MLB Deep Dive – 4/6/17 Early Slate

*Pittsburgh @ Boston has been postponed*

 

PITCHING [EARLY]

 

Brandon McCarthy is the only semi-attractive pitching option for Thursday’s early slate, and he’s not exactly the safest play, either. Prior to suffering season-ending injuries in each of his last two seasons, McCarthy had significantly improved his strikeout rate. He got off to a phenomenal start in 2016 but came down with a case of the yips and began to unravel before a hip injury placed him on the disabled list. Whether he was pitching through and injury is unimportant now, but one could assume that McCarthy was definitely not right. He’s been throwing a mid-90’s fastball this spring, and while the results haven’t been spectacular, McCarthy will draw an opportunity to start his 2017 campaign off strong against the Padres.

San Diego was helpless against a limited Dick Hill last night, and it’s reasonable to think they’ll struggle again on Thursday. McCarthy, despite all of his red flags, remains a -220 ML favorite against Jered Weaver (LOL)., and should be able to earn the win if he can make it through five frames. I’d be fading McCarthy on most slates, but our options are so limited that we’re almost forced to take the risk. Pitch count is a serious concern, but performance is a larger concern for every other pitcher set to take the mound.

 

Tyler Skaggs was plagued by a high walk rate last season in his return from Tommy John surgery, but he managed to rack up north of one strikeout per inning and held a 23 percent K-rate across 49.2 innings of work. None of the southpaw’s pitches are particularly overpowering, but he can put hitters away with his curveball and mixes in a changeup enough to keep them guessing. Skaggs threw 90 pitches in his final tuneup before the regular season, so he shouldn’t be limited on Thursday. He induces ground balls at a league average clip and doesn’t serve up many home runs, so there’s potential for a serviceable performance against the Athletics.

Oakland didn’t strike out much last season, fanning at only 18.9 percent against left-handed arms. They did, however, refuse to take walks against southpaws, finishing with the second lowest BB-rate at 6.6 percent. Issuing free passes has been an issue with Skaggs, so it’s encouraging to see he’ll be facing a team that would rather swing the bat than take a disciplined approach. Pitching is so weak on Thursday that Skaggs makes for a sensible mid-range option despite the lowered ceiling for strikeouts. Oakland has a number of right-handed bats throughout the lineup, but outside of Khris Davis, none of them pose much of a threat to clear the bases. If I’m playing on two-pitcher sites, Skaggs will be in strong consideration by default.

 

Lance Lynn pitched 15 innings this spring in his first action since undergoing Tommy John surgery late in 2015. The Cardinals’ right-handed missed all of 2016, but looked sharp this spring, allowing only two runs with eight strikeouts and two walks. The lack of strikeouts early on is somewhat concerning, but that has never been a weakness for Lynn, who averages right around 9 K/9 with a 25 percent K-rate over his career. Now, his return to MLB action won’t be easy, as he’ll face a power-packed Cubs lineup on Thursday afternoon, but Lynn has always produced some of the most pronounced home/road splits and is dirt cheap across the industry. He is much better against right-handed bats, but we don’t exactly have a crop of aces to choose from, anyway.

If I’m going to gamble on a low-end pitcher on a slate devoid of talent at the position, Lynn would make for a reasonable choice. He’s finished with a sub-3 ERA at home in four of his five Major League seasons, is capable of racking up above average strikeout totals, and Chicago is still susceptible to whiffing at a rather high rate. Another positive sign is that Mike Matheny believe Lynn will be able to throw around 100 pitches in his season debut, so there shouldn’t be any real hard count on his workload.

 

Andrew Triggs is minimum salary on DraftKings, and because pitching is so bad on Thursday, there may be some who look to punt the position altogether and hope he doesn’t implode before the fourth inning. It stands to reason that 10 fantasy points from Triggs would be enough to justify rostering him in order to stack bats, but this is an awful matchup against an Angels team that simply doesn’t strike out. If he can go five innings and get the win, you’ll be sitting pretty. Triggs at least produced a slightly above average K-rate in his rookie campaign, and managed to limit his walk rate enough to not get blown up on most nights.

 

HITTING [EARLY]

 

HIGH-PRICED

 

Miguel Cabrera squares off against one of the league’s premiere meatballers in James Shields, who surrendered a league-high 40 home runs in 2016. Shields allowed an inexcusable .384 wOBA and .273 ISO to opposing righties last season as his strikeout rate plummeted and his walk rate increased. A 5.08 xFIP is as bad as it gets, but Shields’ 19 percent HR/FB rate and 2.30 HR/9 did a lot to explain such a heinous mark. Even if Shields improves upon a season that literally couldn’t get any worse than it was, he’s still going to be a sub-par pitcher with extreme homer-prone tendencies.

I’m not only expecting Cabrera to get his first hit of the season on Thursday, but I’m expecting him to take Shields deep. Another interesting aspect of this game is the wind; although U.S. Cellular Field isn’t Wrigley, winds will be blowing out to center field at 24 MPH, and this is already one of the most hitter-friendly venues in the game. Detroit’s 5-run implied total is the highest of any team on Thursday’s slate. Ian Kinsler [2B] also makes for an obvious strong play at second base. You can take your pick of Tigers to roster against Shields and no one would blame you for doing so.

 

Mike Trout is someone you’ll be able to easily fit into lineups on a day where there is no high-end pitching to pay for. Andrew Triggs managed to contain righties in his 2016 cup of coffee, but Trout destroys same-handed pitching, and rostering him on a day like this is all but a formality. You won’t find a better every day hitter than Trout.

