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

Paul Skenes of the Pittsburgh Pirates will make his second MLB start on Friday. Justin Berl/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.

Déjà two

All eyes were on Pittsburgh Pirates rookie, and top-pitching-prospect-at-the-time, Paul Skenes' major league debut last Saturday. Though his run-prevention results (four innings, three runs allowed) were unimpressive, his raw stuff was every bit as tantalizing as advertised. He averaged 100.1 mph with his fastball, he got 14 total swings and misses and he struck out seven Chicago Cubs.

Skenes now faces the very same foe in start No. 2, the Cubs, but this time at Chicago's Wrigley Field, which has similar park factors to the Pirates' home, PNC Park, other than it being much more homer-friendly for righty hitters between the two. With the Cubs having registered four of their six hits across their final six at-bats against Skenes in his debut, one must be wondering whether their newfound familiarity with his stuff will prove a disadvantage for the right-hander?

There's no definitive answer to the question about all pitchers, regardless of level of experience, in back-to-back matchups against the same opponent in close proximity, as my past research supported pitchers possessing an advantage in the rematch across one time span, but an updated analysis then strongly favored hitters.

What about pitchers only getting their feet wet in the big leagues?

Across the 21st century, 43 pitchers made their first two big-league starts against the same opponent, with those starts happening within a week's time span of one another. That group had relatively similar numbers in those starts:

First start: 3.68 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 17.2 K%, 5.57 IP/GS, 9.3 FPTS/GS
Second start: 3.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 18.1 K%, 5.31 IP/GS, 8.9 FPTS/GS

If we narrow the scope to merely highly regarded pitching prospects at the time -- generally those who graced a top-100 industry list for the season in question -- then the sample shrinks to 17 pitchers but there's a clear pitching advantage in a rematch:

First start: 3.97 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 19.0 K%, 5.61 IP/GS, 9.3 FPTS/GS
Second start: 1.98 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 17.5 K%, 6.14 IP/GS, 14.5 FPTS/GS

Again, a 17-player sample across a near-quarter century cannot provide the definitive answer, but it has always been my belief that a top pitching prospect is most likely to deliver his best rookie-year performances in closest proximity to his debut. Any adjustment period for Skenes should probably arrive closer to late summer, and these next 5-8 starts of his could ultimately be his best in 2024.

The Cubs represents a middling matchup for pitchers, hence Skenes' projection is modest, but I'll take the over on his 7.82 fantasy points.

What you may have missed on Thursday

By Todd Zola

  • Taijuan Walker had to leave last night's game in the fourth inning after a 99.7-mph line drive off the bat of New York Mets OF Starling Marte struck Walker directly on his big toe. He was diagnosed with a bruised toe after X-rays were negative. It's unclear whether Walker will be able to make his next start. If he can't, the Philadelphia Phillies would likely reinsert Spencer Turnbull into their rotation.

  • The Mets played shorthanded with OF Brandon Nimmo scratched due to a stomach illness. DJ Stewart played left field in Nimmo's stead. The Mets rallied to win 6-5 in 11 innings. Edwin Diaz's struggles continued as he failed to convert a save for the third time in his last four chances. Diaz's closer job is still safe. However, with 69 pitches thrown since Sunday, Diaz may not be available tonight when the Mets open a weekend set against the Miami Marlins.

  • Cincinnati Reds 2B Jonathan India missed his second straight game due to a migraine. Santiago Espinal filled in at the keystone in the Reds' 7-2 road win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Leading the way was SS Elly De La Cruz who was 4-for-4 with three runs and an RBI. He also swiped four bases, giving him 30 in 44 games. This puts him on pace for 110 steals.

  • Earlier in the day, the Dodgers reported that SP Emmet Sheehan underwent Tommy John surgery. He was initially diagnosed with forearm irritation, but after he was slow to recover, Sheehan was examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, resulting in the season-ending diagnosis. Sheehan will likely be out until the second half of 2025.

  • Chicago Cubs 2B/SS Nico Hoerner missed his third consecutive game due to a sore hamstring. The Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates open today's slate with a 2:20 p.m. ET matinee at Wrigley Field, so be sure to check the posted lineups before locking in today's fantasy batters.

  • Erasmo Ramirez became the eighth reliever this season to log a save for the Tampa Bay Rays, but it was under unusual circumstances. The umpires ruled that pitching coach Kyle Snyder's attempted mound visit in the ninth inning violated the maximum allowed rule, forcing manager Kevin Cash to take Jason Adam out of the game. Ramirez entered with the Rays up 7-5 over the Boston Red Sox. There were two outs with runners on first and third. Ramirez induced a comebacker for the third out, sending the Rays to Toronto having taken three out of four games in Fenway Park.

Everything else you need to know for Friday

  • The two New York teams face their respective leagues' clear worst teams, and both the Yankees and Mets will start pitchers who are widely available in ESPN leagues. For the Yankees, Nestor Cortes (45.0% rostered) will face the Chicago White Sox at home, where he has been historically much better than on the road. Since the beginning of 2022, he has a 2.52 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 53.8% quality start and 26.2% strikeout rates in 26 starts at Yankee Stadium. For the Mets, Christian Scott (17.0%) draws a road assignment at pitching-friendly Miami's loanDepot Park, with the combination of opponent and park factor giving him an excellent chance at extending his career-opening streak of two quality starts.

  • The Oakland Athletics have been one of the hottest-hitting teams this month, though a good chunk of that can be attributed to their 20-run, May 4 outburst against the Miami Marlins and left-handed starter Trevor Rogers. On Friday, Cole Ragans and the Kansas City Royals should fare far, far better, accounting both for his raw talent but also the fluky, small sample-driven nature of the Athletics' recent numbers against lefties. Ask yourself: Do you believe more in the .360-plus wOBAs that J.D. Davis, Tyler Nevin, Esteury Ruiz and Abraham Toro have against lefties this year, or the more modest splits they have against that side in their careers (Nevin's .356 is best amongst that quartet, albeit across only 443 plate appearances)? I'm bullish on Ragans relative to his projection.

  • Hunter Brown returns to the Houston Astros' rotation after a one-outing shift to the bullpen, and his home assignment against the Milwaukee Brewers could be a make-or-break for his role, what with Jose Urquidy on a minor league rehabilitation assignment. Brown's shaky control and difficulty against same-handed hitters -- they're hitting .390/.471/.559 against him this year -- make him one of the stronger matchup opportunities for hitters, among which William Contreras, one of the Brewers' best fastball and cutter hitters, stands out.

  • Detroit Tigers hitters stand out against the Arizona Diamondbacks' Ryne Nelson, who has a 5.31 ERA and only eight quality starts in 33 tries between this and last season. Not one Tigers hitter is rostered in more than three-quarters of ESPN leagues, with leadoff man Riley Greene (74.1%) the only one over 50%. Heart-of-the-order hitters Kerry Carpenter and Spencer Torkelson have improved their play of late and are worth the plug-in for this matchup.

  • Betting tip of the day: The Diamondbacks haven't been quite as potent an offense against lefties in May as they were in the month (and full season) that preceded it. In fact, they have scored 12 total runs in their four games against left-handed starters. That tilts things in favor of Tarik Skubal and the Tigers, especially in the early frames while Nelson remains on the mound for the Diamondbacks. Tigers -0.5 for the first five innings (E) and Skubal over 6.5 K's (+120) look like strong picks for 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.

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