It didn’t always seem like we would make it this far, but, on Tuesday, we’ll have actual playoff baseball to watch. In fact, we’ll have a lot of it. With the new 16-team format in 2020, there’s four Game 1’s taking place on the American League side of the bracket, with many big name pitchers taking the bump hoping to start their respective series strong.
How should you be attacking a small slate without any obvious stacking situations? Let’s break it all down position-by-position.
Gerrit Cole, NYY at CLE, $8,600 - While I do think Cole will garner the highest ownership of any pitcher on this slate, he’s hard chalk to ignore. Under odd circumstances, the right-hander didn’t start the season all that well, but he certainly rounded into form in September. To wit, across Cole’s final four starts of 2020, the veteran maintained a 2.19 FIP, a 0.70 WHIP and held the 100 opposing hitters he faced to a microscopic .191 wOBA. When you also consider that Cleveland’s struggled to produce just a .142 ISO off of RHPs this season — the lowest mark of any AL team — Cole’s viability is pretty obvious.
Other Option: Lucas Giolito ($8,300)
Kenta Maeda, MIN vs. HOU, $8,000 - Going back to the beginning of 2018, you’d be hard-pressed to find a starter better equipped to shut down right-handed bats than Maeda. In fact, among the 107 pitchers in that span who have faced at least 150 innings worth of RHBs, Maeda’s .240 opponent wOBA within the split is lower than every person not named Jacob deGrom or Max Scherzer. Maeda also sports a 34.1% strikeout rate against RHBs, due in large part to a slider that’s almost untouchable from the right-handed batter’s box. The Astros just so happen to be a team that has a lot of righties, so many that they actually registered the fewest left-on-right plate appearances in the majors this season (509). This is a perfect matchup for Maeda.
Other Option: Blake Snell ($7,800)
Yasmani Grandal, CWS at OAK, $4,300 - While there is a case to save $500 and use James McCann ($3,800) in the same matchup, the important distinction with Grandal is his ability to switch-hit. Yes, McCann has generally been a better hitter when it comes to LHPs throughout the duo’s career, but it’s doubtful the 30-year-old will see Jesus Luzardo ($8,300) more than two times in this game. Grandal, on the other hand, will always have the platoon advantage. He’s also managed a sterling .262 ISO and 139 wRC+ against southpaws dating back to the beginning of 2019.
Alejandro Kirk, TOR at TB, $2,500 - Kirk has the potential to be a very nice salary-saving device on this slate. With the Jays set to square-off with the left-handed Snell on Tuesday, it’s likely that Charlie Montoyo will turn to Kirk instead of Travis Shaw ($4,100) in the DH spot. Snell’s obviously a daunting matchup for a 21-year-old with 25 career plate appearances above High-A, but Kirk has managed a 95.0 mph average exit velocity on his 20 BBEs this season. That’s enticing upside from an asset priced so close to the minimum.
Jose Abreu, CWS at OAK, $5,100 - Though Luzardo has been dominant in his opportunities to pitch in Oakland so far this season, he has had his issues with right-handed opponents. In fact, the rookie has surrendered 1.58 home runs per nine against RHBs, a trend that’s resulted in Luzardo carrying an underwhelming 4.68 FIP within in the split. That’s good news for Abreu, who slashed .341/.399/.596 with a .413 wOBA versus southpaws from 2017 to 2019. I guess that Abreu is a frontrunner for AL MVP in 2020 doesn’t hurt, either.
Other Option: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ($4,200)
Miguel Sano, MIN vs. HOU, $3,800 - Good ol’ reverse splits. Even as a right-handed batter, Sano has done a majority of his damage against RHPs in 2020, with a .303 ISO and 11 home runs in 158 plate appearances. Fortunately for him, Zack Greinke ($7,300) is a righty. On top of that, the veteran is also someone with reverse splits, with RHBs slashing .305/.319/.527 off of Greinke this season. The main reason for this is Greinke’s change-up. It’s been his best pitch, yet he’s throws it in only 13.8% of counts to righties as opposed to a 31.2% usage when facing a lefty. It’s proven to be a massive flaw and it’s one that Sano could take advantage of.
