MLB DFS Strategy: Pitchers to Get Ahead of the Curve On
Analyzing skill sets is a big part of the daily fantasy baseball game and being able to identify solid talents before the masses catch on. In this article, Ricky Sanders has identified players who the public will not be on as much as they should be in the early-going of the 2019 season, and riding these pitchers should give fantasy owners an edge from the get-go particularly in guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournaments contrarian plays are a core piece of MLB DFS strategy. Here are five pitchers that Ricky Sanders expects the DFS market to be slow to adapt to.
Chris Paddack, Padres
Earlier in the offseason, friend in the industry Derek Carty tweeted something that opened my eyes; he said “Chris Paddack projects as one of the top 20 SPs in baseball already, and it’s the craziest rookie projection I’ve ever seen.” His tweet caused me to look more into the minor league career and skill set of a player who has been blessed with pitching half his games in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Since 2016, Paddack has posted a K rate of at least 27.0-percent at every level he has been to, and that includes a 40-plus percent K rate at High-A ball and lower. Last year, Paddack won the MiLBY award for Top Starting Pitcher due to his aforementioned dominance, and he has posted an 11.5 K/BB ratio in the minors. The thing with Paddack at the Double-A level was he never threw more than 86 pitches in a starter which he later admitted was frustrating. However, sort of like J.A. Happ last year, who topped 6.0 innings just once after the month of June, limiting his innings could potentially enhance his effectiveness. The Padres will likely look to be conservative with their young prospect early on but a site like DraftKings does not add in the quality start bonus. In other words, Paddack will simply need to be effective and strike batters out in his shorter outings, and he will still prove to be a solid play as his price will almost assuredly start out cheap. Of all the guys on the list, Paddack is the one I am most excited to get out in front of the pack on, as I think it will be profitable to invest in this kid before too long.
Shane Bieber, Indians
On this list, Shane Bieber is going to be an anomaly because he is a pitcher reliant on pounding the strike zone who pitchers in a subpar pitchers’ park. According to ESPN’s Park Factors, Progressive Field ranked as a top four park hitters’ park in terms of runs scored in 2019, and that partially explains why Bieber’s ERA (4.55) was so much higher than his FIP (3.23) or xFIP (3.30). Another reason for the phenomenon was a .356 BABIP allowed which all projection systems agree will not continue in the long run (especially since he never topped a .340 BABIP allowed in any extended minor league sample). In the minors, Bieber never yielded a HR/FB rate greater than 8.8-percent at any level, so last year was an adjustment for Bieber in his first go-around in the big league. Still, Bieber pounded the zone at a 48.0-percent rate, which would have tied him for the MLB lead with Miles Mikolas had he qualified. Even though he threw strikes, Bieber displayed solid strikeout stuff, posting a 24.3-percent K rate, which was roughly in line from his minor league numbers from 2018. Maybe most importantly, Bieber hardly walked anyone (4.7-percent BB rate), which should create optimism moving forward. Since the BABIP and HR/FB rate were so much higher than they were at any other level, projection systems are expecting positive regression in both categories, which means Bieber will not allow many runners. On DraftKings especially, Bieber possessing a theoretically high floor, because opponents will need to string together hits or hit the ball over the fence to create runs as opposed to the next pitcher who will fall victim to free pass quite often. I loved what I saw from Bieber towards the end of the season, and while his K rate may depreciate a bit, he is unlikely to kill you on most days (especially when he is in more pitcher-friendly road environments where the play does not fly like it does in Cleveland).
