KBO Pitching Picks & Strategy for DraftKings and FanDuel 5/21

Another day of KBO means another day of DFS Army helmets on the leaderboards for both DraftKings and FanDuel!

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Projecting Upside and Leveraging it for Your Play Style

Before we get into my favorite plays for tomorrow, I wanted to briefly talk about how I measure/define upside when researching KBO pitchers. For starters, there are often misconceptions about safety and upside. It might seem like those two things are positively correlated but that is not always true. Depending on your contest selection (cash or GPP), you are probably targeting different types of pitchers. In cash, the goal is to roster pitchers who are safer plays more often than not. When playing GPP Tournaments, it can be more beneficial to target upside instead of safety. To put it simply, “safety” and “upside” can be primarily defined by looking at an expected range of outcomes (this tool exists within our DFS Army Research Station). Here is an example to better portray what this might look like for you… Let’s assume the same matchup for the purpose of the exercise:

Pitcher A ($9,000): Scores between 15-25 fantasy points in 88% of his starts dating back to the beginning of last season. In his worst 5 starts, he averaged 12 fantasy points. In his best 5, he averaged 27.
Pitcher B ($7,800): Scores between 15-25 fantasy points in 46% of his starts dating back to the beginning of last season. In his worst 5 starts, he averaged 5.6 fantasy points. In his best 5 starts, he averaged 36.

Clearly, pitcher B is more volatile and would not be my first “cash” game pick. He isn’t trustworthy enough based on his likely range of outcomes to put up a solid score like pitcher A. In cash, a decent score from a player who is high-owned will not hurt your chances nearly as much as it would in GPP. Because 50% of players win in cash, we don’t have to take as many risks to profit – unlike GPP tournaments where a smaller number of people profit and a higher score is more important (the higher you score in GPP, the more money you can win per entry… in cash, you win the same amount whether you finish in the top 1% or barely hit the 50% threshold). Now, this is less about contest selection and more about upside so back to the main point 😊 So when specifically trying to determine upside, what should we be looking for? Here are a few quick indicators for me:

Price vs Range of Outcomes vs Ceiling

I love using our KBO research station to better understand scoring history for certain players and how I might be able to leverage their outcome range (see above example) against their price. In the above example, pitcher B has shown he can score higher than pitcher A at a discount of $1,200. *You can also employ a similar strategy for the site you play on by trying to gauge how the player price on DK differs from his price on FD or vice versa.

Matchup Ranks and Matchup History

Another key factor when determining pitcher upside potential is the opposing offense/where the rank in certain categories within the KBO. Specifically, I like looking at stats like OPS (on base + slugging), strikeouts (how often do they strike out relative to other teams) and walks (what is their plate discipline like). This is true on the micro level and also the macro level in terms of looking at past matchups of the pitcher vs team. How many times has the pitcher faced this offense so far this season and what were the outcomes? What about looking back to 2019? Baseball is beautifully mysterious in some ways and there are hitters who struggle against pitchers sometimes without any glaring statistic to point at. Matchup and matchup history matters.

Advanced Statistics

WHIP and ERA are decent indicators that can help give us a general idea as to how well a pitcher has performed over the course of his season/career. However, there are a few other stats that I like to pay close attention to when digging for upside. These include:

FIP – Fielding independent pitching. Think of it like ERA but with only the things a pitcher has the most control over (strikeouts, walks, HBP, home runs) and removing balls hit in the field of play.

BABIP – Batting average on balls in play. This stat removes outcomes unaffected by the defense (primarily strikeouts and home runs) and like FIP, can help us identify luck and regression trends for pitchers. If a pitcher has a FIP lower than their ERA and a high BABIP, its fair to assume there will be some positive regression. This often leads us to finding pitchers who might be less expensive but still with solid potential upside.

K/9 – Strikeouts per 9 innings. Strikeouts are incredibly important for DFS purposes. Pitchers with high strikeout upside (and potentially in matchups against teams that strikeout a lot) oftentimes have an increased ceiling (although that can also mean more volatile pitching). A higher K/9 means more strikeouts per nine innings.

RS/9 – Run support per nine innings. This one is the least important of the others listed but is helpful when trying to identify other factors that might lead to a pitcher getting the win (4pts on DK and 6pts on FD). A higher RS/9 means their offense scores more runs during their outings. * I also like to combine RS/9 with sportsbook odds to better understand win likelihood. 

😅 Whew! That might have been like drinking from a fire hose but I wanted to give a small glimpse into some of my process/motivation for the way I write these articles. There is no right or wrong process and the things listed above are not exhaustive but hopefully this helps give some background. Now let’s get on to those picks!


