MLB Deep Dive – April 3rd (Main Slate)
Clayton Kershaw, like almost every other days he’s on the mound, is the unquestioned top option on Opening Day. As -360 moneyline favorites against a Double-A Padres team that owns an implied total of TWO on the day, Kershaw is not only the heaviest favorite to win, but also faces arguably the worst lineup in baseball. Kershaw finished the 2016 season with a 31.6 percent K-rate, 2.28 xFIP and a 1.69 ERA across 149 innings of work. He’s virtually unhittable, and now he’ll oppose a San Diego offense that owns maybe one legitimate power threat from the right side of the dish. Crazier things have happened in this volatile game of baseball, but if there was ever such thing as a lock, Kershaw would qualify. Rostering him is the easy part — filling out a lineup around him is where it begins to get tricky.
Stephen Strasburg has found ways to disappoint in nearly every one of his major league campaigns, but there’s no denying the upside at his price point across the industry. Strasburg is still an 11 K/9 pitcher with a strikeout rate that rivals the best arms in baseball (30% K-rate). He limits home runs and hard contact, averages 95 MPH on his fastball, and should always get a fair amount of run support with the Nationals boasting one of the most formidable lineups in baseball.
Miami didn’t strike out much vs. right-handed arms last season, but Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Bour are both multi-strikeout candidates, while the left-handed bats in this lineup aren’t all that imposing, either. There’s always risk with rostering Strasburg, but also plenty of reward if his stuff is working. Washington is a -220 moneyline favorite inside the pitcher-friendly Nationals Park, while Miami’s 3-run team total serves as the second lowest number on Monday’s slate. I’ll certainly be taking some chances with Strasburg on a slate that’s surprisingly devoid of high-end pitching outside of Kershaw.
Jon Gray makes for Monday’s top mid-range option in a road matchup with the Brewers, whose 25.8 percent strikeout rate vs. righties in 2016 ranked 30th in baseball. Milwaukee made some changes to their lineup over the winter, but they’re still poised to be a strikeout-heavy, boom-or-bust offense in 2017. Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton owned well below average K-rates last season, while newcomers Travis Shaw and Eric Thames both sport career strikeout rates north of 25 percent.
The total on this game has dropped to 8, and the line continues to move in favor of the Rockies, so the momentum is moving in Gray’s direction. Rostering a pitcher at Miller Park generally yields unfavorable results, but we’re talking about someone who pitches at Coors Field in half of his starts. Gray does a solid job of inducing ground balls but also generates strikeouts at a rather impressive clip, which should mitigate much of the concern regarding this hitter-friendly venue. Gray is the only middle-tier pitcher that I’ll place any confidence in on Monday.
If you plan on rostering Clayton Kershaw, jamming in these high-priced studs is going to be difficult. We’ll discuss a few of them, but the mid-range and value plays is where we’ll be forced to focus most of our attention.
Joey Votto has dominated right-handed pitching for years, and that should be the case on Monday when he squares off against Jeremy Hellickson at one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game. Hellickson made some improvements last season, but still allowed a near 29 percent line drive rate and an 11 percent HR/FB rate vs. left-handed bats. He also had trouble limiting fly balls, while his 4.82 xFIP vs. LHB won’t do him any favors in Cincinnati. Votto, on the other hand, boasts a ridiculous .419/.234 wOBA/ISO vs. RHP over his career. There should be a fair amount of runs scored in this game, with Votto adding to the tally in one way or another.
Chris Davis is your prototypical boom-or-bust power option with multi-home run upside and three-strikeout downside, but we could see more of the former against the homer-happy Marco Estrada on Monday. Estrada’s numbers seem unsustainable in every way, as he’s an extreme flyball pitcher who routinely toes the rubber in hitter-friendly locations such as Camden Yards this afternoon. An inability to produce ground balls against Davis inside Baltimore’s bandbox could yield disastrous results, but Davis will need to make contact first. He’s a very strong tournament option who has GPP-winning power if all the stars align.
Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy should both be considered strong high-end options against Edinson Volquez, who somehow draws the opening day start for Miami. Volquez allowed a .340-plus wOBA to both LHB and RHB last season, while striking them out at a miserable 16 percent clip. He doesn’t serve up many fly balls, but when he does they generally leave the park. Volquez also owned a 90 percent Z-contact rate last season, which won’t do him any favors against Murphy, who always puts the ball in play. Most teams are running out their respective aces on Monday, so this provides us with a nice opportunity to target a true back-of-the-rotation starter with one of the better offenses in the game.
Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, Brian Dozier, Bryce Harper all make for unsurprisingly solid options at the top of their positions, but again, this isn’t the slate to load up on hitters. While there are some weak pitchers on opening day, the amount of true gas cans is limited. Targeting high-end pitching with high-end hitters generally isn’t the most profitable approach in daily fantasy baseball.
Mike Moustakas is coming off a season lost to a knee injury. He played in just 27 games after showing some legitimate progress at the dish in 2015. Today, he takes on Ervin Santana at Target Field and will occupy the second spot in the Royals order. Moustakas over his career sports middle of the road numbers against right-handed pitchers with a .314 wOBA and .161 ISO against but showed improvements against in 2015 where he put up a .353 wOBA and .175 ISO against. Santana has yielded a .333 wOBA against over his career to left-handed hitters. While he is a more than serviceable major league pitcher, his career xFIP of 4.33 against LHB shows he can be targeted here with Moose at the top of the lineup.
