MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/19/17

PITCHING

 

Chris Sale [LHP – BOS] @ OAK There’s hardly a need to elaborate here; Sale is the best pitcher in baseball right now, and there isn’t an argument to be made against him. Through eight starts with the Red Sox Sale is striking batters out at an inconceivable 38.8 percent clip, while boasting a Goliath 16.1 percent swinging strike rate in the process. His changeup and slider are both garnering 45-plus percent whiff/swing rates, while he sits north of 95 on the four-seam fastball which is being thrown with pinpoint precision.

I wouldn’t say Sale has been unhittable, but his lowest fantasy output on the season was a 24.7-DKPT performance against the Twins. The 28-year-old southpaw has racked up double-digit strikeouts in seven consecutive starts, while failing to pitch seven innings in only one of his eight outings this year. With Oakland sitting bottom-10 in wOBA (.301) and sixth in strikeouts (23.7%) vs. left-handed pitching, Sale should once again be in line to post elite fantasy totals inside the pitcher-friendly O.Co. Sale is a -178 ML favorite on the road against an Athletics team that owns a slate-low 3-run implied total. It’s hard to make an argument against using him on Friday.

 

Alex Wood [LHP – LAD] vs. MIA Alex Wood is for real. I mean, Alex Wood is really for real. Through six starts this season Wood has maintained an undeniably significant uptick in velocity, which has resulted in a 22 percent whiff/swing rate on his two-seam fastball and improved results on his changeup. The velocity spike seems to be real, and the results are proof.

If I told you Clayton Kershaw was sporting a 33.1 percent K-rate, 11.9 percent swinging strike rate, 25.5 percent K-BB rate and 2.15 xFIP you wouldn’t receive that as much of a revelation. What if I told you those were Alex Wood’s numbers and not Kershaw’s? That’s right — Wood is outproducing Kershaw in every single one of those categories this season, and only Chris Sale ranks ahead of him in K% and K-BB among all major-league starter. Did I mention Wood’s 2.15 xFIP leads the league by a comfortable margin? I did now.

I mentioned at the beginning of the season that Wood has always been a good real-life pitcher but never an elite fantasy arm. Laborious innings and an inflated WHIP always kept him from reaching his full potential, but all of that has begun to change in 2017. Most impressive, however, is the fact that Wood has managed to post a career-best 62.8 percent groundball rate despite the massive uptick in strikeouts.

Wood’s only downside from a fantasy perspective is his manager, Dave Roberts, who no matter how well he is pitching refuses to let him throw 100 pitches. I’m still using Wood on Friday, though, as he’s a -226 ML favorite at home and has stifled right-handed hitters since the start of last season (.249 wOBA). Miami owns the second lowest implied run total (3.2) on this 14-game slate, and I simply cannot overlook Wood’s immense upside in this matchup.

 

Luis Severino [RHP – NYY] @ TB Severino has undeniably been one of the best young arms in baseball this season, pitching to the tune of a 3.07 SIERA with a 27.7 percent K-rate and 50.9 percent groundball rate through his first seven starts. The biggest knock on Severino coming into the majors was his limited arsenal, relying on a high-90s fastball and a slider than many deemed too hard. Well, Severino took something off the slider and added more drop, which resulted in a big rise in swinging strikes. Severino’s four-seamer leads the league in average velocity and is getting 22 percent whiffs/swing. The problem is his third offering, the changeup, which simply isn’t good.

A matchup with Tampa Bay could mask Severino’s weaknesses on Friday, as the Rays strike out at the third highest clip vs. right-handed pitching and sport a middle of the road wOBA (.318) this season. Severino silenced the Rays earlier this season, recording a career-high 11 strikeouts across seven frames of two-run baseball. While I’m not suggesting we’ll get the same results on Friday, this is certainly an opportunity to excel. Severino has held opposite-handed hitters to a .265 wOBA this season while inducing a sub-30 percent hard hit rate in the process. There’s always going to be some risk associated with rostering a two-pitch flamethrower like Severino, but the payoff could be huge if he’s able to keep the ball in the yard.

 

Taijuan Walker [RHP – ARI] @ SDP Taijuan Walker’s major-league career has been an adventure to say the least. The 24-year-old right-hander is easily one of the more physically gifted pitchers in baseball, but he’s been incapable of putting it all together since first getting called up in 2013. That being said, I’m betting on Walker turning things around in his first season with the Diamondbacks.

