I feel like I say this once every few weeks, but the pitching on tonight’s slate might just be the most underwhelming collection of arms I’ve ever seen. Now, to be fair, it is only a six-game featured slate this evening on DraftKings, but when Ross Stripling ($8,800) is your third-most expensive arm, you’ve got some quality control issues.
So, who can you trust to not implode on the mound on Thursday? Let’s go position-by-position and break it all down.
Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, $9,300 - While two of Gray’s past three starts have been horrendous, no one on this slate can come close to matching the right-hander’s ceiling. Gray comes into Thursday’s action with a 29.0% strikeout rate for the season and an even better 29.3% strikeout rate dating back to the beginning of 2019. He’s proven time and time again that he can generate swings and misses, now it’s just a matter of getting a little lucky. Gray’s 3.33 xFIP in 2021 is nearly a full-run lower than his 4.26 ERA and is almost directly the result of a .340 BABIP and some struggles with RISP. With the Pirates ranking dead-last in baseball in ISO versus RHPs (.130), tonight should represent an opportunity for Gray to get back on track.
Touki Toussaint, Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals, $7,400 - Toussaint was rocked in his last outing against the Brewers, yet his numbers during his current MLB stint are still looking pretty good. In 17.0 innings of work, the 25-year-old is sporting a 3.02 xFIP, a 28.2% strikeout rate and a 5.00 K/BB ratio. Sure, opponents have made quite a bit of hard contact in Toussaint’s three starts, but thanks to a well above-average 52.4% ground ball rate, very few of those 95 mph batted ball events have translated into barrels. Obviously, much of Toussaint’s viability comes down to the specific desperation of tonight’s slate, but with St. Louis owning just an 87 wRC+ against RHPs, the former first-round pick is undeniably in a nice matchup.
Sal Perez, Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox, $4,600 - Perez is a perfect DFS asset. He’s hyper-aggressive, he possesses tons of power and he has an obvious split advantage: The veteran simply crushes left-handed pitching. So far in 2021, Perez is slashing .346/.375/.720 with a 193 wRC+ in his 112 plate appearances against southpaws. Registering a 1.095 OPS with a 3.6% walk rate is absolutely insane.
Martin Maldonado, Houston Astros vs. Minnesota Twins, $2,500 - The only thing that Maldonado really brings to the table is his employer. Houston owns this slate’s highest implied team total, with the Astros projected for nearly six runs on Thursday night. That means anyone in the team’s lineup — especially someone priced below $3K — is a viable option. It also helps that Maldonado is right-handed, as Griffin Jax ($5,800) has surrendered a .635 slugging percentage to the 72 RHBs he’s faced so far in 2021.
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Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Guardians, $6,200 - Guerrero is basically viable against any pitcher in the league at this point, but he’ll draw an especially nice matchup on Thursday with Triston McKenzie ($8,400) toeing the rubber for Cleveland. Though the young RHP has strikeout stuff to spare, his control is non-existent, which has led to McKenzie surrendering 2.76 home runs per nine to opposing RHBs so far this season. Considering Guerrero’s 198 wRC+ in right-on-right situations, I think he’ll be able to pay off this hefty salary.
Ty France, Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees, $4,000 - France has been swinging a hot bat since the beginning of the second half, slashing .320/.370/.493 with a 144 wRC+ in 81 plate appearances. France has also flashed his power more often against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching in 2021, with a .195 ISO against the former. Nestor Cortes ($7,900) has been great for the Yankees, but this is a nice spot for France at a digestible price.
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals, $4,900 - Albies has been a force when getting to bat right-handed in 2021, as the infielder has registered a .920 OPS and a 141 wRC+ when facing LHPs. With the added benefit of being the Braves’ leadoff hitter against southpaws, Albies should be in a position to thrive on Thursday. At least, that’s what the presence of Wade LeBlanc ($6,700) and his 5.39 xERA suggest.
Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins at Houston Astros, $3,800 - This is partly the result of a small slate, but there’s no good reason for Polanco to ever be this cheap. The infielder has been on fire since the beginning of June, slashing .310/.358/.548 with a .238 ISO and a 146 wRC+ in 229 plate appearances. On top of all that, the last time the Twins faced an LHP, Polanco hit leadoff, so he has a very realistic shot at five PAs this evening. Framber Valdez ($9,900) is great, but I’ll be sure to have some exposure to Polanco and Minnesota in GPPs.
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Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals, $4,600 - Riley has been on fire in the batter’s box going back to the beginning of July, as the third baseman has slashed .318/.409/.645 with a .327 ISO and a 174 wRC+ within that span of time. Also, thanks to primarily hitting in the clean-up spot, Riley’s 27 RBI since July 1 are the second-most of any National League player. In short, he’s been really good lately and the contact-oriented LeBlanc shouldn’t be much of a test.
Abraham Toro, Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees, $3,500 - It’s not going to last forever, but Toro has been a machine since being traded to Seattle last week, hitting .429 with a three home runs and a .429 ISO in 32 plate appearances with his new team. Batting in a premium lineup slot at Yankee Stadium, this price point doesn’t reflect Toro’s skill. His switch-hitting prowess should also come in handy, as Cortes has yet to work more than five innings in a game this season.
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox vs. Kansas City Royals, $5,800 - It’s taken some time, but Anderson has finally started to look like himself the past couple of months, and it’s primarily thanks to his ability to hit left-handed pitching. Anderson’s had 62 plate appearances within the split going back to the start of June, slashing .300/.323/.533 with a 133 wRC+. Add in stolen base upside and an implied team total of nearly six runs, and you’ve got the recipe for a valuable DFS asset.
Editor’s Note: Astros SS Carlos Correa is not in the lineup for tonight’s game vs. the Twins.
Carlos Correa, Houston Astros vs. Minnesota Twins, $4,200 - Correa’s price reduction made some sense as he was struggling to hit throughout July, but that trend is a thing of the past. In his last eight games, Correa is batting .313 with a 157 wRC+. On Wednesday night, he even hit his first home run since back on July 3. The slump is over, however, the cheap salary remains. With the aforementioned Jax struggling to retire RHBs in 2021, Correa could be in line for a huge performance.
Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees, $5,200 - A Mariners stack will likely provide you with some differentiation in GPPs this evening and it’s not like you have to sacrifice on talent to do it. Haniger is a perfect example. The outfielder has loved two things in 2021: Hitting against LHPs and hitting away from Seattle. Well, he gets to do both on Thursday. In fact, Haniger has a 1.106 OPS and a 201 wRC+ in his 71 plate appearances versus lefties on the road this season. Those are certainly tantalizing splits.
Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros vs. Minnesota Twins, $3,800 - As always, it’s very unclear why Tucker is this inexpensive. Tucker has a .399 wOBA and a 161 wRC+ against RHPs in 2021. He has a 1.028 OPS in the second half. Heck, he has a .400 expected wOBA going all the way back to the beginning of May. He’s one of only 10 players to be sitting at or above .400 and the other nine are all All-Stars. Put some respect on this man’s name. Please.
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