MLB Deep Dive – 4/6/17 Late Slate
Marcus Stroman’s lack of strikeout upside has always hamstrung his fantasy potential, but he’s made up for some of that by pitching deep into games; Stroman pitched six-plus innings in 22 of his 32 starts last season, while lasting seven-plus innings 13 times eight-plus frames six times in 2016. Eating up innings won’t do enough to mask his deficiencies, such as a 20 percent K-rate, but there’s also reason to believe Stroman isn’t quite as bad as last year’s numbers may have indicated. Stroman induces ground balls at an elite clip, as his 60.1 percent GB-rate led the league last season by nearly four percent. His 3.71 xFIP and 3.8 DRA were also significantly lower than his ERA, which suggests that he could see some positive regression in 2017.
As we’ve discussed, Stroman doesn’t impress much in terms of strikeouts, but he should see a higher ceiling on Thursday against a Rays team that struck out 24.2 percent of the time vs. right-handed pitchers last year (3rd worst). Tropicana Field also heavily favors the pitcher, while Stroman’s home stadium in Toronto is hitter’s haven of sorts. Stroman has neutral splits against left and right-handed hitters outside of an elevated walk rate and slightly lower groundball rate against lefties. The ability to limit hard contact against opposite-handed bats should help him on Thursday, as this Rays lineup is chock full of strikeouts and pop ups when they aren’t hitting home runs. Yes, Stroman is a risky play, but who isn’t volatile on this four-game slate?
Matt Harvey was an unmitigated disaster in 2016, finishing with a 4.86 ERA while his K-rate dropped six percent from the previous year. The once-elite ace, referred to by many as the “Dark Knight” had fallen apart, and there was no amount of rest or cupcake matchups that could put him back together.
As dirty as this makes me feel inside, I’m willing to give Harvey another shot. I mean, this guy had three consecutive dominant seasons before unraveling last year. He was a heat-throwing righty with dominant breaking stuff and a fastball that hitters couldn’t catch up to. It’s hard for me to believe that he just up and lost his stuff over night, and although one could argue that injuries contributed to his struggles (I believe they did to an extent, too), Harvey’s stuff was too good for him to completely vanish from the map. He’ll earn an opportunity to start his 2017 off on the right foot against Atlanta, who ranked bottom-five in wOBA, ISO and wRC+ vs. RHP last year. The Mets are -160 ML favorites at Citi Field, and if Harvey can regain even half of his 2012-2015 form he should have no trouble cruising through this lineup and walking away with the win. If there was ever a night to roll the dice on Harvey being back, this would be the one. I’m currently leaning Harvey over Stroman, but I’ll also be fully prepared to tilt my night away by 7:30 pm.
Blake Snell is the one pitcher I’m extremely tempted to plug into some tournament lineups tonight. The 24-year-old southpaw boasted a 24.4 percent K-rate in his rookie campaign, but I’m expecting that number to increase as he continues to mature as a pitcher. He walked a lot of batter (12.3 BB%) and served up a lot of hard contact (27.3 LD%), but Snell has the pedigree to be a very formidable Major League arm for years to come. This matchup with Toronto is far from optimal, and there’s a chance Snell doesn’t make it out of the third inning in his 2017 debut, but if he’s getting the calls on his curveball and generating a lot of whiffs (11% SwStr in 2016), Snell could offer some of the highest upside on this very ugly pitching slate. Big risk, big potential reward.
Joe Musgrove is a command pitcher who lives on the corners. He throws a 93 MPH fastball that isn’t anything special, but his ability to locate it with pinpoint precision should limit walks and home runs. Musgrove offers a slightly above average strikeout rate and had a league average groundball rate in 10 starts last year, but he’s a guy who can limit base runners and blowup innings that so many young pitchers struggle with. I’m not sure you’ll need him on Thursday, but Musgrove is cheap enough to warrant consideration against the Mariners, who are average in nearly every offensive category. In case you were still wondering, Musgrove is a tournament play only, having potential to post a 6IP/1ER/6K line with the win if he’s locating his pitches.
Houston Astros Righties: No, I won’t even both singling them out. It’s not necessary against Ariel Miranda. Is this somewhat of a hyperbolic critique on Miranda’s? Probably, but this lefty allowed a fifty five percent flyball rate against right-handed hitters last year and STILL managed to own a dreadful 14.7 percent HR/FB rate! For those of you who are new to baseball analytics, the higher a flyball rate a pitcher has, the lower his HR/FB rate should be. An extreme groundball pitcher could have a high HR/FB rate and still be very good, because he seldom allows fly balls. Not with Miranda, though; the 28-year-old southpaw allowed 11 home runs to righties in only 47 innings pitched.