Tyler Glasnow, Rays
Control and inability to hold runners are the two glaring negatives for Tyler Glasnow but his move to the Rays helped improve his issue with the walks. The Rays are an organization known for developing young pitchers. He credits the Rays for helping to create consistency in his windup and he has worked this offseason to add a pause to the start of his lineup (think Alex Cobb-esque). According to Glasnow, the new delivery is a way to make his delivery more consistent and improve his spin rate. Last year, Glasnow only posted an 11.3-percent BB rate, which may seem high, but he improved from a 13.2-percent BB rate in the first half to a 9.5-percent BB rate in the second half. Furthermore, Glasnow enjoyed an uptick in velocity in all his pitches last year, including a 2.2-mph bump in average velocity on his fastball and 3.3-mph gain on his curveball, per PitcherList. After the All-Star Break, Glasnow was already amidst breaking out, and that was before he worked all offseason on his changeup with pitching coach Kyle Snyder. FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights showed improvements in all his pitches after joining the Rays but his changeup still rated as a below average pitch. If he could simply improve the pitch to around league average, Glasnow would feature a complete arsenal, instead of essentially being a two-pitch pitcher like he was last year (1.7-percent changeups). More pitches would give him a better shot to switch things up and pitch deeper into games which would give him ace-like potential. Runners still will have their way when they reach base but if Glasnow can limit walks then his ceiling is massive (as evident by his 29.1-percent K rate).
Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox
Knowing a pitcher’s weaknesses help fantasy owners assess the potential paths for a start to go haywire and Eduardo Rodriguez‘s weaknesses were on full display in 2018. For the third consecutive season, Rodriguez allowed a HR/FB rate of over 11.0-percent, he pounded the zone at a career-low 40.0-percent rate and only 86 pitches more total pitches over the course of the season despite him only throwing 129.0 innings (missing a large chunk of the second half due to injury). Basically, it is no wonder Red Sox manager Alex Cora is advocating for Rodriguez to attack hitters this year, especially because his stuff is nasty. Heading into 2019, Rodriguez has bested a 25.5-percent K rate in back-to-back years and his underlying numbers improved drastically last year. Daily fantasy baseball is heavily-reliant on strikeouts and it is clear Rodriguez can miss bats. Over the course of his final seven starts, Rodriguez yielded just 28 hits and struck out 43 hitters in 35.2 innings. In four of those starts, Rodriguez walked two hitters or less, and he walked a combined 13 in the other three games. If this does not personify the type of volatile talent Rodriguez can be then nothing will. Now, Rodriguez will be entering his year 26 season and coming off a season where he posted an 85 ERA-, 87 FIP- and 3.77 DRA-. In those categories, out of 116 pitchers with at least 120 innings last year, he ranked 35th, 30th and 39th in those categories, per overthemonster.com. Rodriguez likes the criticism from his manager, as evident by his comments in this article, and Cora has put a focus on Rodriguez pitching deeper into games. Even if Rodriguez does not take his manager’s words to heart, and does not start attacking hitters, his numbers last year were enough for him to be a viable start in most starts (at least six strikeouts in 12 of 23 starts). If Rodriguez can improve, and pitch deeper into games (pitched into the seventh inning in just two of his starts last year), then Rodriguez can propel himself into the top 25 or so of starting pitchers. He is a little riskier than some of the other names on this slate but sometimes there is nothing more fun than riding a rollercoaster.
Drew Smyly, Rangers
Last but not least, Drew Smyly looks like a legitimate bounce-back candidate after a strong start to the Spring. Smyly may not be a name many fantasy owners remember but he was an ascending pitcher for the Rays prior to succumbing to the all too familiar Tommy John surgery. Prior to the injury, Smyly profiled as a true fly-baller, having held opposing hitters to just a career 36.3-percent ground ball rate. On the surface, the fit in Texas is poor, as the park plays incredibly hitter friendly especially as the weather warms up throughout the season. Like Bieber, Smyly is another guy who rarely walked opposing hitters, and one who attacked the strike zone (46.1-percent career zone rate). Through two appearances this spring, Smyly has struck out three batters and has walked just one in three innings, and his last time out was his first multi-inning outing since the surgery. He said he expects to have no problems getting to five or six innings by the end of camp and the fact he pitched multiple innings already marked a milestone in his recovery process. Early in the year, Globe Life Park in Arlington plays differently than it does in mid-July or August, and the club will play series in Angel Stadium, Chase Field, Oakland Coliseum and T-Mobile Park (Seattle) all within the first month. Whereas Rangers park is not a great fit for a fly-baller, those other parks are a lot more favorable, and Smyly’s skillset is conducive to such parks.