Last season started out well for Walker, but ten bone spurs in his foot (google the pictures) were the likely culprit for his declining performance as the year wore on. Walker hasn’t been electric through his first eight starts in 2017, but he’s drawn some very difficult matchups and still owns a 3.96 SIERA. I’d also expect his 21.4 percent K-rate and 9.8 percent SwStr rate to climb going forward, as six of his eight starts have come against teams with strikeout rates in the bottom half of baseball.

Friday’s road tilt with San Diego positions Walker nicely, as the Padres own the second highest K-rate (25.3%) vs. right-handed pitching and have slipped to 26th in wOBA (.298) through nearly two months. Petco Park offers Walker a nice respite from the pitcher-friendly Chase Field, and should give him more freedom to take chances when up in the count. Ultimately, Walker is in play because he’s facing the hapless Padres, who he lit up earlier this season for 11 strikeouts across eight innings of two-run baseball.

 

Nate Karns [RHP – KC] @ MIN The 2017 version of Nate Karns is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. At 29 years of age, Kansas City’s right-hander is missing bats at an incredible clip, and he’s doing so with a variety of pitches. Karns is sporting a filthy 50 percent whiff/swing rate on his curveball (29.2% FREQ), a 38 percent whiff/swing rate on his changeup (19% FREQ) and a 12.9 percent swinging strike rate overall. His 71.4 percent contact rate ranks in the top 20, among the company of Noah Syndergaard, Zack Greinke, Michael Pineda and Lance McCullers.

Karns’ last three starts have been mighty impressive, but why have they been so much better than his previous four starts on the year? My guess is his increased usage of the curveball, which is missing bats at an elite clip. Over his last three outings Karns is throwing the curve 45 percent of the time, and not only does this pitch miss a ton of bats, but it induces ground balls at a phenomenal 68 percent clip.

If you look beyond his robust 4.46 ERA you’ll find that Karns has been quite impressive. His 2.97 DRA and 3.24 xFIP are a testament to that claim. Both his average exit velocity and hard hit rate are below league average, too, so I’d expect the ERA deflate as we move forward. Nevertheless, Karns makes for an intriguing play on Friday against the Twins, who strike out at a top-10 clip vs. right-handed pitching. They do boast some power, but it comes almost exclusively from the right side of the plate, and Karns’ increased/improved usage of both the curve and changeup should make it easier for him to neutralize same-handed bats. Count me in, fellas. Karns is the real deal.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Lisalverto Bonilla [RHP – CIN] vs. COL [GPP ONLY]

 

HITTING

 

HIGH-PRICED

 

Bryce Harper [OF – L] @ Dickey [RHP] I’ll keep this one short. Bryce Harper is crushing the baseball this season, having already racked up 13 home runs and 36 RBI with a league-leading .492 wOBA. For opposing pitchers, it just isn’t fair. That’s probably what R.A. Dickey is thinking as he heads into Friday’s home tilt with the Nationals, who are -164 ML favorites on the road with a slate-high 5.1-run implied total.

As I’ve noted quite frequently this season, Suntrust Park was built for left-handed power. Hell, Marcus Stroman isn’t a lefty, but even he homered to right field on Thursday for the first dinger of his career (Julio Teheran is bad). Needless to say, Harper should have no trouble powering one out of this park, especially not against R.A. Dickey on a night where temperatures will be hovering around 86 degrees. He’s torching right-handed pitching to the tune of a .486 wOBA and .394 ISO across 109 at bats, while Dickey gets pummeled by opposite-handed bats. This is not a joke: Dickey is striking lefties out at a 5.7 percent clip this season and is walking them at nearly double that rate. There is no argument against using Harper on Friday. It’s really that simple.

NOTE: I am not a BvP guy, and it’s not a stat that I work into my research process. That being said, I’m always curious to see how players perform against knuckleballers since they are all but extinct. Jayson Werth [OF – R] is 13-27 vs. Dickey for his career with two home runs and three doubles. He is far from a must play on Friday, but those numbers are at least worth noting, as some players simply hit the knuckler much better than others. Werth is apparently one of them.

