MLB DFS Evaluations: Fishing for Victory
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...
Another week, another dominant rating from Alex Wood in my evaluator. What's NOT to like about this guy though? On the year, he is rocking a 3.34 SIERA (within a run of his fantastic 2.68 ERA), a 10.83 K/9 (31% K%), and a .29 HR/9 which, although obviously due for regression, has been phenomenal. His 67% ground ball rate over the past year leads all other pitchers on the slate, and his 22% hard-hit rate is the lowest to boot. Typically, I will gush about him and them talk about a good but not great matchup that I'm going to attack anyway, but this weak he gets the hapless Padres who have to adjust from the awful Atlanta Braves arms to this elite one. They already have a 26% strikeout rate to LHP as well as a 92 wRC+ to the split, I imagine that is magnified here. I'm stoked, this is fun, Alex Wood is good.
Lance McCullers, Tanner Roark, Jon Gray, and Scott Feldman round out the top 5 pitchers in my ratings (should note that none of them are even close to the 78 overall mark that Wood is getting). The 4 way tie for 5th at a rating of 51 makes things kind of wide open for my choices at SP2 today, and that's fine. I really like what we have seen out of Jacob Faria this year, and I have him rated out as a top 20 pitcher In the league as far as advanced statistics show. His matchup with the Orioles is okay, but not great, and his stuff will have to be on point against a team comprised of RHH that do well against RHP. Jon Gray is an interesting option today coming out of the DL and taking on the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Although the D-backs are much better at home, their wRC+ of 92 and strikeout rate of 23% against RHP are both stats that we can take advantage of anywhere, and Gray has had a couple rehab starts to get his pitch count solid for the outing, giving him nice upside relative to his price. Jacob deGrom hasn't been rating well for me all year long, but has been very very good minus a couple bad starts (@ Texas, home against MIL). I have no problem with basically any of the top 10 pitchers in my evaluations as each has reason for use.
Oh yeah, and don't forget that Ervin Santana is a fraud. Don't believe his lies.
Top 25 Hitter Evaluations
Top rating for all Hitters on the slate today goes to Justin Smoak with an overall score of 81, the only score over an 80 of everyone involved. This makes a lot of sense, as he goes up against Doug Fister in Toronto (a great hitting park). Smoak has a 110 wRC+, 24% line drive rate, and 39% hard-hit rate against RHP and already has 16 HRs (of his 21) off of righties. Doug Fister, over the last year, has a 1.8 HR/9 to RHH as well as a .41 OBP and a 38% ground ball rate, making this a fantastic spot to roll out any and all RHH in the Bluejays lineup. I will say, however, that I would recommend him as a 1 off (more on that when we talk about the stacks). Regardless of how you use him, Justin Smoak should be in consideration.
Mike Zunino, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Belt, and Shin-Soo Choo fill out the rest of the spots in the top 5 with guys like Evan Longoria and Curtis Granderson coming close. Edwin Encarnacion probably gets the highest upside matchup on the entire slate facing off against Anibal Sanchez. E5's 139 wRC+ and 40% hard-hit rate against RHP are both very high, and Sanchez has given up 2.6 HR/9 to RHH as well, to go with a 40% hard-hit rate allowed. Mike Zunino is always a nice boom or bust option at the catcher position (30%+ strikeout rate to both hands), and gets a spot against a middle reliever in a rotation spot, Parker Bridwell. One of my favorite plays at hitter today is going to be Evan Longoria against Chris Tillman in Baltimore. Longoria has reverse splits and sports a wRC+ of 129, a strikeout rate of 18%, and a hard-hit rate of 33% against RHP, while Tillman struggles to keep the ball on the ground with a 40% ground ball rate in this split.
In GPPs, I think Nolan Arenado and Justin Bour both make a lot of sense. Both players are in nice hitting parks (Arizona and Milwaukee, respectively) and neither will be very highly owned. Arenado has a 136 wRC+ against LHP and we all know Robbie Ray's HR issues when playing at home. Bour, on the other hand, has been absolutely mashing the ball this year (now in the top 20 in WAR in the year), and gets to tee off on Matt Garza who allows 38% hard contact and 1.5 HR/9 to LHH. There are a lot of different ways to stack up in GPPs today, but it almost seems like one-offs are the best way to go today.
