This article will have three parts:
1) Pitching Breakdown
2) Stack Breakdown
3) Favorite Hitters by position and then some hot takes at the bottom.
Tier 1: The Core Pitchers (these are the pitchers that will be in a majority of my lineups)
- Walker Buehler – Over the course of Walker Buehler’s two playoff outings, he has thrown 73 and 95 pitches respectively and now will face a difficult matchup versus the Braves. That being said, 95 pitches is the high mark that any pitcher on the slate has reached in the playoffs thus far, and he did so in an outing where he walked four hitters, so he was given a bit of an extended leash. In those two postseason outings combined, Buehler has struck out 45.7-percent of opposing batters while managing a 3.15 SIERA and ridiculous 2.16 xFIP. In other words, he is looking like a true ace, so the reason to roster him would be to bet on the elite talent plus likely longest duration of any of the scheduled starters. Sure, the Braves ranked in the top 10 of wOBA, wRC+, ISO and even BB rate against RHP during the regular season, but all of these pitchers face tough matchups with only four teams remaining. Bet on the strikeout stuff and spend up for the most talented pitcher on the slate.
Tier 2: Not Quite Core Pitchers
- Charlie Morton – Facing the Astros right now is a tall order as they are fully healthy, other than Yordan Alvarez, and they had scored 35 runs in a four-game series versus the Athletics. However, Blake Snell shut them down in Game 1, and Charlie Morton dominated in his one outing versus the Yankees already in the playoffs: 5.0 innings, 27.3-percent K rate, 9.1-percent BB rate, 1.99 FIP and 3.82 SIERA on 86 pitches. The issue with the Astros is they posted the lowest K rate in the split against RHP this season (19.8-percent). Consequently, ceilings for pitchers are inherently lower in the matchup against them, although the pitch type correlation is still in Morton’s favor. As per usual this year, Morton relied insanely heavily on his curveball (32.7-percent), and the Astros ranked as a bottom nine offense against the pitch type, per FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights. In 2020, only George Springer and Abraham Toro posted well above-average xwOBAs against right-handed curveballs specifically and the only other slightly above-average players on the roster versus the pitch were Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel. Basically, the Astros kryptonite is Morton’s best pitch, so something has got to give here.
- Lance McCullers Jr. – Going back to the well with Lance McCullers Jr. is a risky proposition after getting blasted in his outing versus the Athletics last series. It only took 75 pitches for McCullers to allow nine baserunners (including three homers) and four earned runs (ERs) in just 4.0 innings but he did, at least, strike out five. The Rays’ active hitters strike out at a massive rate versus RHP (26.4-percent in the regular season) but, unlike the Astros, they excelled against right-handed curveballs. Only the Jays edged them out against the pitch, per FanGraphs pitch type linear weights, and nearly the entire lineup ranked well above-average versus the pitch. Hell, only Kevin Kiermaier and Michael Perez posted below-average numbers versus the pitch of players who could possibly make the lineup, and Perez can be considered a longshot. Consequently, eight of nine hitters in the lineup own excellent numbers versus McCullers’ go-to pitch, which makes him an uncomfortable play yet again. To make matters worse, he is expected to be the chalkiest pitcher on the slate. If searching for a pitcher with a safe strikeout floor, McCullers is probably that guy, but the damage that could/should come with the Ks is the concerning part.
Tier 3: Mass-Multi Entry Pitchers
- Max Fried – Despite being placed in the third tier, Max Fried is still worthy of consideration, especially if the Dodgers choose to roll a healthy number of lefties against him. Amongst pitchers on the slate, Fried struck out lefties at the lowest rate this year, and that was still a 25.2-percent clip. The more left-handed the Dodgers lineup, the more favorable the matchup will become for Fried as he allowed a wOBA 30 percentage points lower in the split versus LHH comparatively to RHH. One major flaw here is the fact that Fried has only lasted 70 and 78 pitches in his first two postseason appearances and his swinging strike stuff is the worst of the pitchers on the slate. Consequently, both his floor and ceiling are amongst the lowest of the group, and the Dodgers active hitters ranked in the top 10 of just about every category versus LHP during the regular season. In MME builds, Fried should make the mix, but his median projection sits a tier below the others, so he should be left out of single-entry and three-max lineups.
