March 31, 2014
Daily League Strategy
Opening Day Lineup
It’s finally here! Opening Day is upon us, and it is glorious. Yeah, I know the Dodgers have three divisional games under their belts already, but I’m simply not counting those as Opening Day. I recognize that they are in fact real games, and I even enjoyed watching Andrew Cashner deal last night, but today is the Opening Day.
Twice a week here at BP, I’ll be writing about Daily Gaming. I’ve already got a couple of such pieces up that will help you understand some of the basics of the daily game, including bankroll management. These weekly in-season pieces will focus on lineups for the day they come out. Additionally, they may include some strategy discussion independent of the given day as well as some potentially juicy matchups coming up later in the week.
Lineup of the Day
DraftStreet offers one of the best lineup constructions in the industry, allowing for three pitchers, two starters, and a starter/reliever. Additionally, they don’t overvalue wins, as they are worth just two points. The rest of the scoring and roster setup can be viewed here if you aren’t already familiar with it. It’s obviously a tougher-than-normal day with so many aces going, but let’s dive in and see what we’re dealing with for Opening Day.
CATCHER – Wilson Ramos ($6,147)
I bounced around the positions with my picks instead of just starting at catcher and running down the list. After my first run, I had some extra money, so I was able to upgrade my catcher to Ramos. I ended up picking on Dillon Gee a bit, which wasn’t by design. I actually like Gee, but on the slate of today’s starters, he is among the lowest-ranked. Ramos holds up well against righties with a career .760 OPS, including a career-best .803 with 15 homers in 228 PA a season ago. While Ramos has logged 19 PA against Gee, his most against any single starter, that wasn’t a factor here. It’s simply too small of a sample, especially as it was amassed over four years.
FIRST BASE – Brandon Moss ($6,759)
The very best first basemen drew the really tough assignments today, with Edwin Encarnacion, Paul Goldschmidt, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto facing David Price, Madison Bumgarner, Felix Hernandez, and Adam Wainwright, respectively. That gives us an opportunity to jump down a bit, save some money, and exploit a double platoon advantage. Moss rakes righties, almost exclusively in fact. He was limited to just 88 PA against southpaws last year. Meanwhile, he dropped a .904 OPS with 26 of his 30 homers against righties in 417 PA. Justin Masterson has been known for his troubles against lefties throughout his career. He finally took a huge step forward last year with a career-best .698 OPS against, but that was after four awful years against them, including an ugly .825 OPS in 2012.
SECOND BASE – Brian Dozier ($5,878)
Dozier excels versus lefties, but he’ll have his work cut out for him, as he faces Chris Sale on Monday. He does have a pair of homers off of him in his career, but that knowledge doesn’t drive the selection. This is more about his .905 OPS against lefties in his 228 career PA.
THIRD BASE – Pablo Sandoval ($6,744)
This was one of my last selections, so it was driven more by cost than anything else. That doesn’t mean he lacks favorable data for this pick, though. Sandoval has always fared better against righties, and while he is on a downslide from 2011’s peak of .961 OPS wok against them, he still had a favorable .786 mark in 201,3 along with a .281 average and 13 HR in 417 PA.
SHORTSTOP – Ian Desmond ($6,586)
This was my final pick, so it was definitely a cost-driven one, even more so than Sandoval. And yet despite that driving force, the matchup is still one to easily support. Desmond doesn’t have much of a platoon split, especially during his star turns in each of the last two seasons. He had a .789 OPS in 507 PA against righties a season ago, with a .178 ISO thanks to 29 doubles and 16 homers.
OUTFIELDER1 – Bryce Harper ($8,018)
Gee is going to throw a no-hitter today. Our third and final National (although I chose him before either of the other two), Harper is one of our lineup studs. He’s embarrassed righties to the tune of a .905 OPS in his career over 734 PA (including a 947 last year), and while this isn’t something I’d ever bank on as predictive, he has shown a flare for the dramatic on Opening Day, as he dropped a pair of homers on the Marlins in his debut opener last year. How about another pair for us today, Bryce?
OUTFIELDER2 – Justin Upton ($7,354)
Upton got off to a brilliant fast start last year with a massive April. In fact, April has been his best month throughout his career with a composite .865 OPS in the month. There isn’t a ton of predictive value in the month-to-month splits, though. Alas, I simply like Upton at this price against a potentially wobbly Yovani Gallardo. He’s coming off of the worst year of his career, and he can be a bit homer-prone when he’s off.
OUTFIELDER3 – A.J. Pollock ($5,603)
You have to mine for some gems in any daily lineup or you’ll be out of money before you reach shortstop if you just load up on stars. Pollock does his best work against lefties including an .811 OPS last year in 187 PA four of his eight homers. Like Ramos, we happened to find the guy that Pollock has the most career work against in today’s matchup and despite Pollock’s success against Madison Bumgarner (.927 OPS in 19 PA with a homer and three doubles), I’d again encourage you to not make that your primary reason for going with him. He’s a cheap option with power and speed who rakes against lefties; that is what makes him a viable pickup today.
UTILITY – Miguel Cabrera ($9,727)
Well, that’s a helluva utility player. I originally went for three starting pitchers, which left me hamstrung financially when it came to fielding a worthwhile lineup, so when I switched to a reliever, it freed up a ton of cash. So why not spend it on the best hitter in baseball? Do I really need to offer a bunch of supporting numbers to make you feel comfortable here? I didn’t think so. It doesn’t hurt that he owns James Shields (.425 AVG, 1.202 OPS) in their 44 battles.
STARTING PITCHER1 – Justin Verlander ($20,080)
If you’ve been reading me for any significant amount of time, you know I advise against relying on spring training numbers for much of anything. However, when someone is dealing with any sort of injury, I like to see that they are going out and filling their innings allotment and getting their pitches over with quality velocity. Verlander had a core surgery that was originally going to put Opening Day in doubt for him, but instead he went out and threw 20 scoreless innings in the Grapefruit League and looked like Vintage Verlander. I think he’s ready.
STARTING PITCHER2 – Julio Teheran ($15,022)
My NL Cy Young pick was coming at too good of a price to pass up on Opening Day. He was the fifth-cheapest arm and while the Brewers are no slouches offensively, I still saw this as a great buying opportunity. Strikeout pitchers are also particularly useful in daily formats because they can give themselves a high floor for those days when things don’t exactly turn out perfectly by fanning five or six guys.
PITCHER – Koji Uehara ($2,078)
Closers are tough to take because you really have no idea if they are going to pitch. Once we get going in the season, we can look at usage patterns and maybe get a decent idea of their likelihood of pitching even if a save situation doesn’t come through, but it’s something of a dice roll on Opening Day. Alas, it’s a cheap dice roll, and you better believe that the Sox will turn to their playoff star if the game is close late.
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Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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