Top Stacking Evaluations
This is something that I have been putting together over the last week or so to better define a good stacking opportunity, and I'm unleashing it today! What this chart does is measure an overall matchup for a team that doesn't just include the opposing pitcher's stats, but also the opposing bullpen. I take the same rating equations that I use for my regular stacking evaluator, but take the average of the pitcher and bullpen, giving a much better idea at the big picture for a stack. The reason for this is that if you attack someone like Josh Tomlin tomorrow, you'll probably get 3 or 4 runs off of him but then have to face one of the best bullpen's in the league, thus eliminating your stack from really going off! Not enough people are considerate of the effect a bullpen has on their stacks, so I went ahead and put something together that gives a good idea of everything all at once, and this is the result.
So, with that being said, the best stacking opportunity for the slate is up against Chris Tillman and the Orioles Bullpen, thus stacking the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays draw an overall situation against one of the worst pitching crews in the game right now, and Tillman doesn't help that cause. Overall, the matchup has a 7.14 K/9, and an awful 4.23 BB/9. The 1.7 HR/9 combined is second worst on the entire slate, only slightly better than the matchup for the Mariners. The 4.96 SIERA combination is better than their ERA of 6.3, but it is still the second worst on the slate and even some positive regression towards that goal will result in plenty of runs. The best part is that if there was any team to take advantage of a HR prone pitching staff, it is the Rays.
The Mets draw the next best overall situation against Ben Lively and the Phillies bullpen. The Phillies have been giving up runs at a hilariously bad rate, and they have the worst SIERA in the league as a result (5.1 with Lively starting). The 1.2 HR/9 isn't quite screaming upside, but the 5.7 K/9 overall means that the Mets should be getting on base plenty, and making contact all game. Another nice thing about this stack rating well is an ownership discount with more people focusing on the better teams on the slate, making the Mets a sneaky GPP target for the slate.
Speaking of GPP strategies, I really like the idea of just game stacking the Marlins and Brewers playing in Milwaukee. The Marlins travel to a positive park shift in Milwaukee and take on Matt Garza and the Brewers bullpen, which I have rated as the worst in the entire league. The Brewers on the other hand face Edinson Volquez who has been on a bit of a heater since throwing a no hitter a couple weeks back, but still isn't very good and has a bullpen that walks almost half as many batters as they strikeout (3.94/8.68 respectively).
This tool has treated me well over the last week or so as I tested it out on my own stacks, and I believe it does well to identify matchups in the larger picture.
Top Picks for the Slate
Pitcher: Lance McCullers ($8800)
My Obligatory message when I write about my pitching selection these days: Alex Wood is very good, he should be your SP1 (Especially going up against the Padres with a 26% strikeout rate to lefties in a pitchers park). I will now tell you about who I think should be SP2.
This is mostly a price play, because I don't think that McCullers should be this cheap in any matchup, besides maybe pitching in Coors. Lance McCullers on the year has a 10.69 K/9, a 60% ground ball rate, and a 25% hard-hit rate. In fact, if you set him and Alex Wood next to each other, you are looking at very similar pitchers. The big (rather large) difference is obviously the matchup, as Wood gets the lame Padres and McCullers gets the hard hitting Yankees. The Yankees has a combined wRC+ of 117 against RHP (second best applicable split on the slate) they also have a nice mix of LHH/RHH eliminating McCuller's dominance against LHH overall. So this play is mostly based on the idea that McCullers is 1) Very good 2) very consistent (hasn't dropped below 15 points since 4/26 against Cleveland) and 3) has had success against the Yankees to the tune of 29 fantasy points on the road. At only $8800, he is too much of a bargain for me to really pass up.
Team Stack: Miami Marlins
The Marlins are coming off of a very long home stand, one that has kept them at their home park for 9 straight contests (spanning 11 days since the 19th). As we know, the Marlins home park isn't exactly a hitters paradise. Now, they get to travel to Milwaukee and gain a very good park shift into one of the most hitter friendly venues in the league. Guys like Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Justin Bour are going to love this as the already hard-hit balls are going to be leaving the park that much easier leading to more HRs (we hope). As we talked about in the stacking section, this matchup with Matt Garza and the Brewers Bullpen is one of the most advantageous on the board, but they have to knock out Garza first. He is actually pretty good against RHH (54% ground ball rate, .8 HR/9) but struggles against LHH so guys like Yelich and Bour have a great chance at some early RBI, while we would be more expecting late runs from Stanton and Ozuna. Garza has been getting knocked around all year, and getting worse as the year runs on, averaging only 11.9 fantasy points per game and only getting past the 5th inning once in his last 6 starts, so I have confidence he will get pulled quickly against a lot of power. The middle of the stack has a wRC+ of 113 against RHP, with a 37% hard-hit rate, and I'm thinking we see at least 3 HR's from this team today. I want to stack up the middle of this order and hope Garza gets pulled in the 3rd inning so we get a full 6 against the worst bullpen in the league in a nice hitters park.