 

Kyle Schwarber [C/OF] and Anthony Rizzo [1B] make for nice GPP plays with the platoon advantage on Thursday. I’ve already suggested that Lance Lynn could make for a strong tournament play himself, owning a dirt cheap price tag at a pitcher-friendly venue and Matheny is willing to let him throw 100 pitches if his stuff is working, but his struggles vs. left-handed hitters are well-documented. Lynn walks lefties more and strikes them out less, although he’s always done a solid job of limiting home runs. I’m willing to take a shot on either Schwarber or Rizzo making good contact at Wrigley, though, and will have some left-handed Cubs exposure in tournament lineups where Lynn is absent.

 

Charlie Blackmon [OF] and Carlos Gonzalez [OF] disappointed last night against one of the worst righties in baseball, and I’d expect them to go very under-owned on Thursday with Jered Weaver and James Shield pitching on this slate. Chase Anderson owns a career 4.48 xFIP with a 38 percent GB-rate vs. LHB, and is very susceptible to coughing up the long ball. As low-owned GPP plays, I’m willing to roll the dice on either of these outfielders on a day where the Rockies own one of the highest team totals on this slate.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Nolan Arenado [3B – GPP]; Bryce Harper [OF]; Trea Turner [SS]

 

MID-RANGE

 

Corey Seager [SS] draws a phenomenal matchup with the right-handed softballer in Jered Weaver this afternoon, and he is somehow reasonably priced across the industry. Weaver has lost all velocity on his fastball, is completely incapable of generating strikeouts, and served up a Goliath .365 wOBA to opposing lefties in 2016. Moreover, Weaver’s 37 home runs allowed last season was ‘bested’ by only James Shields (40), while his sub-30 percent groundball rate was as laughable as they come.

Seager offers plenty of power against righties, and is hitting towards the top of a potent Dodgers lineup that ranked top-7 in both wOBA and ISO vs. RHP last year. Park factor is not much of a concern here, as Weaver will be issuing batting practice pitches all day long, and Seager has already proven that he doesn’t need a bandbox to produce well above average fantasy totals. Adrian Gonzalez [1B] is also very much in play here. I’d say Yasmani Grandal [C] would make for a top catcher play against Weaver, but he should get the day off after catching last night. Joc Pederson boasts enough power to make him a strong tournament option and a great last piece to a Dodgers stack. There are several different directions you can take here with L.A. offering a stable of left-handed bats throughout their order.

 

Jonathan Villar [SS] makes for a very interesting play on Thursday, as he’ll face a rookie right-hander in Antonio Senzatela who was incapable of striking batters out in Double-A ball. Senzatela is moving straight from Double-A to the majors, and he’ll have to make his debut at Miller Park against the Brewers. Villar’s base-stealing ability is his biggest attribute, which becomes even more viable when facing contact pitchers like Senzatela. Putting the ball in play is of supreme importance for Villar, and he should have no trouble doing so this afternoon. Moreover, Villar boasts enough power to punish the young righty at one of the most homer-friendly parks in the game.

 

Nick Castellanos [3B] and Justin Turner [3B] are two mid-range third baseman to consider, as they’ll square off against the two most homer-prone pitchers in baseball. While neither Castellanos or Turner will draw the platoon advantage, both of them have had success against same-handed pitching. Actually, Turner is one of the rare cases of a player who has hit righties better than lefties. Meanwhile, Castellanos enjoyed an explosive spring, hitting recording home runs with nine doubles and five walks across only 61 at bats. Both of these corner infielders make for great additions to a stack, but can also be played solo in their respective matchups.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Eric Thames [1B]; Jose Abreu [1B – GPP]; Khris Davis [OF]

 

VALUE

 

Travis Jankowski [OF] will lead off against Brandon McCarthy, who for all we know could come out completely flat. Even if McCarthy has his good stuff, though, Jankowski makes for a very solid low-end outfield play with stolen base upside. Furthermore, Yasmani Grandal is one of the better catchers at limiting base runners, and he likely won’t be behind the dish after start on Wednesday night. Jankowski will only need to reach base safely once in order to pay off his price tag, as he’ll almost certainly take off on the first opportunity he gets.

 

Tyler Collins [OF] has posted average numbers with the Tigers, but none of that should matter on Thursday. James Shield is pitching for Chicago and that’s all we need to know. If Collins bats sixth we’ll have to like his odds against Shields, who lugged around a 5.35 xFIP, 16.2 percent HR/FB rate and 11.1 percent BB-rate vs. left-handed bats in 2016. With wind blowing out 24 MPH to right-center field, Collins will have an even better chance of taking Shields deep.

 

Mike Moustakas [3B] squares off against Kyle Gibson, who was absolutely tormented by opposite-handed hitters in 2016, allowing a massive .380 wOBA across 310 batters faced. Moustakas is hitting towards the top of the Royals’ order, owns a depressed price tag across the board, and boasts enough power to pay off his salary with one swing of the bat. Moreover, Gibson strike LHB’s out at a paltry 12.9 percent clip for his career.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Victor Martinez [C – FD]; Ryan Schimpf [2B/3B – GPP]; Ryon Healy [1B]

 

NOTE: FanDuel is offering the PHI-CIN game on their early slate but DraftKings has excluded it. If you’re playing on FanDuel, Joey Votto [1B] makes for a strong play at first base, but I still prefer Miguel Cabrera at the same price. Cesar Hernandez is a nice second base punt at $2,600, while Billy Hamilton’s $3,400 salary puts him in play against a Clay Buchholz/Andrew Knapp battery.