MLB DFS Evaluations: Walk the Walk, and Talk the Chalk
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...
Starting out our Pitching ratings is Eduardo Rodriguez, with an overall grade of 66, playing at home against the Chicago White Sox. Rodriguez has had a rocky return from the DL after a knee injury earlier in the year, allowing at least 3 runs in each start (3, 4, and 4). He hasn't had any offense to bail him out either, which has just compounded the issues by giving him no chance for a win. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he was so good before the stint on the DL, and he comes back to one of the best matchups on the board. The White Sox have a 27% strikeout rate against LHP, as well as a lower linedrive rate (24% against RHP to 19% for lefties), and are in the midst of rebuilding and throwing out prospects left and right. This Grade is propped up by Eduardo Rodriguez's 9.77 K/9, 1.17 WHIP, and .293 OBP over the last calendar year, and the White Sox don't really offer any issues for Lefties. He is a good option in cash and GPPs alike.
Some other thoughts on pitching options tonight:
- Jacob Faria comes in second in my ratings and will no doubt be one of the most popular options on the slate. He faces off with the Milwaukee Brewers at home in Tampa Bay, and has been pretty good on the surface, driving up his ownership on name alone. The Brewers have a 26% strikeout rate to RHP and a 19% linedrive rate, both marks below average. I am a bit worried here though. Faria has been good on the surface, but the advanced stats below the hood paint a different story. His xFIP and SIERA are both well above his 2.93 ERA, and have been rising steadily. Another concerning trend is his groundball rate has dropped from around 50% to just 30% recently while his flyball rate has jumped dramatically the other direction. I am recommending we stay away from Faria in GPPs for sure, and would be a bit wary in cash.
- Brad Peacock faces off against the Toronto Blue Jays in Houston, and represents a nice GPP option in the upper tier of pricing ($10,300). He still has his walk issues (4.88 BB/9) but his 12.01 K/9 is the highest on the slate and the Blue Jays are not the powerhouse that they have been in years past. Jose Bautista is legit bad now, and Troy Tulowitzki is one of the lowest upside batters in baseball. His HR/9 is dangerously low and due for some normalization, but he is very good against RHH and if he gives up a homerun to Justin Smoak I'm not going to be super upset. He has a very high ceiling and the strikeouts represent a good floor. Good cash option.
- Ivan Nova is going to have a nice matchup with the swing-happy Padres in one of the best pitcher's parks in the league, but he is going to be very popular. His 5.97 K/9 over the last year is the third lowest on this slate only behind Bartolo Colon and Martin Perez, but he is very good at limiting damage and can pitch deep into games. The Padres actually get a rather significant negative park shift in this game, and at $7,800 Nova has a ceiling of about 35 points if he can go the distance. He's got a great floor here, and a bit of upside as well.
- Bartolo Colon Is dirt cheap. He is less expensive than 45 of the available OF options on the slate. I'm not saying he is good, or even decent anymore. But, the Rangers are a much worse team on the road (105 wRC+ at home, only 85 wRC+ on the road) and their K% raises from 22% at home to 26% on the road. For just $4,000, all you want is 6 IP and 3 Ks with like 2 ER and you are a happy clam. It's not the worst idea in the world.
This is a very fun slate for Pitching with good options in each pricing Tier. I almost don't think it is really necessary to pay up for Madison Bumgarner or Jacob deGrom in their respective matchups because they each carry about as much risk as any other pitcher, and the upside is only slightly higher than some of the guys in great matchups. I really like the idea of just paying way down at Pitcher with Eduardo Rodriguez as my SP1 and loading all the way up on Coors bats with some Astros power and just letting it ride. It's a nice day to be considerate of ownership as well, as some of the chalky options have a good chance to get blown up. Have some fun today!
Top 25 Hitter Evaluations
When a Pitcher is allowing 51% hard contact to a certain handedness, it's pretty obvious that we are going to have plenty of the players from that team in the top 25 list. That is the case with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yulieski Gurriel, Evan Gattis, and Tyler White. All the Astros are in a fantastic matchup with Cesar Valdez, a recall for the Toronto Blue Jays who can't keep the ball on the ground at all (38% groundball rate) and gives up hard contact like no one's business. Of course, his HR/9 is 3.18 to RHH (1.13 to LHH), so that's going to move the needle quite a bit as well. To complete this perfect storm, the Houston ballpark is one of the top 5 friendliest hitter's parks in the league over the last year (according to data from fangraphs), so we have no reason to fade any of the Astro's bats besides pricing issues. Jose Altuve especially, with his 157 wRC+ to RHP and 22% linedrive rate will cause a lot of damage.
