FanDuel Pitching Primer: Monday 4/3/23

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

Nestor Cortes, Yankees ($10,500): We've seen tricky lefties like Dallas Keuchel emerge for a year and vanish, so only time will tell if Cortes is another, but Nestor's 2022 campaign is worth buying into without that context.

While a 3.48 SIERA proved his 2.44 ERA to be a bit of fool's gold, he still backed that up with a solid 26.5% strikeout rate and generated a low hard-hit rate (34.5%). Plus, Cortes' style should move him up the ranks compared to other top aces this year.

At 15.0 seconds per pitch, Cortes was tied for the 20th-fastest tempo among all MLB pitchers last year. The pitch clock is no issue.

Now, this matchup isn't ideal against a Phillies lineup that had a 115 wRC+ versus southpaws last year, and Philly had a middle-of-the-road 228.8% strikeout rate against them. He's a bit of a dicier proposition into it, but they are still missing Bryce Harper, and the Yankees' lefty checks a ton of other boxes.

Drew Rasmussen, Rays ($10,200): Here is the default safe option of the night.

The Nationals did little to dispel their expectation to be one of the worst offenses in baseball with a 70 wRC+ over the weekend. This salary might have a bit more to do with them than Rasmussen, but the Rays' fourth starter is a fine choice in cash games on a slate where most aces are still a day or two away from their second turn.

In his first full season, Rasmussen's 2.84 ERA wasn't supported by his SIERA (3.74), either, but there's still a lot to like. He allowed just 0.80 HR/9 behind a low flyball rate (34.9%), and he likely deserved better than a 21.4% strikeout rate. A 12.1% swinging-strike rate usually merits a mark closer to 24.0%.

It's never a joyous experience to target a Tampa Bay starter early in the season because of their tight leash, but Washington's shoddy lineup has left them with just a 3.46 implied team total tonight.

George Kirby, Angels ($10,000): numberFire's model projects Kirby as the top pitcher of the night, which provided a tremendous amount of relief to my gut feeling.

The Angels will be a dicey matchup to target all season. Though Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani do loom at the top of the lineup, L.A. had just a 93 wRC+ against righties last year, and their 25.7% strikeout rate was the highest in baseball. That meaty underbelly of the lineup is still intact with Jake Lamb hitting sixth.

After a weekend series in Oakland, the difficulty level for the Angels has been turned up. Kirby is one of the sport's brightest pitching prospects with pinpoint fastball command and developing breaking stuff. That's all wrapped into his 24.5% strikeout rate and 4.1% walk rate as a rookie last year. His 3.32 SIERA wasn't shabby, either.

If I had just one lineup in a single-entry tournament tonight, my choice would be Kirby. Los Angeles' implied team total of 3.20 isn't scary despite their name value.

Tournament Options

Hunter Brown, Astros ($9,100): The Astros are breaking camp with rookie Hunter Brown in the rotation, and most fourth or fifth starters aren't worthy news for fantasy baseball. Brown is.

In seven games (and two starts), Brown's minuscule 0.89 ERA was backed up with a 2.87 SIERA. He also added a tremendous 27.5% strikeout rate and -- for a rookie -- a manageable 8.8% walk rate. I'd normally take a wait-and-see approach with Brown, but we might not have time.

The Detroit Tigers visit Houston tonight coming off an expectedly dismal stint in Tampa. Detroit left with a 15 wRC+ thus far in 2023 against both sides of the plate, and they tallied just three total runs. If Brown's limited stint in 2022 holds, this is a matchup where he could pile up strikeouts in a quality start.

There's no need to go here in cash games, but in tournaments, Brown has the legitimate upside to lead the entire slate in scoring.

Zach Plesac, Guardians ($7,400): Plesac had a similar ending to Hunter Brown in 2020, but his two full campaigns since have been a major disappointment. Can 2023 be a career year for the son of the former Brewers ace?

If anything, it's possible because, like Nestor Cortes, he's firmly unaffected by the new pitch clock. Plesac's tempo (15.4 seconds per pitch) was excellent. It's just everything else that was a bit of an issue.

His 4.31 ERA and 4.46 SIERA last year were uninspiring, but the Cleveland righty might have deserved a bit better in the strikeout column. His 17.4% rate was quite a bit lower than what one would expect from a 10.1% swinging-strike rate. He fanned at least six guys in six different starts, so he's had modest upside in a decent matchup. On Monday, he's got an excellent one.

The lowly Athletics are on the other side of this one, and it's in Oakland, which holds one of the sport's best parks for pitchers. Oakland's 47 wRC+ to start the year is expectedly terrible, and they've struck out 25.5% of the time thus far.

With an implied total for Oakland of just 3.30, you can't rule out a quality start for Plesac in this one.

Quick Mound Visits

Jon Gray, Rangers ($9,700): The Orioles have been mashing righties to start the year, and Gray has never had two consecutive years with a sub-4.00 ERA. I'll wait and see.

Reid Detmers, Angels ($9,600): The contrarian side to a lower-scoring projected affair in Seattle. However, the Mariners' 110 wRC+ versus lefties last year was outstanding, and the Halos' poor bullpen already has blown an Ohtani start this year. It's easy to prefer Kirby.

Charlie Morton, Braves ($9,400): At 39 years old, I don't see the gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow when he had a 5.67 xFIP through April last year. A tough matchup with the Cardinals.

Brady Singer, Royals ($9,200): Outside of matchup, Singer is a guy I would want to buy. 24.2% strikeout rate and low flyball rate. I won't stack against him with Jays as a sign of respect.

Jose Berrios, Blue Jays ($9,000): If you want to buy into a full rebirth, this is the spot to do it. Kansas City scored four total runs over the weekend. His 4.13 SIERA last year was fine; the uncharacteristic sub-10.0% swinging-strike rate in consecutive seasons is why I'm not interested.

James Kaprielian, Athletics ($7,600): Nearly an identical case as Plesac with the marine air and a poor Guards offense on the other side. 5.04 SIERA last year is just far more worrisome.

Michael Grove, Dodgers ($6,900): The Rockies' offense has shown quite a bit of life to open the year, and Grove struggled at times this spring. Low implied total but not much of a supporting case otherwise.