Daily Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitchers Are the Key to Success

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Pitchers like Chris Sale are the key to success in daily fantasy baseball

The nature of DFS baseball is that it’s high-variance event overall, but in the relative chaos lies one oasis of relative consistency: the starting pitcher. A hitter has maybe five plate appearances in an MLB game in which to control his outcome in some way, and even the best hitter who has ever lived will be an underdog to achieve a positive outcome each time he steps to the plate.

This leads to high volatility in the hitter’s roster spots, made even more volatile by the fact that a successful DFS gamer will be stacking teammate hitters who all rely on each other for increased point opportunity. On the other hand, a starting pitcher’s performance is more consistent from start to start than any position player due in part to the sheer volume of controllable events.

While a hitter could have five plate appearances, a starting pitcher who achieves a quality start will face 20 or more batters. In a vacuum, a pitcher is favored for a positive outcome in each one. The volume of controllable events a starting pitcher enjoys naturally reduces variance and increase predictability. Clayton Kershaw is significantly more likely to produce a successful daily event than Bryce Harper, and that fact is reflected in the higher salaries for starting pitchers.

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The question then becomes whether the increased cost of a quality starting pitcher is worth the hit to your salary cap and how to handle the DraftKings format where you actually roster two starters.

In general, the answer to the starting pitcher question is “yes.” You will find that it is worth spending up to procure a good starter in a good daily situation. You are essentially paying up for a high floor that is as close to a sure thing as DFS baseball offers.

In the DraftKings format of two starters, one method of roster construction is using a top starter as a backbone to your team and take a slightly more contrarian approach with starter #2, focusing on the starters who best fit the scoring format of the site and who are facing a positive situation. On DraftKings, strikeout pitchers are essential in the format, so a young fire-baller in a good pitcher’s ballpark is a very nice spot to roll the dice.

When choosing which pitchers you might want to roster on a given slate, as with hitters, the best place to start is by checking the Las Vegas projections. As much grunt work as you can do in breaking down every batter/pitcher matchup in order to project what you feel will happen, you will not beat the Vegas run projections over the course of the season. In a daily format where time is of the essence, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Save this time for the actual research that you will need.

While weather affects your hitters, it can absolutely destroy an otherwise great DFS roster when it comes to your hurlers. A batter can even be positively affected when a rain delay is long enough to chase a starter, but when your SP leaves after the 90-minute rain delay in the 3rd inning, you have no chance of shipping a large cash.

Many sites online such as RotoGrinders and Rotowire list the projected weather in their daily updates. A combination of checking the skies early and pre-game is crucial when considering a starter in an outdoor game.

In addition to rain, wind is a significant factor to a starter. Studies have consistently shown that a fastball pitcher in a game with wind blowing in will have an average speed higher later in a game than in the same spot with neutral wind. Conversely, wind blowing out strongly is a bad situation for your starter. You will see this during the season in the run projections for Wrigley Field, which drastically shift from game to game as wind patterns change.

Now that we have looked at how the pitchers differ from hitters in the DFS landscape, we come to where their respective performances are equally affected: the handedness issue. A lefty starter facing a heavily left-handed lineup is in the single best situation possible. Keep in mind, however, that there are pitchers who are outliers in terms of their effectiveness against lefties or righties, so you will want to do some research with respect to the lineup they are facing on a given day.

In terms of starting pitcher research, a couple of useful advanced statistics are FIP and GB/FB ratio. FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, is essentially a better version of ERA in that it only reflects events where fielding factors are not in play: HBP, HR, BB, and K. A pitcher with a low ERA and a high FIP can be expected to regress in future performances, as he has been on the right side of luck relative his actual performance level and vice versa.

In DFS, where salaries are set by performance, finding value is the name of the game and FIP is a great tool in that search. A starter’s GB/FB ratio is also important to know, as a high GB pitcher will logically be expected to give up fewer runs. Pitchers such as Kershaw and Sale can be expected to show a ratio anywhere from 1.5 to 2.0, and combined with the extremely high number of strikeouts each will have, it is easy to see why they don’t give up many runs.

In terms of predictability, strikeouts are the most predictive pitching statistic from season to season, so the desire to pay up for that quality starter is strongly rooted in statistics.

In summary, going with solid starting pitchers as your foundation and taking a more contrarian approach with your more volatile hitters is a solid strategy for DFS baseball in all formats from GPP to H2H.

Now, take what you’ve learned and sign up for DraftKings. DraftKings offers a 100% up to $600 sign-up bonus that’s released as you play. Use the code P5S when you create your account.