MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Miami Marlins

Daily Fantasy Baseball: Pitchers Better Than Clayton Kershaw

Published On March 17, 2015 | By Kyle Soppe | Baseball, Daily Fantasy Strategy, Fantasy Baseball News, Fantasy Baseball Strategy

Is Clayton Kershaw worth the price of admission in Daily Fantasy Baseball?

Starting pitching is of utmost importance in Daily Fantasy Baseball: mess this up and you can kiss that cash good-bye. That is true for most sites and when you consider that some sites require you to fill two pitching spots; one cannot possibly overrate the importance of finding elite pitching.

“That’s not hard … just play every fifth day and roster Clayton Kershaw. Problem solved. He’s the best in the game and on an all-time trajectory.”

While this may be true, you aren’t the only one who knows that. Daily websites are fully aware of the statistical advantage Kershaw gives and much like has been done for Russell Westbrook during his historic run, websites will try to determine a breaking point as far as price is concerned: just how much are you willing to pay for the services of an all-time great/ all-time great run? This is where you need to be reasonable, not stubborn. Yes, Kershaw is phenomenal and has the consistency that warrants emptying your pockets, but he’s not alone. His overall numbers may dwarf the competition long-term, but in a daily format, you need production for that one single day, and he’s not always the most valuable option on the board. That’s not to say he won’t be the highest scoring, but if your goal is to get bang for your buck, he’s no lock to be the best option. Here are five pitchers that are less talented than the Dodgers stud, but are capable of providing your roster with more value in a specific situation than the reigning MVP.

Max Scherzer when both he and Kershaw are opposing right-handed dependant lineups

Mad Max has brought his talents to the Senior Circuit this season, a move that will bump his already strong Fantasy standing potentially to the class of a Kershaw, but at a slight discount. He’s obviously not a bad option regardless of the opponent (subtract one outlier start last season and he owned a 2.79 ERA in 2014) but he is Kershawnian against lineups that rely on right-handed bats. Over the last two seasons, Kershaw owns a 1.92 ERA and 0.90 WHIP to go along with 9.07 K/9 against righties. Scherzer, over the same stretch, has a slightly worse ERA (2.49), but with a near identical WHIP (0.91) and a superior K/9 (10.77), his Daily Fantasy stock has been right on par with that of the Dodgers ace. And that’s without accounting for his move to the weak hitting NL East!

National League lineups that rely heavily on righties include:

Milwaukee Brewers (Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, Khris Davis, and Aramis Ramirez)

San Francisco Giants (Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, and Casey McGehee)

San Diego Padres (Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Jedd Gyorko, and Tommy Medica)

Arizona Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt, Mark Trumbo, and Yasmany Tomas)

Johnny Cueto when both he and Kershaw are opposing right-handed dependant lineups

Do you realize how good Cueto has been? No pitcher (minimum 100 starts) has a lower ERA and a higher ground ball percentage than Cueto over the last four seasons, two trends that speak volumes for a developing ace whose strikeout percentage has improved with each passing year. His dominance is magnified when facing right-handed dominate lineups, as he has essentially matched Kershaw pitch-for-pitch since 2012. Over the last three seasons, Cueto has allowed a .206 batting average and a .263 o-base percentage to righties to go along with 25.4 percent of at-bats resulting in a punch out. Kershaw has posted an eerily similar line of .206 and .252, striking out 27.3 percent of those who step into the batter’s box. From a value perspective, Cueto has been at his best against righty loaded lineups, as his OPS has decreased by 23 points from when facing lefties over the last three seasons, whereas Kershaw’s has actually jumped 46 points. The Dodgers stud holds a negligible edge against righties but is often priced well ahead of Cueto, a difference that should be taken advantage of when both have a right-handed dominate team in the opposing dugout.

