As the MLB season winds down, the games become that much more important with each run scored possibly the difference between a postseason berth and an extended winter vacation. Fantasy baseball isn’t at all different and you could argue that the month of September is even more important for us fantasy baseballers than the actual players on the field. Either your league has already entered playoff mode or it is very close to doing so, making every category that much more important. “Streaming” pitchers is a popular strategy in yearlong leagues, and if you participate in daily fantasy baseball, it is your bread and butter. Regardless of your style, there is a good chance that you can free up a roster spot for a pitcher who is set to take the mound tomorrow, but how do you choose?
Statistics are the best forecaster of future performance, but one must look deeper than pure numbers. I’ve done the leg work for you and provided a spot stud and a spot dud for Tuesday September 17.
Jeff Locke (Home vs San Diego Padres)
Maybe you’ve heard, but the Pittsburgh Pirates are a good baseball team. I’m not kidding. Above average for the first time in 20 years, Pittsburgh is going to field a playoff team. But in the new playoff format, there is great importance placed on winning your division, something that is still very much up in the air in the NL Central. Locke probably wasn’t a name you knew entering the 2013 season (players with one career win and a 5.82 ERA rarely make fantasy cheat sheets) and a pitcher you probably tossed to the wayside after a disappointing August (0-1, 7.94 ERA, .372 batting average against), assuming that his 15 minutes of fame had expired.
Not so fast.
Locke (who is only owned in 36 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) owns a 2.35 ERA this season if you subtract August, a pretty impressive number that would top the season ERAs of all but three pitchers. His breakout campaign has been made possible by one major strength: His ability to retire right-handed hitters (.222/.314/.329). The Padres aren’t an elite hitting team to begin with, and their lineup (which typically consists of six or seven righties when opposing a LHP) figures to struggle in a big way. The only lefty that brings about even a little fear in the Padres lineup is Will Venable, but with a .213 batting average with runners on base, he’s not exactly a threat to single handedly ruin Locke’s outing. Look for the Buccos’ southpaw to record a quality start at the minimum with a great chance to earn a victory and strikeout a handful of batters (San Diego ranks in the top 10 in total team Ks).
Sonny Gray (Home vs Los Angeles Angels)
At first glance, the split stats look impressive and enticing when it comes to daily fantasy baseball. In his four starts at home this season, the 23-year old owns a 1.21 ERA with a .171 batting average against and more strikeouts than innings pitched for the Oakland Athletics.
Not so fast.
While those numbers certainly are impressive, they came against three of the worst offense in the league (Houston Astros twice, Seattle Mariners, and Tampa Bay Rays). The Angels have disappointed fantasy owners all season long (ask any Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton owner), but they’ve been surprisingly resilient in the second half of the season, ranking sixth in total runs scored. Los Angeles is also striking out less than the average team and rank in the top ten in walks drawn. Gray is owned in a higher percent (43) of leagues than Locke, but his production in this crucial week of fantasy baseball should be expected to lag behind in a big way.