MLB Deep Dive 4/4/17

PITCHING

If you thought that the crop of pitchers we’d have to choose from on the second full day of baseball would be deep, you’d be utterly mistaken. It’s hard to believe that, on an eight-game slate where most teams are running out their No. 2 hurlers (or even their aces depending on who you ask), we’re stuck picking up the scraps and praying to the baseball gods for a quality-ish start. There are a few elite pitchers set to toe the rubber, but all of them draw highly unfavorable matchups. This isn’t to say Tuesday’s slate is completely devoid of talent, but we’re certainly a long way from feeling confident in the available options.

Kenta Maeda scares the hell out of me whenever he’s in play; the second-year righty is far from lacking in the talent department, but he struggled with deep counts and long innings last season, failing to make it out of the seventh frame in 30 of his 32 starts. Actually, Maeda lasted exactly seven or fewer innings in every start during his rookie campaign. Here’s the thing: Maeda finished with top-15 marks in strikeout rate (25%), swinging strike rate (12%) and exit velocity (85.7 MPH) among all qualified pitchers last season. That’s insane, and ace-like in every way. He generates weak contact but also makes batters miss, and operates with stellar command. Needless to say, Maeda should be in line for another strong season so long as he can continue to miss bats with pitches that don’t stray far from the strike zone.

The Padres are a miserable baseball team, ranking 29th in K-rate vs. right-handed pitching last season while owning a bottom-five walk rate and a league-worst. 291 wOBA and 81 wRC+. They enter Tuesday’s tilt with an implied total of 3 (U -123), while the Dodgers are currently -208 ML favorites at home. Maeda should be chalky on a slate with an abundance of unusable pitching options, but he also makes for the strongest overall play at an affordable price point. Even if he only lasts six innings — I’m hoping we can milk seven innings from him in this matchup — Maeda should still tally enough strikeouts and have enough run support to earn the win.

Lance McCullers is legitimately one of the filthiest young pitchers in the game right now, sitting on a an arsenal of three plus pitches that can make any hitter look foolish. McCullers’ 27 percent K-rate is tied with the likes of Corey Kluber Chris Archer and Carlos Carrasco, but he’s also posted one of the lowest home run rates over the last two season while inducing ground balls at a 57 percent clip last year! Strikeouts, ground balls, weak contact? Check, check, check. McCullers blends his 94 MPH fastball, devastating curve and knee-buckling splitter to keep batters off balance, and throws the curve more than anyone in baseball not named Rich Hill. He offers bonafide ace-like stuff, and outside of a slightly inflated walk rate, McCullers is capable of punching out double-digit batters with eight-plus innings pitched any time he takes the mound.

The Astros are -157 ML favorites at home against the Mariners, who boast a rather strong offense but also have a decent amount of strikeouts throughout their lineup. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager are the two left-handed batters to worry about here, while Nelson Cruz is never a free out regardless of who he’s facing. McCullers’ matchup isn’t overwhelmingly strong, but his offerings are, and I’m willing to bet on talent on a night where good pitching is nearly impossible to come by.

Matt Shoemaker suffered a line drive to the head last season that resulted in brain surgery and now a hat that has protective padding inside to prevent another scare. That’s the story that most of us remember from last season, but it isn’t the story we should be remembering. We should be discussing his Houdini-like change in performance that resulted from a tweak in his pitch selection midway through the 2016 season. A couple months into his campaign, after getting tagged for huge run totals and unsightly home runs in nearly every start, Shoemaker decided to make a change — he decided to start throwing his splitter nearly 40 percent of the time. The results were incredible, but we have to wonder if he can continue to fool batters with a fastball/splitter mix as the large majority of his offerings.

We’ll get our first idea about where or not teams have caught onto Shoemaker’s tricks on Tuesday when he faces the Athletics. Oakland doesn’t boast much left-handed power in their lineup, and the bottom of the order is filled with journeymen. The A’s didn’t strike out at a high clip last season, but they also posed very little threat to opposing righties, ranking bottom-seven in both wOBA and ISO. They added a few new faces over the winter, but none of them should be of much concern. Shoemaker, assuming he picks up where he left off late in 2016, sporting a 23 percent K-rate, 3.5 percent BB-rate and a 3.57 xFIP over the second half of the season, should have no trouble posting quality totals against the A’s on Tuesday.

