It's time to break out the traveling shoes, as nine of the top dozen starters are on the road, including the struggling duo of Max Scherzer and Felix Hernandez. The flip side is many of the lower-ranked pitchers enjoy home-field advantage.
Let's delve into the early season woes for two of MLB's top starters, along with highlighting the hurlers and hitters benefiting from home-cooking, as we navigate Wednesday's slate.
Felix Hernandez has been scratched from his start today. We have updated the content below to reflect the change.
When Max Scherzer first broke in, there was some concern about the awkward head snap that was part of his delivery. Now the worry is whiplash from turning around to watch so many balls sail out of the yard. One of the misconceptions when evaluating pitching is perceiving ground ball rate as a skill. Granted, ground ball hurlers allow fewer homers and induce more double plays, but they also surrender more hits, as the batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of a fly ball is lower than that of a grounder. It's especially beneficial to be a fly ball pitcher if you display excellent control while working in a venue that depresses power. Scherzer is a fly ball pitcher, so he's prone to the homer but generally exhibits excellent control. In addition to serving up gophers at a higher-than-normal rate this year, Scherzer is walking a few more, as his 2.70 BB/9 is twice last season's mark and his highest since 2012. The Nationals right-hander is throwing as hard as ever, which is helping to fuel his dominant 11.1 K/9. Scherzer's seasonal owners should continue to be patient, as his 4.05 ERA will descend as the season progresses. DFS gamers should jump all over the chance to use Scherzer against a Philadelphia Phillies squad that is among the least patient and weakest in the league, in terms of hitting homers against right-handers.
A drop in velocity is also a concern for Jacob deGrom, but considering that his past few games have been just about what he worked at last season, let's be patient with the New York Mets right-hander. Further, he's sporting the 23rd-best swinging-strike mark among pitchers, with at least 40 innings pitched, as compared to an out-of-sync 76th-best strikeout percentage. The former usually portends the latter, so expect deGrom's whiff rate to increase dramatically going forward. The 28-year old hurler will take the hill in Citi Field as the Chicago White Sox, without their designated hitter, visit the Big Apple. The visitor's offense is league average, with the DH rendering deGrom a viable option for DFS, especially in cash-game play.
Jon Lester rebounded from his worst outing of the season (when the San Francisco Giants knocked him out in the third inning) with a workmanlike 6 1/3-inning stint featuring seven strikeouts against the Phillies. The Chicago Cubs southpaw will square off with the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Despite the aforementioned blow-up, Lester is one of the more reliable hurlers in the game, so he's a solid cash-game candidate, as the Dodgers' offense is middle-of-the-road.
Like Lester, Jaime Garcia's solid effort his latest time out came on the heels of a rough outing. The St. Louis Cardinals lefty has the Milwaukee Brewers on tap as the Redbirds visit Miller Park. There's some risk, seeing as the home team hits lefties well, but if Ryan Braun continues to miss time because of a sore neck, that aids Garcia. If Braun plays, Garcia is a better GPP play, as there's strikeout upside. If the outfielder remains sidelined, Garcia is viable for cash action, but that's somewhat perilous considering the away tilt in a hitters' venue.
Cole Hamels, in contrast, is looking to bounce back from a poor start, as the Pittsburgh Pirates laid one on the Texas Rangers lefty and knocked him out in the fifth. Actually, Hamel has been spotty for a few weeks, with eight homers surrendered in his past four games. Fortunately, next up are the Cleveland Indians, who own the league's second-worst home run mark when facing left-handers.
The most intriguing matchup Wednesday features Robbie Ray battling the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park. On paper, Ray has the edge, as the hosts whiff at a bloated 28 percent clip against lefties and Ray boasts an impressive 10.4 K/9. The Astros' wOBA versus lefties is average, but with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Evan Gattis at the top of the order, that mark is likely to head upward, as Patrick Corbin can attest. All total, Ray is one of the best tournament options on the Wednesday docket.
Using a projected Game Score of 46-52 to identify a possible spot-starter (anyone lower is too risky, while those above are generally safe), half the 30 probables fall within range. To help filter that, let's focus on the best options owned in fewer than half of ESPN leagues. Hit me up on Twitter at @ToddZola or in the comments with questions on anyone not covered.
