Picking the right pitchers in MLB DFS tournaments is one of the more overlooked aspects of the game. There is a tendency to simply go the safe route and play the best-projected pitchers that everyone is playing and focus solely on the bats.
While this isn’t always a bad idea, we should put a good bit of focus into our pitcher choices, just as we do with batters.
You will seldom see a large-field tournament-winning lineup where the pitchers have nothing to do with it. Picking the right hurlers can be the difference between taking down a tournament and coming nowhere close.
The strategy differs from site to site. I will cover ways to approach rostering the best pitchers for our lineups, whether on DraftKings or FanDuel.
DraftKings Pitcher Selection
DraftKings is significantly different from FanDuel for pitchers, as one must roster two instead of one. If you get one of them wrong, your lineup is likely toast in large-field GPPs.
Also, salaries are set up on DraftKings differently than FanDuel. It is often not easy to roster only safe and high-upside pitchers while still having a decent roster of hitters. Paying up for two aces will generally handicap our lineups quite a bit in terms of batters, so we often need to find value for at least one of our pitcher spots.
Another key difference to remember is that on DraftKings, you lose points for every hit/walk/hit-by-pitch against your pitcher. In contrast, on FanDuel, you only lose points for earned runs. For this reason, it is an excellent idea to prioritize clean innings on DraftKings over pitchers who are likely to get in and out of trouble.
What tends to happen is that the field fixates on one or more aces at the top that will wind up being 30% or more owned. They will then find one or more mid-range or cheap value plays that become very high-owned as the defacto SP2s.
It is possible for a pitcher to completely tank your lineup by either scoring negative fantasy points or close to it. Due to this, DFS players tend to keep it very close to the vest and refuse to take risks with their pitcher selections.
These cognitive biases are common among recreational players. Still, even refined players who primarily play more by analytics have a tendency to trust the projections when it comes to pitchers.
There is nothing wrong with playing high-owned hurlers that project well. There is a reason they project as such, and sometimes it is best to just play it safe at pitcher and look for leverage with our hitters.
However, one of the easiest ways to gain leverage and make our lineups inherently different is to embrace that there is more variance in pitching than the field tends to accept. Due to how ownership on certain pitchers condenses, we can easily find very low-owned picks. They often have a reasonable chance of outscoring their chalky counterparts.
Sometimes we can eschew the high-priced aces altogether and take a chance on mid-range or even cheap pitchers in both of our pitcher spots. They may outscore or score similarly to the top pitchers, and they afford us savings that we can use on higher-priced hitters.
Let’s get more specific with some examples of getting different with our pitcher selections on DraftKings. You will often see three or four high-priced aces with similar skillsets on a slate. Yet ownership will condense on one or two and be nearly nonexistent on the others. This will generally be because of the matchups they all face, respectively, or some combination of biases.
It is easy enough to simply fade the highest-owned aces and play the lower-owned ones with similar skills. You gain automatic leverage if your pitcher outscores the others.
Arguably the best opportunity to find leverage is to be under the field on the chalk mid-range and cheap pitchers that inevitably manifest on each DraftKings slate. Everyone is looking to save some salary with their SP2. There will more often than not be a value pitcher or two in a good spot that fits the bill.
These pitchers are often questionable, hence their desirable price tags, and not guaranteed commodities whatsoever. There are usually other close to unowned pitchers in similar salary tiers with a chance of success that is not too far off. This simple pivot can gain you massive leverage in tournaments on DraftKings.
FanDuel Pitcher Selection
The most significant difference between FanDuel and DraftKings in terms of pitchers is, of course, that FanDuel only requires you to roster one instead of two. This makes your decision arguably more critical, considering you will only get that one score from your pitcher and can’t make it up with the other one.
Also, suppose one particular pitcher has a ceiling score that is way higher than any other. In that case, you are more likely to need that pitcher to win a tournament. On DraftKings, some combination of two pitchers could make up for not having the one pitcher who goes off for a ridiculous game.
Another critical thing to consider: in FanDuel’s scoring system, you get a sizable four-point bonus for quality starts (six innings or more with three earned runs or less given up). With this bonus and the FanDuel win bonus equaling six points, you can gain four to ten points if your pitcher goes six quality innings and/or gets the win (requiring at least five innings). This takes pitchers who are not likely to pitch at least six innings pretty much off the table for a GPP-winning ceiling score.
You only get to roster one pitcher on FanDuel, and bonafide ace types are generally safer and more likely to go deep into games. As such, ownership tends to get very condensed on the top aces. In addition, due to the pricing on FanDuel, it tends to be easy enough to build a quality roster of hitters while spending up at pitcher.
You can find significant leverage by simply avoiding or being under the field on the expensive top aces. There are times that mid-range pitching options project in quality projection systems similarly to, or even higher than, the top aces. There is also a lot of variance in baseball. A large swath of mid-range pitchers with so-so projections that have the potential to be the highest-scoring pitcher on the slate gets utterly overlooked.
This is not to mention the potential to play a cheap pitcher, enabling you to roster an all-star team of batters. These pitchers will often be low-owned or close to unowned and can be the difference-maker in big GPPs if things fall their way on a given game.
Selecting pitchers in MLB DFS should not be a matter of choosing the safest and most apparent picks everyone else is playing and moving on with the slate. We should pay some real attention to finding leverage at pitcher to get the ceiling scores to differentiate our lineups and vault to the top of the leaderboards.