Tier 1: The Core Stacks
- Los Angeles Dodgers – Although the Dodgers do not feature the highest implied total on the slate, they rank as my top stack for a variety of reasons. The aforementioned Fried is essentially a three-pitch pitcher versus RHHs and the Dodgers righties have all excelled versus Fried’s pitch mix (fastball, curveball, slider) this season. A.J. Pollock posted a team-high .462 xwOBA versus left-handed fastballs, curveballs and sliders combined while Justin Turner (.418) and Will Smith (.389) were not far behind. It should be noted even Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger held their own against the pitch types, and Fried likely gets the quickest hook of any pitcher if previous data holds. The Braves bullpen is rested but also features four lefties who would still present favorable matchups for the righties. One tidbit worth mentioning is Chris Taylor’s team-high 26.7-percent K rate if he makes the lineup which could lead to him potentially being poor chalk. Otherwise, fantasy owners will want to target Dodgers righties, and mix and match in some lefties to differentiate.
- Tampa Bay Rays – As noted above, the Rays are an absolutely magnificent hitting team versus right-handed curveballs, which is a scary proposition for Lance McCullers Jr. Not only does he rely heavily on curveballs to register outs but he also posted reverse-splits this year and Randy Arozarena is arguably the hottest hitter in the entire playoffs right now. Looking further down the lineup, Manuel Margot and Mike Zunino have posted solid numbers against right-handed curves as well, so those three righties specifically are the upside targets here. Since the beginning of 2019, McCullers Jr. has held lefties to a slate-low 2.88 FIP and 20.8-percent LD rate because of his massive 56.9-percent GB rate in the split. Even so, with all their massive numbers against curves, lefties like Nate Lowe/Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe are still viable targets, although the top of the lineup hitters on the team with the highest total will not go overlooked. Look down the lineup at hitters like Margot to create a different roster but definitely do not underestimate this Rays team against a pitcher coming off his career-worst SIERA in the regular season (3.95).
Tier 2: The Not Quite Core Stacks
- Houston Astros – The inability to hit curveballs is a serious concern versus Charlie Morton as the guy has thrown the pitch at the second highest rate amongst qualified pitchers since the start of 2019 (36.5-percent). The only man to edge him out during that span was Adam Wainwright who also is aging and has had to become a finesse pitcher in his stage of his career. Coming off injury, Morton was less effective this year than he had been in about three seasons, but he has still missed bats at a high clip (24.7-percent K rate in the regular season). Still, his 7.9-percent barrel rate was the highest of his career and his 35.1-percent hard hit rate was his worst since the 2016 season. George Springer is by far the top target here, since he has crushed curveballs, and Carlos Correa is the second priority. Lefties have done a majority of the damage versus Morton since the start of last season as his .300 wOBA and 1.12 HR/9 rate allowed in the split rank worst of any pitcher on the slate. Basically, Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker are the logical complements, and will both come at a lower roster percentage than either Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman. Beyond Morton, the Rays bullpen is one of the best in the league, so the matchups will not get much more favorable once he leaves the ballgame.
Tier 3: Mass-Multi Entry Stacks
Atlanta Braves – Walker Buehler is the top starting pitcher on the slate but his control was an issue his last time out. The Braves 10.1-percent BB rate ranked in the top 10 against RHP this season and there were missed rally opportunities against Buehler in his last game because he pitched out of them. Both regular season and postseason Buehler have allowed a HR/9 rate over 1.10 this year so the long ball is the best way to get to him still. Power hitters like Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna are the highest percentage plays but there is power in this lineup throughout. That being said, one-offs are the preferred target here, with the full stack being a full-blown game theory play only. If Buehler is allotted near 100-pitches again, it will be tough for the Braves to break the slate, unless they are able to hit multiple homers off the starter. Considering Buehler has allowed an AVG below .180 in both the regular and postseason, good luck to the Braves there.
Top Players By Position
- Will Smith
- Mike Zunino
- Travis d’Arnaud
- Ji-Man Choi
- Yuli Gurriel
- Freddie Freeman
- Brandon Lowe
- Jose Altuve
- Max Muncy
- Kike Hernandez/Chris Taylor
- Justin Turner (by far top play)
- Alex Bregman
- Joey Wendle
- Carlos Correa
- Corey Seager
- Randy Arozarena
- Mookie Betts
- Austin Meadows
- George Springer
- Ronald Acuna Jr.
- A.J. Pollock
- Michael Brantley
- Manuel Margot
- Kyle Tucker
- Cody Bellinger
Highest Scoring Hitter: Mookie Betts
Highest Scoring Pitcher: Walker Buehler
Biggest Bust Hitter: Alex Bregman
Biggest Bust Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr.
Top Value Plays: Manuel Margot/Mike Zunino (GPP only)/Kike Hernandez
Slate Edge: A.J. Pollock