It’s Opening Day! Baseball is back! Let’s jump in.
As I’ve done in recent NBA Breakdowns, in the MLB Breakdown I will usually consider pitchers in three sections: “Studs,” “Values,” and “Fast Balls.” Of course, because there are only three games on Sunday we’ll have a different format today, especially since all pitchers on FanDuel are between $8,700 and $10,900; there are no ‘values’ relative to other slates. The first couple days are intriguing for that reason, as most teams typically start their aces to open the year. For most slates moving forward over the next several months, we’ll have a mix of aces and cheaper guys, but right now pitcher strategy is different than it will be later.
Even though they’re not facing the teams with the lowest implied run totals — those are the Yankees and Rays at 3.25 (per our Vegas Dashboard) — Madison Bumgarner (-126) and Jon Lester (-125) are the slate’s heaviest favorites because of the offensive potency of the Giants and Cubs. That Giants-Diamondbacks game is intriguing: Chase Field has been called “Coors Light” because of its high Park Factor for batters, but that might have been a little overstated last season: Pitchers weren’t great at Chase, but they ranked ‘only’ 23rd in DraftKings Plus/Minus in Arizona. Pitchers scored the fewest points at Coors Field (as you might expect), but because of DraftKings’ pricing it was actually pitchers at Fenway Park who had the lowest Plus/Minus:
Warm weather is good for batters, so pitchers have something of an early-season edge, but here’s the thing about Chase Field: Even in the colder months (with the retractable roof closed), before the warm weather of summer gives batters a productivity bump, the stadium is a hitter-friendly place because of non-weather factors like the high elevation and short fences in left field. As our Trends tool shows, pitchers have actually been at their worst earlier in the season at Chase Field:
Bumgarner will likely be the most popular pitcher in the slate because of his solid moneyline and high 8.5 K Prediction. That said, he could be a worthwhile fade in tournaments: He has a Park Factor of 50, and in six games last year with a comparable Park Factor (40-60) Bumgarner averaged only 19.29 DraftKings points with a -0.46 Plus/Minus and 50 percent Consistency Rating on a high 23.3 percent ownership. That’s a small sample, but it does show that — especially with other studs in the slate — Bumgarner isn’t unfadeable with that ownership, which can be reviewed across guaranteed prize pools of all stakes in our DFS Ownership Dashboard shortly after lineups lock.
Chris Archer is near the top of the Bales Model for both DraftKings and FanDuel, where he’s $9,200 and $9,400. He’s a boom-or-bust pitcher according to last year’s data: Of the six starters on Opening Day, he has the second-highest DraftKings Dud rate (18 percent) but also the second-highest Upside (nine percent). He’s facing a Yankees team that last year averaged a -0.2 DraftKings Plus/Minus against right-handed pitchers — the sixth-worst mark among all MLB teams. In three meetings against them last year, he averaged 20.42 DraftKings points and a +4.10 Plus/Minus on a perfect 100 percent Consistency. Further, he boasts the second-highest K Prediction currently (7.3) without being one of the two most expensive pitchers.
Carlos Martinez had perhaps the best advanced statistics last season of the six pitchers today: He induced ground balls at a slate-high 56 percent clip, averaged a slate-best 95.5 MPH fastball velocity, and held batters to a slate-low 189-foot batted ball distance, trailing only Lester with his 89 MPH exit velocity. His +4.4 FanDuel Plus/Minus was second only to Bumgarner’s last year, and only Lester had a mark higher than his 64 percent Consistency Rating. He has a tough matchup against the defending champs in the Cubs, but it’s not as if he doesn’t have upside:
Really, all these pitchers are worthy of rostering in this small slate.
With our Lineup Builder, it’s easy to incorporate stacks into DFS rosters. The top-rated stack in the Bales Model for DraftKings is a straight 1-5 stack of the Giants, who are currently implied for a slate-high 4.25 runs:
Zack Greinke has to deal with his home Chase Field, and he struggled in four meetings last season against the Giants, averaging just 13.48 DraftKings points and a -2.23 Plus/Minus on just 25 percent Consistency. Of the slate’s six pitchers, he also had the highest Dud rating last year. Additionally, all five batters posted a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of at least .324 against right-handed pitchers last season. Intriguingly, these guys are the highest-rated five-man stack on DraftKings despite all owning poor DraftKings Bargain Ratings; they’re much better values on FanDuel.
If we build a stack by average isolated power (ISO) among four batters on FanDuel, it’s actually a Tampa Bay foursome that takes the top spot:
Corey Dickerson particularly pops in Models: He is only $2,800 on FanDuel, is projected to hit leadoff for the Rays against Masahiro Tanaka, and has extreme splits against right-handed pitchers: His .266 ISO against righties is .217 higher than his ISO against lefties — a slate-high differential. Brad Miller is projected to hit cleanup, and he has a large .125 ISO Differential against righties as well. They have less power potential than the Cubs and Giants, but the Rays will also likely have much less ownership.
Gary Sanchez is the fourth highest-priced batter on DraftKings at $4,500, and he’s a catcher. That’s incredible on its own, but it also brings him down in the Models given the Yankees’ low 3.25 implied run total. That said, he leads all batters in the entire slate with a .351 ISO, and he has fairly even splits against righties and lefties. He has an awful 4 Park Factor in Tampa Bay, but that really didn’t matter for him last year: In 12 games with a Park Factor of 30 or less, Sanchez averaged 15.25 DraftKings points and a +6.84 Plus/Minus on 58.3 percent Consistency.
Anthony Rizzo has the third-highest ISO in the slate at .273 and slightly positive splits against the righty Martinez. Because of pricing, he was actually a better value against lefties last year . . .
. . . but he did show better splits away from home:
Given his high price of $4,900 on DraftKings, he will likely be underowned outside of Cubs stacks due to the superior pricing of guys like Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Paul Goldschmidt.
And finally, A.J. Pollock or Eduardo Nunez could be a sneaky source of points on Sunday: Pollock obviously has a brutal matchup against Bumgarner, but he is projected to bat leadoff for the Diamondbacks and led all players in the slate with 0.333 stolen bases per game last season. Still, stealing against a lefty isn’t ideal, and Nunez has a better matchup against a righty in Greinke. He’s averaging an impressive .284 stolen bases per game over the past year, but he is batting sixth compared to Pollock’s leadoff spot. Either could flip a GPP with a couple of stolen bases.
One thing to note is that Pollock and Nunez are both playing in the Chase game, which has a slate-high Weather Rating of 61. While most people know to monitor MLB weather for rain and storms, there’s more that goes into weather. Our Weather Rating (which Pro subscribers can access in our Player Models) shows how hitter-friendly we’ve deemed a game to be, based on a variety of specific weather factors. If anything, the high Weather Rating might be one more reason to be on batters in Arizona and off the pitchers.