MLB DFS 4-1-21 Pitching Primer: Opening Day!

by Jeff Trela
MLB DFS 8-20-21 Pitching Primer

Well, here we are! It's time to load your FanDuel and DraftKings accounts and get ready to fill your pockets! In the MLB DFS 4-1-21 Pitching Primer, I will be giving you the rundown of the day's slate, from a pitching perspective. Whether you are a cash game or GPP player, I'll have something for you.

The MLB DFS Pitching Primer will be geared toward FanDuel and DraftKings, as they carry 90%+ of the volume in the industry. If you play on an alternate site and want to discuss how my picks and fades translate there, feel free to reach out on Twitter @JTrela20.

Likewise, on days I do not post a full breakdown, my plays and fades will be given out on Twitter.

On FanDuel, we are looking to 4x our pitcher's salary. This means if our pitcher costs $10k, we need 40 points to return value.

On DraftKings, where we are required to choose two starting pitchers, we look for 2.5x each.

Obviously, if you are looking to take down a GPP and become my rich friend, you will need to exceed these values.

MLB Opening Day is one of the hardest DFS days of the year to gauge pitchers. In most cases, our options will be on an innings or pitch cap, making some of the higher-end pitchers fall short of value.

Even harder is that we often do not know what these caps might be.  Looking at how a pitcher finished up the spring is a good indicator, but is merely a guess. Also, any data we use in our analysis is not current. Any pitcher who changed an arm angle, or added a new pitch, etc. may yield different split results than what we are used to.

I very much recommend whatever your daily buy-in will be throughout the season that you cut it significantly for the first week or so of the season.

The first challenge on Opening Day is slate selection.  FanDuel has a 15 game "All Day" slate, while DraftKings is offering a slate that includes the two 1:00 pm games. but as of this post, salaries are not yet available. (%!?#!!>!)

Today, I will guide you through several pitchers scheduled to start being there are so many different slates for you to consider. Normally I will focus primarily on the Main Slate, and try to limit the choices to make your decisions easier. Be sure to check back before lineup lock in case there are any necessary updates!

MLB DFS 4-1-21 Pitching Primer

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The Studs

Shane Bieber, CLE (FD $11.5K, DK ??) @ DET

Embed from Getty Images
Let's start out the Opening Day MLB DFS 4-1-21 Pitching Primer with the easiest play of the day. Bieber has simply owned this lineup, with a paltry .053 ISO against.

He started off last year like gangbusters, striking out 14 Kansas City Royals in six innings. This year he gets the Detroit Tigers, whose current lineup strikes out at a 35% clip versus Bieber.

Thursday is expected to be below 30 degrees in Detroit, and cold air always favors a power pitcher. I would expect nothing less than nine strikeouts and good length from Bieber, making him the highest projected point-scoring pitcher on the Opening Day slate.

Due to the early pricing on FD, there will be plenty of value bats available so the salary is palatable for cash or GPP.

Update: Be aware that the game time temperature will be below 30 degrees. While this does favor Bieber, the chance for a PPD does exist. Pay attention! also, Bieber was mispriced on DraftKings at only $10.1K. He becomes an absolute must play.  Fade only in multi-entry. 

Gerrit Cole, NYY (FD $11K, DK ??) vs. TOR

Cole is pretty well stretched out, having gone over five innings in his last spring start with 88 pitches. The New York Yankees bullpen does not stack up as it has in recent years with Aroldis Chapman serving a scheduled two-game suspension and Zack Britton injured. The Yankees may allow Cole to approach 100 pitches.

He has been highly successful against the Toronto Blue Jays, yielding only a .107 ISO and .187 AVG against to current Blue Jays. The Blue Jays offer very little from the left-handed batter's box, with only two projected starters on Opening Day. This will negate the potential 15 MPH winds expected to blow out to RF on Thursday.

There is rain in the forecast, but there is a lengthy dry window after the first pitch so the worst-case scenario is a delayed start giving way to an uninterrupted game.

Cole will likely lose some ownership to Bieber due to the matchups but makes for just as solid a cash game starter. Would definitely recommend him over Bieber for GPP.

Update: Cole is priced accordingly on DraftKings at $10.7K

Jacob deGrom ($11k, DK ??) @ WAS

You basically have to search for a slate to play deGrom on DraftKings, while he is available on the All Day slate on FanDuel.

Being priced below Bieber and Cole will attract big ownership, but the matchup isn't as comfortable as the other two. The Washington Nationals have shown moderate success against deGrom.

Last year he didn't pay off value in his first two starts and may not again here. He is more of a GPP play for me on Opening Day, but my exposure will be minimal, because...

UPDATE: This game has been PPD due to Covid-19 related issues. At this point it is unclear if they will play tomorrow or at a later date. Same applies to Scherzer below. 

Max Scherzer ($10.6K, DK ??) vs. NYM

Mad Max didn't get the respect of the other top-tier starters in Fantasy Baseball drafts this year, and that is certain to carry over into DFS on Opening Day.

Facing off against deGrom figures to suppress his ownership, as does the fact he faced these very Mets last week in his final spring tune-up. He did exceed 90 pitches, hinting that he is ready to go to 100 if he shows early success this Thursday.

Scherzer has a whopping 43.7% K rate against the current Mets roster.  This screams 50+ Fanduel points at 5% ownership.