George Springer [OF], Alex Bregman [3B], Carlos Correa [SS] and Jose Altuve [2B] are all viable plays here. Springer and Correa have lower fly ball rates vs. LHP than I would’ve expected, but they are both still very capable of launching one out of Minute Maid park. Altuve isn’t your prototypical power hitter and puts a lot of balls on the ground, but he’s far too talented vs. southpaws to ignore against Miranda. Altuve for his career has been excellent with the platoon advantage, and he’s the type of player who doesn’t rely on homers to pay off his salary. If I were to rank these Astros in order of preference, Springer would be at the top, followed by Correa, Bregman and Altuve.
Josh Donaldson [3B] is in play whenever he’s facing a volatile lefty, and as we’ve already discussed, Blake Snell is a volatile lefty. Snell allowed a .330 wOBA and 28 percent LD-rate to righties last season, while walking them at a ridiculously high clip. Donaldson, on the other hand, owns an elite .409/.289 wOBA/ISO split vs. southpaws. He won’t be hitting inside the homer-happy Rogers Centre, but Donaldson has enough strength to power one out of the Trop with ease… let’s just hope the catwalks don’t get in the way… Seriously, whoever designed that stadium (and whoever agreed to build it for that matter) should receive lifetime bans on being able to make decisions in any capacity.
Jake Lamb [3B] draws a strong matchup with Jeff Samardzija, who over the last two years has been knocked around by left-handed bats. Since the start of 2015, Samardzija is allowing a .345 wOBA and .213 ISO to LHB, while only Ian Kennedy and James Shield have surrendered more homers to lefties than Shark’s 33 long balls in that span. Pitching at Chase Field should do Samardzija any favors, either, as this game owns a slate-high 9.5-O/U with Arizona sporting a 4.5-run total. Lamb’s career .212 ISO and near 40 percent hard hit rate vs. right-handed arms places him in a favorable position on Thursday, and he isn’t overpriced on any specific site. If I’m not targeting Lamb, Bregman and Donaldson are the three third basemen I’ll be targeting on this four-game slate.
Devon Travis’ [2B] salary movement on DraftKings will always be a mystery. Last night he was one of, if not the highest priced second basemen (I can’t remember the exact order of players around him) at $4,600, but now he has dropped $1,000 because of, Blake Snell? Look, I’m a fan of Snell and I’m sure he’ll be a quality pitcher in this league, but he’s far from an ace at this stage of his career, and is anything but unhittable on Thursday. Travis will draw the platoon advantage and lead off against the southpaw, and I’ll have no problem targeting him at a now mid-range price point. Travis remains priced at an inexplicable $2,400 on FanDuel, making him a top value option there for the second straight night.
Allow me to start by saying I’m a believer in Robbie Ray — for DFS purposes, at least. The 25-year-old southpaw has electric strikeout potential, finished fourth in K-rate among all qualified starters last season (28.1%) and had a 3.45 xFIP that didn’t come close to reflecting the amount of runs he surrendered. It was a rollercoaster ride of a season for Ray, who struck out 11.25 batter per nine, but carried a 4.90 ERA and 9.2 percent walk rate to close out the season. There was definitely some bad luck involved, but Ray is still very susceptible to right-handed bats. In 2016, Ray allowed a .343 wOBA and 21 home runs to opposing righties, while lugging around a 16.2 percent HR/FB rate on the year.
Buster Posey [C/1B], Eduardo Nunez [3B/SS] and Hunter Pence [OF] all make for strong mid-range plays with the platoon advantage, but I wouldn’t recommend a stack here even though the run total is projected to be high. Ray will allow his fair share of runs, but he’s not a bad pitcher, and with some better luck in 2017 I’d expect him to sport an ERA in the mid-to-upper-mid-3’s. Nevertheless, all of these righties gain a great park boost at Chase Field and should be considered premiere options at their respective positions.
Gorkys Hernandez [OF] is not a good baseball player, and he’ll strike out more than a leadoff hitter should, but a dirt cheap price point puts him in play on Thursday if he’s batting atop the order. Robbie Ray, as earlier noted, can strike out batter in bunches, but he’s also liable to give up some easy hits to righties. You shouldn’t need to play him on a night where you couldn’t pay up for pitching even if you wanted to, but he’s there at a near min-sal cost if for some reason you need the extra cap.
Steve Pearce [1B/2B] will likely bat sixth or seventh in the Blue Jays’ order tonight, but he’s cheap and he offers power from the right side of the plate. Pearce boasts a stellar career ISO of .229 against southpaws, and while he’ll surely never hit for average, you aren’t playing him for the OBP. The first base position isn’t especially deep on Thursday, which would make rostering Pearce a sensible thing to do if you need to save at a single position.
David Peralta [OF] remains hitless on the season, and this should come as no surprise as he’s one of the streakier hitters in baseball, but Thursday’s matchup with Jeff Samardzija is enough to consider him in GPPs. Peralta should be rather low-owned, but there’s plenty of room for a big game here if he bats second against the righty. He’ll have some ugly swings and some ugly plate appearances, but having the platoon advantage at Chase Field against a pitcher who’s served up the second most home runs to lefties since 2015 is enough for me to take a closer look.