Picking the right fantasy ace for Wednesday

May 5th, 2021

Wednesday's full schedule features some of the best pitchers in the big leagues taking the mound. While that may be great for fans, it presents some tough decisions for daily fantasy players.

Given the number of top-tier arms on the slate, it will be hard to roll with someone else in favor of stacking up hitters -- but how will you pick from the four aces?

Let's take a closer look at each of those options and their respective matchups:

Walker Buehler

The stat(s): .234 opponents' BA vs. four-seamer this season.

The matchup: After a slow start to the season, the Cubs' offense has woken up in a big way of late -- something fellow Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw learned the hard way in Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader. The Cubs are averaging more than six runs per game over the last three weeks, and they've scored at least 12 runs four times in their last 18 games. This is the same team that averaged 2.7 runs per game while hitting .163 over its first 12 games.

The breakdown: Buehler's four-seamer was about as untouchable as it gets last season, with opponents hitting just .102 (6-for-59) with one extra-base hit (a double) and 23 strikeouts against the pitch. It's been a different story in 2021, as opposing batters are 15-for-64 (.234) with seven extra-base hits (including three homers) against the offering, which is sitting at 95.2 mph (down from 96.8 mph last season). It could be even worse, too, considering his opponents' xBA against the four-seamer is .282 and the xSLG is a whopping .612 -- much higher than the actual .438 SLG. The strikeouts have returned for Buehler -- he has 19 in his last two starts after striking out only 12 in his first three -- but he'll need to find a way to get the Cubs off his fastball in this one.

Shane Bieber

The stat(s): 68 strikeouts (most in MLB).

The matchup: The Royals are off to a surprising start, sitting atop the AL Central with an offense that is averaging 4.7 runs per game. They've been particularly solid at home, scoring 5.4 runs per game and slashing .264/.331/.457 (compared to 3.9 runs per game and a .213/.283/.343 slash line on the road). Still, Bieber is about as matchup-proof as it gets at this point, and he already racked up 12 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings -- and allowed just two runs -- in an April 7 outing against this same Royals team.

The breakdown: Bieber has picked up right where he left off in his AL Cy Young Award-winning season, racking up 68 strikeouts over 42 1/3 innings. He's pitched at least six innings in each of his six outings, while posting double-digit strikeout totals in five of those games (and nine in the other). The key question is always whether he'll get enough run support to earn the all-important win (for fantasy purposes). He's just 3-2 this season despite his 2.76 ERA through five starts.

Yu Darvish

The stat(s): .172 opponents' batting average.

The matchup: After facing the Dodgers in back-to-back outings before taking on the division-leading Giants in his last start, Darvish will likely welcome a matchup against the last-place Pirates. The veteran right-hander held Pittsburgh to one run off three hits over seven innings in an April 12 win in Pittsburgh, though his six strikeouts in that contest are tied for his fewest in any start this season.

The breakdown: Darvish got off to a rocky start in his Padres debut, allowing four runs off eight hits over just 4 2/3 innings on Opening Day against the D-backs -- but he's been lights out since. He's allowed just one run in each of his last five outings, posting a 1.35 ERA while striking out 43 batters over just 33 1/3 innings. That includes back-to-back seven-inning outings against the reigning champion Dodgers, and a 12-strikeout gem on Friday against the Giants. He's throwing the ball as well as just about anyone right now.

Shohei Ohtani

The stat(s): Opponents are 0-for-19 with 18 K's vs. his splitter.

The matchup: Tampa Bay's offense has been scuffling a bit this season, ranking toward the bottom of the league in slugging percentage and in the lower half in runs per game, batting average and on-base percentage. Worth noting, however, is that the Rays are averaging an impressive 5.7 runs per game on the road (compared to just 3.1 at home).

The breakdown: Ohtani is a bit of a high-risk, high-reward option -- but if his command is on, watch out. His fastball is averaging 97.0 mph and has maxed out at 101.1 mph this season, while his offspeed stuff has been as unhittable as it gets. Opponents are 0-for-19 in at-bats ending in Ohtani's splitter -- and 18 of those 19 have been strikeouts. He has a ridiculous 73.9% whiff rate with the pitch. He's also held opponents to 0-for-6 with four K's and a 50.0% whiff rate with his slider. The one caveat, of course, is that he's issued 13 walks in 13 2/3 innings and he's thrown strikes on only 53% of his pitches. That's led to Ohtani completing five innings in just one of his three outings this season, something that certainly limits his fantasy potential if he's again struggling to consistently find the zone. It's also worth noting that this start was pushed back from Monday after Ohtani was plunked on the right elbow in Sunday's game.