MLB Deep Dive – 4/5/17
Rich Hill throws a lot of curve balls — 49.2 percent last season, to be exact. According to PITCHf/x, only Lance McCullers threw more curveballs than Hill did in 2016, yet McCullers utilizes a knuckle curve which has some distinct differences. It’s hard to believe any Major League starter could succeed by using the curveball as their primary pitch, but Hill has shaken the foundation of baseball orthodoxy since reviving his career as a starter late in 2015. His curve ranks 95th percentile in horizontal movement and 81st percent in drop, and even when contact was made, it was extraordinarily weak. Here’s the best part, though: Hill only averages around 91 MPH on his fastball, but gets a league-best 35 percent whiffs per swing! His fastball offers such impressive fade and rise that it doesn’t require max velocity to be supremely effective. Finally, Hill sported a near 30 percent strikeout rate last season to go along with an 18 percent line drive rate and 3.36 xFIP. His two-pitch arsenal has been so incredibly effective that Hill could legitimately become a Cy Young candidate at 37 years of age… if he could only stay healthy.
San Diego put some runs on Kenta Maeda last night, but he isn’t nearly as equipped to face this matchup as Hill. Maeda’s K-rate was strong last year, but he’s a pitcher who needs to operate around the strike zone. If Maeda isn’t getting the borderline strike calls he doesn’t have the stuff to beat hitters by himself. Hill, on the other hand, can throw his curveball for strikes at a high clip, but can also create plenty of swinging strikes. The same can be said for his fastball. San Diego’s 25.3 percent strikeout rate vs. southpaws last season was second worst in baseball, and things should get much easier for them in 2017. The Padres own a 2.5-run implied total on Wednesday while the Dodgers are -249 ML favorites at home inside the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Hill limits home runs with his ability to pitch to weak contact, but also has such elite movement on his pitches that the strikeouts should come in bunches this evening. I don’t care if he’s expensive — Dicky Hill will be in my lineups.
Michael Pineda is one of the most tilting pitchers in baseball, as we simply never know what results we’re going to get. Last season, the 28-year-old right hander boasted a 27.2 percent K-rate to accompany his 3.30 xFIP and stellar 14.1 swinging strike rate, which ranked fourth behind only Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard and Jose Fernandez. This begs the question, “how the hell did Pineda finish with a 4.82 ERA and a 6-12 record across 32 starts?” Here’s your easiest answer: Pineda’s cutter was a problem and he also suffered from poor command at times, but ultimately, he endured some serious bad luck. Pineda’s DRA (deserved run average) was a much more realistic 3.49 in 2016, while his BABIP was an unfavorable .339. He was also terribly unlucky with two outs, where batters performed a whopping 72 percent better than league average in that spot. Pineda struggled with the long ball, but most righties pitching at Yankee Stadium will face the same difficulties. 20 of Pineda’s 27 home runs allowed came at home last season.
Wednesday’s matchup with Tampa Bay should favor the righty even if he gives up a few runs. The Rays finished with the third highest strikeout rate against RHP in 2016, but also boasted plenty of power, sporting the league’s fourth highest ISO. Pineda is a Jekyll and Hyde type of pitcher, who could rack up nine strikeouts and surrender three solo shots on the same day. This is the risk you run when rostering him. That being said, Pineda offers phenomenal upside, especially inside the pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field. If he can avoid throwing lifeless fastballs down the heart of the plate, Pineda should fine plenty of success in this matchup, and at a mid-range cost across the industry I’m willing to take that risk.
Jacob deGrom looks fantastic following the elbow surgery that cut his 2016 season short. His fastball velocity has shot back up to 95-97 MPH after slipping last year, and he now plans on utilizing his changeup more, which has been a successful pitch for him in the past. deGrom averaged more than a strikeout per inning this spring and walked only two batters across 15.1 frames. My only concern with deGrom on Wednesday would be his pitch count, which we can’t guarantee will be at a regular season level quite yet. He’s a heavy favorite (-195) against the meager Braves, though, who own a 2.5-run implied total on the night.