Felix Hernandez when both he and Kershaw are opposing left-handed dependant lineups

This one is nothing against Kershaw, rather a way to highlight that the M’s ace is truly royalty when facing lefties. Last season, he produced a 1.20 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP against lefties, far and away the best among starting pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched vs LHB. In fact, his ERA was a whopping 41.5 percent lower than any other qualified starter! He averaged 4.79 strikeouts per walk and 1.06 strikeouts per base runner, statistics I’ll take to the bank, especially when you consider that he will be priced under Kershaw on any given day. Both pitchers are nothing short of phenomenal against lefties, so why not take the slightly cheaper option with an improving offense over the one supported by an offense that is less talented than a year ago (hey, I don’t like it either, but victories are a large part of daily as well).

American League lineups that rely heavily on lefties include:

Cleveland Indians (Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Brandon Moss, Lonnie Chisenhall, and a switch hitter in Carlos Santana that would likely hit lefty)

Oakland Athletics (Josh Reddick, Ike Davis, and the switch hitting duo of Coco Crisp/Ben Zobrist)

Kansas City Royals (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon)

New York Yankees (Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Garrett Jones, and the switch hitting Mark Teixeira)

Minnesota Twins (Joe Mauer, Oswaldo Arcia, and Danny Santana)

Jake Arrieta when both he and Kershaw are opposing left-handed dependant lineups at home

I’m not going to argue that Arrieta is better than Kershaw, but the fact that his numbers in this specific setting are in the same realm as Kershaw make him the far superior value when the stars align. Over the last two seasons, lefties are batting .177 against Kershaw and just .194 against the Cubbies underrated starter. His ERA over that stretch ahs dropped by 36.8 percent at home, nearly twice the advantage that Kershaw has gained (19.8 percent) when pitching in front of his home fans.

CK: batting average against lefties is .177 over the last two seasons. Arrieta’s is .194. Arrieta also has experienced a 36.8 percent drop in ERA when pitching at home; nearly doubling the impact pitching at home has on Kershaw (19.8 percent). I’m rarely going to encourage pinching pennies on the pitching side of things when it comes to daily, but Arrieta, in certain spots, allows you to spend elsewhere while still getting a starter who is more than capable of keeping pace with the pitchers traditionally viewed as stars.

Jordan Zimmerman when both he and Kershaw are opposing divisional opponents

Another National? You bet. Heck, stacking this roster might be a percentage play more often than not, but at the very least, you need to take full advantage of Zimmerman. He is the third best pitcher on his own team, resulting in a bit of an “under the radar” feel entering this season and has the potential to suppress his price tag in daily leagues a tad. Take full advantage when an NL East opponent is on the schedule. Over the last two historic seasons, Kershaw has made 31 starts against divisional opponents, chalking up an impressive 19-7 record with a 2.04 ERA and 6.05 strikeouts per walk issued. Zimmerman has produced very similar numbers in his last 31 appearances against divisional opponents, tallying a 21-6 record with a 2.29 ERA and 5.58 strikeouts per walk. Furthermore, one could argue that the lineups in the NL West have improved (the entire Padres outfield, a healthy Mark Trumbo/Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona, the emergence of Corey Dickerson/Charlie Blackmon along with a currently healthy Troy Tulowitzki/Carlos Gonzalez in Colorado) while the NL East has moved backwards (Justin Upton/Evan Gattis left Atlanta, David Wright is showing signs of aging in New York, and the Phillies might have the worst offense in baseball to start the season), an indication that Zimmerman’s stock is set to peak before it regresses.

For the season, there is no one better than Kershaw and he deserves to be ranked in a tier of his own for those drafting in annual formats. And, with the possible exception of Arrieta, none of the mentioned pitchers are exactly “cheap” options. But if you’re a savvy owner on the daily circuit, Kershaw isn’t a no-brainer for the top option, let alone the best value. Pitching is king right now, so getting high-end production and being cost effective is the number one priority in Daily Fantasy Baseball, and while Kershaw will offer that some days, I’m not blindly slotting him into my roster every fifth day.

{Photo courtesy of cbssports.com}

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