MLB DFS Strategy: If you can Dodge(r) a wrench…
Welcome to my MLB DFS Strategy 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 evaluating 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 (FanGraphs.com), so literally anyone could build it (if you have more free time than you know what to do with it, 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.
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, 10, and 15 points (depending on importance and percentile) which adds up to 100. The grade that each Pitcher, Hitter, 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!
This slate offers some very elite players as well as some absolute trashcans. It's going to make for some interesting decisions in roster construction especially because the elite pitchers may finally be priced where they actually belong (Max Scherzer $14100, Corey Kluber $13400) and there are very few obvious cheap choices for us to pair them with. Going to be interesting to see ownership levels on somebody like Dallas Keuchel as well, and I think there are some fantastic pivots to Scherzer in GPPs.
Top plays at the position:
Pitcher Dallas Keuchel:
Dallas Keuchel barely edges out Max Scherzer for my top overall play at the position, with an overall rating of 68 to Scherzer's 66. I have been using pitchers against the Athletics pretty much every slate for a month now, and I don't have a problem continuing that with Keuchel. Although he has been struggling, his stats over the last year of a 62% GB rate (best on slate) and 27% hard-hit rate (tied for best on slate) match up very well against a team that has no base presence and can only really score through the long ball. The Athletics 29% strikeout rate against LHP and 72 wRC+ are both numbers that inspire upside.
Pitcher Max Scherzer:
Max Scherzer is a top 3 pitcher in baseball in just about every measure, and faces a Padres team that is a bottom 3 team in baseball in just about every measure. 2.74 SIERA, 11.93 K/9, and a .90 WHIP up against a 22% strikeout rate and 29% hard-hit rate. Unfortunately, you'll be on him with somewhere around 35% of the other people in large field GPPs.
Pitcher Zack Godley:
Zack Godley makes a surprise appearance in the top 5 pitchers today, coming in a single point above Corey Kulber. Godley has actually been having a really good year (1.18 WHIP, 55% groundball rate, 8.82 K/9) and travels into Minnesota to take on a rather hot Twins team. The Twins are basically the Athletics smarter cousin, getting on base slightly more regularly, but they still strike out a lot (25% to RHP) and Godley is getting a nice park shift away from Arizona. I think he might be popular, but love him as an SP2.
Other pitchers in consideration for one reason or another:
- Corey Kluber (pivot off Scherzer, elite stuff, been untouchable)
- Rich Hill (Tigers 25% strikeout rate to LHP, park downgrade for them coming home)
- Ervin Santana (Diamondbacks struggle on road, has CGSO upside)
Top 25 Hitter Evaluations
This might be the best offensive slate that we have seen in a long time. We have Coors field, James Shields in Texas, Jordan Zimmerman, Zach Eflin, Andrew Cashner, and Chris Flexen all in play to target. It's going to be very interesting to see where people will run to between James Shields in an offensive environment or Coors, and the winners of GPPs will probably end up going the other way. Regardless of ownership, this slate is fantastic and gives you a lot of options.
Top plays for Hitters on this slate:
Hitter Justin Turner:
Justin Turner has a .190 ISO, .372 wOBA, and 152 wRC+ to RHP and gets to face Jordan Zimmermann in Detroit in the middle of the deadly Dodgers lineup. His 15% strikeout rate and 26% linedrive rate to the handedness will assuredly put the ball in the air often, and his 23% hard-hit rate over the last 15 days is plenty power for some xBH. Zimmermann allows 1.625 HR/9 and a 35% hard-hit rate to RHH, and with a .344 OBP. Great matchup.
Hitter Charlie Blackmon:
Matt Garza is a pitcher I have attacked all season for his higher flyball rate (37%) and inability to produce soft contact (17% soft allowed). Charlie Blackmon has a 144 wRC+ and 38% hard-hit rate to RHP, while Garza has a miniscule 4.61 strikeout rate to LHH, and the combination of those things means Clackmon is going to get plenty of chances to destroy a ball in the best hitting environment in baseball. SUPER expensive at $5800 though, makes things difficult elsewhere.
Hitter Corey Seager:
Corey Seager is a guy that always has a chance at a huge game in the right matchup. His .204 ISO and 143 wRC+ to RHP are fantastic and up against Jordan Zimmermann he has double dong potential. He also sports a monster 47% hard-hit rate to RHP while Zimmermann allows 2.3 HR/9 to RHH. One of my favorite things here is that he will be very low owned, as people pay up at OF and 3B and drop at SS.
Other hitters in consideration:
- Freddie Freeman (206 wRC+ to RHP highest on slate, Reds bullpen WOAT)
- Matt Carpenter (119 wRC+, 43% hard-hit rate, Trevor Williams is very bad)
- Logan Morrison (153 wRC+ to RHP, Ramirez 2.0 HR/9 and 43% hard contact allowed to LHH, Morrison much better at home)
Pretty straightforward slate for my rankings honestly. I do like the Rangers a lot but that is more of a product of Shields, not individual hitting grades. More on that in a few. But as for individuals, My rankings like mostly Dodgers, Rockies, Brewers and a sprinkle of White Sox.
Top Stacking Evaluations
This is not an easy slate to make quick decisions on by any means. We have a lot of firepower in very good spots and it'll require a little more thought than we usually get into on a slate with Coors.