KBO Pitchers and Picks for 5/21

Here are some of my favorite plays for the upcoming KBO slate. Tonight is… interesting to say the least. I’m not convinced there are ANY rock solid pitching options and am viewing tonight in three tiers. I like to include high upside plays even if it means taking some risks so don’t forget to look at the “format” suggested under each pitcher. * indicates a left-handed pitcher. 

Tier 1

Han Hyun-hee

Team: KIW @ SK
Price$7,700 | $24
Matchup: BA (10th) | OPS (10th) | SO (10th) | BB (10th)
Notes: Of all pitchers on the slate tomorrow, I’m most confident in Han’s ability to put up a solid line. His 2020 start has been just okay – 4.09 ERA/1.55 WHIP over 11 innings pitched – but he does also have 11 strikeouts on the season. He is now a starting pitcher after spending 2019 as a reliever and did fare well out of the bullpen so it is encouraging to see those solid strikeout numbers carrying over to this season. FanGraph’s ZiPS model is projecting Han to finish in the top 15 for ERA this year and you could not ask for a better matchup. The Wyverns rank dead last in most major statistical categories including strikeouts. Although he is not a dominant pitcher by any definition, his combination of decent price, strikeout upside and matchup make him the best option across the board for me.
Format: ALL


Tier 2

Lee Jae-hak

Team: NC @ DOO
Price: $9,900 | $24
Matchup: BA (2nd) | OPS (2nd) | SO (2nd) | BB (7th)
The Doosan Bears have finally cooled down over the last few games (although it’s worth mentioning they have been facing lefties and many of their most potent hitters have much better numbers against righties). Lee will look to improve upon his 2020 ERA (3.97) and sparkling WHIP (0.97) against this high-powered offense. ZiPS projects him to finish top 15 in K/9 this season and so far he has been right on track with that. Looking back to 2019, his walk and home run numbers have remained solid and overall he has pitched with relative consistency. If not for the tough matchup, he would probably crack my top tier… especially on FanDuel where he is on the cheaper side. I do think his ownership will be relatively low so that adds to his tournament lure. 
Format: GPP (FanDuel)

Moon Seung-won

Team: SK @ KIW
Price$8,800 | $24
Matchup: BA (8th) | OPS (7th) | SO (8th) | BB (3rd)
Notes: Moon started 23/26 games last season and was volatile. There were stretches where he pitched extremely well and others where he would give up runs (and home runs) in bunches. If his first few starts of 2020 are any indicator, this season might entail much of the same – 11.2IP/6ER/16H/14K/1BB. Of the 16 hits (yikes) Moon has given up this season, 2 have been home runs. However, he clearly has some strikeout upside… His 10.8 K/9 to start 2020 is the second best of all qualified KBO pitchers. Now, KIW is a potent offense with power. They have not started well statistically but their lineup can do damage in a hurry. That said, they do strike out a bunch and are still trying to find their mojo at the plate. This can be a high scoring spot for Moon IF he can keep the ball in the ballpark.
Format: GPP

Lee Min-ho

Team: LG @ SAM
Price$5,000 | $23
Matchup: BA (9th) | OPS (9th) | SO (6th) | BB (8th)
Notes: Lee teetered on the tier 2-tier 3 line and barely squeaked into the former because of his price. He is a largely unproven pitcher (4 total innings pitched in the KBO), is only 18 years old and his pitch count limit is a mystery. Feeling confident yet? On the positive side, he has only allowed 3 total base runners in his 4 innings pitched this season and gets a very favorable matchup against the struggling Samsung Lions. I wouldn’t go overboard with Lee but do think he has some potential at his price.
Format: GPP (especially on DraftKings)


Tier 3 – Other KBO Pitching Mentions

Park Se-woong ($6,200 | $27) – DK Only. His cheap DraftKings price and solid ERA warrant a look but I’m not too impressed otherwise. The matchup is average, his control is iffy and he has not been much of a strikeout pitcher. He works as an okay GPP salary saver on DK. His FanDuel price is way too expensive.

Im Ki-young* ($5,900 | $21) – Im has strikeout upside, is cheap on both sites and matches up against a LOT team that has struggled mightily as of late. They are 0-3 in their last 3 and have averaged 2 runs/game after starting the season on a tear. BABIP against him is in the .400s so I’m hopeful there is some positive regression on the way but his ERA since 2018 is almost 6.00 so I don’t have much overall confidence. Cheap GPP dart option.

OPS (On-base plus Slugging)
SO (Strikeout)
K/9 (Strikeouts per 9 innings)
BB (Walk)
ERA (Earned Run Average)
WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched)
QS (Quality Start)
IP (Inning Pitched)
ER (Earned Run)
R (Run)
DK (DraftKings)
FD (FanDuel)
KBO (Korean Baseball Organization)
LHP (Left Handed Pitcher)
BABIP (Batting Average Balls in Play)
Chalky (High Ownership)
RS/9 (Run support per 9 innings)
GPP (Guaranteed Prize Pool)