Fantasy baseball pitcher rankings, lineup advice for Friday's MLB games

Jared Jones looks to put together another solid start against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday. Photo by Brennan Asplen/Getty Images

Look for our fantasy baseball starting pitcher rankings, hitter upgrades and downgrades daily to help you make smart fantasy baseball lineup decisions and for MLB betting tips. MLB game odds are provided by ESPN BET, and fantasy advice is geared toward ESPN 10-team leagues with standard scoring.

Note: This file will be updated with any overnight pitching changes or weather-related game postponements, along with the addition of the latest MLB game odds as of the indicated time of publication.

Are you ready for Start No. 2?

The fantasy baseball world was abuzz over Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Jared Jones' first career start last Saturday, as he struck out 10 Miami Marlins batters to become only the 31st pitcher during the Modern Era to strike out at least that many hitters in a big-league debut. Raising the bar, he was only the 13th from that group to do so while also striking out at least 40% of the batters he faced in his outing.

While the list includes several young phenoms whose careers didn't pan out the way everyone had hoped -- Mark Prior, Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg immediately pop off the page -- it speaks volumes that Jones, ranked a solid-but-hardly-top-shelf 53rd in Kiley McDaniel's preseason top prospects, put himself in company with those much-ballyhooed arms.

In his debut, Jones' slider was filthy, responsible for 10 swinging strikes and five of the strikeouts, and he averaged 97.2 mph with his four-seam fastball, which generated another seven swinging strikes and four K's. Most importantly, he threw a first-pitch strike 70% of the time and peppered the rulebook strike zone 53.9% (the league's average, by the way, is 49.6%), easing some of the questions that have surrounded him regarding his control during his minor league days.

Unsurprisingly, Jones was added in 13% of ESPN leagues in the three days immediately following his debut. That number is sure to soar, should he deliver a comparably strong stat line in the Pirates' home opener on Friday against the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles have averaged six runs over their first six games, after averaging a seventh-best-in-baseball 4.98 runs per game in 2023. It's nowhere near as cozy a matchup for Jones.

How should fantasy managers play it, then? My projections, which draw heavily upon Jones' minor league translations, are predictably fond of his strikeout potential, and that the game will be played in a pitching-friendly environment at PNC Park. That said, he surrendered a good amount of hard contact in his debut -- three Barrels and a 64% hard-hit rate, per Statcast -- and especially so with his fastball, a pitch the Orioles hit well. I'd hedge and keep the rookie on the bench for this one.

Regardless, Orioles-Pirates presents a compelling game to watch at 4:12 p.m. ET, in a matchup between Jones and Grayson Rodriguez, a fellow young fireballer.

What you may have missed on Wednesday

By Todd Zola

  • The Miami Marlins' early struggles continued yesterday. Not only did they lose their eighth straight to open the year, but they also announced that Eury Perez will undergo Tommy John surgery. Perez was sidelined due to elbow inflammation, which became tightness, then the diagnosis of a torn UCL. The procedure will be conducted early enough so that Perez should return sometime in the second half of the 2025 season.

  • The Marlins are already shorthanded in their rotation with Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett both on the IL due to shoulder impingements to begin the season, not to mention Sandy Alcantara recovering from Tommy John surgery of his own. Cabrera is set for his second rehab start tonight. In his first one, Cabrera averaged almost 98 mph on his four-seam fastball, a tick and a half higher than last season. The righty will likely need one more rehab start after tonight. Barring a setback, Cabrera could make his 2024 debut around April 15. Garrett is slated to make the first of two rehab starts this weekend. If all goes well, he could return to the hill during the four-game road set with the Chicago Cubs which begins April 18.