Danny Duffy is owned in just 4 percent of ESPN leagues, primarily because he started the year as a reliever and is just now stretched out enough to throw more than five frames. He's not likely to maintain a 10.0 K/9 as a starter but should notch a solid number of punchouts against the Tampa Bay Rays and their 24 percent strikeout clip against lefties visiting Kauffman Stadium. It won't be easy for the Kansas City Royals southpaw, as the guests sport a lofty 0.356 wOBA versus left-handers. Still, with the contest at home, Duffy is in play for the spot start.
Trevor Bauer also enjoys a home-field boost, as the Texas Rangers take on the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The Tribe's right-hander is carrying a high 1.40 WHIP, which is in part due to a 3.6 BB/9 but is also a result of an unlucky batting average on balls in play. This has stemmed his ESPN ownership to a low 13 percent.
It's rare that a Colorado Rockies starter gets the nod at home, but with the Cincinnati Reds visiting Coors Field, Tyler Chatwood is in play, especially if you have some wriggle room with ratios and want some whiffs and a win. The Reds tote a low 0.289 wOBA versus righties, along with a generous 23 percent strikeout rate. And remember, their home digs are quite friendly as well. Studies show pitchers on a roll tend to continue to throw well.
As such, Matt Shoemaker and his 12 percent ESPN ownership are in play, despite a date with the dangerous Detroit Tigers, albeit in run-suppressing Angels Stadium. In his first seven games, Shoemaker fanned 22 in 29 1/3 stanzas. In his past two outings covering 15 2/3 frames, he has punched out 23.
James Paxton has been summoned to take the spot of the disabled Felix Hernandez. The lefty has been starting regularly at Triple-A Tacoma so innings shouldn't be an issue. Further, Paxton has whiffed 50 to just 14 walks in 47 2/3 innings on the farm. With his 2016 debut in Petco Park against the San Diego Padres and their 27 percent strikeout rate versus southpaws, Paxton warrants a pick-up in formats permitting daily moves.
Maybe if Mike Bolsinger had more 2016 innings under his belt, he'd be worth a shot at Wrigley Field, but after just 10 frames in two starts, the Chicago Cubs are too potent to trust the Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander.
By season's end, Adam Conley is going to help his fantasy owners more often than not. But with a date in Marlins Park against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, the left-hander is too risky, as the Bucs school southpaws to the tune of a 0.362 wOBA, which doesn't sync well with Conley's 4.2 BB/9.
Assuming no weather concerns, it's going to be hard to fade Colorado Rockies hitters with southpaw John Lamb toeing the Coors Field rubber. Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado are the name brands with the platoon edge, joined by Mark Reynolds, Ryan Raburn and Dustin Garneau as cheaper options.
Focusing on hitters at home is usually wise. However, with the St. Louis Cardinals facing right-hander Zach Davies in Miller Park, let's make an exception. The Redbirds have been working both Brandon Moss and the hot Matt Adams into the lineup together, but it's best to confirm they're both active. Matt Carpenter will be in his usual leadoff spot and is always in play with a righty on the hill. Even without the platoon edge, Matt Holliday, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are in play.
The Washington Nationals are another club enjoying a road tilt in a hitters' park against a lesser arm, as the Philadelphia Phillies send lefty Adam Morgan to the hill at Citizens Bank Park. Righty-swinging Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos lead the way.
If you read here that the Boston Red Sox are on the road but hear loud cheers when their hitters do something good, don't worry, the game really is at Camden Yards. Half of Massachusetts took an extended Memorial Day break and headed down I-95. Right-hander Mike Wright takes the ball for the Baltimore Orioles, but the travelers don't care who's pitching. Everyone is in play, with David Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts the featured performers.
As alluded to in the pitching notes, the affair between the Diamondbacks and Astros will be interesting. Ray was suggested as a streamer, but that doesn't preclude an Astros stack, as the formerly slumping, right-handed contingent roughed up southpaws Edwin Escobar and Patrick Corbin in the initial two games of the home-and-home interleague set. Now at Minute Maid Park, the aforementioned Altuve, Springer, Correa and Gattis make a potentially formidable quartet.
Most likely to go yard: Trevor Story needs to shorten up and improve his two-strike approach, but that won't stop him from taking John Lamb deep.