This article is part of our DraftKings MLB series.
The Sunday slate features the haves versus the have-nots on the mound. Several aces are available and there's also a number of desirable pitchers from the middle and bottom end of the salary range to consider rostering. On the other end of the spectrum, there are also several pitchers who are vulnerable. That leaves my preferred build as jamming in top pitching and filling in with value bats/stacks, many of which will be highlighted in this article.
Gerrit Cole ($10,400 vs. TB) leads off among the strong options in the pitching pool. You don't need me to tell you he's an incredible pitcher, though it may be surprising that the Rays have a 26.1 K% this season – eighth highest in the league – and also rank in the bottom-third in ISO. Cole is my favorite pitcher on the slate, but there's a case to be made for other elite pitchers.
That begins with Shane Bieber ($10,000 at CIN), who has the advantage of facing the pitcher due to his interleague matchup at an NL park. After that, the case gets a little thinner for him to be rostered over Cole. Bieber offers the better skills in terms of leading indicators such as K-BB% and HR/9. However, he also has a difficult matchup in a hitter's park as the Reds come in with the league's highest ISO, second-highest wOBA, and bottom-five strikeout rate.
Freddy Peralta ($9,500 vs. PIT) combines the positives for both Cole and Bieber, as he has exceptional skills along with a strong matchup. The main issue for Peralta is efficiency and ability to pitch deep into games. He's managed to work five and six innings in his first two starts and has a 17.6 BB% - a mark almost certain to lead to worse results in the near future. The risk Peralta can't find the strike zone makes it difficult to justify rostering him unless actively fading Cole or Bieber because the salary differential between Bieber and Cole is likely too small to justify Peralta as an SP2. Nevertheless, the chance for double-digit strikeouts against the largely pathetic Pirates puts him in the conversation as a reasonable pivot.
John Means ($8,000 at TEX) is a clear tier 2/3 SP on the slate and will likely be rostered at a high rate as a result. He appears to have taken another step forward with his skills by increasing his swinging strike rate to 13.3%, though that has yet to lead to a significant increase in strikeouts. A matchup against the Rangers could aid that effort, as they rank among the easiest teams to strikeout and only carry a .288 wOBA headed into Sunday.
Pablo Lopez's ($6,200 vs. SF) salary point feels like an overcorrection for his disastrous outing against the Braves. He'll play in his spacious home park against a Giants team that makes a lot of contact, but isn't particularly dangerous as only the Cubs average fewer runs scored per game.
Whit Merrifield ($5,400) draws a matchup against Robbie Ray, who managed to hold the Yankees relatively in check in his first start of the season. However, his stuff wasn't particularly impressive as he only managed a 3:3 K:BB. That won't do anything to scare me away from paying up for Merrifield, who registered a .388 wOBA and 148 wRC+ against southpaws between 2020 and the beginning of 2021.
Aaron Judge ($5,600) remains healthy and has scalded the baseball by ranking 90th percentile or above in max exit velocity, barrel rate and xWOBA this season. Ryan Yarbrough hasn't gotten on track and will now have to deal with Yankee Stadium in what is a very favorable matchup for the Bronx Bombers.
Jackie Bradley ($3,300) has led off for the Brewers against right-handed pitching in the absence of both Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. That alone is reason enough to consider him against Chad Kuhl, who has a 5.88 SIERA across 2020 and 2021 – highest on the slate. Add in the positive hitter's context for left-handed batters at American Family Field and Bradley pops as a nice value today.
Stephen Strasburg has been a mystery box to begin the season absolutely steamrolling through an Atlanta lineup among the best in the league prior to being demolished by the Cardinals in his latest start. What's clear is opponents aren't having a lot of trouble lining up his offerings having surrendered a 14.3% barrel rate and 50% hard hit rate. David Peralta ($3,200) has maintained his ability to make contact, but has yet to produce based on a -0.1degree average launch angle. In contrast, he's managed a launch angle between 6.4 and 6.7 degrees in each of the last three seasons. Peralta should logically start lofting the ball again soon and is at the right value to take the bet on that starting Sunday.
Stacks to Consider
This is among the most obvious stacks of the day by combining strong offensive skills with an exceptional matchup and a home park that enhances the long ball. While the stack listed above will make it hard to fit in with two high-end pitchers on the slate, some maneuvering is possible to fit the proper build and budget. For example, Starlin Castro ($4,300) is another mid-salaried bat who should also be in a strong position to produce against Bumgarner. Any early optimism for the formerly dominant starter should have all but dissipated as he's allowed at least five earned runs in all three of his starts this year while surrendering 2.0 HR/9. Pay attention to who is in the lineup and jam a stack into any lineups.
Ray is a pitcher to target given his propensity to both serve up homers (2.22 HR/9 between 2020 and 2021) and free passes (7.6 BB/9). His relatively strong opening start to the season appears to be a mirage, leaving the Royals as a strong stack on the slate. Along with the Nationals, the Yankees are another premier stack, but come with a hefty valuation. As made clear above, that isn't the case for Royals aside from Merrifield. There are also several factors making the Royals a strong leverage play with Ray coming off a strong start from a surface level perspective, although Kauffman Stadium is far from a hitter's park and the Royals aren't exactly viewed as an offensive juggernaut.