Whether you’re playing cash games or GPP’s, choosing the right pitcher (or two if you’re playing DraftKings) for your daily fantasy team is without a doubt the most important thing you can do to be successful. Pitchers score the most points, the cost the most salary and if you choose the wrong one your team will likely be dead in the water no matter how good your bats perform.
So how do you choose the right pitcher? When I’m looking at pitchers, I’m looking at 3 things.
- Pitcher Cost
- Matchup Factors (Opponent, Park & Weather)
- Pitcher Skills
No matter which daily fantasy site you’re playing on, pitchers score the most points so naturally they’re typically the most expensive players on the board. This goes double if you’re playing on a two pitcher site like DraftKings or FantasyDraft.
Pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale usually cost a small fortune – forcing you to use a full team of value bats – so it goes without saying that we’re trying to find the best pitcher at the cheapest price. To do this we try to look for value pitchers that the site may have mispriced using the matchup factors and pitcher skills we’ll outline in the next few steps.
Opposing Team, Park and Weather
First we’re going to take a look at some factors external to the pitchers’ skills and ability to figure out who we want to take a closer look at. Things like who the pitcher is facing, where they’re pitching and what the weather is like at the park should help us narrow down our options.
Opposing Team Matchup
More than anything else, matchup can drive your pitcher’s success in daily fantasy. It’s not the only thing we look at but more often than not a pitcher facing a bad hitting team will outscore one who faces off with a hard-hitting team no matter how good a pitcher is and no matter what kind of strikeout stuff they have.
For example lets say you’re choosing between Pitcher X and Pitcher Y. Pitcher X is facing the Nationals and Pitcher Y is facing the Padres, who would you choose? If you chose pitcher X you might want to re-read our strategy articles.
You’ll want to be sure to look at which teams hit left/right handed pitching well, how hot they’ve been over the past few weeks, and what kind of power hitters they have. My favorite source for this information is the Fangraphs team stats page where you can filter by handedness/time and see how a team fares against pitchers like yours.
If you’ve read any daily fantasy picks articles, then surely you’ve heard experts warn against using a pitcher in an extreme hitters park, especially at high elevation like Coors Field in Colorado. Parks like Coors, Chase Field in Arizona and Miller Park in Milwaukee are generally places to avoid for DFS because the ball can fly out of the park easily, and your pitcher could get roughed up.
You can also use park factors to your advantage in daily fantasy. Pitchers parks like AT&T Park in San Francisco, Petco Field in San Diego and Tropicana Field in Tampa are considered much safer venues, and make it much easier for your pitcher to succeed, especially when you combine it against a light hitting offense.
If you’re interested in learning which parks play better for pitchers vs hitters, ESPN provides a useful list of park factors broken down by total runs, home runs, doubles, triples and walks.
Weather is one of the more important, yet under used, factors in choosing a pitcher for DraftKings and FanDuel.
Of course you want to avoid using a pitcher in a game likely to be rained out – this should really be the first thing you look at – but even outside of rain weather can play a big role in the outcome of a game. Kevin Roth’s twitter account is probably the best resource going for weather right now.
When the weather is cold (especially in the northeast in early April) scores tend to be lower than average. Whether it’s because the air density is higher, players can’t get loose, or they just don’t like hitting in the cold, lower temperatures tend to favor starting pitchers. Conversely when the weather is hot and the humidity is higher the ball tends to fly, especially in places like Texas, Baltimore and Atlanta where it’s especially humid. Baseball Prospectus did a great analysis on the impact of temperature and humidity if you’re interested in reading more about this, but in general if the temperature is high, the ball should fly.
Wind is also something you’ll want to pay attention to here. When a ballpark has strong winds blowing out this is something we want to avoid. Wind is such an important factor in baseball that Las Vegas doesn’t set a line for Cubs home games until they determine whether the wind is blowing in or out. Wind blowing in is usually good for pitchers, while a strong wind blowing out can turn a few fly ball outs into home runs. My favorite resource for which way the wind is blowing is Daily Baseball Data’s weather page who has a nice chart indicating the speed and direction of the weather.
Now that we’ve broken down some external factors that go into choosing a daily fantasy pitcher, it’s time to talk about the pitchers themselves. We’re going to take a look at their strikeouts, walks, splits and home run rates.
To make this easier I recommend using the Fangraphs Probable Pitchers page. It’s a free resource (though they do take donations) that breaks down pitching statistics in almost every way possible. Since the page has a different URL every day I can’t link directly to it, but to find it you just go to the Fangraphs home page, click the Scores tab, and select Probable Pitchers as you can see below.
Strikeouts and Walks
Strikeouts are incredibly important in daily fantasy baseball and they can help you rack up points very quickly, especially in the right matchups. Even if a pitcher allows a few runs or doesn’t go deep into the game, a high strikeout total could save your score and keep you right in it.
From here you can sort pitchers by their strikeout per 9 innings (K/9), or if you click on the Advanced tab, you can use K%, BB% and K-BB%, which is very helpful.
In general you want a pitcher’s strikeout rate as high as possible, and walks as low as possible, especially on DraftKings where your pitcher is penalized 0.6 points per walk. FanDuel doesn’t score walks directly, but generally speaking pitchers who have a high walk rate tend to run into trouble more often and don’t pitch deep into the game.
Some pitchers like Clayton Kershaw are amazing no matter who they’re facing, but the vast majority of the pitchers in baseball have some kind of platoon split and struggle against lefties or righties.
Generally pitchers struggle against batters on the opposite side, but there are a few pitchers out there who struggle against the same side (also known as a “Reverse Splits” pitcher).
To figure out where your pitcher struggles we’re going to visit our friends at Fangraphs again (although other sites offer similar info) by pulling up our pitcher’s profile page and clicking on the Splits tab.
Today we’ll take a look at Julio Teheran, who is a good example of a player with an extreme platoon split.
As you can see, Teheran really struggles against left handed hitters – currently sporting a .375 wOBA (that’s high!) against southpaws at the time I’m writing this. If he were facing off against a team full of power lefties like the Nationals (Bryce Harper – ever heard of him?) he would be an avoid for me, and I may even target against him on that day.
Essentially you want to look for a pitcher with as minimal a platoon split as possible and if that’s not possible then choose one who is facing off with a team that is weak from that side to minimize the damage.
The last stat we’re going to look at is home run rate. Obviously DraftKings and Fanduel penalize pitchers for runs so we don’t want our DFS pitchers giving up long balls. While we can’t predict who will give up homeruns that day, homerun per 9 innings (HR/9) gives us a good indicator of who has a problem with homers and who doesn’t.
We’re obviously looking for HR/9 to be as low as possible, but occasionally we can look past it if they’re facing a light hitting offense and/or pitching in a pitchers park in bad weather. It’s also very important to consider sample size with HR/9 as young pitchers can see an inflated numbers if they’ve only pitched limited innings in the majors.
Putting It All Together
While it’s easy to get pulled into hours and hours of baseball research since there are thousands of stats and figures we could research, but 90% of the time this is more than enough to narrow down your pitcher (or pitchers if you’re playing DraftKings) selection. Sometimes you’ll have a couple pitchers that are extremely close and at that point you can dig in to the numbers a little further or just make a gut call.