Today we have a situation that will present itself from time to time on Mondays and Thursdays (the standard travel days, in case one was wondering) – a slate with only a few games to pick players from. FanDuel clearly recognized that the Main Slate was going to be extremely small as they moved the start time of the slate from 7:05 to 6:35 in order to include a 4th game – typically FanDuel simply ignores games with 6 or 6:30 start times (last year, Cleveland and Tampa Bay had some home games starting at 6 or 6:30, and FanDuel ignored those games on the Main Slate). Now onto the important point – what does the short slate mean, strategically, when it comes to picking out players? First off, there’s a very limited number of good matchups – to the point where often times (and it is the case today), one team stands out as having the best matchup by far. In such a case, you’re likely picking four players from that team – so when picking the four players, you’re not just comparing them to the other players at their position – but also you’re comparing them to each other. As I will discuss later, the Yankees are that team today. So, suppose you’re on Stanton and Gardner – now the question becomes, which two of Judge, Didi, Sanchez and Neil Walker do you want to run? Walker provides value, Didi is at a position without a lot of depth, whereas Judge is neither cheap nor at a weak position, but he has immense upside. It’s not just about whether you want Judge or another outfielder, it’s about whether you want Judge versus the other Yankees. Second, you’re probably going to end up with an uncomfortable pick or two due to the limited options. On a 13-game slate, if your lineup isn’t entirely guys you like (either because they’re going to crush or they’re going to provide great value for cheap), something is probably wrong. On a short slate, you’re going to find yourself “settling” a lot more often. That’s perfectly fine. Third, and finally, leaving money on the table is a lot more common on short slates – obviously it’s not ideal, but given that the options are quite limited, it’s entirely possible you’ll end up with a lineup with $500 to spare and nowhere to spend it. On a full slate, it’s pretty much never the case that it’s correct to do so, but on a 4-game slate, it’s entirely possible.

On to the picks…

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PITCHERS

Masahiro Tanaka, SP: $9,300 – Tanaka is a really good pitcher and the #1 cash pitcher. Last year he struck out 25.8% and only walked 5.5%. Even though he gives up some home runs (and unfortunately, the Orioles hit some home runs), the Orioles projected lineup will strike out a lot. Chris Davis career 31.9%, Colby Rasmus 26.8%, Tim Beckham 29.6% and Pedro Alvarez 28.7%. Even Schoop is 22.7% for his career. And even with Robbie Ray’s prodigious strikeout ability, Tanaka is still not only projected to have more strikeouts, but a better strikeout rate!  

Robbie Ray, SP, $9,600 – As will be discussed later, he strikes out a ton of batters, but walks a lot of guys too. The walks are why I do not recommend him in cash, but given his absurd K-rate, he has the potential to put up a filthy number and that can be the key to winning a GPP.

HITTERS

Given that it’s a such a small slate, it’s far easier to attack this slate by looking at each team as a whole first, before zeroing in on specific picks. When you have 20 or more teams to analyze, this isn’t really feasible or an effective use of one’s time, but when it’s only 8, it’s a fairly useful way to break down the slate.

Baltimore Orioles – Baltimore faces the best pitcher of the day, Masahiro Tanaka, and while Tanaka is good, he does give up some homers, 1.31 HR/9 over his career. Since Tanaka is my pick for cash game pitcher, I can’t recommend any Orioles for cash, but for GPPs we want to target Tanaka with power. Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini and Colby Rasmus are obviously the top targets here with Pedro Alvarez the top bottom of the order power hitter. The other thing I’ll note here is that once Tanaka gets bounced, the Yankees will throw elite arm after elite arm at the Orioles lowering their ultimate upside.

