Fantasy Baseball is finally back, and FanDuel is starting the season in style.
The $300K Grand Slam headlines these featured contests. It’s $25 to join, with $30,000 going to first place.
Otherwise, FanDuel is also running qualifiers to their Playboy Mansion Live Event Final. Be sure to check out those two items, along with all of the other great contest offerings.
This article aims to serve as an MLB Opening Day “primer” of sorts. In the following steps below, I will lay out some basic fantasy baseball research techniques, while directly applying it to FanDuel’s Opening Day contests on April 6th.
Hopefully you will gain a better understanding of MLB DFS methodology, or at least a different perspective on how to assemble a lineup. At the very least, you’ll be left with some viable targets to fuel your Opening Day teams.
1. ASSESSING THE PITCHING LANDSCAPE
Analyzing each pitcher is the crux of daily fantasy baseball success. In other words, you’ll want to target the quality pitchers in favorable situations, while stacking hitters against weak hurlers in less-than-ideal spots. Here are some of the more common screening tools used to assess pitching viability:
o Vegas odds. The run total is particularly telling of the pitching environment for that game. Obviously, you’ll want to target pitchers favored in projected low scoring games (7.5 or less runs). Conversely, as the run totals grow above 8-8.5, you’ll want to pick and choose quality bats in that high run-scoring atmosphere.
o Pitcher splits. How well does a pitcher throw against righties/lefties? As a general rule, hurlers usually toss better to batters of the same handedness. Stemming from that principle comes the term “platoon advantage” – where a hitter is thought to have an edge over a pitcher of the opposite dominant hand (i.e. left-handed hitter vs right-handed pitcher, etc). This isn’t always the case, but it’s a general rule of thumb.
o Park Factor. Where is the game being played? Does that ballpark cater more towards pitching or hitting? Usually it doesn’t pay to risk high-price pitchers in extreme hitter-friendly parks (unless you consider the unhuman-like arm of Clayton Kershaw). Likewise, a batter receives an additional boost when hitting in these generous parks.
There’s plenty of other nuances/tools used to evaluate a pitcher’s talent level, such as xFIP or SIERA. I recommend looking into these items at some point in time, but the highlighted factors serve as a satisfactory introduction to recognize favorable DFS circumstances.
2. IDENTIFY THE STRONGEST/WEAKEST PITCHING OPTIONS
Using the factors listed above, we can pinpoint pitchers to utilize and target against. Here’s how this shapes up for Opening Day:
Strongest -- “Paying up” for a reliable pitcher is integral in 50/50 and H2H style contests. It is still preferred in large tournaments, but you can also mix and match some under-the-radar pitchers when blending multiple lineups.
Opening Day is very different from the rest of the regular season, as the player pool is loaded with aces taking the mound. He’s the top ones to consider:
Clayton Kershaw – LAD (vs San Diego) - $11,700
Max Scherzer – WAS (vs New York Mets) - $11,000
James Shields - SD (at LA Dodgers) - $9,100
Weakest -- Usually you’ll find these guys toward the bottom of the FanDuel player pool, and Opening Day is no exception. Here’s the weakest pitchers taking the mound on Monday:
Kyle Kendrick – COL (at Milwaukee)
Josh Collmenter – ARI (vs San Francisco)
Clay Buchholz – BOS (at Philadelphia)
From here, it pays to dig deeper into the splits, which feeds into our next point.
3. FIND SUSCEPTIBILITIES OF THESE WEAK PITCHERS
Kyle Kendrick – RHP – COL (at Milwaukee)
He holds a .355 wOBA vs LHB and .320 against RHB, meaning you can easily pick your spots against him. That especially holds true in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, ranking in the top 10 in “park factor” for three of the past four seasons.
Josh Collmenter - RHP – ARI (vs San Francisco)
Collmenter is much more susceptible vs lefties, allowing a .320 wOBA. Target the Giants accordingly, as they’ll enjoy a park shift to Chase Field.
Clay Buchholz – RHP – BOS (at Philadelphia)
Buchholz had a down year, allowing .351 wOBA to opposing left-handed hitters. He stands at .321 vs LHB per his career, indicating a slight vulnerability.
4. CROSS-REFERENCE QUALIFYING HITTERS
In this stage of the screening process, we are looking at players with corresponding handedness and splits to take advantage of these weaknesses.
o Milwaukee bats to target vs Kendrick (in order of preference):
Adam Lind (LHB) – 1B
Over the past three years, Lind holds a mighty .387 wOBA and .202 ISO against right-handed pitchers. Pit that against Kendrick’s generosity to lefties, and you have the makings of a solid matchup play.
Scooter Gennett (LHB) – 2B
Mr. Gennett is one of those guys you always want to target vs right-handed pitching. He owns an impressive .380 wOBA vs RHP, while that mark deflates to .138 vs lefties. Scooter is very much in play for Opening Day.
