When choosing a daily fantasy baseball lineup, the majority of novice or casual players will choose hitters based primarily on the opposing pitcher. For example, if you see that Colorado has a home date with Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo, you will likely be inclined to load up on Rockies given Arroyo's penchant for giving up home runs in bunches.
This strategy is sound, but doesn't paint a complete picture when it comes to optimizing your lineup. With starters throwing fewer innings than at any point in the daily fantasy era, you also need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of opposing bullpens; in many cases, a starter will pitch five or fewer innings, leaving the rest of the game in the hands of multiple relievers.
Here are four bullpens worth targeting with your hitter picks given their early-season struggles:
The Tigers' pitching staff as a whole has been dreadful to start the season, with the starters boasting a 4.60 ERA - the fifth-highest mark in the majors. But it's the bullpen that has made headlines - and not for the right reasons - as it carries a league-worst 6.90 ERA into Thursday's action. Veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez has been the worst offender, posting an ERA just south of 10 while allowing 26 hits and walking eight in just 14 2/3 innings. Detroit has the worst ERA in baseball, so target that pitching staff as often as you can - especially on days where you believe the bullpen will be a major factor.
The Mariners' pitching staff has struggled despite boasting one of the top early-season starters in lefty James Paxton. The bullpen has a 6.52 ERA entering Thursday, behind only the Tigers - and it has been a team effort, with five relievers carrying an ERA worse than 9.00. With Felix Hernandez hitting the disabled list and little starting depth behind him, you should expect the bullpen to shoulder even more of a workload - and you can play that to your advantage in daily fantasy. Load up on hitters facing the Mariners, though you might want to avoid Paxton while he remains red-hot.
For as good as the Nationals' offense has been, the bullpen remains a significant work in progress. It boasts a 6.23 ERA - third-worst in the majors - and is one of only two reliever corps allowing more than two home runs per nine innings. It can be difficult to consider rostering hitters against a team that features ace-level talent like Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg - but if you're willing to take a chance that the Nationals bullpen will implode in the later innings, you can wind up with some serious contrarian value. Bear in mind, however, that the Nats bullpen has thrown the fourth-fewest innings in the majors to date.
San Diego Padres
Those of you who have been targeting the San Diego pitching staff are already aware of this, but the Padres aren't all that good. The starters own the sixth-worst ERA in baseball at 4.35, and the bullpen has been just as terrible - boasting the fifth-worst ERA (5.81) and the third-worst HR/9 rate (2.03). Aside from Brad Hand, none of the San Diego relievers has been particularly impressive - and while San Diego's beleaguered starting staff has been slightly better than advertised to date, there's always the possibility of a short outing and subsequent parade of relievers. Continue to target the Padres all season long.