  • Miami's latest defeat came courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals who scored five runs in the seventh inning in their 8-5 win. The Cardinals were undermanned with both catcher Willson Contreras and infielder/outfielder Brendan Donovan out of the lineup. Contreras was hit in the hand by a pitch on Wednesday. X-rays revealed no fracture, so the club hopes he can be back behind the plate this weekend. In the interim, Ivan Herrera will handle backstop duties. Yesterday, Herrera batted cleanup and delivered a 2-for-5 effort, including a home run.

  • Donovan was experiencing residual discomfort after being hit by pitches on the elbow and bicep earlier in the season. The plan is for Donovan to return this weekend. Donovan has played mostly outfield this season. His absence was filled by Michael Siani who is on the roster with Lars Nootbaar and Tommy Edman sidelined. Nootbaar's return is imminent as he's played in two rehab games with Triple-A Memphis. Edman remains shut down due to a sore wrist, though the club is encouraged by the results of an MRI taken on Wednesday. Edman will be reevaluated on Monday, with the hopes of returning to baseball activities early next week.

Everything you need to know for Friday

  • Hello, Coors Field! Among the seven home openers scheduled for Friday, the Colorado Rockies' game against the Tampa Bay Rays will surely draw the most attention from fantasy managers. It'll be Austin Gomber (and his 7.05 ERA in 15 Coors starts last season) on the hill for the Rockies, and Zack Littell, coming off a solid first outing, starting for the Rays. Needless to say, load up on Rays hitters, but Harold Ramirez, a .324/.363/.452 career hitter against lefties, typically slots into the No. 2 lineup spot against that side and should benefit from the team's greater overall success against southpaws. Littell, by the way, might be the one starter from this series with the pitch repertoire to counter Coors' effects, but he's still beneath the "start-him" cut in ESPN standard leagues.

  • My projections suggest the Texas Rangers should enjoy more hitting success than you might expect during their series against the rival Houston Astros, beginning with Friday's game against Hunter Brown. Brown's pitch inefficiency -- his 4.09 pitches per batter faced last season was 12th-most among 127 pitchers with at least 100 innings -- puts strain on what has been one of the game's most disappointing bullpens to date, and in his past three outings against the Rangers (postseason included), he has a 4.00 ERA and .359 BAA. Keep your Rangers hitters in there.

  • Most teams that play in cities with risky April weather leave an off day in between their first two home games, as a safety net in case of a home-opener postponement that needs to be pushed back a day. For that reason, and barring any Thursday postponements that alter the schedule, the Cleveland Guardians, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals are off on Friday.

  • With the Detroit Tigers having played a Thursday doubleheader, expect the team to ask starter Tarik Skubal to go deep in his Friday start against the Oakland Athletics, projected by far the majors' most strikeout-prone offense against lefties. Skubal's average fastball velocity was elevated all spring as well as during his 2024 regular-season debut (96.6 mph), which, coupled with the matchup, gives him top-of-the-leaderboard fantasy point upside.

  • Betting tip of the day: The Seattle Mariners have struggled mightily to make contact thus far, and now they draw one of the game's best strikeout artists in the Milwaukee Brewers' Freddy Peralta. Though Logan Gilbert is certainly talented enough to keep this game close, Brewers -120 on the money line as well as taking them to cover -1.5 (+170) is the way to go on Friday.

It's not too late to start a free fantasy baseball league. Leagues drafted this week will start scoring fresh the following Monday. Come and join the fun!

Starting pitcher rankings for Friday

Reliever report

To get the latest information on each team's bullpen hierarchy, as well as which pitchers might be facing a bit of fatigue and who might be the most likely suspects to vulture a save or pick up a surprise hold in their stead, check out the latest Closer Chart, which will be updated every morning.

Best sub-50% rostered hitters for Friday

Best and worst hitters from the day are generated by THE BAT X, a projection system created by Derek Carty using advanced methods like those used in MLB front offices, accounting for a variety of factors including player talent, ballparks, bullpens, weather, umpires, defense, catcher pitch-framing, and lots more.

Worst over-50% rostered hitters for Friday

THE BAT X's Best Stacks for Today