This article is part of our DraftKings MLB series.
We're nearing the end of the big slates for 2018, and this one shapes up to be a very nice one from a pitching perspective.
In addition to the high-quality arms, the Rockies are on the road, and the Rangers are facing one of the aces (Blake Snell) in Arlington, narrowing down the list of inflated expected run totals.
Detailed below, you'll see several options to build around as arms go, but a few trouble spots on hitter front (catcher again, and first base if you're not paying up for a top option).
As noted throughout the season, I generally don't write up the most expensive bats, since it should be fairly obvious that the overwhelming majority of those players are fine plays if the budget allows you to utilize them.
I'm making a concerted effort to indicate the type of contest I prefer to use players in – cash (50/50) or tournaments (GPPs) – which is generally an exercise in estimating ownership rates (or "finding the chalk") and making sure to have enough variation around the highly-coveted top value plays to have a dangerous lineup.
A strong cash-game play isn't necessarily a "bad" tournament play, but too many "chalky" players can create a limiting factor in big-field tournaments.
Your constructive feedback is appreciated, and always welcomed.
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Aaron Nola, PHI vs. NYM ($10,900) – Win probabilities favor Kluber (-260) and Kershaw (-225), but Nola's reasonable price, Cy Young worthy performance this season, and status as another heavy home favorite (-185) against the Mets is enough to move him up to the top of the list for SP1 cash-game considerations. He may end up as the highest-owned pitcher in tournaments Tuesday, which absolutely makes sense, but the question becomes whether there are enough high-end arms on the slight around him to get significantly lower ownership rates on some of the alternatives. Using Nola in a tournament will require a few unconventional wrinkles with the bats (or the second starting pitcher) in order to have ample differentiation.
Clayton Kershaw, LAD vs. COL ($11,300) – Kershaw is my pivot from Nola in cash games, or the alternative if I were building multiple cash lineups and wanted to have split (50-50) exposure. Remember when people were wondering if he was done? Kershaw has a 64:6 K:BB over his last 67.2 innings, with a 2.26 ERA and 0.93 WHIP during that span. The Rockies will likely be without one of their top offensive weapons Tuesday, as Trevor Story made an early exit from Monday's game with an elbow injury.
Corey Kluber, CLE vs. CHW ($10,600) – Kluber's matchup against the White Sox is an easy one as far as his chances of mowing down the opposing hitters go, but the concern is that Carlos Rodon has pitched well since returning from the DL, with a 3.10 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 17 starts, but his more recent starts include a 20:19 K:BB over his last five starts (30 innings). The overall dip in Kluber's price on DraftKings is a reflection of some light skills loss over the course of 2018, as Kluber's strikeout rate (8.95 K/9, 25.6%) is the lowest he's delivered since 2013 (8.31, 22.4%). He's avoided significant ratio increases by walking fewer hitters than ever (1.34 BB/9, 3.8% BB%), but it would hardly be surprising if the 2017 whiff marks (11.71 K/9, 34.1% K%) go down as his career-bests.
Jameson Taillon, PIT vs. KC ($9,200) – Taillon has been an ace for the Pirates following a disappointing start to 2018. Over his last 12 starts, he's posted a 2.55 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 69:14 K:BB over 77.2 innings. While he doesn't miss bats at an elite clip (8.0 K/9 during that span), he continues to limit the damage by maintaining low walk (1.6) and home-run rates (0.8). Oddly enough, he draws a home Interleague matchup against the Royals, who have the fifth-highest wRC+ in MLB over the last 30 days (114), which may be enough to steer away in cash, and instead lean on him as a tournament option.
Stephen Strasburg, WAS at MIA ($10,200) – The Strasburg Experience (™) has been more favorable in recent weeks, as he's gone at least 5.2 innings in each of his last four starts after a trio of duds in his previous three turns. With the Marlins trotting out few MLB-caliber players down the stretch, they've carried the fifth-worst wRC+ (85) in MLB over the last 30 days.
Blake Snell, TAM at TEX ($12,100) – Snell has to deal with a tough environment in Arlington, which has been more hitter-friendly than usual throughout this season (o/u 9.5 – highest on the board Tuesday). With the top-of-the-board price on a night with so many high-end starters available, he may cruise by with a very low ownership rate, making him a worthwhile tournament consideration if you have a very cheap SP2 that you feel good about. Leaning on Snell will almost certainly require using one of Joey Lucchesi ($7,600), Chase Anderson ($6,600) or Dylan Bundy ($6,400) to offset the cost. Paying for Lucchesi would be my first choice (the Giants are the league's worst offense over the last 30 days), but I'm completely torn on Anderson (who has been getting early hooks from manager Craig Counsell thanks to expanded rosters) and Bundy (who was sharp last time out, but has been nothing short of broken for the better part of two months).
Summary: Keeping it simple, a Nola-Taillon duo is the best cash-game arrangement I see. Unfortunately, Josh James ($4,000) is unlikely to pitch more than five innings, and even that isn't a guarantee, which makes it really tough to lock in Snell for tournaments as outlined above. A Strasburg-Lucchesi duo is probably the most aggressive approach I would consider from a risk perspective in tournaments, but I get the feeling that Lucchesi might be everybody's preferred cheap arm given the Giants' offensive futility.
