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

Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros brings his 3.63 road ERA to Oakland to face the A's. Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

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.

Aging gracefully

To paraphrase a couple of lines from the movie "Moneyball," we're all eventually told we can no longer play the children's game, whether at 18, or maybe at 41?

Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander, one of the greatest at his craft this century (and, frankly, all time), began the 2024 campaign aged 41 years old, and facing questions about his shoulder, which due to inflammation delayed the start to his season. In six starts since his return, he has posted the highest qualified FIP of his career (5.22) and his lowest strikeout rate (18.7%) since 2014.

That 2014 season carries an eerie similarity to Verlander's 2024 to date: His average fastball velocity that year, which resulted in a final 4.54 ERA, was 92.9 mph, while his 93.8 mph number this season is down significantly compared to his average from 2017-22 (94.9). That's an important takeaway with Verlander, considering the effectiveness of his fastball at different velocities (since the start of 2014):

  • 94.5 mph or faster: .191/.260/.366 rates, 25.5% whiff

  • Sub-94.5 mph: .278/.342/.501 rates, 19.7% whiff

This isn't to say that Verlander cannot succeed, even with diminished stuff relative to that from his 2019 or 2022 Cy Young Award campaigns. Veteran pitchers often make necessary adjustments to best utilize what they have.

Digging deeper into his recent trends, though, it appears that the effects of age are transforming Verlander into more of a matchups-oriented than every-start pitcher. Against the 10 highest-scoring teams of either 2023 or 2024 thus far, he has a 5.60 ERA in 10 starts. Against the 10 lowest-scoring teams, by comparison, his ERA is 2.87 in 12 starts.

Friday's assignment comes against the Oakland Athletics, who, despite a hot first few days in May, have recently cooled and rank 29th in both runs per game (3.69) and strikeout rate (26.2%) for the season. The game is also at the Oakland Coliseum, one of baseball's best pitchers' environments, further boosting his matchup.

Perhaps Verlander's velocity eventually does return, even if only to a degree. In that event, he might again become an every-start fantasy option. For now, however, he's one from which to pick and choose matchups, aiming for those that look like this one.

What you may have missed on Thursday

By Todd Zola

  • The Chicago White Sox announced that they expect DH Eloy Jimenez to miss around a month with the hamstring issue that sent him to the IL on Wednesday. Reinforcements are on the way with 3B Bryan Ramos slated to be activated from the 10-day IL this weekend and OF Luis Robert Jr. is targeting an early June return from his hip injury.

  • New York Yankees C Jose Trevino was taken out of the game in favor of a pinch-runner in the bottom of the eighth inning of last night's 5-0 blanking of the Seattle Mariners. Trevino had to leave due to an illness. He's expected to accompany his team to California for a weekend series with the San Diego Padres.

  • The Oakland Athletics placed OF Esteury Ruiz on the 10-day IL due to a strained left wrist. Ruiz had rarely been in the A's lineup. In addition, the club promoted OF Daz Cameron yesterday, then inserted him into the lineup against the Colorado Rockies. Cameron was instrumental in the Athletics' improbable 10-9 11-inning win as he led off the bottom of the ninth with a game-tying home run. The teams both scored in the 10th, then the Rockies took a 9-5 lead in the top of the 11th. The Athletics somehow rallied for five runs, winning it after C/1B Tyler Soderstrom drew a bases-loaded walk.

  • The Baltimore Orioles sent SP John Means back to the 15-day IL due to left forearm strain. Means' 2024 debut was delayed due to this same injury. The Orioles will likely reinsert SP Cole Irvin into the once-again-vacant spot in the rotation.

  • The injury-riddled Texas Rangers rotation took another hit yesterday with SP Jon Gray placed on the 15-day IL due to a right groin strain. There is a chance that SP Nathan Eovaldi could come off the IL on Sunday to take Gray's spot in the rotation.

  • Dynasty league team managers got their hopes up last night when it was reported that Washington Nationals top OF prospect James Wood was taken out of his Triple-A game in the fifth inning without any explanation. After the game, however, it was reported that Wood was removed due to lower body soreness. Even though he's just 21 years old, Wood is generating anticipation with a .355/.465/.596 line through 45 games with Triple-A Rochester. He's also swiped 10 bases in 11 tries.

Everything else you need to know for Friday

  • Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen faces the team with which he made his big league debut in 2019, the Miami Marlins, who then traded him for Jazz Chisholm Jr. 41 days later. Gallen is a perfect 3-for-3 in quality starts against his former team with a 25.3% strikeout rate, and Jesus Sanchez is the only current Marlins hitter with any degree of success historically against him (granted, in a limited team sample). The ballpark -- Marlins Park would be the higher-ceiling venue for the matchup -- is the one thing placing a limit on Gallen's projection.

  • Which Alek Manoah are we going to get on the road against the Detroit Tigers? Will it be the one who tossed seven strong innings without an earned run in each of his past two outings, or the one who massively disappointed in 2023 (5.87 ERA), then posted a 9.51 ERA in his first six outings between the majors and minors of this year? Manoah's raw stuff was much improved in two most recent starts, and the opposing Tigers represent a top-10 matchup, with the game played at the more homer-suppressing of the teams' two venues. He's a streaming candidate, and is available in more than 80% of ESPN leagues.

  • The Philadelphia Phillies' trip to Colorado's Coors Field could get off to a high-scoring start (on their side, at least), as they garner the day's most favorable matchup against left-handed starter Ty Blach. Blach has never struck out more than seven hitters in his 61 career starts, or generated more than 14 swings and misses in a single outing, and has a 5.40 ERA, and 12.7% strikeout and 3.0% home runs allowed rates overall as a starter. His gargantuan platoon split (298 points' worth of wOBA in 2024, 68 for his career) is the one thing he'd have going for him, as the Phillies sometimes start up to four lefties regardless of pitcher handedness (Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh). Nevertheless, this is a start-'em-all scenario on the Phillies' side, with contact-oriented Alec Bohm and Stott looking especially attractive plays in spacious Coors. Platoon man/injury fill-in Edmundo Sosa is also a strong streamer.

  • Speaking of contact-oriented matchups, note that three of the game's most highly regarded offenses -- the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers -- are scheduled to face three of the most contact-oriented starting pitchers in current rotations, Bailey Falter, Chris Flexen and Graham Ashcraft. Adam Duvall, a .250/.314/.520 hitter against lefties since the beginning of 2022, and Ryan O'Hearn, a .297/.339/.484 hitter against righties thus far in his Orioles career, are fantasy streamers available in more than three-quarters of ESPN leagues.

  • Betting tip of the day: I've learned over the years to trust the daily projections as they take a more subjective look at the day's action than any of us could do with a casual glance. One from Friday that most stands out is Gallen's 6.3 K's, the second-largest total behind only Corbin Burnes' 6.4. It makes sense, considering Gallen is going significantly more often to his knuckle-curve with two strikes (43% of the time, almost double his career usage in those counts entering 2024!). That helps to explain how he had 10 strikeouts his last time out. Taking Gallen for over 6.5 strikeouts (+135) provides good value.

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.

Hitting report

Plan ahead in fantasy baseball with help from our Forecaster projections. Each day, we will provide an updated preview of the next 10 days for every team, projecting the matchup quality for hitters (overall and by handedness) as well as for base stealers.

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