Atlanta doesn’t strike out much against right-handed pitchers, which is always a red flag when paying a premium at the position. They do, however, own one of the most inferior offense from a production standpoint, ranking bottom-five in wOBA, ISO and wRC+ in 2016. The Braves boast virtually no power throughout their lineup, and although Matt Kemp offers some pop in the middle of the order, he also strikes out at a near 25 percent clip vs. RHP. Outside of Freddie Freeman, there isn’t a left-handed hitter in this lineup to worry about. deGrom isn’t the highest upside arm on Wednesday, but he certainly feels like one of the safest.
Chris Sale will likely be a popular option on Wednesday, but I won’t be paying for him. Last season, the left-handed lunatic redefined his style of pitching, which was great for real-life baseball, allowing him to work deeper into games, but bad for daily fantasy baseball, as his K-rate dipped by more than six percent. Sale went from striking out an elite 12 batters per nine innings to just barely striking out one batter per frame. This is still a great mark by any other measurement, but not when we’re paying north of $11K for him across the industry. Moreover, the Pirates can stack their lineup full of righties, who Sale owned a 19.3 percent K-BB rate against last year compared to 29 percent vs. lefties.
I’ll likely run a few Sale lineups in GPPs just in case he happens to channel his 2015 form, but this isn’t the best spot to pay a premium for him against a righty-heavy offense inside the hitter-friendly Fenway Park. Rich Hill isn’t as flashy, but he is just as, if not more effective, and he’ll draw a better matchup at a better park with better odds to win.
Brandon Finnegan is a desperation punt at the bottom of the pitching pool, facing a punchless Phillies team that struggles mightily against southpaws. Last season, Philadelphia finished 29th in wOBA (.290), ISO (.117) and wRC+ (78) vs. left-handed pitching despite having a few powerful righties throughout their lineup. They also struck out at a top-10 clip (22.7%).
Finnegan is not special, and he’s far from a safe option at Great American Ballpark. Actually, I have some interest in a couple right-handed Phillie bats in this same matchup, but could also see Finnegan posting a 6IP/2ER/6K performance while earning the win at home.
According to Brooksbaseball.net, Finnegan starting throwing his changeup at a much higher clip over the final two months of the 2016 season, and that changeup was highly effective. He saw excellent whiff rates on both his changeup and slider, but his overall performance in that span improved dramatically; Finnegan posted a 2.47 ERA with 9.71 K/9, a 26.2 percent K-rate, 11.2 percent swinging strike rate and an 18.4 percent line drive rate over his final 10 starts of the year. That’s enough for me to consider him in GPPs on a night where there isn’t much to choose from at the bottom tier of pitching.
The pricing disparities on FanDuel and DraftKings are out of control. DraftKings has priced every batter through the roof while FanDuel has bottomed them out. As a result, it becomes difficult to adequately cover everything in the Deep Dive, so I’ll be sure to focus on specific pricing quirks when necessary.
Paul Goldschmidt [1B], for his career, hits lefties at a .435/.262 wOBA/ISO rate. Need I say more? Seriously, he hits southpaws better than anyone in the game — including Mike Trout — and walks at a 15.7 percent clip to boot. Goldschmidt’s 179 wRC+ vs. lefties last season was superb, but it was even better at home (226!), where hit lit lefties up like a Christmas tree. Meanwhile, Matt Moore allowed 20 home runs to right-handed hitters in 2016, while inducing ground balls at a paltry 36 percent clip. No hitter is ever a lock in daily fantasy baseball (see Edwin Encarnacion from last night), but if Goldschmidt isn’t at the top of your list on Wednesday you’re doing it wrong.
