Thursday’s eight-game schedule is so light on pitching that Johnny Cueto costs $22,900 in his first start since April 28. There’s too much DL Hangover risk to pay that exorbitant price, but another recently resurfaced hurler has a far lighter price tag. Given the dearth of high-quality choices, there’s little choice but to use the slate’s unquestioned premier hurler.
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Top SP: Justin Verlander ($25,400) vs. Chicago White Sox
I really wanted to pivot from Justin Verlander, simply for the obviousness of it all. Also, he requires a sizable $25,400 investment. Let’s look at the top alternatives. There’s Cueto, who is coming off an elbow injury that cost him over two months. I entertained Luke Weaver as a bounce-back pick at San Francisco, but he has not notched a quality start since May 22, when he ceded three runs in seven frames to the Royals. He has since posted a 6.49 ERA with 16 walks and 45 hits yielded over 34.2 innings. He didn’t complete six innings in any of those seven outings. So Jeremy Hellickson is the best alternative with Washington hosting Miami, but the surprisingly effective veteran is more of a supplemental second starter to someone with more upside. Not that I need to sell you on Verlander, but he boasts a 2.12 ERA with eight strikeouts per start. No AL team strikes out more than the White Sox, so trust Houston’s stud to recover from his two worst outings of a Cy Young-caliber campaign.
Honorable Mention: *Shrugs*
Value SP: Max Fried ($14,700) at Milwaukee Brewers
Max Fried isn’t a value as much as a swing for the fences. Making his first major league outing in over a month, the former top prospect procured 11 strikeouts in 6.2 scoreless frames at St. Louis. Injuries have stalled his development, but the 24-year-old has now submitted a 3.30 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 43.2 career innings. Although some onlookers wrote off the Atlanta lefty two years ago, there’s plenty of upside left to unearth. This isn’t a choice for the queasy, as he faces a dangerous Brewers squad that just welcomed back Christian Yelich. Yet they brandish the fifth-worst wOBA against southpaws as of Wednesday, so take a chance on Fried finessing another high-strikeout tally.
This feels like a trap. After depositing his 13th home run on Wednesday night, Eduardo Escobar is batting .277/.335/.531. He tallied 11 of those long balls against righties. Now he faces Andrew Cashner, who sports a 4.95 FIP and .365 wOBA with 14 homers surrendered. Stuck at two homers with a lower slugging % (.353) than OBP (.356), Joe Mauer is a mere $300 cheaper. Eddie Rosario requires a $9,700 investment, which is a perfectly fair ask for a surging star opposing Cashner. So what’s the catch with Escobar?
How is playing Matt Adams in his return from a finger injury different than Cueto’s circumstance? It solely amounts to opportunity cost. Washington’s first baseman punctuated a .411 wOBA against righties before suffering a finger injury. He now has a $7,600 sticker price against Pablo Lopez, a rookie making his second career start. The neophyte looked sharp (6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) in his MLB debut, but does beating the Mets really count? Whereas Cueto is overpriced because of the uninspiring pitching catalog, the risk of rust is rightfully baked into Adams’s cost in an advantageous matchup. This, of course, is assuming he’s ready to start. He was activated yesterday, but sat against lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.
It’s also all about opportunity for Tim Beckham, who has batted leadoff in his last four games. While it’s a weird role for someone with a career .306 OBP, we might as well capitalize on the extra scoring chances. He’s 9-for-31 in eight games since returning from the DL, and the opposing Aaron Sleger is hardly imposing. The 25-year-old righty, who is making his first big league start of 2018, possesses a pedestrian 6.6 K/9 throughout his minor league career. Beckham should at least put the ball in play in what has the makings of a scoring bonanza.
Stack: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Diego Padres (RHP Eric Lauer)
This may just be a ploy to feel less guilty about touting Paul Goldschmidt against a lefty the day after making the bold proclamation to pay for Nolan Arenado against a southpaw at Coors. But Goldy isn’t just facing any middling lefty. He’s facing Eric Lauer, who makes every opposing righty into an All-Star (.322/.390./520). This type of matchup usually runs a FantasyDraft contestant five figures, but the first baseman is cheaper than 13 other hitters at $9,400. So why not? While you shouldn’t feel compelled to run a full Arizona stack, at least pair the superstar with Nick Ahmed, who’s batting .287/.333/.529 against Leftorium shoppers this season. He costs just $6,500, and you’re going to need to buy a couple clearance hitters to afford Verlander and Goldschmidt. John Ryan Murphy ($7,800, .383 wOBA vs. LHP) and Ketel Marte ($7,600, .368 wOBA vs. LHP) also garner some consideration. Anyone fading Verlander can pay $8,800 for A.J. Pollock, but it’s a steep investment for someone still searching for his footing following a lengthy injury absence.