Welcome to the debut installment of the Fantistics' Daily Fantasy Fix! In this spot each day myself, Michael Leone, and fellow Fantistics' writer Drew Dinkmeyer will bring you advice as how to approach the day's daily fantasy games.
Before I get into specific recommendations for Opening Day, it is important to remind you to know your scoring system and format. These vary from site to site and all daily sites price their players differently, which could make someone a must start on one site but not another. In the space below I will break down the best and worst plays by position and make notes as to which type of formats to utilize players. If you are new to the daily fantasy baseball scene, there are daily fantasy websites which offer one day contests. These contests are mostly salary cap games where you can take any players you want as long as you stay under the cap and meet the positional requirements and all are points-based (not roto). Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions regarding daily fantasy baseball.
Best Value Play
Alex Avila (DET) - Most of the catchers on Opening Day are either not that good or have a bad matchup, which led me to Avila as my top play on most sites. After a 19 homer season in 2011, Avila really struggled last year. As a result, he is underpriced on a lot of sites. Secondly, he should have a better all-around season as he maintained very solid walk and LD rates a year ago and could easily see his power return if his FB rate regresses towards his career mark. Last but not least, on a day where batters are facing the best pitchers in almost every ballpark, Avila pulls Vance Worley who is clearly a full step (if not more) below the rest of the day's starting pitchers. Worley isn't awful, just not in the same class as most Opening Day starters. He also struggled versus left handed batters last season allowing them to post a .367 wOBA. What he was especially bad at against lefties (allowing line drives and walks) are the two skills that Avila did rate well in last year. And of the limited damage Avila did inflict last year, the majority of it (8 of his 9 HR) came against lefties. There's a good chance Avila reaches base multiple times today, and he will be hitting for one of the highest expected scoring teams of the day which increases his likelihood of scoring and/or driving in a run.
Worst Value Play
Buster Posey (SF) - Posey is the best fantasy catcher in the league, but he makes for a poor play on Opening Day. For starters, because he is the best fantasy catcher in the league he is also likeliest the most expensive one. Secondly, I rarely take anyone against Clayton Kershaw, and it especially holds true in this case as Posey is just 6 for 33 in his career against Poser with only 1 XBH and 1BB compared to 9 strikeouts. If you need any more reasons not to play Posey, consider that Dodger stadium is a pitcher's park and more conducive to low scoring games. This could be the day Posey breaks out against Kershaw, but it's far from a wise way to spend your money.
Best Value Play
Adam LaRoche (WAS) - LaRoche, slated to hit fifth in a deep Nationals lineup, has a pretty juicy matchup (relatively speaking) against Ricky Nolasco today. Nolasco has a career 4.50 ERA and has seen his K rate decline steadily the last three seasons. In fact, he struck out just 13.8% of LHB last season while allowing 1.04 HR/9 against them. Overall, Nolasco allowed LHB to post a .347 wOBA. Meanwhile, LaRoche had a .366 wOBA against RHP last year. The Nationals project to be one of the highest scoring teams today which also helps LaRoche's ability to record a RS or an RBI.
Not So Fast...
Freddie Freeman (ATL) - I love Freeman this year as he likely continues to develop into a star, but I'm not a fan of his Opening Day matchup. Freeman goes up against Cole Hamels who he has struck out against 9 times in 23 at bats. That is not a huge sample size, but when you tie it in with the fact that Freeman hit just .237 against all LHP last year, striking out 26.1% of the time, I'm not likely to risk throwing him out in my lineups today, particularly on sites where players get negatives for strikeouts.
Rickie Weeks (MIL) - Weeks is a bit underpriced on most sites because he had a BABIP and HR/FB rate last season that were well below his previous 3 year averages. Expect those to normalize this year leading to a higher BA and higher HR/AB figures for Weeks. On top of being underpriced, Weeks is hitting second in a good Milwaukee lineup that projects to be one of the higher scoring teams on the day going up against the very hittable Jhoulys Chacin.
Matt Carpenter (STL) - Carpenter is likely hitting 6th for the Cardinals as they play in the highest overall projected scoring game of the day (over/under of 8.5). He hit RHP very well last year, posting a .363 wOBA to go along with an impressive .79 EYE and .391 OBP. I like taking a guy with strong on base abilities in a high projected scoring game, and quite frankly I'm not in love with a lot of the 2B options today so I may just save salary here and play Carpenter who should be pretty cheap on most sites. Please note that he may be listed at 3B on some sites.