Braves Catchers, ATL vs. STL – Lefty Austin Gomber takes the mound for St. Louis, leaving a righty-lefty matchup for whichever Atlanta catcher gets the nod – Tyler Flowers or Kurt Suzuki. Ultimately, Flowers ($3,800) is the lineup decision you want the Braves to make, since Suzuki is nearly $1,000 more expensive ($4,700). Given the steep price hike if the Braves choose to use Suzuki in this matchup, viable pivots should be at the ready.
For tournaments especially, Yan Gomez ($3,900) with a righty-lefty matchup against Carlos Rodon is an option if Suzuki starts and you can't afford to use him. In tournaments and cash games alike, Willians Astudillo becomes an immediate consideration if he's in the lineup against Daniel Norris and the Tigers.
Chris Davis, BAL vs. TOR ($3,000) – The usual tournaments-only mindset applies, but Davis is basically free on DraftKings at this price. He's terrible, as the .172/.246/.303 line this season confirms, and he hasn't homered since August 24th, which is surprising, even for the worst everyday position player in history (?). This is all about a bad player having a matchup against a pitcher who has been largely ineffective this season, as Davis faces Aaron Sanchez and the Blue Jays.
Most likely, you don't want to deal with Davis, which means you're paying up at first base on this slate given the lack of sub-$4K value plays.
Paying up for Paul Goldschmidt against Mike Montgomery ($5,300), Matt Carpenter ($4,900) against Anibal Sanchez, or Anthony Rizzo ($4,500) against Matt Andriese are the much safer paths to consider. There are less-risky bats to save cash on at other positions.
Logan Forsythe, MIN vs. DET ($3,000) – I hate myself for writing up another $3K player, but at least Forsythe offers tangible reasons to use him in cash games and tournaments since the Twins are hitting him in run-producing spots in their lineup, and he seems to be healthy again since getting sent back to Minnesota as part of the Brian Dozier trade at the end of July. Like Davis, there is mounting evidence that Forsythe isn't very good (.621 OPS in 2018), but unlike Davis, Forsythe has shown an ability to temper whiffs and get on base at a good clip (.379 in 42 games with the Twins), which is enough to use him as a salary relief option at the keystone to free up the cash needed to pay up for more productive bats at other positions.
For those looking to pay a little more for better overall skills, Kolten Wong ($3,500) is a tournament consideration against Anibal Sanchez. Josh Harrison is $3,700 if he gets the nod against Eric Skoglund. If you end up having enough under the cap to avoid going cheap at this position, consider Daniel Murphy ($4,000) against Matt Andriese at Chase Field.
Mike Moustakas, MIL vs. CIN ($4,500) – There are a few higher-end third basemen worth considering on this slate, but Moustakas checks in ahead of Johan Camargo ($4,300) and Josh Donaldson ($4,500) for tournament purposes with the assumption that the two similarly-priced alternatives will be more popular in tournaments. With a .263/.322/.518 line against right-handed pitching since the start of 2017, Moustakas is now reaping the benefits of a more hitter-friendly home park in Milwaukee, winning the park factors lottery at the trade deadline when the Royals shipped him to the Brewers.
Willy Adames, TAM at TEX ($4,100) – The Rays have hit Adames sixth in nine of his last 12 starts (he's hit seventh the other three times), and while that lineup placement is not a cash-game friendly one, his matchup against Yovani Gallardo and the Rangers' bullpen in the game with the highest over/under total on the slate (9.5) is excellent. Since getting a day off back on July 26 (he's had other breaks since), Adames is hitting .317/.396/.479 with six homers and five stolen bases over his last 42 games. Remember, he was an above league average hitter at every stop in the upper levels of the minors while playing against competition that was several years older along the way.
Franmil Reyes, SD vs. SF ($3,300) – Chalk alert. Reyes is on the radar again as big power bats priced near the bottom of the pack with a home matchup against Giants lefty Derek Holland. Holland, like Anibal Sanchez, has had a surprising renaissance in 2018, but his extremely poor splits against right-handed hitters over the last three years include a 1.65 HR/9 and a .362 wOBA allowed, both of which rank among the worst on the board among Tuesday's starters. Reyes, who hasn't homered since September 3, is sitting on 31 homers between Triple-A and the big leagues this season in 134 combined games. Despite the lack of recent home-run output, he enters play Tuesday night carrying a nine-game hitting streak, and his lack of strikeouts (11 in 64 plate appearances) is an encouraging late-season development as he continues to adjust to top-level pitching.
Kole Calhoun, LAA at OAK ($3,500) – Calhoun is a frequent consideration as an affordable outfield option for cash games and tournaments alike. The A's are using Liam Hendriks as an opener Tuesday night, which gives Calhoun a shot at some of the lower-end Oakland arms if the Angels' offense finds a way to get on the board early. As noted in previous columns, Calhoun has been a completely different player since a stint on the DL during the first half, posting a .256/.337/.505 line with 18 homers, 46 RBI and 53 runs over 76 games since his activation on June 18.
Billy McKinney, TOR at BAL ($3,700) – Dylan Bundy pitched well last time out, but he's had a major home-run problem over the last two months, making him an easy target when discounted power bats match up against him, especially at Camden Yards. McKinney has put together a .277/.344/.494 line over 25 games since joining the Blue Jays, and he showed plenty of power during his time at Triple-A this season (16 long balls in 76 games). Like Reyes and Calhoun, McKinney should be fairly popular in tournaments thanks to his low price in a favorable power matchup, but he's worth considering anyway since he opens up some flexibility among higher-priced pieces at other positions, and he's settled in as the Jays' primary leadoff option against righties in recent weeks.