Tier 2

Kenta Maeda, MIN ($9.4K, $8.3K) @ MIL

Embed from Getty Images
Maeda was unworldly last year after increasing his slider usage, and it looks to be carrying over to 2021. He had a dominant Spring Training, striking out 22 batters across 18+ innings pitched and building on the highest K rate of his career.

Maeda doesn't regularly pitch deep into games, but he did pitch through five complete in every start last year. This builds confidence in our ability to earn a win, and possibly a QS, while having a shot at approaching double-digit strikeouts.

The Milwaukee Brewers lineup was third-worst in MLB at taking strike three last year.

He makes for a pretty safe cash game option in our Opening Day MLB DFS 4-1-21 Pitching Primer, and I imagine he will in just about every start this year.

Kyle Hendricks, CHC ($9.1K, $7.7K) vs. PIT

Foreshadowing! I will be recommending the starting pitcher against the Pirates quite a bit this year, specifically in cash games.

News flash: They're bad. Really bad.

Adam Frazier and Gregory Polanco do have some pretty solid BvP against Hendricks, but that should scare no one off of him.

Hendricks threw a complete game shutout last year on Opening Day, striking out nine and essentially breaking the slate.

He comes in having a so-so Spring Training but maintained a stellar 15:2 K:BB across 12+ innings. I see very little reason to doubt him hitting value in cash games on both sites.

My Favorite Sneaky Options

Clayton Kershaw, LA ($9k, $9.5K) @ COL

Most DFS players cross out the visiting pitcher in Coors Field pretty much immediately. Kershaw has a career 4.44 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in Denver. These basically represent league average numbers. However, he has 136 career strikeouts there across 140 innings.

The Dodgers are 15-8 in games Kershaw has started in Coors. Last year, he gave us 46 FanDuel points in his September start at Coors. It will be unseasonably warm in Colorado this week with the game-time temperature expected to be north of 65 degrees.  However, the humidity looks to be non-existent. Humidity is the great neutralizer, as it makes for an amazing hitting environment.

Kershaw is coming off of a lackluster spring, but then again, he pretty much always is. His 10.22 ERA was his worst since 2014. Oh yeah, that year he won the Cy Young.

He threw 88 pitches last week, meaning a 95 pitch effort could be on the table if success warrants.

I wouldn't use him in cash games as Maeda and Kendricks are much safer at a similar price. But if you like to get a little jiggy with some GPP fun, a Kershaw lineup should be in your playbook.

Nate Eovaldi, BOS ($8.1K, $6.3K) vs Bal

Eovaldi pairs beautifully on DraftKings as your second pitcher with one of the above studs, and a formidable stand-alone option on FanDuel.

Last year, in three starts against the Baltimore Orioles, Eovaldi scored 37, 46, and 52 FD points. At his current price, the 37 points we got in his opening start last year would more than suffice for our cash game goals. The 52 would help us take down a GPP.

Not surprisingly, the Orioles roster has a putrid ISO of .078 versus Eovaldi.

He generally gets through five innings, having done so in eight of nine starts last year.

As a -180 favorite, my confidence in Eovaldi earning a win is quite high.

UPDATE: This game has been PPD. Expect to see Eovaldi in tomorrow's DFS Pitching Primer!

Brad Keller, KC ($7.6K, $5.9K) vs. Tex

Keller is my favorite play in the Opening Day MLB DFS 4-1-21 Pitching Primer.

Those who run in my circles are absolutely sick of hearing me talk about him. The increase and development of his slider last year made him one of the most consistent starters in baseball.

On Opening Day, I am looking for innings over anything. Keller averaged over six innings per start last season. Something only 19 other pitchers in the league can say.

Texas was bottom five in MLB last year in strikeout percentage and there is nothing to suggest different this year. Joey Gallo, Kris Davis, and Ronald Guzman all have big power, but it comes with a hole in their swing.

Kaufmann Stadium remains one of the best pitcher's parks in the game. If it keeps those power bats in the yard, we'll be above the cash line with Keller. All we need to meet cash value is six innings, three runs, and five strikeouts.

If we can get the win as a -160 favorite, we move into GPP winner territory.

The Fades

Yu Darvish, SD ($10.7K, $10.4K) vs. AZ

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In Darvish's last spring start, he gave up seven stolen bases. His body language on the mound was terrible, as he took seemingly ages in between pitches. He just didn't seem to want to be there.

Now, I'm not questioning Darvish's spirit or competitive nature. But I do want to know the "why". Is there an underlying injury? Frustration with his stuff? There may be nothing to see here, but I want to see that nothing before I roll him out in DFS.

He may even be the sneaky pitcher to stack against in the MLB DFS 4-1-21 Pitching Primer on Opening Day. The expected Arizona Diamondbacks starting lineup has very good BvP against him in a fairly large sample size.

Tyler Glasnow, TB ($10K, $8.8K) @ MIA

Glasnow built up to 79 pitches striking out 10 in his final Spring Training tune-up. While that may seem encouraging, the Rays did not allow him to pitch into the sixth inning until his fifth start last year.

Tampa Bay is listed as -150 favorites in this tilt, but the chance of Glasnow earning a win is quite low. You have a better chance to meet a unicorn than getting the extra 4 points for a Quality Start on Fanduel from Glasnow on Thursday.

The Marlins lineup as a whole was prone to the strikeout last year with a 24.9% K-rate.

The price is much more workable on DraftKings, where on FanDuel there is no reason not to go up to Cole or Bieber.

Check back tomorrow for Friday's MLB DFS Pitching Primer!

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