Thursday’s schedule is loaded with probable pitchers who have vastly disappointed this season. Five hurlers scheduled to start have registered 200 strikeouts in at least one of the last three years, but all of them currently possess a FIP above 4.30. Anyone partaking in FantasyDraft’s nine-game slate must challenge a tough lineup, gamble on a turnaround, or ride a flawed hurler with an opportune mathchup.
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A quick scroll of FanGraphs may send some fleeing from Cole Hamels, as a 4.84 FIP lurks beneath his 3.48 ERA. But let’s give the former ace some credit. He has faced the Astros three times in his nine turns, most recently shutting them out over six one-hit innings last Friday. Before that, he limited Boston and Cleveland to a combined three earned runs. A 43.7 % hard-hit rate will eventually cause trouble, but the lefty has augmented his strikeout % from 17.1 to 25.1 with help from a 12.0 % swinging-strike rate. Only the Rangers and Mets strike out more against southpaws than the White Sox, who have scored 13 runs in their last five games. His days as a top-tier ace are over, but Hamels narrowly edges out Tyler Skaggs as Thursday night’s best option.
Honorable Mention: Tyler Skaggs ($20,700) vs. TB
I initially anticipated Chad Kuhl standing out as Thursday’s best value, but he’s the slate fourth-highest priced starter behind Hamels, Skaggs, and David Price at $16,100. You’re paying entirely for his matchup against the Padres, even though he’s coming off an ugly quality start (6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) against the light-hitting Giants. Let’s find someone cheaper with a higher ceiling instead. Vince Velasquez also met the minimal quality-start requirement in his last turn, also against the Giants. He also tallied a dozen strikeouts to one walk. The 25-year-old now has 50 strikeouts in 41 innings, and none of Thursday’s starters brandish a lower xwOBA than his .290. And yes, that comes with a 5.05 ERA. That’s why he’s only $14,800 versus the Cardinals, an offense with a bottom-10 wOBA and 23.5 strikeout %, at Busch Stadium. It’s a risky play given Velazquez’s highly erratic past, especially after the ice-cold Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler combined for five hits on Wednesday. Since there are no safe alternatives, let’s shoot for the stars.
Despite his 5.31 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, an 18.7 K-BB % and 3.40 FIP may make Marco Gonzales one of the evening’s most popular mid-tier pitchers. Yet I’m not counting on a significant improvement toward his peripherals. There’s still an alarming 39.7 % hard-hit rate and 8.7 swinging-strike % that doesn’t support his strikeout per inning. Also, and this seems kind of important, he can’t get righties out. They’re a career .327/.383/.519 against the 26-year-old southpaw, and they have continued to pulverize him (.336/.370/.503) to start 2018. This looks like a perfect opportunity for Nicholas Castellanos, a career .284/.338/.498 hitter against lefties. While most of his early success is fueled by a .316 batting average, he’s among MLB’s leaders in line-drive and hard-hid rates. Even if he doesn’t go yard, some doubles would be nice.
Another reason I decided not to highlight Kuhl? Lefties have demolished him (.284/.374/.523) since his MLB arrival. Nothing has changed this year, as he has already coughed up six homers to them through eight starts. Eric Hosmer, a career .293/.359/.469 hitter off righties, costs $7,500 despite these stark splits. While the exorbitantly paid first baseman still hits too many grounders (55.3 %), he has also established a .217 ISO with 20 extra-base hits (13 doubles, one triple, and six home runs) in 40 games. Despite batting .270, he wields a higher wRC+ (137) than last year, when he hit .318. That extra power puts him into the DFS discussion when the proper matchup materializes. Those who still prefer Hosmer as a boringly steady compiler in seasonal leagues can play the explosive Franchy Cordero for $200 more.
Those banking on an Aaron Sanchez rebound have instead watched the 2016 ERA champion submit a 4.90 FIP through eight starts. He has more walks (10) than strikeouts (nine) in his last three outings, and lefties have especially made his life difficult (.395 wOBA) in 2018. Name value aside, he’s the right opponent to ride Matt Joyce for a minuscule $5,700. Oakland’s platoon outfielder, who typically bats No. 2 when playing, brandishes a career .350 wOBA against righties. He has gone deep in three of his last five games, so take advantage of a bargain that should clear cap space for a stud like Mookie Betts or Manny Machado.
Honorable Mention: John Hicks ($6,500) at SEA (Gonzales)
Lefties are batting .202 with a .298 slugging percentage against James Shields this season. Yeah, I’m not buying it. It’s not like the 36-year-old righty is suddenly dealing; he has authored a 5.44 ERA, 13.5 strikeout %, and .382 xwOBA. This is the same human batting-practice machine who relinquished a .378 wOBA to lefties from 2015 to 2017, so stack a trio of Texas sluggers. On Tuesday, Joey Gallo ($8,000) actually made me not look like an idiot for once. Now that he’s facing an even worse soft-tossing righty, I’m doubling down in hopes of another dinger. An early May power tear has not inflated Nomar Mazara’s price ($7,700), but increases in pulled balls, line drives, and hard hits hint at legitimate progress from the 23-year-old outfielder. While Shin-Soo Choo ($7,300) is batting a mediocre .241/.312/.382, his batting eye at least establishes a steady floor against Shields, who has walked 16 of 100 lefties faced in 2018. A tournament daredevil may want to even roll the dice on Rougned Odor for $5,800. For all his flaws, he’s a 24-year-old with two 30-homer seasons. He’s bound to eventually hit his first long ball of the year.
Honorable Mention: A’s at Blue Jays (Sanchez)