Infield Hitter: Evan Longoria ($4600)
My pick for my infielder is going to be Evan Longoria, playing in Baltimore against Chris Tillman and the Orioles relievers he will get after 2 innings. The Orioles are, collectively, the worst group of arms in the entire league. Their starting rotation has an ERA well over 5, and their advanced stats show it as truth. Chris Tillman, in particular, has a 6.34 K/9 and a 4.91 BB/9, meaning that he legitimately walks almost as many batters as he strikes out. His 2.05 HR/9 is in the bottom 10% of the league of qualified starting pitchers, and although his ERA-SIERA is a positive 2.76, he is still working towards a very bad 5.66 SIERA. Evan Longoria also has reverse splits, with a 129 wRC+ against RHP, letting him take advantage of Tillman's weak split to full effect. Once he gets through Tillman, he gets to hit HR's off the Orioles bullpen which is giving up 1.35 HR/9 and has some BABIP regression as it sits above a .3, much higher than their 4.26 SIERA (combined) should allow. This is a good spot, man. Let's take advantage of it.
Outfield Hitter: Yoenis Cespedes ($4500)
Yooooooooooenis Cespedes is going to be my pick for my favorite outfielder on the slate, up against Ben Lively and the Phillies bullpen. Now, Lively has 11 strikeouts on the year, which would be awesome in a single game but that is over a stretch of 3 full games. In fact, in his last game, he literally didn't have a strikeout at all, and it lead to 7 hits and 4 ER, with 1 HR against the Diamondbacks. He doesn't have a long career or a lot to go off, but we have to assume that the strikeout drought is a product of having subpar stuff and no real plus pitches. Up against the Mets, that is a problem, and it's especially an issue against Yoenis Cespedes. His 125 wRC+ against RHP and 40% hard-hit rate should be very damaging to Lively since he has only been able to pull 33% ground balls against RHH. At the beginning of the season, you couldn't win a GPP without Cespedes as he was hitting multiple HRs basically every other day, and the upside in this matchup is that massive once again. The other piece to this play is a matchup with the Phillies bullpen, a bottom three group that can't get people out (.262 avg) walks a batter every other AB (2.12 K/BB) and gives up 1.37 HR/9 overall. I love this spot for Cespedes' upside.
Value: Jon Gray ($6700)
Another week of my going with a fresh off the DL pitcher as my value play, but the DraftKings pricing algorithm is so slow about these things that it's really hard for me not to take advantage of it. Jon Gray AKA The Wolf is back for the Rockies after missing plenty of time with a foot injury. We don't have much to go off this year, as the injury hampered him badly in the beginning, so we have to assume he returns to year long form, which is a pretty nice goal to achieve. Over the last year, he ran a 9.37 K/9, an .89 HR/9, and a 4.81 ERA while pitching half his games in Coors. Those are pretty good in that situation, and he draws a good but not great first game back from the DL in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. Their wRC+ against RHP is just 92, and they have a 23% strikeout rate to go along with it. They are also a team that struggles with Sliders (their second worst pitch hit), which Gray threw plenty of last year (26%, 18% this year in short terms). This is a very exploitable matchup, and after throwing 80+ pitches in his last rehab start, I have confidence he can go at least 6 innings. At just $6700 he has more than enough upside to warrant GPP exposure, and cash exposure if you feel like living life on the edge. Let's party.
As we beginning to move towards the All-Star break in MLB, It's a pretty good time to start playing a little less than you have been. As the season progresses, it gets harder and harder to exploit an edge, as available is becoming more and more widespread. It gets harder and harder to find those special plays that people may look over, thus giving you less of a chance towards success. It's also important to mention that as the weather starts to get warmer, the balls will be flying farther. As I've mentioned before, it's really important to chase strikeout upside in pitchers because HR rates are up across the board and it's only going to get worse as the season progresses. This slate especially has some very nice upside options at cheap prices that may be worth pursuing to get some more expensive bats, and I think that you could build some very nice stacks without sacrificing upside with the options we have.
Hope you've been having a great season, let's keep it rolling.
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!
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