Some people who play daily fantasy contests, such as on DraftKings, have come to me and lamented the randomness or luck involved in such leagues. I take this complaint to stem from the fact that one can analyze the matchups, analyze the park factors, and even analyze the recent hot/cold streaks to craft the ideal team each day, and the results are not certain to follow. Well-crafted squads often don’t win, while non-ideal squads can dominate on occasion. It feels wrong, in a way.
I’ve been thinking about this the past couple days. What can kill a DFS team besides a brutal start? An oh-fer with multiple strikeouts from numerous players, right?
With the understanding that it’s impossible to devise a way to avoid oh-fer performances; however, it does seem that we can determine which collective pitching staffs (starters and relievers) have troubles striking out batters. That would present any given hitter the highest chance to put the baseball in play, which is the best scenario for fantasy owners in DFS leagues.
Here are the five pitching staffs with the lowest collective strikeout percentages:
1. MINNESOTA TWINS: 13.4%
Of course this was going to be the Minnesota Twins at no. 1. Since the ‘94 Strike, only nine teams have posted lower strikeout percentages, and seven of those seasons came from different pitching staffs fielded by the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers.
The Twins only have the second-worst swinging-strike percentage at 7.7 percent, but overall, the message is abundantly clear. Whether it’s Kyle Gibson (5.9 percent), Mike Pelfrey (11.1), Tommy Milone (13.1), or Ricky Nolasco (10.5), hurlers for the Minnesota Twins do not strike many batters out. They even have reliever Tim Stauffer, who has three swinging-strikes in seven appearances this year. Not three strikeouts, but three individual swings-and-misses in any count with any pitch.
This is not to suggest they’re immediately the “worst” staff, as four other teams have higher earned-run averages. One figures, though, that hitters facing the Minnesota Twins will have a chance to earn a hit or two because they’ll have a high likelihood of putting the baseball in play multiple times in the game.
2. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: 16.2%
This is perhaps unsurprising because the Diamondbacks have a starting rotation that could’ve been purchased at a Walmart Superstore—they had to purchase four cheap, crappy items to get Archie Bradley—but many of the strikeout problems have stemmed from the bullpen. Closer Addison Reed, along with fellow relievers Brad Ziegler, Daniel Hudson, Evan Marshall, Oliver Perez, and Andrew Chafin all have strikeout rates below 20 percent.
As a fantasy owner, the main attractiveness of stacking against the Diamondbacks is the friendly home ballpark for hitters, as well as their mediocre (at best) rotation. And as the season rolls along, one would expect the Diamondback rotation to offer a significant number of short-ish starts, which thus means the ineffectiveness of their bullpen (4.19 ERA, 4.58 FIP) is even more palatable for daily fantasy leagues.
3. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: 16.7%
Over the past decade, we’ve all been conditioned to avoid facing San Francisco pitching in fantasy baseball. Their collective earned-run average in the last ten years is 3.83, which is fourth-best in Major League Baseball. Thus, reflexively, we instinctively believe the Giants have a pitching staff that must be avoided.
That’s not the case this year. Madison Bumgarner is clearly phenomenal, even if he’s been pseudo-human thus far, but the San Francisco Giants lack a cadre of strikeout machines. Sergio Romo has been tremendous, striking out 37.5 percent of the batters he has faced. Aside from that, every one of their big-league pitchers owns a strikeout rate under the league average of 20.1 percent. Big, bad Chris Heston leads the pack at 18.7 percent.
The run environment at AT&T Park remains important; however, if one is searching to grab a cheap hitter or two and want to avoid a high likelihood of strikeouts, Giants pitchers are good opponents to target. It’s perhaps one of the biggest reasons opposing teams are hitting .266 against them this year.
4. TEXAS RANGERS: 16.8%
Once they lost Yu Darvish to a UCL injury, the Rangers’ starting rotation was destined to be below-average. They have a collective 4.30 ERA—which is sixth-worst at run prevention in baseball—and most of the inability to induce swings-and-misses comes from the trio of Ross Detwiler, Colby Lewis, and Nick Martinez. I know the latter has been a feel-good story this year, but the dude is sporting a 10.5 percent strikeout rate. Once his .350 BABIP and 93.6 percent strand rate come down to earth, he’ll be a borderline back-end starter as he has been since last year.
The Rangers actually have a pretty solid bullpen that features some young, intriguing relievers, such as Keone Kela, Shawn Tolleson, and Roman Mendez, but the starting rotation remains a massive question mark. Things may improve down the road once Derek Holland and Martin Perez re-enter the fray. Until then, though, the Rangers are a good pitching staff to target in DFS leagues.
5. DETROIT TIGERS: 17.2%
The Tigers are an interesting team for daily leagues. They have multiple starters who should be avoided, headlined by Cy Young candidate David Price, but their bullpen is quite poor. Their ‘pen has a collective 4.61 FIP and the third-worst strikeout rate in baseball. Joakim Soria is enjoying a nice April, but he’s also benefiting from a .111 BABIP that’s going to regress throughout the summer. Don’t worry about him being a Chapman-esque reliever quite yet, obviously.
The back-end of their rotation — Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon, and Kyle Lobstein—haven’t been strikeout machines, though they have been good. This is where the “avoid strikeouts” isn’t a perfect strategy. Just because one isn’t a strikeout artist doesn’t mean one can’t consistently record outs. It’s just, when looking at the overall trends and numbers, the Tigers are a solid opponent to target against the back-end starters because if the starter only goes five or six innings, the offense has an opportunity to exploit a poor bullpen.
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Which is why they should be considered gambling.