 

J.D Martinez [OF – R] vs. Martinez [RHP] Since making his 2017 debut last week, J.D. Martinez has recorded five home runs and 11 RBI across only six starts. He has two multi-homer games in that span and is simply on fire. He’ll face Nick Martinez on Friday, who for his career is allowing a .356 wOBA and 1.36 HR/9 to right-handed bats. Martinez does not record strikeouts and he doesn’t induce enough ground balls to mitigate the damage. Hot streaks aren’t quantifiable in that we’ll never know when they’re going to start or end, but J.D. Martinez is a wave I’m willing to ride until it crashes. Oh, and the Tigers own a plump 5-run implied run total, too.

 

Jake Lamb [3B – L] @ Weaver [RHP] I would love nothing more than to see everyone fade Diamondbacks bats because they’re at Petco Park. It doesn’t matter where Jered Weaver is pitching — he’s going to get rocked. Look at Arizona’s implied run total, for instance; the D-Backs own a 4.7-run team total at one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in baseball. Everytime I look at the schedule and see Weaver’s name I wonder how he’s managed to make it another week without being canned. The 34-year-old righty belongs in a men’s softball league, not the majors.

Weaver has been trounced by lefties and righties alike, which is why Paul Goldschmidt [1B – R] joins the conversation as a top option next to Lamb. We’re talking about an 84 MPH fastball here, and a 12.6 percent K-rate that’s actually higher than I would’ve initially suspected. Lamb is torturing right-handed pitching to the tune of a .427 wOBA and .291 ISO this season, and he should continue to produce on Friday against the league’s worst righty. The third base position is actually rather weak, too, making him that much more valuable if you have the funds to spend.

 

Michael Conforto [OF – L] vs. Nolasco [RHP] Conforto is a really good play on Friday night, facing a weak right-hander in Ricky Nolasco who’s served up a league-worst 14 home runs on the season. With a 5.19 xFIP and 1.69 HR/9 allowed to left-handed bats, Nolasco could be in for a long night against Conforto and the Mets. He’s generating ground balls at a paltry 32.8 percent clip and suffers an 11 percent drop in K-rate when facing opposite-handed hitters. Conforto, on the other hand, is trashing right-handed pitching with a .427 wOBA, .323 ISO, 40 percent FB-rate and 42 percent hard hit rate across 99 at bats. He won’t come cheap, but Conforto makes for a top play leading off against the homer-happy arm of Nolasco.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Charlie Blackmon [OF – L] @ Bonilla [RHP]; Jay Bruce [1B/OF – L] vs. Nolasco [RHP]; Trea Turner [SS – R] @ Dickey [RHP] [GPP]; Daniel Murphy [2B – L] @ Dickey [RHP]; Nelson Cruz [OF – R] vs. Quintana [LHP] [GPP]

 

MID-RANGE

 

Jose Abreu [1B – R] @ Miranda [LHP] I sure love me some Jose Abreu tonight, facing an unpredictable southpaw in Ariel Miranda who’s allowing 2.03 HR/9 to righties for his short career. The White Sox have been surprisingly great against lefties this season, ranking fifth in wOBA (.338) and 29th in K-rate (16.7%) across 383 plate appearances. I’m expecting Miranda to struggle in this matchup, especially against the meat of this Chicago order.

Not only is Abreu hammering LHP this season (.444/.219 wOBA/ISO), but he’s possessed immense power with the platoon advantage over his career. I can understand why people would be hesitant to roster Abreu on Friday, but I’d urge you to consider the power potential against Miranda, even if this game is taking place at Safeco Field. His price point on DraftKings and FantasyDraft is also a plus.

 

Chris Taylor [2B – R] vs. Nicolino [LHP] Chris Taylor could draw another start as the Dodgers’ leadoff man with Logan Forsythe still on the disabled list. If he does, we’ll want to consider him at a very weak second base position. Taylor isn’t just some space filler, either, as the 26-year-old infielder has looked outstanding at the dish this season. Across 89 plate appearances, Taylor boasts a .422 wOBA, .216 ISO and 16.9 percent walk rate. He surely won’t sustain these numbers or even have the opportunity to when Forsythe returns, but for now we should be considering him a fine mid-range option in a plus matchup with Justin Nicolino.

The once highly touted prospect has struggled at the major-league level, and I’d expect this to continue on Friday where the Dodgers are -237 ML favorites at home. L.A. usually doesn’t perform well against left-handers, but Taylor could see five plate appearances at the top of the order, and that’s about all we can ask for. Nicolino owns a career 5.50 xFIP and 8.8 percent strikeout rate vs. right-handed hitting.

