If you are reading this article, it’s a safe bet you follow Major League Baseball, and it’s also a safe bet you know about the plight of Chris Davis. So I don’t need to get into the details of how historically bad he’s been. What I do need to get into is something that anyone playing today’s slate must be aware of. Chris Davis is priced at $500. That’s right, $1500 below the standard minimum price. This has happened before, either by accident (Kike Hernandez was $220 one day a few years back) or due to FanDuel running a silly promotion (on Alex Rodriguez’s final game, they made him $660). This is the first time FanDuel has priced a player at this low a price simply as a strategic/gameplay decision. So, what do we do? Well, first, there’s the chance he is not in the lineup. If that’s the case, he’s not a play even though accepting a 0 for $500 can allow you to get an extra high end bat or two. The lack of a truly expensive pitcher, the lack of Coors Field bats (since they’re on the early slate, and that’s if they even play since Denver is apparently going to be completely destroyed by a bomb cyclone snowstorm this morning) means that you simply won’t need to take the automatic 0 if he’s not in the lineup. But what if he is in the lineup? Absent an unusual amount of quality value that isn’t tied to the underpricing of a player currently failing at an historically bad rate, I think he’s a lock. Simply put, he’s a snap play regardless of whether you think he is truly this bad (not -76 wRC+ bad, but pitcher level bad), or whether you believe it’s simply impossible for him to be this bad and he will likely recover to below replacement level, but better than a pitcher. Let’s start with the easier case after a quick word from our sponsor.
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Suppose you think Chris Davis, while clearly well past his prime and no longer worthy of being a major league hitter, is not nearly as bad as a -76 wRC+ would indicate. Razz’s rest-of-season hitter projections believes this to be the case, projecting him to be a .201/.301/.400 hitter the rest of the way. That fantasy point production for $500 results in Chris Davis being overwhelmingly the best value play. But maybe you think that’s too generous – after all, Steamer thinks he’ll eventually recover to be marginally better than he was last year, and one can certainly argue that’s simply not going to happen. So what if you assume he’s going to rebound, but only to last year’s putrid level of production (.168/.243/.296). Here’s the thing – even at that level, Chris Davis averaged 7.2 fantasy points per game. For simplicity sake, let’s project him for 6.5 – a 10% reduction from his 2018 per-game output, on account of the fact that the Orioles lineup is worse than it was last year (and should have fewer opportunities for runs and RBIs). 6.5 points for $500 is still an absurd value. But now, for the truly ridiculous thing. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Chris Davis is truly broken beyond repair, washed up, and is at this point a -76 wRC+ hitter. The current 2019 Chris Davis is what he will continue to do. He will continue to not get a hit. The 2019 Chris Davis averages 2.11 fantasy points per game – that’s right, even without a hit, he still averages 2.1 points per game. And 2.1 points, as pathetic a score as that is, is still amongst the top values on a given slate. We have finally gotten to the point where we can conclude he is not the best value, but even then, he’s still one of the best. So, taking a step back, we have a situation where unless you take the single most pessimistic view as to Chris Davis true talent level going forward (namely, that he will continue to be a -76 wRC+ hitter), you have a guy who projects to be the best value on the slate, and even under the absolutely mind-bogglingly bad 2019 production level assumption, he still manages to rate out as one of the best values. If the worst case scenario is that he’s one of the better values, and any other scenario is that he’s a top value, well, I don’t think I need to spend any more time on this since I’ve already spent more time than any one person should ever devote to this topic. Play Chris Davis.
On to the picks…
Noah Syndergaard, SP, $10,100 – Thor is the best pitcher on the slate. He’s got a great combination of elite control (5.5% career) and elite ground balls (49.6% career). Last year Thor’s K rate dropped to a still above average 24.1%, this year against Washington and Washington, he’s struck out 28.3%. The projections have him closer to the 28.3% this year and his velocity should creep back up to where he was 2 years ago. The projected lineup vs Thor is pretty average, with a 23.3% strikeouts, 8% walks and a .324 wOBA. Even though the Twins put up roughly a bajillion runs vs deGrom last night, Thor should be able to handle the Twins lineup losing the DH and taking a park hit.
Any Number of Solid Pitchers – Loyal readers of mine know that when there’s a clear, obvious cash game pitcher, I always want to have a GPP-pivot recommendation. In this case, I see a bunch of options that are all viable, and I don’t particularly have a strong preference for any one of them. However, I do like them all and the general point is that I strongly believe that the GPP path today is to pivot off of the likely mega-chalk Thor. Just like DeGrom yesterday, it’s always possible a chalky ace duds. So who are the “any number of solid pitchers”? James Paxton at $9,800 gets a lot of Ks, and while the Astros have a lot of punch, they also strike out a decent amount. Rudy’s projections have Yusei Kikuchi being a nice value play at $7,100 due to a matchup with the relatively hapless Kansas City Royals (as long as you keep them off the bases, as Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi and Billy Hamilton make the Royals lineup look like it’s straight out of 1985). And Robbie Ray is always a good GPP play because while he could easily walk 6 straight batters in the first inning and be pulled by the 2nd, he’s also got the potential to throw 6 innings of shutout baseball with 13 Ks no matter what team he’s playing. That he’s priced down to $8,100 is just the icing on the cake.