My honest recommendation at the SS position today is to fill out the rest of your lineup first. I'm finding that most of the guys who are underpriced, like a Jed Lowrie, face a very tough matchup. My strategy here is to just pick someone a little bit cheaper off of a projected high scoring team that fits in salary cap wise with the rest of my team. These guys include Jhonny Peralta (DET), Jean Segura (MIL) and Daniel Descalso (STL) (may not be eligible at SS on some sites). If I am paying up for someone it may be...
Jimmy Rollins (PHI) - Don't be fooled by Rollins' career .218 BA in 78 at bats against Tim Hudson as he actually sees Hudson pretty well as evidenced by his .83 EYE and .244 ISO. Sure that likely includes some old data but also consider that Tim Hudson is classified as a finesse pitcher according to Baseball-Reference's criteria, and Jimmy Rollins did the majority of his damage last year against these type of pitchers (.873 OPS) compared to other types of pitchers (sub-.700 OPS's against neutral and power pitchers).
Strong Risk/Reward Play
Will Middlebrooks (BOS) - Sifting through 3B today, I have not come across a lot of value plays that I like so I may take a risk here and start Middlebrooks on sites where he is priced cheaper than about half of today's starting 3B. It's risky because we aren't picking on a bad pitcher (CC Sabathia is the opponent), and Middlebrooks certainly had his plate discipline issues last year (24.5 K%, .19 EYE). However, Middlebrooks showed enormous power against LHP a year ago, posting a .383 wOBA, .906 OPS and a .256 ISO against LHP, keyed by 6 HR in 100 PA's. And while Yankee stadium is known as power friendly for LHB, Fangraphs park factors also has it as the 6th easiest place for a RHB to hit a HR.
Mike Moustakas (KC) - This one is pretty simple. Moustakas struck out 22.9% of the time against LHP last year and goes up against Chris Sale who struck out LHB 27.3% of the time. If you are playing Moustakas today, I think you are just begging for negative points, and he doesn't have the requisite upside in this matchup to justify taking on that kind of risk.
Bryce Harper (WAS) - I am locking Harper in on the majority of my Opening Day squads for the same reason I have Adam LaRoche listed as the best 1B value play. Nolasco struggles against LHB, and Harper dominates RHP to the tune of a .374 wOBA highlighted by an .869 OPS and .223 ISO. I think Harper is underpriced as I expect him to both generate more loft and raise his HR/FB rate this year. Plus, he is locked in the third spot of the WAS lineup that is pretty deep. He should see plenty of RBI and RS opportunities.
Strong Value Plays
Norichika Aoki (MIL) - The logic behind this play is pretty straightforward. Jhoulys Chacin is not good (5.15 FIP, 5.10 xFIP in 2012). Aoki is hitting leadoff for a Brewers team that should get to Chacin. Furthermore, Aoki has a .360 wOBA against RHP while Chacin could not get LHB out if his life depended upon it last year, allowing them to post a whopping .391 wOBA against him.
Jon Jay (STL) - Jay is hitting leadoff for the Cardinals in a strong scoring environment (Chase Field), for one of the better offensive teams in the NL. In fact, this game has the highest over/under on the day. Jay had a solid .352 wOBA against RHP last season. Given Jay's leadoff spot for the Cardinals, the expected high scoring game and his success against RHP, he is a solid cheap value play on most sites.
Ben Revere (PHI) - Fellow Fantistics daily analyst Drew Dinkmeyer likes Revere as a cheap salary cap relief play today. Revere's best skills are his contact rate (over 90%) and ability to keep the ball on the ground (66.9 GB%) which allows him to leg out a lot of hits and creates a high BA floor. This skill set meshes well with opposing starter Tim Hudson who is a pitch to contact (13.6 K% was over 6 points below MLB average last year), GB type of guy (55.5 GB%). This makes Revere unlikely to get into negative points via a strikeout, and one infield single followed by a SB means he hits his value.
Best Value Plays
Chris Sale (CHW) - I think the Royals' offense will be much improved in 2013 but this matchup is really strong for Sale, and depending on the site, he isn't priced up with some of the other studs due to some faltering towards the end of last season. Sale goes against a Royals' lineup where 3 of their best 4 hitters are left handed (Hosmer, Gordon, Moustakas); they had a team wOBA of .305 against LHP in 2012 which ranked 20th in MLB. Against LHB last year, Sale allowed just a .262 wOBA, the 9th best mark amongst all MLB starters. He struck out a whopping 27.3% of LHB with a remarkable K/BB ratio of 8. Sale was also much better at home than on the road last season, allowing just a .263 wOBA and posting a 2.30 ERA at home with 9 wins in 14 games.