HITTING

HIGH-PRICED

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and he should prove it on Tuesday against Sean Manaea and the A’s. Manaea showed improvement over the second half of his rookie campaign after a dreadful start to the season, but he still struggled with right-handed bats. On the year, Manaea allowed 17 of his 20 home runs to righties, struck them out at a sub-20 percent clip, and allowed 1.32 HR/9. If Manaea looks to attack Trout and not nibble on the corners, he could end up being sorely disappointed. Trout will always be a top option in these matchups, and nothing changes this evening. Keep in mind, however, that he isn’t a must play, just a very very good one.

Edwin Encarnacion boasts a career .236 ISO vs. left-handed pitching, which makes him an attractive option against Martin Perez inside the homer-happy Globe Life Park. Perez has predictably struggled with right-handed hitters over career, but he has managed to induce a lot of ground balls and limit home runs. That being said, Encarnacion owns a ridiculous 48.1 percent career fly ball rate vs. southpaws, and he’ll be hitting inside one of the most batter-friendly parks in baseball.

Perez is always a frustrating player to target, as he’ll either throw seven scoreless innings with zero strikeouts or get rocked for seven runs in the first two innings. With the firepower Cleveland possesses up and down their order, I’m willing to be on the latter this evening. Carlos Santana also makes for a strong option if he leads off against the lefty. Now that Rajai Davis is no longer in Cleveland, it’s possible that Santana will hold onto the leadoff spot when batting from the right side of the plate.

Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo [GPP] and Ryan Braun all make for viable options if you can fit them into lineup. I will say, though, I’m a bit surprised to see this tilt between Colorado and Milwaukee with an 8-run total and not higher.

MID-RANGE

Buster Posey is one of my least favorite fantasy options, as I wholeheartedly believe that he is profoundly overrated from a DFS standpoint. However, much of that disdain comes from sites like DraftKings feeling the need to price him like a non-catcher despite his solid, but sub-elite production. At $3,900, though, Posey becomes a far more enticing play, as he’ll face the left-handed Patrick Corbin at the hitter-friendly Chase Field. Posey owns a career .400/.225 wOBA/ISO vs. southpaws, which is admittedly very good. He hasn’t boasted the same power as he did in seasons past, but is still poised to impress on Tuesday.

I thought Corbin could return to action with success, but that was not the case; the oft-injured lefty served up a mammoth .363 wOBA to RHB with a near .200 ISO and a dismal 15.5 percent K-rate. Corbin does a solid job of inducing ground balls, but gets lit whenever he can’t keep the ball on the grass. Posey is affordably priced on a night where his Giants own a slate-high 5-run implied total in Arizona. As a tournament pivot, Kyle Schwarber makes for a boom-or-bust play against the very unpredictable Adam Wainwright.

Jonathan Villar absolutely decimated southpaws last season, boasting a .393 wOBA and .236 ISO across a rather healthy 191 plate appearances. It was a breakout campaign for the switch-hitting infielder, who finished the year with 19 home runs, 66 RBI and a whopping 62 stolen bases. Tuesday’s matchup comes against the left-handed Tyler Anderson, who in his rookie season was rather impressive, but isn’t impervious to getting knocked around. Anderson’s ground ball rate was above average — a necessary attribute for anyone pitching for the Rockies — but he still allowed a .333 wOBA and a 15 percent HR/FB rate to righties.

The myth that southpaws are harder to steal against is just that: a myth. Ask Jon Lester, who routinely surrenders some of the highest stolen base totals each year. Villar, himself, was caught stealing on only one of 17 attempts with a lefty on the mound, and I’d expect him to run on Tuesday if afforded the opportunity. Not only does Villar offer a myriad of ways to produce fantasy points, but he’s rather affordable across the industry. At the 3B and SS positions, I’ll certainly be looking to target him this evening, while Keon Broxton makes sense at the outfield position, too.