Carlos Gomez (RHB) – OF
Gomez is a righty, but he’s one of the better “stackable” options if you are looking to field a mini-Brewers stack. He has HR and SB upside.
o San Francisco bats to target vs Collmenter (in order of preference):
Brandon Belt (LHB) – 1B
Belt is finally healthy, ready to sport his steady .357 wOBA vs RHB in a hitter-friendly park.
Angel Pagan (Switch) – OF
Pagan is a switch hitter who should be called upon higher in SF’s batting order due to injuries in the outfield. What he lacks in power, he makes up for in contact, speed, and run scoring potential.
Brandon Crawford (LHB) – SS
Crawford is a cheap SS filler with the platoon advantage over Collmenter.
o Philadelphia bats to target vs Buchholz (in order of preference):
Ryan Howard (LHB) – 1B
Howard is surely past his prime, but a reasonable .319 wOBA vs RHB profiles well against Buchholz.
Chase Utley (LHB) – 2B
Really like Chase Utley in this spot, as it’s difficult to find middle infielders with power upside. He owns a pleasant .356 wOBA vs RHP.
Freddy Galvis (SW) – SS
Galvis is a nice, cheap switch hitter with some “pop” in his bat for a middle infielder.
5. PRICE SENSITIVITY IS KEY
Like any daily fantasy sport, you need to be aware of salary levels and opportunity cost. The key is to find a quality hitter in a favorable situation for a decent price point. I know, much easier said than done.
Often times people like chasing a player “locked in” or “heating up” with several nice FP totals in recent outings. That’s okay as long as the price hasn’t fully adjusted because of it. In other words, make sure to consider all the contextual factors when considering a “hot” hitter, especially their salary. Overpaying for a hitter is the last thing you want to do.
On the other hand, there’s usually several discounted options sitting in the player pool. Sometimes their salaries are suppressed by a string of uninspiring recent performances, or just a miscalculation in price point. The former holds true more times than the latter, as otherwise talented players with subpar recent performances tend to be discounted. The key is finding a nice “buy low opportunity” using the screening tools outlined earlier.
Here’s some underpriced options relative to their general talent level and situation for Opening Day:
Adam Lind (LHB) – 1B – MIL ($2,800)
Noted above. Think he’s a very solid option for Opening Day.
Kennys Vargas (SW) – 1B – MIN ($2,700)
Flashed his power upside down the stretch last season. David Price is a quality pitcher, but he tends to give up the deep ball from time to time. Consider Vargas for tournaments.
Chase Headley (SW) – 3B – NYY ($3,000)
It appears that Headley will bat from the two-hole for New York, creating a nice situation in Yankee Stadium (caters to left-handed bats).
Chris Carter (RHB) – OF – HOU ($3,300)
Okay, maybe he’s more fairly price relative to his talent level. Still, Carter has tremendous upside to key in tournaments.
Brett Gardner (LHB) – OF – NYY ($3,300)
Similar sentiment to Chase Headley above, except Gardner will resume leadoff duties for the Yanks.
Melky Cabrera (SW) – OF – CWS ($3,100)
Not the greatest matchup (@KC) in terms of park factor. Still, Melky is a multi-hit candidate every time he takes the field.
Torii Hunter (RHB) – OF – MIN ($3,000)
.361 wOBA vs LHB … Hunter may regress throughout this season (due to age), but he still holds his weight vs southpaws.
Alejandro De Aza (LHB) – OF – BAL ($2,900)
De Aza has a lot of contextual factors working in his favor: 1) leadoff role for a potent offense … 2) decent power/speed combination … 3) satisfactory splits vs RHP: .362 wOBA
Marlon Byrd (RHB) – OF – CIN ($2,900)
Byrd is a calculated risk in the HR department for Opening Day. He’ll face a lefty, Francisco Liriano, who has had his ups and downs over the past few years. Byrd owns a great .372 wOBA and .215 ISO vs LHP, conveying his power potential.
6. VIABLE OPENING DAY LINEUP
Using the information outlined above, I’ve decided to throw together a reasonable FanDuel lineup, blending some of the previously listed options.
Be sure to double-check the lineup cards to make sure all your players are active that day.
P - Max Scherzer - WAS: $11,000
C - Kurt Suzuki - MIN: $2,500
1B - Adam Lind - MIL: $2,800
2B - Scooter Gennett - MIL: $3,000
3B - Chase Headley - NYY: $3,000
SS - Freddy Galvis - PHI: $2,500
OF - Carlos Gomez - MIL: $4,300
OF - Marlon Byrd - CIN: $2,900
OF - Alejandro De Aza - BAL: $2,900
For this lineup, I decided to go with a mini-Brewers stack (Lind, Gennett, Gomez), picking on pitcher Kyle Kendrick.
From here, I decided to punt at the Catcher position with Kurt Suzuki holding the platoon advantage vs David Price. Then I mixed and matched the highlighted players in this article, targeting them for their aforementioned reasons.