Jeff Samardzija (CHC) - Samardzija is underpriced on most sites due to some unlucky surface stats in 2012. He won 9 games despite having 12 expected wins, and his 3.81 ERA was higher than both his FIP (3.55) and xFIP (3.38). Look for both of those fantasy categories to improve this year, but on top of that Samardzija has a pretty solid matchup. He is going up against a Pittsburgh team that was 26th in MLB with a .304 wOBA against RHP last season, and more importantly they struck out a whopping 23% of the time against RHP, the worst mark in MLB. The latter point is important because strikeouts form a nice base for an SP in daily games, particularly when categories like ER and walks and hits are more volatile from start to start.
Strong Value Plays
AJ Burnett (PIT) - I do not believe that Burnett is as strong of a play as his opponent Samardzija because I think Sammy records more K's and is just a better pitcher, but Burnett should still score well and is most likely cheaper on the site you are playing on. The Cubs had the second lowest wOBA against RHP in the MLB last year, and the Pirates are a -130 favorite.
Brett Anderson (OAK) - Anderson is a strong play today pitching at home in the pitcher friendly Coliseum where he has allowed just a .655 OPS for his career. He faces a Mariners team that, while I expect it to be improved this year, finished 24th in wOBA against LHP last year with a .297 mark. Also, consider that the A's are a slight favorite in this game which at 6.5 has the lowest over/under in all of the Opening Day games. It's a pretty low risk play even if Anderson does not have the K and IP upside as some of the other SP's going today.
Not Worth the Price
Jered Weaver (LAA) - While Weaver has been one of the best fantasy pitchers in the game the last few years, I do not like him today, at least not for his price on most sites for a couple of reasons. First of all, on a day with so many top pitchers throwing I have a tough time paying up for the one that has a low K rate. Believe it or not, Weaver's 19.2 K% last year was actually below the league average. Secondly, Weaver is a fly ball pitcher pitching in the 4th best HR park in the majors against a Reds team that packs plenty of power in lineup spots 1-6. This just isn't a smart percentage play today.
High Upside GPP Play
Jay Bruce OF (CIN) - On a few sites Bruce is slightly underpriced and settles in between the top tier and low tier players. If you can't fit in a top guy but have a little bit of extra cap room, I think he is a solid upside play, especially in large GPP fields, despite going up against Jered Weaver. While Weaver is one of the best pitchers in the game, he has a strong FB tilt (36% GB% in 2012, career 33.5 GB%) and is pitching in Cincinnati which according to Fangraphs park factors is the 4th easiest place to hit a HR in MLB. This meshes well with Bruce who has a career 17.2 HR/FB rate and does a lot of damage against FB pitchers. For his career Bruce has an .878 OPS against fly ball pitchers compared to a .780 OPS against neutral pitchers and .791 OPS against GB pitchers. He also has a huge home/road split, with a .908 OPS compared to just .719 on the road. I don't usually like taking players against really good SP's, but given the amount of elite SP's throwing today and the numbers I listed, Bruce is one of the better upside plays of the day.
If You Have the Room
Prince Fielder 1B/Miguel Cabrera 3B (DET) - If I am able to pay for any top priced sluggers on sites, it's going to be this Tigers' duo. As I mentioned in the Alex Avila blurb, Vance Worley is one of the worst starting pitcher's throwing on a day where everyone's ace is on the bump.
Stephen Strasburg SP (WAS) - If salary isn't an issue, Strasburg is clearly the day's best starting pitching play. Entering the season Fantistics projections had Strasburg right in the conversation for the league's top fantasy SP, and perhaps the only reason he wasn't a consensus number one is due to the uncertainty of how many IP he will throw for the whole season. Today he should have no problem terrorizing a Marlins lineup that is just awful. They had one of the worst lineups in the league over 2012's second half posting just a .296 wOBA, and it's hard imagining it being any better today with Placido Polanco (.069 ISO last year) hitting cleanup. Aside from Giancarlo Stanton, this lineup has virtually no power and a lot of easy outs. The Nationals are also the biggest favorites today at -260, meaning Strasburg is the most likely pitcher to grab a W. You never know what can happen, but this is about as safe of a start as you will ever find. I should add that with scoring likely down on Opening Day due to the amount of quality pitching, you could make the argument that Strasburg is a must play on every site regardless of price, particularly on those where it's easier to fit in a good team under the cap.
If You Are Stuck...
If you are having trouble putting a lineup together, try to focus on the Brewers, Tigers and Nationals as I expect those teams to be the highest scoring today. Also, try to find some value plays from the Cardinals-Diamondbacks game which has the highest over/under today by a full run.
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