Other Option: Nate Lowe ($3,500)
DJ LeMahieu, NYY at CLE, $5,200 - On the one hand, it’s rarely proved beneficial to use assets against Shane Bieber ($9,000) and the Indians back him up with a bullpen that possesses the lowest FIP in baseball (3.39). On the other hand, LeMahieu just led the American League in batting average (.364), wOBA (.429) and wRC+ (177). If this is an opportunity to get him at low exposure, it’s probably a chance worth taking.
Other Option: Brandon Lowe ($4,900)
Joey Wendle, TB vs. TOR, $3,900 - There’s really no way to know how the Rays’ order will come together, but there’s little doubt that Matt Shoemaker ($7,200) is the worst pitcher taking the mound on Tuesday. I mean, he’s conceded 2.51 home runs per nine across his six starts in 2020. Plus, Shoemaker will be on a pitch count, and the Jays’ bullpen owns an ugly 6.10 FIP dating back to the beginning of September. So, Wendle, who possesses a respectable 116 wRC+, could find himself in a nice spot. He’s also held his own against LHPs this season, which could be crucial in a contest where Kevin Cash might get creative with pinch-hitters.
Other Option: Nick Madrigal ($3,000)
Editor’s Note: Twins 3B Josh Donaldson (calf) is not in the lineup Tuesday vs. the Astros.
Josh Donaldson, MIN vs. HOU, $4,200 - Let’s go back to the whole Greinke reverse splits thing for a moment. Donaldson, who is right-handed, has a .269 ISO and a .381 wOBA in right-on-right situations going back to the start of 2019. Also, though injury has clearly been the story of his time with Minnesota, Donaldson mustered a 151 wRC+ during the month of September. If he’s in the lineup on Tuesday, his price is slightly too low for his upside.
Other Options: Jose Ramirez ($5,300)
Jake Lamb, OAK vs. CWS, $3,800 - It’s only a 49 plate appearance sample, but Lamb has done an admirable job of filling in for the injured Matt Chapman. In that span, the 29-year-old owns impressive marks in both ISO (.289) and wRC+ (140), while he’s struck out just eight times. He’s far from a perfect play, but Lamb does provide a little upside with a salary below $4K.
Other Option: Yoshi Tsutsugo ($3,700)
Tim Anderson, CWS at OAK, $5,100 - I would be shocked if Anderson isn’t one of the highest-owned positional players on this slate — and he’s worth the hype. Of the 149 men with at least 50 plate appearances against southpaw pitching in 2020, Anderson’s expected wOBA of .486 is the third-best in baseball. That’s the kind of stuff that can happen when you have 13 extra-base hits in 49 at-bats within the split.
Other Option: Bo Bichette ($4,900)
Willy Adames, TB vs. TOR, $4,100 - Adames has been heating up recently after a slow start to September, with three home runs in his final eight games of the regular season. Also, while you’d generally prefer to utilize Adames in a matchup against a left-handed opponent, Game 1 could be a tough setting for handedness matchups with Shoemaker’s workload an unknown. Just take solace in rostering an inexpensive shortstop with power potential against a team with clear pitching depth issues.
Nelson Cruz, MIN vs. HOU, $4,900 - Let’s keep going back to the RHBs against Greinke well. While the RHP struck out an impressive 32.6% of the left-handed hitters he faced in 2020, Greinke’s strikeout rate plummeted to just 16.3% versus right-handers. That level of discrepancy in contact rate is massive, especially when it comes to an archetype like Cruz. The veteran has logged a barrel in a eye-popping 15.0% of his batted ball events so far this season. Cruz’s .543 expected slugging percentage also ranks in the 91st percentile, emphasizing why you don’t want this guy putting the ball in play.
Other Option: Teoscar Hernandez ($5,100)
Lourdes Gurriel, TOR at TB, $3,600 - Look, this is a season of small samples. That’s just the way it is. I can’t knock a player for not having sustained success for a period that fits into my preconceived notion of proper evidence. I bring this up because Gurriel has been smashing baseballs since exactly Aug. 18. Weird data point? Definitely. However, the outfielder is slashing .345/.390/.634 with a 176 wRC+ in the 154 plate appearances he’s had in that stretch of time. Gurriel also possesses a career wRC+ of 137 against left-handed pitchers like Snell. He’s too cheap.
Other Options: Randy Arozarena ($3,800), Michael Brantley ($3,700)
Put your knowledge to the test. Sign up for DraftKings and experience the game inside the game.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.