Let's break a couple of these spots down:
Dodgers against Zimmermann:
Jordan Zimmermann has one of the lowest K/9s of the entire slate at 5.97, and has given up 1.8 HR/9 over the season. His BABIP is about right, maybe a bit low for someone with a 5.16 SIERA, so I don't have any reason to think he is better than he has been. The Dodgers have an average 130 wRC+ to RHP and is filled with LHH power like Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. The Detroit Bullpen is awful too, with the highest HR/9 over the last year of any bullpen (1.48) and a putrid 2.02 K/BB. The Dodgers will be very low owned as well.
Rangers against James Shields:
I don't really need to dive into this one. The Rangers play in one of the most friendly hitter's environments in baseball and James Shields has been called “A walking Coors field”. So, you're basically getting Coors field in Texas. That's bonkers.
Reds against R.A. Dickey:
Dickey is at the end of his career and sports a 5.04 SIERA, which is 1.15 runs worse than his current ERA. Regression will come and the red hot Reds (haha) have just as good a chance to bring that regression as anyone. A team wRC+ of just 113 to RHP is a little bothersome, but this is a team that is very good at BABIPing a pitcher into the ground, and can make up for a lack of HRs with steals and RBI. Dickey only allows a 26% hard-hit rate, and he has been able to navigate tougher lineups than this, but I think this is a nice spot for some cheaper bats in your main stacks.
Other stacking spots that make sense:
- White Sox (great offensive environment, Andrew Cashner regression is coming and it'll be bad)
- Rockies (Matt Garza sucks, the Brewers bullpen sucks, Rockies offense heating up)
- Indians (Ian Kennedy huge flyball guy, worse against Indians majority hardedness, low owned)
So many options, so little salary to fit them. It will be really interesting to see how people build with such expensive pitching and hitting options in such great spots.
Top Picks for the Slate
Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel ($10400)
Dallas Keuchel is going to go completely unowned due to a couple different reasons. He is coming off some very bad performances and with Max Scherzer at $14k against the Padres, he is in a really odd price point as an SP2. I'm making a case for him as an SP1 on this slate to have a little extra cash for bats, and as a way to be different in GPPs. We have Keuchel projected for 6.5 strikeouts, and I think there is some room for upside there as the Athletics have a 29% strikeout rate and just a 79 wRC+ to LHP. We also get the benefit of him being the largest favorite (-275) and having a great chance to get the win bonus as well. Keuchel is a great pivot in GPPs, and although Scherzer is the far superior cash option, I think he deserves consideration in this matchup.
Team Stack: Dodgers
Obviously, the Rockies and the Rangers are fantastic stacks. But the Dodgers are the best team in baseball and draw a very favorable matchup with a pitcher that is weak against the best platoon side the Dodgers have. This matchup gives the dodgers a couple legs up on other spots, including a 7.015 K/9, painfully low 18% K-rate, and 1.64 HR/9 overall when considering both Zimmermann and the Tigers bullpen. Zimmermann is slightly weaker to LHH than he is to RHH (41% hard-hit to 35%, 2.33 HR/9 to 1.63 HR/9) but either side is going to have plenty of chance to take him around the bases. I love a middle order stack utilizing Seager, Turner, Bellinger and Grandal (all wRC+ of 120 and up to RHP) but also want access to Joc Pederson and his low price tag hitting 6th. This is my GPP stack of the day.
Infield Hitter: Freddie Freeman ($4600)
Freddie Freeman is for whatever reason only $4600 playing at home against Sal Romano and the Reds bullpen. His 204 wRC+ is, by far, the highest applicable split of the slate, and he gets to play In a park that has been top 5 for offense on the year against Sal Romano who has a 4.66 BB/9 and 1.16 HR/9. Typically I shy away from hitters in their first couple games out of Coors, but that's because of the way breaking pitchers move in regular altitude. Romano only really has 2 pitches, a fastball and a slider, and he throws that fastball almost 70% of the time, so I'm not worried about misjudging breaking balls. Freeman is a much cheaper alternative to Nolan Arenado and Mark Reynolds in Coors with the same upside. I love him as a one off to your stacks to be different.
Outfield Hitter: Mike Trout ($5400)
Yo, you know who is going to be single digit ownership and is the best player in baseball? Mike Trout. Trout faces off against Dylan Bundy and the awful Orioles bullpen in Camden Yards, and at $5400 no one is going to pay for him. That's weird, because with an ISO of .300 and a .421 wOBA in this split, as well as a 30% hard-hit rate over the last 15 days, I will gladly pay that price. His 188 wRC+, 26% linedrive rate, and 42% hard-hit rates to RHP are all elite marks, and Dylan Bundy has a tiny 35% groundball rate to RHH meaing a lot of balls in the air, and most of them probably leaving the park. Just lock him and run with it today, enjoy the low ownership.
Value: Joc Pederson ($3300)
Joc Pederson should be 100% owned on this slate, but he won't be. He might not even hit 20% due to the OFs at the top, but that's okay. Joc is only $3300 with a 154 wRC+, 41% hard-hit rate, and .242 ISO against RHP. Not to mention Jordan Zimmermann's issues againt LHH, including a 41% hard-hit rate allowed a 2.3 HR/9. JOC JAMZ.
This is a fantastic slate, with a lot of different routes that you can travel for success. In GPPs, we are going to have some very high ownership on some very expensive players, meaning that if you can identify them and come in a bit cheaper with similar upside you can give yourself a great chance at passing the masses.
We only have a couple slates left before it is full on football season, I hope everyone has enjoyed this season and all I've had to say! It has been an honor and I'm stoked to continue doing it for a long time to come.
May Variance be with you, and I'll see you at the cash line.
As always, you can follow me at @PayDirt_DFS on twitter! Thanks for reading!
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