FanDuel Pitching Primer: Monday 4/25/22

Nailing the pitcher slot is the first step to having success in MLB DFS on FanDuel.

While it's possible to cash if you get a bad outing from a starter, it's markedly easier to do so when you get a good or excellent showing from your pitcher.

Weighing the importance of a pitcher's skill, salary, matchup and park factors is the game within the game in MLB DFS. This piece is your home for a breakdown of the top pitching options each and every day. Let's dig in.

Top of the Heap

Walker Buehler, Dodgers ($9,400)

Despite this main slate having just five games, there are several top-notch pitching options -- with the trio of Buehler, Max Scherzer and Shane Bieber standing out from the pack. Our model projects five hurlers for at least 30.0 FanDuel points.

At the top of the heap, per our algorithm, is Buehler with a projection of 35.4 FanDuel points. He's my number-one choice, as well, especially once you factor in salary.

Buehler is off to a slow start, but I don't see too much reason for concern. His 12.2% swinging strike rate -- which is nearly a career-best clip -- tells us his 16.2% strikeout rate is bound to improve, and he's still got a great batted-ball profile, including a 23.5% hard-hit rate. Buehler also got up to 98 pitches two outings ago.

The owner of a career 3.60 SIERA, 27.4% strikeout rate and 6.4% walk rate over 589 innings, Buehler has cemented himself as an elite pitcher, and he'll have a chance to get back to dominating in tonight's matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Snakes are just 22nd in wOBA (.281) with the 4th-highest strikeout rate (25.5%). FanGraphs' rest-of-season projections have Arizona as the seventh-worst offense.

On a slate where there is just one smash hitting spot (and it's the Dodgers), the salary gap between Buehler and Scherzer isn't as big of a deal as it would be on some other slates. I expect Scherzer to be the most popular pitcher, and if you prefer him to Buehler, you won't get much of an argument from me. But I give the Dodgers' righty a slight edge and will be heavy on him as I think his slow start and the presence of Scherzer could drive down Buehler's popularity a little too much.

Max Scherzer, Mets ($10,800)

Like I just said, if you have Max as the slate's top arm, I won't push back. I mean, it's Max Scherzer -- he could be the top arm every time he pitches.

Scherzer has been Scherzer to start 2022. He boasts a 2.86 SIERA and 33.3% strikeout rate. If we're nitpicking, Scherzer's walk rate is 10.1%, and he's allowing a 48.6% fly-ball rate. But he has given up a lot of fly-balls for most of his career -- including a 48.2% fly-ball in 2021 -- and it hasn't been an issue for him. The walk rate is likely small-sample noise.

A matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals isn't easy. Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O'Neill and Nolan Arenado are high-octane bats in the heart of the Cards' lineup. But it's more of a neutral matchup than a difficult one. FanGraphs' rest-of-season projections have the Red Birds' offense ranked 15th, and they're just 20th in hard-hit rate so far (28.1%).

Our projections have Scherzer at 35.3 FanDuel points -- 0.1 behind Buehler.

Shane Bieber, Guardians ($10,000)

In my eyes, Bieber is a tier below Scherzer and Buehler, because there are some reasons to be worried about him -- most notably a drop in spin rates and velocity. And Bieber has the toughest matchup of the trio, going on the road against the Los Angeles Angels, a team that sits eighth in FanGraphs' rest-of-season offensive projections. The Angels' 4.10-run implied total is the fourth-highest on the slate.

Of course, Bieber is still a very talented pitcher, and it's not like his numbers are bad. They're actually really good. Through 16 innings, he's got a 27.6% strikeout rate, 5.2% walk rate and 2.85 SIERA. Two of his three starts, however, have come against the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals, two blah offenses, and he hasn't surpassed 86 pitches in a start.

We have Bieber projected for 34.7 FanDuel points. Our numbers like him today a little more than I do, but he's unquestionably a quality option.

Low-Salary Option

Jose Berrios, Blue Jays ($7,800)

Berrios' salary was $9,300 for his first start of the year, and it's rare that we can get access to a guy with this talent for a salary this low.

In 2021, Berrios registered a 3.65 SIERA, 26.1% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate. He was outstanding. His overall line from this year is underwhelming, but it's bogged down by a miserable debut in which he surrendered four earned runs and recorded one out. He's been much better since, putting up 11 punchouts in 11 frames across a pair of tough matchups versus the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

He'll see Boston again tonight. He had his best showing of the year against the Red Sox last time out, going for 43 FanDuel points on the back of six strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball. He's given up two earned runs with 12 strikeouts across 12 frames in his last two meetings with Boston.

Those who roster Scherzer, Buehler or Bieber -- especially Scherzer and Bieber -- will have to pinch pennies to stack the Dodgers' best bats. Using Berrios gives you a ton of freedom with your offense. That and his recent start against Boston are the selling points here. I'm just not sure I can stomach the risk of deviating from one of this slate's three high-salary stud pitchers.

Our model likes Berrios, though. We project him for 32.1 FanDuel points and rate him as the night's premier point-per-dollar arm.

Tournament Play

Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox ($8,200)

The overwhelming majority of lineups will likely have one of the four aforementioned pitchers. Going anywhere else will be contrarian, and Eovaldi -- if he's on -- has the upside to threaten for a slate-high score.

His big issue tonight is a brutal matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays. It's an awful spot.

But Eovaldi has been legitimately awesome in the early part of this season, pitching to a 2.56 SIERA, 29.2% strikeout rate and 4.6% walk rate. He faced the Jays last time out and fanned six over 4 2/3 innings en route to 29 FanDuel points.

Given the top-shelf options on this slate, Eovaldi will almost surely need a better output than that to be worth rostering today, but with pitch counts of 101 and 95 in his past two games, he's likely fully ramped up and is capable of a stellar display in any matchup.

We peg him to produce 27.8 FanDuel points, and if he delivers a huge outing, he could be a massive difference-maker in tournaments, particularly if a couple of the popular pitchers stumble.

Quick Mound Visits:
Michael Lorenzen ($7,400): My best of the rest. One good outing against a bad offense. One bad outing against a good offense. Matchup with the Guardians is on the softer side, and Cleveland just had to fly across the country.
Framber Valdez ($8,700): Tough to back with Berrios and Eovaldi at lower salaries, and the strikeout upside just hasn't been there since his standout 2020 season.
Merrill Kelly ($9,800): Hot start will be put to the test against the Dodgers. Now salaried like an ace. A 9.4% swinging-strike rate hints at negative regression for his 28.6% strikeout rate. No thanks.
Miles Mikolas ($9,200): Brings a 6.7% swinging-strike rate into a date with the red-hot Mets. Pass.