New York YankeesAndrew Cashner combines no strikeouts with walks and average ground balls. The bad news is that he actually isn’t complete trash vs righties (14.8 K%, 7.6 BB%, 56.4% GBs) and while the Yankee lineup isn’t technically righty heavy, it is righty heavy since the ones you mostly want to roster are right handed. Usually I want to target Cashner exclusively with lefties since he’s no good vs them (16.1 K%, 11.7 BB%, 37.8% GBs) but Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez are always going to be the top plays for the Yankees and can hit balls out vs anyone. The guy likely to be on base when one of those 3 sends one into next week is Brett Gardner. Gardner hits righties well (.359 wOBA) and he’s starting to tap into some of his old man power in the last year (.473 slugging). Plus, he’s leadoff on a high octane offense and sometimes as I like to say, you just have to respect the leadoff. In the middle of these monster righties sits Didi Gregorious, who took a step forward last year and hit .295/.325/.523 vs lefties and is continuing to mash this year. SS isn’t particularly deep today and sometimes on short slates like this you wind up paying up for someone you don’t normally want to pay up for. Not to be forgotten in this lineup of death, Neil Walker over the last 2 years has had a not too shabby .348 wOBA vs righties. He’s cheap enough at $2,900 to help get you the expensive guys on the slate you want.

Cincinnati RedsSteven Brault is a LOOGY masquerading as a starter, but as a starter, he struggles with with command and missing bats. The one thing he doesn’t struggle with is ground balls vs lefties where he has excelled at in MLB (52.3%). We want to target him with right handed power and the Reds don’t have a ton. The top targets are Adam Duvall who has a .365 wOBA and a .282 ISO vs lefties and Eugenio Suarez, with a .383 wOBA and a .249 ISO vs lefties. None of these guys are cash game targets, partly because PNC is an atrocious place to hit homers.

Pittsburgh Pirates – In DFS, Homer Bailey’s probably most well known for the fact that almost every DFS blog or article loves to make a comedic reference to the fact that yes, his first name is also what hitters are trying to accomplish against him. Har. I’ll instead point out that he actually doesn’t give up fly-balls at that bad a rate (44.6% last year, 44.7% for his career), but what makes him one of the weakest pitchers on the slate is that he doesn’t strike anyone out and he walks a ton of batters (16% K and 10% BB). Basically you’re taking Robbie Ray and removing the strikeouts. By doing so, now you’re looking at a situation where he’ll walk batters and create jams, but can’t strike his way out of it. I’d love to target hitters against Mr. Bailey, but the real problem is that the two of the Pirates that really appeal to me are too expensive (Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco). Corey Dickerson would be the preferred play here at $2,500 due to his price. If the Pirates do something different with their lineup (such as batting Polanco lead-off, or moving Dickerson to 7th), it may change, but as long as it’s Polanco batting 2nd, Marte 3rd and Dickerson 5th (the most likely combination), I’d stick to only using Dickerson in cash.

Arizona DiamondbacksAdam Wainwright’s decline is getting pretty pronounced. The last 3 years saw his walk rate decline from a peak of 3-5% to last year at 8.2%. Combine that with a decline in strikeout rate from from 22 to 17.6%. And his FIP dropped from 30% better than league to exactly league average. Once he declines further, the Orioles will become interested in his services. The Dbacks without Lamb don’t have a lot of lefty power. Their best lefty hitter is David Peralta, who over his career has the same ISO as Brett Gardner last year (.191 for those who who don’t want to scroll up). Because of FanDuel’s decision to merge C with 1B, Alex Avila is a deep GPP play, I mean, Chris Davis is $200 cheaper and he’s a much better hitter!

St. Louis Cardinals – Just because I prefer Tanaka to Robbie Ray doesn’t mean you should target hitters against Robbie Ray. He still has a devastating K-Rate (32.8% last year, fourth-best in the league) but the reason he’s not an elite pitcher is his control (10.7% walk rate) is as bad as his K rate is good. His GB-rate, at 40.3%, is certainly below average, but given how few times he gives up contact, it’s not like you can say it’s ripe for the picking. Instead, the DFS takeaway here is that any Cardinal could easily draw a walk or two – but not much more, given Ray’s absurd K-rates. Walks may win real life baseball games, but they don’t win DFS games – you’re not going to win getting 6 points up and down your lineup from 0 for 2 with 2 walks.

