FantasyDraft condenses an already quiet Thursday into a five-game night slate. That eliminates three of the best starters (Kyle Hendricks, Trevor Bauer, and Michael Fulmer) from a contest brandishing no true aces.
On the bright side, that opens the budget to spend aggressively on top-tier sluggers, which will come in handy with the likes of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and a potent Yankees vs. Red Sox matchup gracing the evening card. It may thus be prudent to build around a boring, but effective hurler.
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Top SP: Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals ($19,800) vs. Colorado Rockies
The choice for the top starting pitcher boils down to Gio Gonzalez and Jose Berrios. While playing both is viable in cash contests, they’re each a tad pricey because of position scarcity. As demonstrated by his complete-game shutout to open 2018, Minnesota’s burgeoning ace offers more upside. Yet he followed that gem with a sloppy five-run spot against Seattle, and the opposing White Sox wield MLB’s third-highest wRC+ as of Wednesday night. The Rockies also pack a heavy power punch, but Gonzalez will avoid Coors Field and possibly a banged-up Charlie Blackmon. Last season, the Rockies recorded a .724 OPS and 24.0 % strikeout rate on the road. With everyone expecting regression from last year’s 2.96 ERA, the Washington southpaw has surrendered one run in each of his first two starts while stockpiling 13 strikeouts. Rostering Gonzalez won’t conjure the same cozy feeling as playing Max Scherzer, but he almost looks as good as his teammate ace when compared to some of Thursday’s alternatives.
Honorable Mention: Jose Berrios, MIN ($21,500) vs. CHW
Value SP: Chris Stratton, San Francisco Giants ($13,100) at San Diego Padres
Chris Stratton has yet to validate the preseason buzz as a deep-league seasonal sleeper. Two mundane starts into 2018, he has allowed six runs (five earned) over 10.1 frames with seven strikeouts and four walks. He has induced just seven ground balls and 14 swinging strikes in 176 pitches. The 27-year-old righty also took both turns against the Dodgers. Now he gets to face the Padres, who have struck out in 25.9 % of their plate appearances with a .303 on-base percentage. This is the right slate and opponent to give Stratton another chance as a cheap second starter.
Honorable Mention: Ian Kennedy, KC ($14,500) vs. LAA
The Rockies wrapped up a six-game home stand, but Chad Bettis carries a 4.73 career ERA away from Coors Field. He has also yielded a .299/.355/.509 slash line to opposing righties, which explains Trea Turner‘s presence despite a slow start. At least the shortstop has parlayed a 16.4 walk % to five steals, and Adam Eaton‘s ankle injury elevated him back to the top of Washington’s lineup. As for Harper, you might as well a super-human star with a .316/.500/.789 slash line and only seven strikeouts in 56 plate appearances. Bettis’ atypical splits won’t save him from baseball’s hottest left-handed slugger. Taking a flier on Stratton makes it possible to roster both Washington stars (or Anthony Rendon instead of Turner at the same price) with room for more studs.
There’s no splits advantage, and he’s going against one of the evening’s premier starters. For $7,400, I still like Jose Abreu in Thursday’s battle of Good Guy Jose’s. As of Wednesday night, he’s a career .299/.354/.520 hitter against righties who has commenced 2018 with a 156 wRC+. While Berrios has limited same-handed hitters to a career .307 wOBA, he’s not yet a consistent ace to avoid at all costs. It’s not an advantageous matchup, but the underrated Abreu costs $300 less than Albert Pujols. I’m almost certain that purchase does not also come with a time machine to 2011.
Joe Mauer has reached base 21 times (12 hits, nine walks) in 40 plate appearances. Even without a home run he has mustered a .515 slugging percentage and 204 wRC+ on the strength of four doubles. The 2009 AL MVP is now hitting .332 with a .422 OBP since last year’s All-Star break. Not bad for a No. 2 hitter who costs just $5,700 against Lucas Giolito, a righty who has relinquished eight runs, seven walks, and four hit batters through two turbulent starts. The former top prospect entered 2018 with plenty of buzz, but Google Maps probably couldn’t help him find the strike zone. While he won’t win a tournament, Mauer should provide a solid return on investment and clear enough cap space to fill the remaining spots with high-upside studs.
Top Stack: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox (RHP Rick Porcello)
Rick Porcello is back to his Cy Young form! Or maybe he just lucked out by facing the Rays twice. A couple of good starts against a Quadruple-A lineup does not erase an entire season in which he relinquished a 4.65 ERA, 38 home runs, and a 38.3 % hard-hit rate. I don’t hate Porcello, but I don’t trust him against a generously priced Yankees lineup on the heels of a 10-run outburst.
- Aaron Judge, OF ($9,500)
- Didi Gregorius, IF ($9,300)
- Giancarlo Stanton, OF ($9,000)
- Gary Sanchez, IF ($8,100)
- Brett Gardner, OF ($6,800)
- Neil Walker, IF ($5,600)
- Miguel Andujar, IF ($5,600)
Lefties hit .285/.336/.520 against Porcello last year, so Gardner is an easy choice for the same cost as Jon Jay. Having already drawn nine walks, the leadoff hitter has scored 13 runs in 11 games with a .389 OBP. Turner costs just $100 more, but the scorching-hot Gregorius may be worth the lofty expenditure. The big boppers, meanwhile, all merit attention at value costs. Judge maintains a four-figure sticker tag despite batting .348/.474/.587. Sanchez for $8,100 looks a lot better after snapping out of his funk with two long balls last night. If a 40.4 strikeout % makes Stanton available for $9,000 against a pitcher who frequently serves up loud and far contact, why not take the discount and hope for a dinger? If these guys are gutting the budget, balance them out with Walker or Andujar.
Honorable Mentions: Nationals vs. Rockies (Bettis); Giants at Padres (Mitchell)