Mixed in with all the Astros populating the top 10 are a couple Rockies bats, Sean Rodriguez, and Lucas Duda with his new squad. The Rockies get a spot at home in hitter's paradise against Vincent Velasquez. Velasquez has a high strikeout rate (10.04 K/9) but also struggles with groundballs and hard contact, leading to an inflated HR/9 that will absolutely be exploited in Coors. His 1.56 HR/9 is not a mirage and he typically gives up more than that when he gets in trouble, and with the Rockies bats finding life over the last couple weeks it's going to get ugly. Lucas Duda has been fantastic since joining the Rays, and is playing at home in hitter friendly Tampa Bay. We don't know much about Brandon Woodruff, as this will be his first major league appearance. Streamer projections are optimistic on his strikeout potential but the transition to the Major's is a hard one, and I think he will struggle. Lucas Duda, with his 133 wRC+ and 43% hard hit rate to RHP make for a very attractive option against this rookie.
A couple other spots that I wanted to bring up:
- Freddie Freeman against Adam Conley seems like a lock for a HR. It helps he is playing in Atlanta, but his 133 wRC+ to LHP matched with Conley's .424 OBP and 31% hard hit rate allowed to LHH is a nice spot to attack. Freeman will definitely fly under the radar.
- Carlos Gonzalez has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games. His hitting issues from the beginning of the season are gone and people haven't noticed yet. He will be a lower owned hitter in Coors against a HR prone pitcher, Don't be worried to roll him out in stack.
- Jim Adduci continues to be a low priced piece of the Tigers lineup since the trade deadline, and over the last year has been solid to both LHP and RHP. Kevin Gausman has been better of late but still has a penchant for the long ball, and gives up 1.81 HR/9 to LHH over the last year. He is worth a shot as a cheaper flier.
All of the Rockies and all of the Astros. The matchups are just too good for both teams, and both are hitting in good offensive environments. The ownership is going to be very high on both of those teams, so it makes a lot of sense to get some low owned champs in there to differentiate. Somebody like Freddie Freeman over Mark Reynolds or Evan Longoria over Nolan Arenado would be more than enough to make your lineups unique without sacrificing too much upside. If you like some off the board hitters, today is the day to use them! Ownership will most likely be very concentrated.
Top Stacking Evaluations
My Evaluations are pretty boring today. Most of my top options are the chalkier spots on the slate, and I have no real reason to go against them either. Generally, I prefer to look for some off the board spots to attack but things line up so well today that I'm not going to try to get cute with things. With that being said, let's talk through a couple spots.
The Rockies play in Coors against Vincent Velasquez and the Phillies arms. Velasquez on the year has an 8.73 K/9, but also a 10% walk rate and a very high 1.91 HR/9. His FIP of 5.28 is still higher than his ERA, while his SIERA is a bit lower (4.4). His numbers don't exactly scream for targeting, but it's not necessarily his numbers we are after. The Phillies have the worst bullpen in the league, and if the Rockies go on a run early, which is a pretty foreseeable situation in Coors, they are going to tee off. To inspire even more confidence in the matchup, Velasquez hardly has any splits at all, but he does give up more HRs to RHH, meaning Nolan Arenado is going to do his thing. This will be the most popular stack on the slate, but I can't fade it. Just too good.
The Braves play at home against Adam Conley, and will go completely overlooked on this slate. Adam Conley is bad, but doesn't really give up very many HRs to either side of the plate (1.24 HR/9 to RHH, .66 to LHH) so that's not exactly great for GPPs. However, his .400 overall OBP and 1.79 WHIP mean that there will be a lot of chances for Braves players to get on base. It's kind of an iffy situation for me, as I don't think the ceiling is very high but I really like the floor of most of the Braves bats getting anywhere between 4 and 10 points. More of a cash situation for me, and only a mini stack.
The Astros are my third ranked at home against Cesar Valdez and the Toronto Blue Jays pen. This matchup is almost identical to what the Rockies get to play with in Coors, but due to the park difference they are lower down in my rankings overall. The combination of Valdez and his Bullpen has a slightly lower walk rate, and a larger disparity in ERA-SIERA, but besides those two spots we have very close HR/9 and WHIP numbers. Obviously the Coors stack will get the edge if you only have one lineup, but I think if you are going with multiple you need to have an Astros build somewhere. The matchup is juicy, and the Houston Bats are the best in baseball. Great GPP option at lower ownership.
After those spots it all gets kind of muddled. I mentioned that the Rangers aren't very good on the road, and I actually like Bartolo Colon as a GPP pitcher, so I'm kind of crossing them off the list. The Tigers draw a nice-ish matchup with Kevin Gausman and a bad bullpen but have been impossible to stack this year, as every player either gets an out or hits a HR, and there is little correlation in their lineup at the moment. The Phillies suck. The Pirates play in a bad ballpark. It just sets up really well for the top 3 or 4 teams to garner all the ownership and leave the rest for scraps. Like I said with Hitters, if you really like an off the board play, you could make a killing by using it if the chalk fails.
