FanDuel Pitching Primer: Opening Day

Nailing the pitcher slot is the first step to having success in MLB DFS on FanDuel.

While it's possible to cash if you get a bad outing from a starter, it's markedly easier to do so when you get a good or excellent showing from your pitcher.

Weighing the importance of a pitcher's skill, salary, matchup and park factors is the game within the game in MLB DFS. This piece is your home for a breakdown of the top pitching options each and every day. Let's dig in.

Top of the Heap

Max Scherzer, Mets ($10,700)

Early in the year, it's imperative to know how stretched out pitchers are in terms of their workloads. That will shape my recommendations in today's piece. With so many top-notch options at our disposal, we can't afford to roster a hurler who will throw just 70 pitches.

Workload shouldn't be much of a concern for Scherzer, who got up to 100 pitches in his last spring outing. Knowing with certainty Scherzer can go that deep is huge on a slate where we're going to be hoping most of these other guys are allowed to break 90 pitches.

The matchup is 100% there, as well, as Max is on the road to take on the Miami Marlins, a team sporting a lowly 3.13 implied total, the fifth-lowest of the slate.

Scherzer's 2022 strikeout rate of 30.6% was his lowest since 2015, so Father Time may be starting to make a dent. But 30.6% is still a great mark, and the rest of his profile is littered with elite numbers, including a 2.88 SIERA, 14.8% swinging-strike rate and 4.2% walk rate.

Miami finished last season ranked 27th in wOBA (.290) and had the 5th-highest strikeout rate (24.0%). Scherzer should have his way, and with him already breaking into triple-digits in the pitch-count department, he's got a sky-high ceiling.

Shane McClanahan, Rays ($10,400)

McClanahan has a strong argument to be the slate's SP1. Unfortunately, it's harder to tell exactly where he's at in terms of being stretched out.

His final spring start was a minor-league game, and I can't find any pitch-count numbers for him. The start prior, he was at just 64 pitches. A safe estimate for McClanahan on Thursday might be 80 to 90 pitches. That's not ideal, but he can still do plenty of damage thanks to a mouth-watering matchup versus the Detroit Tigers, the team with the slate's lowest implied total (2.89).

Detroit was pitiful offensively in 2022, ranking next to last in wOBA (.279) with the fourth-highest strikeout rate (24.1%). While the Tigers were much more respectable against southpaws (.307 wOBA), Detroit still had a 23.9% strikeout rate in the split.

McClanahan has through-the-roof upside each time he toes the rubber. He ended 2022 with a 2.82 SIERA, 30.3% strikeout rate and 15.5% swinging-strike rate.

It'd be great to know he could push toward 100 pitches, but even without that assurance, McClanahan is one of the slate's best plays.

Gerrit Cole, Yankees ($10,900)

With Scherzer $200 lower in salary, Cole might go a wee bit overlooked on Thursday. Then again, it's Cole, so that probably won't happen.

Cole is at home versus the San Francisco Giants. A year ago, San Fran displayed some decent pop but struggled with whiffs, striking out 23.5% of the time against righties. The Giants are showing a 3.12 implied total, the fourth-lowest.

The New York Yankees' ace got up to 84 pitches in his last spring start and will likely be good to go 90-plus today. That's pretty dang good in the context of this slate.

Cole ended 2022 with a 2.77 SIERA, 32.4% strikeout rate and 14.3% swinging-strike rate. He's got elite numbers across the board and is capable of being the slate's top-scoring arm.

Corbin Burnes, Brewers ($11,000)

Burnes is the last guy in my four-man top tier. Much of what I said about the previous three hurlers also applies to him.

He's got top-level numbers, recording a 2.91 SIERA, 30.5% strikeout rate and 15.1% strikeout rate. He should also be a safeish bet for 90-some pitches after completing five innings in his last spring start. (I can't find a pitch-count number for that outing.)

He has some negatives, though, which is why I slotted him fourth.

The Chicago Cubs are just an average matchup, and Chicago's 3.47 implied total is only the ninth-lowest of the slate. This game is at Wrigley, and the wind is expected to be blowing out. He's also carrying the slate's highest salary, and draft percentage projections around the industry have him as the slate's most popular arm.

While Burnes is unquestionably a good play, there are more drawbacks with him than we have with the other top guys. Plus, I don't love the idea of taking on his slate-high salary and also having to swallow chalk on a day when we have so many other great options.

Tournament Option

Max Fried, Braves ($9,800)

Fried is a better real-life pitcher than a DFS performer due to a lack of elite strikeout numbers. That's still a concern on this slate, but it's not as much of a worry with no one -- outside of maybe Scherzer -- operating at full capacity in terms of workload.

That has me intrigued by Fried, who isn't expected to be popular and can mow through the Washington Nationals.

Washington was 23rd in wOBA versus southpaws a year ago (.299), and while the 2022 Nats were a tough team to strike out, they should be a worse offense this season, with FanGraphs projecting Washington for the third-fewest runs per game.

Fried has pitched to a 3.52 SIERA and 23.4% strikeout rate across the past two seasons, and he shouldn't have too much trouble with the Nationals, the team with the second-lowest implied total on the slate (2.99).

Quick Mound Visits:
Blake Snell ($9,500): Love the matchup (Rockies), salary and location (Petco). Hate how inefficient Snell usually is. Probably needs to be 100% on point to get through five or six innings on a shortened leash.
Jacob deGrom ($10,800): Best pitcher in the game but went just 54 pitches in his last spring outing. Not an easy matchup, either (Phillies).
Aaron Nola ($10,600): Plenty viable in a matchup with the Rangers. Just a victim of there being so many good options on the slate.
Sandy Alcantara ($10,200): Nearly wrote him up as the GPP pick. Similar to Fried -- expected to go overlooked but had a meh 23.4% strikeout rate in '22. Tough matchup, too (Mets).
Alek Manoah ($9,700): Not in my pitcher pool for Thursday. Bad matchup (Cardinals), just a 22.9% strikeout rate last year. Would rather roll the dice with Snell for $200 less.
Hunter Greene ($9,100): Matchup is juicy (Pirates), and salary is nice. Workload is a huge concern, though, as he threw only 58 pitches last time out.