FanDuel Pitching Primer: Opening Day

Opening Day means aces are on the bump. Which pitchers should you target on the main slate?

In daily fantasy baseball, success starts with nailing the starting pitcher spot in your lineup.

When compared to hitters, pitching performance tends to be much more predictable and stable throughout the course of the season. You know what you're getting from a top-level ace when you roster him: probably a dominant effort with only one or two implosions per season. In contrast, even the game's best hitters have days at the plate when they go 0-for-4.

As a result, lineup construction should begin with the starting pitcher. Each day we will highlight a starter to consider from each pricing tier, and we'll also look at one contrarian play for tournaments.

Who should you consider on Opening Day?

High-Priced Stud

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

vs. San Francisco Giants
FanDuel Price: $12,000

Opening Day is usually a tricky slate to navigate from a pitching perspective, because most teams are throwing their ace. It can be difficult to narrow down the options between essentially every stud pitcher in the game. We also have to rely on last year's data because, well, we don't have any yet for this season.

Fortunately, when Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw toes the rubber, our choice at the high-end of the salary spectrum is made simple. Kershaw showed signs of mortality in 2017, dealing with some lingering injuries and posting his highest ERA in three seasons. But he dazzled when he was on the mound, finishing with a 29.8% strikeout rate and 4.4% walk rate. Spring training alleviated any concerns of Kershaw not being fully healthy to start the campaign as he threw 21 1/3 scoreless innings with 23 strikeouts and only 4 walks.

On the other side of this matchup, San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner was sidelined with a fractured pitching hand and will miss several weeks, enhancing Kershaw's chances of picking up a win in this one. Kershaw deals pretty much anywhere, but he was particularly dominant at home last season, posting a 32.3% strikeout rate and 4.3% walk rate at Dodger Stadium.

A sound DFS strategy to employ in cash games over the last few seasons has been to plug-and-play Kershaw every start unless he is pitching at Coors Field or an American League ballpark. Even though he's pricey, there isn't much reason to deviate from that strategy.

Mid-Range Play

Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

vs. Boston Red Sox
FanDuel Price: $8,400

A matchup with the Boston Red Sox is one that we typically don't go out of our way to target, but Chris Archer makes for a solid mid-tier play on Opening Day. Archer is making his fourth consecutive Opening Day start as the unquestioned ace of the Tampa Bay Rays' pitching staff. Archer is frankly too cheap for his ability, and this price tag may be the cheapest you'll see Archer all season.

Boston's lineup is loaded with potential landmines for Archer, but the friendly confines of Tropicana Field tend to bring out the best in the Rays hurler. In 2017, Archer had pronounced home/road splits in which his ERA was more than a run and half lower at home than on the road. He also averaged a sensational 12 strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) at home, compared to "only" 10.2 K/9 on the road.

With Chris Sale on the other side of this matchup, Archer profiles as more of a tournament-only play given the studs at the high end of the pricing tier on FanDuel, but he has just as much upside as anyone on the slate.

Value Option

Chase Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers

at San Diego Padres
FanDuel Price: $7,600

If you're looking to save a little extra salary at the pitcher spot, Chase Anderson checks a ton of boxes for his matchup against the San Diego Padres.

Anderson is coming off of a breakthrough season for the Milwaukee Brewers. Over his final 92 innings, he recorded a 25.8% strikeout rate, 1.94 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. Those are elite numbers, especially for someone who flies way under the radar in fantasy circles. For the season, he posted a 2.74 ERA but also produced a 4.14 skill-interactive ERA (SIERA), which suggests regression is in his future.

Fortunately for Anderson, a matchup with the Padres typically delays any such regression from occurring. In 2017, the Padres ranked 30th in runs scored (the 29th-ranked Giants scored 35 more runs), 30th in batting average, 29th in OPS, had the 3rd-fewest extra-base hits and struck out the 3rd-most times. Certainly the addition of Eric Hosmer, and, to a lesser extent, Chase Headley, will lead to more runs being produced in San Diego, but the matchup just does not get any better for an opposing pitcher. Plus, San Diego's Petco Park is also notorious for run suppression, ranking 29th in park factor, per ESPN's numbers. Translation: it's a pitcher's paradise.

Anderson should be considered a safe option with built-in upside for his price.

Contrarian Play

Luis Severino, New York Yankees

at Toronto Blue Jays
FanDuel Price: $10,000

With studs like Kershaw, Corey Kluber and Sale on the slate, one guy who could go overlooked is Luis Severino of the New York Yankees.

Severino broke out with a dominant 2017, posting a 29.4% strikeout rate along with an elite 50.6% ground-ball rate. A matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre is not one of the best in terms of opposing offenses or venue, but Severino has posted a respectable 3.60 ERA in 20 career innings pitching in the Jays' home park. Severino was also better on the road last season, posting a 2.24 ERA away from home, compared to a 3.71 ERA at Yankee Stadium.

While the masses flock to the higher-priced studs or try to save salary in the middle tier, don't forget that Severino is capable of dominance any time he takes the rubber.

Drew Crawford is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Drew Crawford also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username squid0308. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in his articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.