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

Kevin Gausman draws a favorable matchup on Friday against a struggling Colorado Rockies offense. Photo by Dustin Satloff/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 has been 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.

All eyes on Gausman

The 2024 season has not gone especially smoothly for Toronto Blue Jays ace Kevin Gausman, who last year finished third in the American League Cy Young Award balloting and eighth among starting pitchers in fantasy points.

Gausman's spring training was thrown off track during the first week of March, after he complained of shoulder fatigue, and it took him until March 25, three days before baseball's Opening Day, before he became ready for game action. Despite his abbreviated spring, the Blue Jays included him in their season-opening rotation, slotting him in for a decent, 69-pitch outing on March 31.

Gausman's second start, this past Saturday against the New York Yankees, rekindled concerns about his health. He surrendered six runs (five earned) on four hits, two of them home runs, in 1⅓ innings' work, but most critically, his average fastball velocity (91.4 mph) represented his second-worst number in any of his 300 career appearances. Yankees hitters missed only twice on 19 swings against him.

Considering the number of injuries that have struck starting pitchers thus far -- Eury Perez and Shane Bieber have succumbed to Tommy John surgery, Spencer Strider might not be far off needing a similar operation, and Framber Valdez, Nick Pivetta, Chase Silseth and Josiah Gray have landed on the injured list with elbow issues in merely the past three days -- it's understandable that Gausman's fantasy managers became panicky as a result, questioning whether he, too, might be destined for an injury-list stint (or worse). Velocity drops like his, after all, do portend physical issues.

That said, Gausman has a history of more modest fastball velocities in the season's early stages, something he joked about after that second start, saying "that's kind of the running joke, I'm 88 to 98." Within one of his first three regular-season starts in both 2018 and 2023, two of his better career seasons, he also posted an average fastball velocity beneath 92 mph.

When he did so last season, Gausman averaged 95-plus mph in two of his subsequent five starts, so a swift turnaround would do wonders to restore his fantasy managers' confidence. He remains rostered in 97.5% of ESPN leagues -- and with good reason -- making his Friday start against the Colorado Rockies an important one.

From a matchups perspective, a start against a visiting Rockies offense is almost always a positive. The Rockies scored 24 runs over their season-opening seven-game road trip to Arizona and Chicago, and their 3.64 runs per game average away from Coors since the beginning of last season is second worst in baseball (Kansas City Royals, 3.54).

Cross your fingers, start Gausman, and hope for closer to the 2023 model.

What you may have missed on Thursday

By Todd Zola

  • An abbreviated Thursday slate ended up being even shorter with a pair of rainouts. The Cincinnati Reds hosting the Milwaukee Brewers and the Detroit Tigers entertaining the Minnesota Twins were both postponed. Three of those four scheduled starters will pitch today with only the Reds' Nick Martinez being skipped. The Tigers and Twins will play a doubleheader tomorrow with the Reds and Brewers makeup geting scheduled as part of an August 30 twin bill.

  • JP Sears took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in the Oakland Athletics' 1-0 road win over the Texas Rangers. Pitching clearly dominated with a second inning Seth Brown home run off Jon Gray accounting for the only run. Sears went 6 1/3 innings for the win, fanning five with three walks along with just the one hit allowed. Mason Miller collected his second save with a clean ninth inning. He fanned two, needing just 16 pitches. Nine of those were four-seamers, all registering over 101 mph. Gray was the hard-luck loser, but it's encouraging that he punched out nine over five frames, allowing just three hits and a walk. Over his first two outings, Gray has struck out just five with six walks spanning only 7 1/3 innings.

  • Hunter Brown's effort is going to leave a long-lasting fantasy mark. The Houston Astros right-hander yielded nine earned runs on 11 hits in just 2/3 innings as the Astros were trounced 13-2 in Kauffman Stadium. Brady Singer captured his second win for the Kansas City Royals, while lowering his ERA to 0.98. Small sample size warning clearly applies, but Singer has changed his pitch mix, throwing more four-seam fastballs and sweepers while cutting back on the sinker.

  • The Baltimore Orioles came from behind again last night, completing a sweep of the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. Jackson Holliday is still looking for his first MLB hit, although he collected an RBI in his Wednesday debut, then scored twice last night. The first run came after he reached on an error then came home on an Anthony Santander home run. Holliday's second came in the 10th when he was the "ghost runner" and again scored on a long ball, this time by Gunnar Henderson. Colton Cowser clubbed a pair of homers, capping off a series where he hit .462/.467/1.154. Cowser has earned his way into the busier side of a platoon, with Austin Hays now relegated to play mostly just against left-handed pitching.

Everything else you need to know for Friday

  • The game between the Yankees and Guardians has been postponed due to inclement weather and will made up as part of a Saturday double-header.

  • Yoshinobu Yamamoto gets a rematch with the San Diego Padres, against whom he didn't make it past the first inning in his big-league debut in South Korea on March 21. The right-hander has twirled 10 shutout innings while striking out 13 of 38 hitters (34.2% rate) in his two outings since, and his stinker of a debut could be easily explained by nerves and/or the game circumstances. Expect much better from Yamamoto in the rematch, as he projects to be one of the day's top starters.

  • It's a good day for streaming, with several widely available starters facing light-hitting foes: The Cincinnati Reds' Andrew Abbott (18.0% rostered) makes a road start against the Chicago White Sox, the league's lowest-scoring team thus far as well as one of its most strikeout-prone against left-handers. The Kansas City Royals' Michael Wacha (18.6%) works on the road against one of his former teams, the New York Mets. And the Oakland Athletics' Paul Blackburn (19.6%) gets a start in his pitching-friendly home ballpark against a Washington Nationals offense that the Forecaster projections regard one of the five worst against right-handers. To toss another pitcher onto the list, albeit one facing a hotter-starting offense, the Philadelphia Phillies' Cristopher Sanchez (10.8%) has exhibited intriguing enough skills to be worth a whirl against a Pittsburgh Pirates team that projects to be a slightly more favorable matchup -- primarily in the strikeout department -- for opposing lefties.

  • Lars Nootbaar (rib, 10-day IL) could rejoin the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup Friday, presumably taking over the leadoff and left field roles once activated. Nootbaar had been a deeper-mixed and NL-only sleeper during the preseason before getting hurt, having worked throughout the winter with former slugger and Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire on adjusting his swing to generate more power, and he played an important role for the 2023 team, which averaged 4.75 runs per game and enjoyed seven of its 11 games with double-digit runs with him in the leadoff spot. With a hot start, Nootbaar could become a pickup in standard ESPN leagues.

  • Stack Reds, a slugging but strikeout-oriented offense, against the White Sox's soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact right-hander Chris Flexen. Flexen has a mere 15.9% strikeout rate and has surrendered a fly ball 28% of the time in his career, while the bullpen behind him is lacking in talent. Everyone in the Cincinnati lineup warrants a streaming look considering the matchup, but both Spencer Steer's and Will Benson's historic success against fastballs makes them most stand out.

  • Betting tip of the day: Friday's Padres-Dodgers game should be more pitching-oriented than the odds show, with the underrated Michael King squaring off against the excellent Yamamoto. UNDER 8.5 runs is the pick, accounting for both starters' run-total projections as well as each having delivered scoreless most recent outings (and two in a row for the latter).

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 Friday