Trea Turner [SS/OF] doesn’t need the platoon advantage to dominate opposing pitchers; in his rookie campaign, the 23-year-old Phenom smacked righties around for a .413 wOBA and.258 ISO across 259 plate appearances. Turner’s hard hit and line drive rates weren’t as pronounced against right-handers, but 32 of his 35 extra-base hits came with righties on the mound! Moreover, Turner swiped 33 bags on the season and had a .350 wOBA on ground balls — both of which were a testament to his ridiculous speed. This isn’t the best running matchup for Turner, but he still won’t hesitate to take off once he’s aboard. Dan Straily is a pedestrian arm with a tendency to cough up home runs and walk a lot of batters. Someone with Turner’s skill set (enough power and excellent speed) should fare well in this spot, and he doesn’t need a hitter-friendly venue to produce.
Charlie Blackmon [OF] and Carlos Gonzalez [OF] are two of my favorites outfield options on Wednesday, facing one of the worst right-handed starters in the game. Wily Peralta’s dreadful numbers against lefties are well-documented, as he’s allowed a .360+ wOBA in three straight seasons and a .200+ ISO in each of his last two. Peralta’s 6.2 percent K-BB rate vs. lefties is miserable, but it comes as no surprise. What about at home? Even worse. Miller Park will do Peralta no favors against a power-packed Rockies club that pile on runs in a hurry. I mentioned yesterday that I was surprised to see an 8-run O/U between these two teams, and I think the 9-O/U on Wednesday is also a little low. Colorado should have no trouble getting to Peralta, and both Blackmon and Gonzalez should contribute nicely. I’m actually not against using either of them in cash.
There are plenty of high-end bats worth discussion on Wednesday, so feel free to spread your exposure around in tournaments and make multiple cash lineups if you feel like you can’t cover enough ground with just one team.
Bryce Harper [OF], Josh Donaldson [3B], Jose Altuve [2B], Nolan Arenado [3B], Corey Seager [SS] and Edwin Encarnacion [1B – GPP] all make for viable options on this 12-game slate.
A.J. Pollock [OF] is one of several D-backs to consider on Wednesday, drawing the platoon advantage against Matt Moore inside the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field. Pollock’s career .364/.214 wOBA/ISO vs. LHP is strong, especially when you consider his ability to swipe bases out of the leadoff spot. I’m actually surprised DraftKings didn’t price him through the roof in this matchup as they did for everyone else in semi-favorable spots. Nevertheless, Pollock should be viewed as a strong mid-range option against Matt Moore, who last season owned a 4.70 xFIP and 37 percent groundball rate vs. right-handed bats. Yasmany Tomas also makes for a solid mid-range outfield from Arizona. He weighs in at a $600 discount from Pollock on FanDuel.
Devon Travis [2B] is $4,500 on DraftKings and $2,400 on FanDuel. This is one of those inexplicable pricing disparities that makes absolutely no sense, but also makes Travis a very solid option on FanDuel. Let’s take a look at our ‘good play checklist’ for a moment: leading off: check, batting at Camden Yards: check, hitting atop a Blue Jays lineup that crushed right-handed pitching last season: check.
The only thing Travis doesn’t have going for him on Wednesday is the platoon advantage, but Dylan Bundy looked awful in spring training, allowing six home runs in only 17 innings of work. You’d be hard-pressed to find better value than Travis on FanDuel. Robinson Cano [2B] is priced fairly on both sites, and a matchup with Charlie Morton does nothing to concern me. Morton looked strong in spring training and actually experienced an increase in velocity, but this is still a right-handed pitcher who’s allowed a massive .375 wOBA to opposite-handed hitters over his career. Cano gets a favorable park boost hitting at Minute Maid Park.
Gary Sanchez [C] will be on everyone’s shit list after two straight 0-5 performances to start the season. For that reason alone I’m willing to target him on Wednesday. This play is based purely on the fact that Sanchez should see depressed ownership and offers multi-homer upside. He isn’t going to go 0-5 three games in a row, and if he does, I’ll be sure to target him in game 4.