Yasmani Grandal can only hit from the left side of the plate at this stage of his career, but that’s all we should need on Monday in a home matchup with Jhoulys Chacin. San Diego’s opening day starter owned a near 14 percent HR/FB rate vs. LHB last season, and it’s unlikely that he’s made much improvement heading into his ninth major league campaign. The reason I’ll be targeting Grandal isn’t due to his immense power and brilliant 2016 season at the dish, but more so the lack of talent at the catcher position. Unless you intend on rostering James McCann or Cameron Rupp, both of whom will be hitting towards the bottom of their respective lineups, Grandal makes for the more realistic mid-range backstop on this slate.
Corey Seager is more of a higher end mid-range option, but I simply can’t ignore that he is priced equally to Troy Tulowitzki on DraftKings. Seager finished his 2016 campaign with brilliant numbers for a shortstop, and he should pick up where he left off against Jhoulys Chacin. Pricing is rather sharp on DraftKings to start the season, but Seager is one of the few players who should probably have been priced higher in this matchup.
Justin Turner also makes for a viable mid-range play against Chacin, as he is a rare breed who excels against same-handed pitchers and struggles with southpaws. Don’t forget about Adrian Gonzalez, either. No, he isn’t getting any younger, but Gonzo still hit righties at a respectable clip last season (.362/.185 wOBA/ISO) and draws a strong opening day matchup with a middling righty. The top and middle of this Dodgers lineup provides some strong mid-range talent on a day where it’s rather hard to come by.
Billy Hamilton can hit a home run without making contact, and we’ve seen him do it on multiple occasions: walk, stolen base, stolen base, run scored, and boom, there we go. Hamilton took a huge step forward last season before an injury sidelined him for the latter part of the year, but assuming his Achilles isn’t showing any lingering effects, he should be back to running wild on the basepaths this season. Cameron Rupp allowed a whopping 45 stolen bases on 62 attempts last season (27% CS) and has quickly become one of the easiest backstops to run on.
I’m concerned that Hamilton may be a bit hesitant to run in his first regular season appearance since the injury, but this also seems to be baked into his salary. It’s a risk, but one I’m willing to take in a few lineups. It also doesn’t hurt to know that Jeremy Hellickson coughed up a 29 percent line drive rate to left-handed batters in 2016. Cincinnati’s 4.5-run team total serves as the second highest mark on Monday’s nine-game main slate. Odubel Herrera makes for an interesting pivot at a comparable price point, as he offers more power and isn’t coming off a season-ending injury.
Asdrubal Cabrera quietly put up great power numbers for the Mets last season. His 23 home runs landed him sixth overall amongst shortstops on the season. Today, he’ll bat second against Julio Teheran of the Braves. Cabrera’s contact rate has been on a slow decline, but we haven’t seen a real increase in his K% as a result as of yet. In 2016, he sported a .206 ISO and wOBA of .342 when batting lefty against right handed pitchers. He has a higher FB% when batting left-handed than right-handed and has more power appeal from that side.
Teheran is a fine pitcher and one that many a fantasy owner has been waiting to take the next step in his career. The issue here is he is thought that he was markedly worse against left-handed batters last year, a 5.54 xFIP against as compared to a 3.03 and 15.5 K% as compared to 27.6 K%. The Mets top of the order could be in line for a big day with three out of four lefty bats. Jose Reyes also makes sense on sites where you’re getting him at a discount.
Andrew Toles is projected to lead off for the Dodgers on Opening Day, which would immediately make him a top value option in all formats at or near minimum salary across the board. Toles doesn’t offer much in the way of power, and although he has some speed it’s hard to think he’ll run much with Dave Roberts seemingly hating stolen bases, but a min-sal lead off batter on opening day is generally very tough to find. Jhoulys Chacin is allowing a career .335 wOBA to left-handed bats with a 4.55 xFIP and 1.51 WHIP, so Toles should see plenty of opportunity to reach base safely. Chacin also owned a miserable 18.8 percent K-rate last season, which mean Toles is most likely going to put the ball in play. Toles will platoon with Franklin Gutierrez, who Roberts is unwilling to play against righties, so he’ll draw a shot at seeing five plate appearances in the leadoff spot if he isn’t pinch hit for throughout the day.
Cesar Hernandez isn’t the most exciting player in the game, but he should lead off against Scott Feldman at Great American Ballpark, which is more than enough to target him at a discounted cost. Feldman doesn’t generate swing and misses, owns a miserable 5.9 percent K-BB% ratio vs. left-handed bats, and doesn’t limit stolen bases.
Hernandez has always possessed phenomenal speed, but his baserunning skills were questionable at best. Actually, Hernandez made so many mistakes on the basepaths last season that he mitigated his speed altogether. Fortunately, Cesar has made significant progress in that department lately, was 4-4 on stolen bases over the spring, and won’t hesitate to run once he’s aboard. As the leadoff man for Philadelphia on Monday, Hernandez should earn every opportunity to pay off such a low price tag in a strong matchup with Feldman and a weak Cincinnati bullpen.
Hyun Soo Kim is expected to lead off against Marco Estrada, which is enough to put him in play with the platoon advantage at home. I’m not expecting much from Kim, and worry that he could face a left-handed pitcher which would pull him from the lineup, but you could do worse if looking for a cheap option to fit in Kershaw lineups. Kim didn’t boast much power in his rookie campaign, but he did hit righties at a very respectable clip, sporting a .365 wOBA across 323 plate appearances. Camden Yards adds to his value, along with the fact that he’ll be hitting in front of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo on opening day. Seth Smith also falls into this price range, batting sixth in the Orioles’ order.