillies are my top overall stacking opportunity according to my evaluator. Ask me how excited about that I am!
But I will say this, knowing that the Phillies are in a very nice spot against Zach Davies, a bad bullpen, while in a hitters park does allow me to be confident in rostering cheap Phillies power bats to save some Salary. Howie Kendrick ($3600), Tommy Joseph ($3900), Aaron Altherr ($4400), and Andrew Knapp ($3200) are all options that I would definitely consider as one-offs in this situation, as Davies isn’t exactly what I would call “good”. His 1.18 HR/9 is compounded at home by a higher batting average allows (.307) and much lower LOB% (65%). Overall, this matchup involves an entire pitching staff that gives up 1.27 HR/9, walks 3.6 batters per 9 IP, and has a 19% strike percentage (tied for lowest on the slate). I’m not head over heels in stacking the Phillies, but I do think you could do worse than Tommy Joseph at $3900 as a pivot or a single play.
The Cubs have been very bad this year, there’s no denying that. But what has been worse is the Orioles pitching staff. Kevin Gausman has been awful, with a 4.93 SIERA (surprisingly better than his ERA), a 7.7 K/9 and a .317 avg. allowed. His 3.99 BB/9 is the worst on the slate, as he is walking himself into terrible situations regularly. The Cubs have not been good, but coming out of the ASG we can hope that they feel refreshed and ready to make a push for the playoffs, and the Orioles are a very soft warm up for the rest of the season. Gausman struggles badly against RHH, allowing a .368 OBP and 33% hard contact allowed, but his HR/9 numbers are basically even at 1.35 to both sides of the plate. We of course are hoping to get through to the Orioles bullpen, which has been giving up runs like no one’s business on the year, as well as the HR’s that we covet above all else (1.3 HR/9). The best part of this will be very low ownership, but I would only suggest it in GPPs in case the Cubs issues continue.
Other stacks that my evaluator likes:
- Tigers against Aaron Sanchez
- Mariners against James Shields
- Nationals against Tim Adleman
This slate is really juicy when you dig into it, but I just think most people will see R.A. Dickey against the Diamondbacks and get tunnel vision. The Nationals are probably one of my favorite pivot stacks, as well as the Tigers with a bunch of old guys that are rested up after the break.
Top Picks for the Slate
Pitcher: Charlie Morton ($6900)
There is going to be a lot of focus on the mid ranged pitchers for this slate. People will probably pile on Jacob Faria or Jon Gray, and Jose Berrios is only $7300 which is almost $4k off his last start. My favorite pick will be slightly lower down the ladder with Charlie Morton. Morton is a very high ceiling pitcher with a 10.17 K/9 over the last year. What is even better for this matchup is that the Twins are a heavy LHH team, and Charlie has an even better K/9 against that handedness (11+). The Twins strikeout at a 23% rate against RHP, but also have plenty of power (33% hard-hit rate), making this kind of a scary play. But this is a pitcher that has legit 8K+ upside, as well as a very good bullpen to help secure a win, at a price lower than almost any usable player in his position. I love Morton as a salary relief play with the upside to win you a GPP, and I think his ownership will be less than 10% as people don’t bother going so low on the price chain.
Team Stack: Washington Nationals
It’s very obvious that the chalk is going to be on the Diamondbacks, and then I think it will fall to the Mariners against James Shields and then the Cubs against Kevin Gausman. I always like to look for situations where I can get the Nationals in a lower owned spot, and I think today will be one of those occasions. Tim Adleman probably has some upside later on in his career, but right now he is a fastball pitcher that can’t keep the ball on the ground. He has a 28% groundball rate against LHH (meaning Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy) and a 1.95 HR/9 to both sides over the last year of play. Even if Harper is going to be 30% owned, Ryan Zimmerman (118 wRC+, 39% HH rate to RHP) and Anthony Rendon (128 wRC+, 34% HH rate to RHP) are both always very low owned and make this stack deadly top to bottom. I love the idea of taking a 5 man here with Goodwin, Harper, Zimmerman, Murphy, and Rendon and just watching the Nationals put up double digits in the first game out of the break. Stack ‘em up, friends.
Infield Hitter: Robinson Cano ($4200)
If you are not looking to full stack the Nationals like me, or just can’t afford the $5200 price of Daniel Murphy, I think that Robinson Cano has just as much upside for a thousand dollars less. Cano faces off against James Shields, a walking HR machine to LHH. His 2.3 HR/9 to LHH is the highest mark on the slate by a good margin, and Robinson Cano is built to destroy RHP. With a wRC+ of 134, a strikeout rate of just 11%, and a hard-hit rate of 39%, he puts the ball in the air with authority every time a southpaw hits the mound. I’m also gunna ride the assumption that a walkoff HR to win the All-Star game will give him a nice confidence boost for a while coming into the second leg of the season, and there’s no reason to worry about him swinging and missing against this trashcan. He will be very popular, but we might just want to eat the chalk on this one. I love him in Cash and GPPs alike.
Outfield Hitter: Mike Trout ($4500)
The best player in baseball is back, and we get him at a discount. I don’t care if he is facing prime Pedro Martinez, he is rested and ready to continue what would be the best season of his young career. He should be a free square today, but he won’t be.
Value: Miguel Cabrera ($3300)
One of the things that people overlook in DFS is age. Old guys get tired, and the bumps and bruises pile up, and it can be hard to perform well after a long stretch. Coming out of the All-Star Break, this is the time when old guys are 100% and when I want to jam someone like Miguel Cabrera. And, what luck, he’s only friggin’ $3300! That’s very cheap for someone with a lot of HR power and very little strikeout potential against someone like Aaron Sanchez. Miggy has a 125 wRC+ and a 24% linedrive rate, as well as a 45% hard-hit rate against RHP. Aaron Sanchez has a lower strikeout rate (6.16 K/9), and a higher hard hit rate allowed (33%) to RHP, and has been very bad this year (1.38 K/BB, 2.08 HR/9, 5.49 SIERA) and I’m very willing to take advantage of that. I do like the Tigers as a low owned cheap stack, but I’ll take Miggy at $3300 any day of the week (especially if he’s rested).
WOOOOOOOOO WE MADE IT THROUGH THE BREAK! I didn’t get to play too many off sports (was a busy week for me) but I hope everyone had some fun in eSports and WNBA. But now, MLB is back and it’s time to party again. Let’s start off strong shall we? 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!