Cameron Rupp [C] is a very intriguing lower mid-range backstop option against Brandon Finnegan. Over 157 career plate appearances vs. left-handed pitching, Rupp is sporting a stellar .380/.255 wOBA/ISO split with a 36 percent hard hit rate and a respectable 142 wRC+. He’s especially attractive on FanDuel at $2,400, but I’d be willing to target Rupp on DraftKings, too, as the catcher position is shallow for the third straight day. Welington Castillo [C] and Yasmani Grandal [C] also make for viable tournament options on Wednesday.
Alex Bregman [3B] was disappointing on Tuesday, but that’s baseball. Favorable matchups don’t always yield favorable results, but that doesn’t mean we should start targeting poor matchups simply because the former approach doesn’t have a 100 percent success rate. Bregman is batting second for a powerful Astros order that donned a .177 ISO vs. southpaws in 2016, and he’ll have the platoon advantage against James Paxton. Paxton isn’t a bad pitcher, and he’s displayed some reverse splits tendencies over his short career, but this is a price play with considerable upside we’re targeting. If you find yourself in need of a third baseman in this price range, don’t hesitate to look towards Bregman as your play.
HONORABLE MENTION: Tommy Joseph [1B – GPP], Billy Hamilton [OF]
Chris Owings [SS/OF] is both cheap and in a favorable spot against Matt Moore. Take what you’ve read about Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock and apply it to Owings, except eliminate the power potential. Owings isn’t nearly as expensive as most Arizona righties though and he’s projected to bat second behind Pollock and in front of Goldy. He should see plenty of good pitches in what I expect to be a high-scoring affair, which makes him a nice, affordable piece of the Diamondbacks stack that will help you squeeze in the studs.
Eric Thames [1B] should bat second for the Brewers on Wednesday in a matchup with Tyler Chatwood. The matchup isn’t perfect, as Chatwood induces a lot of ground balls and continues to improve following Tommy John surgery, but Thames’ $2,400 price tag on FanDuel is worth considering. At near minimum salary with the platoon advantage inside Miller Park, you could do a whole lot worse than Thames on Wednesday.
Cesar Hernandez [2B] homered in his first plate appearance on Opening Day before going hitless in his final four appearances, so we didn’t get to witness his newfound base running approach. The good news here is pitchers will continue to pound the strike zone against Hernandez, who doesn’t provide much power but proved late last season that he’s disciplined enough to take walks. The switch-hitting infielder has hit lefties better over his career, and should see plenty of opportunity to reach base safely leading off against Finnegan.
Corey Dickerson [OF] is a boom-or-bust fantasy option, but he still boasts more than enough power to warrant consideration against Michael Pineda, who despite his fondness for strikeouts is also prone to serving up home runs. Dickerson produced an elite .264 ISO vs. RHP last season — unfortunately, he was much more effective on the road — so although he isn’t going to hit for average, the GPP upside is always in play.
Andrew Toles [OF] wasn’t pinch-hit for on Opening Day, which is an encouraging sign going forward. Now, Toles didn’t have to face any southpaws which is likely the reason for his non-removal, but he’s still cheap enough for us to take a flier on him against the unimpressive arm of Trevor Cahill. Batting leadoff for a Dodgers team that boasts plenty of talent from the left side of the plate should mean Toles continues to see a lot of hittable pitches at the top of the order. Toles does have some speed, too, so he offers some built-in value at a very affordable price point. Cahill’s career .334 wOBA and 15 percent K-rate vs. left-handed batters is enough to like most lefties in this Dodgers lineup.
HONORABLE MENTION: Greg Bird [1B], Jarrett Parker [OF]
TOP TOURNAMENT STACKS
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Matt Moore
Colorado Rockies @ Wily Peralta
Toronto Blue Jays @ Dylan Bundy
Baltimore Orioles vs. J.A. Happ