Kendrys Morales, 1B, $2,400 – Dan Straily is moving from the comfy confines of Miami to Baltimore, a park that is not helpful to fly ball guys, with the additional “bonus” of facing lineups which include a DH. Straily last year struck out 19.1%, walked 10% and had a fun 32.1% groundball rate. All bad numbers, and especially bad considering he got to face the pitcher. The A’s are going to be the beneficiary today and we’re going to search for home runs against him. Last year vs righties, Morales had a .365 wOBA and a .220 ISO with a 44% groundball rate and a hard hit % of 43.9%. He’s also only $2,400. He’s a great value. Other plays from this game include Matt Chapman (142 wRC+, .258 ISO, 38.5% GB, 43.6% hard hit %), Khris Davis (.374 wOBA, .315 ISO, 34.9% GB, 44.6% hard hit %). Stephen Piscotty has a .357 wRC+, .232 ISO, 44.2% GB and 45.8% hard hit %. With Robbie Grossman, you’re not home run hunting since his power numbers are a little below average, but you’re playing the (likely) leadoff hitter in an elite spot. Obviously if someone else is hitting leadoff, then that player gets the same sort of bonus I am giving Grossman. The other advantage here is the Orioles bullpen is less than good and they seemingly don’t care if they win. They will let lefties face righties and righties face lefties late in the game, which is good for getting those pile on points late when the score is 15-2.
Jarrod Dyson, OF, $2,600 – Lance Lynn has nothing to get lefties out and last year he had a 15.9% strikeout rate and a 13.6% walk rate vs them. And while Dyson isn’t good at hitting, he is batting leadoff against a bad pitcher (vs lefties) with stolen base upside for very cheap.
Eduardo Escobar, 3B, $2,700 – I get why Escobar is this cheap, since he’s been awful to start the year but he should be around league average as a hitter as a lefty and again, he’s facing someone who has a a 2.3 K-BB rate against lefties. The price here is just too cheap.
Ben Zobrist, OF, $2,800 – Jordan Lyles is another bad pitcher. Over his career, Lyles has been well below average strikeouts (16.1%) and average walks (7.7%), but last year was actually halfway decent at getting groundballs out of the pen (45.6%), and was only a little below average at getting strikeouts (22.6%) for the first time in his career. But as we know, going from the pen to starting causes a degradation in performance and buying into the career high in strikeouts means you wouldn’t want to pick him here. Zobrist is too good a hitter at too cheap a price to not exploit this. I want to quickly point out that outside of a weirdly horrible 2017 (82 wRC+ and .251 BABIP), Zobrist has been quite good the last couple of years, and this year he’s just continued his good offensive production. Since he came to the Cubs, his wRC+ are 124, 82, 123, and is at 131 so far this year. He’s good and his price will just rise as the year goes on. I will also note that the weather in this game looks to be truly awful, i.e. cold, damp and windy, so that may push Zobrist (and any Cubs bats) into stay-away territory.
Milwaukee Brewers Lefties – Felix Pena is another generic starter who struggles getting opposite hand hitters out but does OK vs same side hitters. His career has seen him strike out 20.5% and walk 12.5% of hitters from the left side (only 66% of this has been as a starter in his career). He gets a few more ground balls from lefties, but he is slightly below average in that department with 42.2%. The Brewers have plenty of power hitting lefties that will punish you if you can’t get them out. If you don’t know by now that Christian Yelich (.425 wOBA and .281 ISO) rakes, especially righties, you probably don’t follow baseball. Travis Shaw (.374 wOBA and .285 ISO), Eric Thames (.338 wOBA and .268 ISO) and Mike Moustakas (.337 wOBA and .230 ISO) are the best plays. Shaw, Thames and Moustakas are particularly good values on this slate.
Jean Segura, SS, $3,700 – What’s this? The highest projected shortstop, batting 2nd, on the highest projected team on the slate (by a significant amount too – at the time of this writing, they are projected to score 6.11 and the next highest is the Cubs at 5.72), facing the quietly exploitable (career 17.4% strikeouts and career 39.3% groundballs) Jeremy Hellickson? And for less than $4,000? The only other SS who projects nearly as high as him is Javier Baez, who is $700 more, and the other SS in Segura’s price range (Paul DeJong, Tim Beckham, Jorge Polanco) are nowhere near the play Segura is today.
Byron Buxton, OF, $2,400 or Jorge Polanco, SS, $3,800 – I’m not recommending these guys in cash, but I do want to point out that while Thor is an elite pitcher (and the ace of this slate), he is legitimately the worst pitcher in baseball at holding baserunners on. As a result, players with good base-stealing skills are highly likely to steal on Thor on the off-chance they reach first base. Each steal is a tasty 6 fantasy points. So if you’re looking for a GPP play to round out a lineup, anyone on the Twins who steals bases should be considered.
I’m Only Happy When It Rains
The Cubs weather is going to be cold, damp and windy (not in the good way) and may just be a spot to avoid. The west coast is going to be much warmer than the east coast today and it’s a spot to watch for to GPP the warmer games.
Doing Lines In Vegas
Considering Teamonator has the Phillies scoring north of 6 runs, I’d take the over of 9 on that game and the Phillies. And remember, if you have any questions, ask here or you can hit me up on Twitter.