Chicago CubsBrent Suter could easily be described as “meh, he’s nothing great, but there’s certainly far worse starting pitchers out there”. So far in his brief career, he’s paired an average 18.4 K% and an average 43.7 GB% with a fairly good 6.2 BB%. He’s actually shown a reverse split so far, but given that his career sample size is 107 innings and he throws the standard starting pitcher four-pack of fastball, slider, curveball, change-up as opposed to a pitch-combination that would suggest a reverse split (someone heavily reliant on change-ups and splitters), it’s likely just a sample size fluke and he’s most likely a normal-splits pitcher. Basically – he throws the ball over the plate and hopes the other team doesn’t crush it. There’s one problem with that – the Cubs can bash the ball. A lot. And Milwaukee is a park that is favorable to home run hitting. The one caveat is that most of the boost is to left-handed power, and while Suter may not have a noticeable split, Rizzo and Schwarber, the two lefties you’d want to target, most definitely do have one. I’d stay away from them in cash (but perfectly fine in GPPs since it’s a good offense and a small slate), which means you’re looking at the righties. Kris Bryant hits lefties to the tune of a .430 wOBA and a .286 ISO, which is kind of good. At $4,200 and an elite pitcher on the slate, we wouldn’t look to lock in Bryant, but since the most expensive pitcher is $9,600 and my preferred cash pitcher is $9,300, I’m not worried about the price tag. And, some great value comes from this same team in the form of Albert Almora (if he’s leading off). I give a lot of weight to #respecttheleadoff, and given that the Cubs are projected by Teammator to score 5.2 runs and DFSBot thinks that the Cubs will launch multiple bombs (although it’s unclear who will do the launching), Almora’s in a great spot to be on base when someone else sends a ball 450 feet. If he’s batting at the bottom of the order, I don’t have interest. Considering how bad SS is today, Addison Russell is a solid play. He’s projected to be a league average hitter this year and with a normal split, he should be a top 3 play at the position.

Milwaukee Brewers – Even on a smaller slate like this one, there’s better spots to pick your players than the Brewers, at least in cash. Jon Lester is a far better pitcher than Bailey, Brault, Cashner and Suter, so the only reason to select hitters facing a far better pitcher than those four is either if you’re going contrarian for GPP purposes, or if there’s a stand out hitter on the Brewers. On the latter point – no – there is not – Cain and Braun are good hitters but they’re not matchup-proof mashers, but on the former point – if I was going to use the Brewers for contrarian purposes, I would go all-in on it and play four Brewers – pray that Lester has an off-day and gets shelled and they use the back end of the bullpen as the Brewers hitters tee off. While Lester has a typical split, I wouldn’t limit myself to just righties as the theory would be that the Cubs go to their bullpen early, meaning that Thames or Yelich could easily get at-bats against a weaker right handed reliever, and at that stadium, lefty power can easily go yard numerous times.

I’m Only Happy When It Rains

Nothing to report as of now

Doing Lines In Vegas

The Diamondbacks were listed at +110 last night, before the Cardinals announced that Wacha’s start would be moved to Saturday. I legitimately loved that line, and wished I had gotten action on it. I don’t expect the line to move that much, whenever it’s released, so let’s just take an educated guess and say that Arizona will be around -105 or so. That’s still an amazingly good line given that Robbie Ray is very good (although yes, he walks everyone, he also strikes everyone out), and the Arizona lineup, while not deep, has a very solid top. Adam Wainwright, as discussed in the Diamondbacks section, is in steep decline and it’s not like the Cardinals offense is anything special. If the new line is Arizona -150 or so, obviously it’s a stay away, but presuming the oddsmakers don’t move it a lot, take the action and count the money.