Fantasy daily notes for July 31
The Elite (ranked for use in daily cash games such as 50/50s and double ups)
The top Game Score of the day belongs to -- surprise, surprise -- Clayton Kershaw. He's been virtually unhittable of late, holding a 0.94 ERA and 0.62 WHIP with an 11.1 K/9 rate over his past 10 starts, and he has a prime matchup Thursday against an Atlanta Braves team that strikes out 23.4 percent of the time against left-handed pitchers, the third-highest rate in baseball. Yes, it's worth noting that the Braves do hit left-handers well, evidenced by a .327 weighted on-base average, but Kershaw is no ordinary left-hander. He's clearly the best and safest option in cash games Thursday, and even though there are other pitchers listed in the elite tier, the Dodgers ace is in a league of his own.
If you're going to fade Kershaw in cash games, Johnny Cueto is a reasonable alternative. He doesn't offer the safety or upside of the Dodgers lefty, but he has an enticing matchup against the Miami Marlins, who strike out more against right-handed pitchers (24.1 percent) than any other team baseball and also don't produce much hard contact (generating a .144 hard-hit average, which is bottom-five in baseball). After a run of strong but not extraordinary starts, Cueto hurled seven shutout innings against the Washington Nationals with nine K's his most recent time out. He hasn't registered double-digit whiffs in a start since mid-June, but he'll have a good crack at it here.
Gio Gonzalez is a guy who tends to fluctuate between the elite and solid tiers depending on his opponent. His matchup against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday (plus a dearth of other top-tier plays) bumps him up to the top group. Gonzalez boasts a 1.66 ERA to go along with a 1.00 WHIP and a 9.3 K/9 over his past six starts, and the Phillies have an uninspiring offense that ranks second worst in baseball in wOBA (.291) and third worst in hard-hit average (.134). That said, the only real reason to play him over Kershaw is cost.
Solid (can be considered for both daily cash games and tournament play)
In terms of second-tier starters Thursday, Drew Smyly is one of the more interesting names. After a couple of rough outings earlier this month, he's bounced back in his past two starts, including whiffing a season-high 11 hitters against the Los Angeles Angels in his most recent outing. He's set to square off against a Chicago White Sox team that has not fared well against left-handed pitching this season, ranking 22nd in baseball in wOBA (.302), 27th in strikeout percentage (22.8 percent) and 27th in hard-hit average (.128). Ultimately, I prefer him in tournaments, but he could be an under-the-radar cash game option.
Julio Teheran already starts in a hole because he's squaring off against Kershaw. And that hole gets a little deeper considering he's facing a Los Angeles Dodgers team that sports a .323 wOBA against right-handed pitching, second-best in the National League. So, it should go without saying that Teheran is more of a tournament play Thursday, as he carries more risk than you'd like for a cash game. Then again, he does have 16 K's in 13 innings thus far in the second half, and has shown he can shut down top offenses, so he could surprise.
Value Plays (best used in tournaments or on multiple-pitcher sites)
I frequently highlight Drew Hutchison in this space when he has a good matchup, because on top of being affordable on most sites, he's shown that he can be dominant at times and he misses enough bats (8.2 K/9) to give you the upside you need in tournaments. His matchup Thursday against the Houston Astros fits the description. The Astros don't hit right-handed pitching particularly well (.294 wOBA), and they strike out a ton (23.9 percent), which gives Hutchison a lot of upside in this matchup.
Has Shelby Miller been on top of his game lately? No, not really. In four July outings, he holds a 4.76 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, to go along with a miniscule 3.2 K/9 rate. But if there's a matchup that will help turn a guy around, it's the San Diego Padres -- the worst offense in baseball -- at pitcher haven Petco Park. I don't recommend using Miller in anything but multi-pitcher sites, but given his cheap price tag and the prime matchup, he's worth a flier. He doesn't figure to be widely owned, and he'll help free up cap space so you can beef up your offense.
Trade Deadline Deals
The "Baseball Tonight" crew breaks down a very busy MLB trade deadline.
Price Traded To Tigers
The "Baseball Tonight" crew breaks down the Tigers' move to acquire Rays pitcher David Price.
Red Sox Deal Lester For Cespedes
Tim Kurkjian breaks down the trade that sends LHP Jon Lester to the Athletics for OF Yoenis Cespedes.