 

Zack Cozart [SS – R] vs. Anderson [LHP] Cozart makes for one helluva play on Friday, drawing a home matchup with Tyler Anderson with game-time temperatures touching 85 degrees. Great American Ballpark is the best righty power park in baseball, and considering how well Cozart is hitting lefties this season, Anderson could be in for a long and tiresome night.

Anderson isn’t as bad as his ERA suggests, but he has still been pretty uninspiring on the mound. Righties are torching him for ample power this season, and most of it has come away from Coors Field. I’d expect some positive regression going forward but don’t envision it coming on Friday. Cozart is reasonably priced across the industry, makes for a very solid option at a weak shortstop position, and can be paired with Adam Duvall [OF -R] who is also a strong mid-range play.

Chris Owings [SS – R] is another strong mid-range option against Weaver, who not only hemorrhages fantasy points in the form of power but also on the basepaths. A three-player Diamondbacks stack makes a lot of sense on a night where they should go overlooked.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Cesar Hernandez [2B – L/R] @ Williams [RHP]; Jedd Gyorko [2B/3B – L] vs. Moore [LHP]; Todd Frazier [3B – R] @ Miranda [LHP]; Avisail Garcia [OF – R] @ Miranda [LHP]; Yasmany Tomas [OF – R] @ Weaver [RHP]; Miguel Cabrera [1B – R] vs. Martinez [RHP]

 

VALUE

 

Alex Avila [C – L] vs. Martinez [RHP] Catcher is a trash position once again, so don’t hesitate to plug in Avila against Nick Martinez. This is a pretty simply play, actually; Martinez is ceding a career .348 wOBA to left-handed bats while Avila leads the league in wOBA vs. RHP (.517) among all hitters with 50-plus plate appearances. Not only does Avila draw a stellar matchup, but he’s priced affordably across the board. Unless some unexpected value pops up throughout the day, Avila will almost certainly be occupying the catcher position in the majority of my lineups.

 

Logan Morrison [1B – L] vs. Severino [RHP] Logan Morrison is my favorite tournament play on Friday, and I’d expect him to be virtually unowned. Here’s the thing: first base is usually the deepest position aside from outfield. That isn’t the case on Friday. As a result, I don’t mind taking some risk here, and that risk begins with Morrison. On the season Morrison has tallied 11 home runs, good for 11th most in baseball and tied with Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto and Wil Myers. His 10 home runs vs. right-handed pitching ranks sixth best in baseball.

Morrison has always flashed power but was often injured and always inconsistent at the dish. This season, however, he has improved his flyball rate by eight percent (42.3%) and has jacked his hard hit rate up above 40 percent through nearly two months. Luis Severino is a solid pitcher, but as we discussed earlier, he’s a two-pitch pitcher with home run problems. If anyone is going to take him deep on Friday it’s going to be Morrison.

 

Kike Hernandez [SS/OF – R] vs. Nicolino [LHP] Kike Hernandez has been seeing some work as the Dodgers’ cleanup hitter when facing left-handed pitchers. He’s dirt cheap across the board and owns a career .362/.227 wOBA/ISO split vs. southpaws, which is all we need to know in order to deploy him on Friday. The Dodgers are also massive favorites with a 5-run implied total at home, and Hernandez should continue to see plenty of at bats whenever he draws the platoon advantage. Franklin Gutierrez [OF – R] also warrants consideration if he’s slotted into the two-hole again, as he is also an excellent hitter when facing lefties. A right-handed Dodgers stack makes a lot of sense in GPP lineups where you’re looking to load up on pitching. Taylor, Hernandez, Gutierrez and Austin Barnes [C – R] are all very cheap, while Yasiel Puig [OF – R] won’t break the bank either.

NOTE: Justin Turner [3B – R] hurt his hamstring last night and is all but guaranteed to miss tonight’s tilt with Miami. This means we’re going to see plenty of right-handed value in this Dodgers lineup, and we couldn’t ask for a more appealing matchup.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Robinson Chirinos [C – R] @ Norris [LHP]; Delino DeShields [OF – R] @ Norris [LHP]; Matt Davidson [3B – R] @ Miranda [LHP] [GPP]; Lucas Duda [1B – L] vs. Nolasco [RHP]; Chris Herrmann [C – L] @ Weaver [RHP]