In an effort to serve daily fantasy players and season-long fantasy players who use daily lineup settings, we present Daily Notes each day of the season. It's a daily version of our Fantasy Forecaster, where we project the best pitcher Game Scores, as well as the best team hitting matchups based upon a number of factors.
The normal approach will be to break the pitching slate into three tiers: elite, solid and streamers. Elite will focus on DFS, since you're obviously going to start your aces in seasonal play. Solid will be a mix of DFS and seasonal play, while streamers will primarily cover seasonal formats with the occasional mention of a strong under-the-radar DFS play, more than likely for GPP tournament play.
For Sunday's abbreviated slate, however, the six pitchers will be discussed from best to worst, without the use of tiers. Keep in mind that while our projected Game Scores are an excellent proxy for fantasy potential, on occasion a pitcher may be ranked better or worse than his Game Score suggests.
1. Matt Harvey is the best pitcher on the docket, though he is saddled with the second-toughest opponent, as the New York Mets open on the road against the World Series champion Kansas City Royals in a rematch of last year's Fall Classic. What makes the Royals so formidable is their pesky approach at the dish, fanning at the lowest rate in the league against right-handers last season. They return almost the same lineup that they deployed last October, so while run-scoring will be at a minimum, don't expect a ton of strikeouts from Harvey.
2. Francisco Liriano continues to be overlooked in many seasonal formats despite sporting a stingy 3.38 ERA for consecutive seasons -- following a 2013 campaign where he recorded a 3.012 mark, the second best of his career. Integral to both DFS and season play, Liriano fans better than a batter an inning, albeit with a high walk rate that is the likely reason for some reticence at the draft table. He's also an extreme ground ball pitcher, which results in fewer homers (and a low ERA), but more hits, elevating his already inflated WHIP. His first opponent this season is the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, a team that wins with pitching and defense, as evidenced by the Redbirds finishing 11th in the National League in terms of runs scored last season, and that was with Jhonny Peralta, the Cardinals' clean-up hitter. Working at home in pitcher-friendly PNC Park, Liriano is in a good spot to start the season off strong.
3. Marcus Stroman defied all odds last season by returning from a spring training ACL tear to pitch lights out down the stretch and into the playoffs. He picked up where he left off, fanning 12 without a walk in 13 innings of Grapefruit League action. He'll take on the Tampa Bay Rays and their below-average offense at home, at least from last season. Coming into this year, Harvey deserves to be considered a better hurler than Stroman, but on a bang-for-the-buck basis, Stroman is the superior DFS play on Sunday's short schedule.
4. Chris Archer is flying off draft boards, as great things are expected from the Rays right-hander. Despite opening at home in run-suppressing Tropicana Field, Archer has his work cut out for him as he takes on last season's most potent attack in the Toronto Blue Jays. Surprisingly, the Blue Jays scored only nine fewer runs on the road than they did in hitter-friendly Rogers Centre last season. Archer's seasonal owners didn't pay a premium to sit him on opening day; however, he's a better GPP contrarian play than a reliable cash game anchor.
5. Adam Wainwright is one of the bigger fantasy enigmas, as he deserves the benefit of the doubt after so many stellar seasons; however, there are a few yellow flags that should concern his owners this season. Like Stroman, Wainwright fought valiantly to return from an Achilles tear that occurred in his fourth start last season. However, before the injury, Wainwright's already pedestrian strikeout rate fell even more. Compounding the issue is, even in his salad days, Wainwright's strikeout rate was just a little better than league average; he pounded up the raw whiffs by tossing a high number of innings. Now 34-years-old and coming off a season where he tossed just 28 stanzas, the veteran right-hander can't be expected to reach the 220-230 range that was routine a few years ago. So while Wainwright can still be a fantasy asset for ratios, it comes at the expense of some strikeouts. He should get off to a good start facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Steel City. Last season, the Bucs sported a middle-of-the-road attack but look to improve on that with the continued maturation of their young hitters along with the addition of the patient John Jaso to lead things off.
6. Edinson Volquez may be bringing up the rear on the first set of games of the season, but he's the only starter who will sport some new jewelry, symbolizing the Royals' defeat of Sunday's opposition, the Mets, last fall. But that was then, and this is now. Volquez' peripherals are below league average, both in terms of walks and whiffs. His success comes from inducing a goodly number of ground balls which help him keep the ball in the yard. Of the sextet of arms taking the hill, Volquez is the most vulnerable, not even worthy of a GPP speculative play.
As alluded to in the introduction, the crux of the hitting notes will be to identify the teams in the most favorable scenario to put tallies up on the board, mentioning specific when apropos, but more often than not, a subset of the team's lineup will be identified as a spot to look for strong hitting.
As will often be the case, the top lineup will dovetail the worst pitching matchups. Sunday's top run-scoring unit should be the Mets with their left-handed contingent leading the way against the Royals' Volquez. Keep in mind, while Kauffman Stadium is a detriment for power, it's an above-average run-scoring venue, feeding into the gap-to-gap nature of the Mets offense, especially those swinging from the left side.
As mentioned above, Jaso is being counted on by the Bucs to set the table for their young and maturing outfielders. And while they miss the pop provided by Jung-ho Kang, they should be able to put the ball in play against Wainwright, and as the Royals taught us, if you continually put the ball in play, good things happen. At least last season the Pirates didn't display a big difference in platoon splits which puts their whole lineup in play.
Most likely to go yard: Neil Walker. The new Mets second baseman has hit 53 of his 55 homers against right-handers since 2013, and while Kauffman Stadium suppresses power, so does PNC Park, Walker's old home where he hit 26 of those aforementioned dingers.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Kolten Wong. The battery of Liriano and Francisco Cervelli is easily the weakest in action on Sunday with respect to controlling the running game. Wong is a little banged up, but the Cardinals don't have many options to talk advantage of the situation, so expect Wong to run if afforded the opportunity.