Logan Forsythe, unlike Buster Posey, is one of my favorite fantasy baseball options and here’s why: he’s a below average hitter when facing right-handed pitchers (which far outnumber lefties), but an absolute masher when it comes to facing southpaws. Forsythe’s inability to hit same-handed pitching well keeps his salary down for when he draws the platoon advantage like Tuesday night. You may find this hard to believe, but Forsythe is one of the better lefty hitters in the game. He’ll face Clayton Richard on Tuesday who’s been hammered by righties over his career, ceding a .350 wOBA with a 13 percent strikeout rate and a near 13 percent HR/FB rate despite a relatively low GB rate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Forsythe hit towards the top of the order, making him one of the better lower mid-range plays on the entire slate. Francisco Lindor also makes for a strong option at a similar price point, as he is one of several Indians capable of lighting up Martin Perez.

Alex Bregman is simply a price play, batting second for the Astros against the middling arm of Hisashi Iwakuma. The young third baseman offers enough power and speed to justify rostering at a mid-range price point across the industry, especially considering he’s sandwiched in between to some of the league’s best hitters in George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, all of whom would make for a nice low-owned stack with Bregman on Tuesday.

Since his first season in the majors, Iwakuma has struggled to produce. His K-rate continues to decline along with his groundball rate, while failing to make bats miss in the process. In 2016, Iwakuma suffered a sharp decline on swings on pitches outside of the strike zone, yet batters were making contact on those pitches at a five percent higher clip than the previous year! I don’t expect him to make the adjustments necessary to shut down such a formidable lineup as the Astros, which makes Bregman a fine play at third base.

VALUE

Stephen Vogt never makes for an exciting play, but he comes at a dirt cheap cost at a position that we generally prefer to punt. As earlier noted, Matt Shoemaker found success by throwing his splitter at a ridiculously high clip last year, but the skeptics would say that success is not sustainable. Vogt is a fairly disciplined batter who should be able to work deep-ish counts on Tuesday, and he won’t need to take Shoemaker deep twice in order to pay off a sub-$3K price point across the board. Vogt is available for the taking for those of you looking to fade Posey and save at the catcher position. Ryon Healy can also be considered in this same matchup, but I wouldn’t advise using both of them in the same lineup, as we still don’t know which version of Shoemaker will show up this evening. If you’re desperate, Matt Joyce should bat towards the top of the order against the righty, and is just barely above minimum salary across the industry.

Franklin Gutierrez has enjoyed plenty of success against left-handed pitchers, and I’d expect Dave Roberts to insert him into the middle of the order on Tuesday. If you look at last year’s Dodgers lineup, they lacked power from the right side of the plate, but the arrival of Loga Forsythe and Gutierrez should certainly help them out. Gutierrez owns a career .363/.206 wOBA/ISO vs. LHP, both excellent marks, but the problem here is he’ll almost certainly be pinch hit for when a righty takes the mound. I’m still willing to roll the dice on a few plate appearances for Gutierrez, as he possesses more than enough power to pay off his price tag with one swing of the bat.

Steven Souza always makes for a strong GPP play as a hitter who strikes out often but also possess plenty of power for someone in his price range. Souza sports a career .187 ISO vs. LHP, and as we know, CC Sabathia is no stranger to coughing up the long ball to opposite-handed hitters. Sabathia definitely showed some improvement last season after a dismal 2015 campaign, but he’s still susceptible to allowing home runs, sometimes frequently. Keep an eye on this Rays lineup and feel free to target some cheap righty bats at the top or middle of the order. Who knows, maybe Rickie Weeks will draw a start at near minimum salary.

Greg Bird makes for a solid low-end option due to his batting order (projected to hit third again on Tuesday) and platoon advantage as a left-handed hitter. The draw with Jake Odorizzi isn’t optimal, but it’s not a deal breaker, either. Odorizzi coughed up 29 home runs in 2016, and although he had more success against lefties than he did against same-handed batters, I’m still not opposed to targeting Bird in GPPs. Batting third in the order at a sub-$3K price point while having the platoon advantage is difficult to find.