Top Picks for the Slate
Pitcher: Eduardo Rodriguez ($6900)
I'm going to go back to the well this week and continue attacking the White Sox and pitch Eduardo Rodriguez as my top option for the slate. Like I mentioned earlier in the article, I'm well aware of his struggles since his return, but there is a lot in his favor for tonight's matchup. The White Sox strikeout 27% of the time against LHP, which is one of the highest applicable rates on the slate. This 97 wRC+ is just below average, and I have no reason to believe that the individual matchups will be that much nicer. Rodriguez has a 40% groundball rate, 25% hard hit rate allowed, and .38 HR/9 to LHH, taking away 4 of the 9 batters in the lineup for the White Sox. He struggles against RHH, allowed 1.17 HR/9 and a groundball rate of only 32%, but that really only leaves Jose Abreu and Tyler Saladino as threats in what is an awfully watered down version of this team. At just $6900 it's hard for me to see him return less than 15 points in this spot, and his 9.9 K/9 on the year shows the upside he has if things fall his way. He is a great option in both GPPs and Cash alike.
Team Stack: Miami Marlins
Regular Disclaimer: you should play Coors in cash, because the Rockies are going to go HAM sandwich on Vince Velasquez and the Phillies bullpen. But if you are feeling frisky in GPPs and want so get off the chalk, I'm going to suggest you stack up the Miami Marlins. Playing in Atlanta is a large park boost on top of where they generally play, and going up against R.A. Dickey is always a nice spot. Dickey has been surprisingly efficient this year, limiting HRs in most spots and generally using his knuckleball to the best of it's ability. But, the Marlins have been on fire since the ASG and are firing on all cylinders right now. Dee Gordon is hitting like a madman, Giancarlo Stanton is near pacing the league in homeruns, Christian Yelich has found his power. It's all coming together down the stretch and they draw a great spot in a hitters environment against a schticky pitcher. If they can get past Dickey (not a super difficult thing to do) they face the 3rd worst bullpen in the league, allowing 1.23 HR/9 and only holding 71% of batters on base. If you don't want the Astros or the Rockies because of ownership (and that should be the only reason you fade them) I don't hate the Marlins in a high ceiling matchup with the Braves.
Infield Hitter: Freddie Freeman ($5200)
I was kind of hoping that Freeman wouldn't be as expensive as he is, but here we are and I think it will actually make him an even less popular option. Freddie Freeman has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last couple seasons, and now will be playing at home in a hitters ballpark up against a contact pitcher and a bad bullpen. At $5200 he is more expensive than any other first basemen, even Mark Reynolds in Coors against the Phillies, and that's going to get people off him really quick I think. That shouldn't happen, because his matchup with Adam Conley is great! Conley allows an OBP or .424 to LHH, and Freeman has been very good at the plate against the handedness with a 133 wRC+ and a 40% hard hit rate. Playing at home, he has been even better, with an overall 172 wRC+. Another interesting thing is his home/road splits against LHP are huge, with a 68 wRC+ at home and a 181 wRC+ on the road. I'm going to attribute it to his ridiculous .143 BABIP at home and assume that those number will close up quite a bit, and there's not many better pitchers to get right against than Adam Conley. I don't love the price, but I think he is a fantastic contrarian option.
Outfield Hitter: Eric Thames ($3800)
Continuing my attempt to highlight players that aren't super chalky, I present to you Eric Thames playing in Tampa Bay against Jacob Faria. There's a lot to like here for me, including being someone with a lot of upside that will be less than 5% owned. His $3800 price tag is very cheap in consideration of the other OF bats that people will be playing today, and continues to be low for his recent production. He has hit safely in 9 of his last 10 games, with 4 double digit performances and 3 HRs in that span. His 141 wRC+ against RHP matched with a massive flyball rate and 43% hard hit rate make for a high upside option for cheap. As I said earlier, Faria will be very chalky today and has been playing above his head, with his numbers starting to trend the other way. Playing in a nice offensive environment against a dangerous team I think he makes some mistakes, which will give Thames a couple opportunities to take him yard. Obviously not a cash game play, but he is a great low owned pivot in GPPs.
Value: Bartolo Colon ($4000)
You gotta risk it, if you want the biscuit.
The Rangers are a notably worse team on the road, and travel to a park that reduces LHH power. Their 26 percent K% is the highest on the slate, and Bartolo Colon is basically free. I know he's bad, but if you get 15 points out of him and the Rockies score 15 runs, you're going to make a lot of money. I will have at least 20% Colon tomorrow, and if you want to ride this train with me there will be plenty of seats open!
I got to watch football last night, and it was glorious. There aren't many things that I cherish more than the game, and I'm very excited for it to be back. With it comes cold weather, good food, and family outings in the holiday season. It also brings the new round of video games from top developers (for those that are gamers like me, this is exciting) and means the year is about coming to an end.
The Baseball season is far from over, but you gotta cherish it while it stays because it'll be gone before you know it!
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