FanDuel Daily Fantasy Baseball Helper: Opening Day
MLB faced quite the bumpy road to get to this point, but American baseball is finally back with a two-game Opening Day slate -- and one of them naturally has rain in the forecast. 2020, folks. Regardless, we're going to get some MLB DFS tonight as a nice appetizer to Friday's meaty 11-game main slate.
Our daily helper is available every day to analyze FanDuel's main slate and help give you a starting point when you're building lineups. Be sure to also incorporate our great tools into your research process. Whether you're looking for daily projections, the latest starting lineups and weather, or batting and pitching heat maps to find the best matchups -- we've got you covered!
And don't forget to take a listen to The Solo Shot podcast with Jim Sannes, who breaks down the MLB daily fantasy slate each morning.
On that note, let's highlight some of the top options for today's FanDuel main slate. Below are tonight's projected starters with their 2019 stats. Opposing strikeout rate and wRC+ are last year's numbers against a given pitcher's handedness using active rosters, per FanGraphs.
|Pitcher||Salary||L/R||Opp.||SIERA||K%||BB%||Opp. K%||Opp. wRC+|
Let's check out the top spots on Thursday's slate.
Alright, no offense to Johnny Cueto ($6,600), but assuming the weather lightens up in Washington, this is a three-horse race between Gerrit Cole ($11,400), Max Scherzer ($10,700), and Clayton Kershaw ($10,300).
Cueto not only gets arguably the toughest opponent in the Dodgers, but he hasn't put up strong numbers since 2016 and has only made four starts since undergoing 2018 Tommy John surgery. Even if he's able to find his prior form, he's never possessed the punchout ability we crave in DFS anyway. Hard pass.
Between potential rain mucking things up between the Yankees and Nationals, and a plus matchup against a no-name Giants squad, Kershaw is arguably the "safest" pitcher tonight. Not surprisingly, he's showing easily the lowest implied total on the board (3.02). That said, his 26.8% strikeout rate pales in comparison to Cole or Scherzer, so I still lean towards dropping him behind the other two.
Both Cole and Scherzer should be at or close to full workloads after tallying 87 and 88 pitches, respectively, in their final preseason starts. That means their fantastic ceilings should be in the range of outcomes, with Cole getting the slightly better matchup.
The defending champion Nationals don't strike out at a high clip, but Cole shouldn't need much help in that department after leading the league with a massive 39.9% rate. And after losing Anthony Rendon this offseason, this isn't quite as dangerous a Nats lineup as last year and actually looks like a neutral opponent at best. Despite Cole's exorbitant salary, paying up at pitcher is typically the optimal route, and there should actually be a fair number of value bats tonight. (Update: Juan Soto has tested positive for COVID-19 and will not play tonight. This further boosts Cole's outlook).
Meanwhile, Scherzer gets a boom-or-bust spot versus the dangerous Bronx Bombers, but he's a perfect contrarian pick behind a likely more popular Cole. The Yankees actually have the highest 2019 strikeout rate against right-handers on Thursday, and you don't need me to tell you that Scherzer is capable of cashing in a big score against just about anyone.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The most obvious and popular spot to grab your bats will be the Dodgers against Cueto. Considering Cueto only had four starts last year, it's difficult to read too much into his 2019 numbers, but as the distant fourth of tonight's starters, we don't really need to worry about the nitty-gritty details -- stack the Dodgers.
This naturally begins with the likes of Cody Bellinger ($4,500), Mookie Betts ($4,200), and Max Muncy ($3,900), who are the Dodgers' most expensive pieces. You probably don't need much convincing on those three, and they're all fantastic if you can fit 'em in. All three cleared a 41% fly-ball rate and 43% hard-hit rate versus righties in 2019.
But if you're paying up for Cole, it's going to be far tougher to find room for those guys. Fear not, though, as Corey Seager ($3,200), Justin Turner ($3,100), A.J. Pollock ($2,900), and Joc Pederson ($2,800) are all inexpensive, with Pederson, in particular, looking like a steal for his power upside. In 2019, Pederson produced a .289 ISO (.319 ISO against righties) and ranked top-30 overall in average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls (96 mph). Really, everyone in this group has capable pop, with all of them cracking a 40% hard-hit rate in the split.
With the NL getting the DH this year, we don't have to worry about the pitcher messing up lower-order stacks, too, so potential number-eight batter Will Smith ($3,000) is also on the table. Across 196 plate appearances, Smith put up a .318 ISO and .369 wOBA, and he too hits plenty of fly balls and makes hard contact. It's a limited sample, but he also crushed it in Triple-A.
New York Yankees
Finding a second team to target is a wee bit more tricky, but if we're going off talent, the Yankees are the way to go.
Rostering hitters against Scherzer isn't ideal, but we have to take chances somewhere, and we know the Yankees are a loaded lineup, as their active roster posted the fourth-best wRC+ against righties in 2019. Scherzer also struggled in his final preseason outing, so it's possible he's still working through some things after an abridged summer camp.
The Yankees aren't too priced up, either, with only Aaron Judge ($4,100) exceeding the $4k mark. He's firmly in play after getting some games in towards the end of camp, and you can feel comfortable starting any of the usual suspects in the top half of the lineup. However, Aaron Hicks ($2,600), Gary Sanchez ($3,300), and Luke Voit ($2,900) comprise an intriguing set of lower-order value sticks. The switch-hitting Hicks, in particular, could take advantage of batting lefty against Scherzer, as Mad Max did allow a 40.4% fly-ball rate and 38.9% hard-hit rate in the split last year, leading to 1.32 home runs per 9 innings.
Even projected eight and nine hitters, Brett Gardner ($2,700) and Gio Urshela ($2,800) can play in tournaments. Gardner is one of the few who will have the platoon advantage against Scherzer, while the line-drive hitting Urshela actually produced some solid Statcast numbers last year.
Others to Consider: Particularly with Cole expected to be the most popular pitcher, rostering Nationals hitters are a natural fit if you're not starting him. Like Scherzer, he did give up a higher rate of dingers to left-handed batters (1.39 per 9), so Eric Thames ($2,400) is a good source of cheap pop. Howie Kendrick ($2,500) and Starlin Castro ($2,500) are solid second-base values if they hit high in the order. The Nationals are considering batting Castro third this season, but it's unclear if that will be the case against Cole ... Stacking the Giants isn't likely to bear fruit, but they're cheap across the board if you need a punt or two. Wilmer Flores ($2,100) is barely priced above the minimum and was excellent versus lefties last year. He's produced a 116 wRC+ in the split over his career.