MLB Deep Dive – 4/8/17
Madison Bumgarner [LHP @ SDP] – I don’t know why people continue to undervalue Bumgarner as an “ace” but not a “Kershaw-like ace.” Well, no one will ever be Clayton Kershaw, but Bumgarner is legitimately a top-five — he’s a top-3 MLB pitcher in my opinion, but that’s for another time — pitcher with higher upside than almost any arm in the game. Let’s take a quick look at how he was able to rack up monster fantasy totals last season: one of Bumgarner’s biggest strengths is his ability to work short innings and pitch deep into games. After a relatively slow start in April, the Giants’ southpaw went on to pitch 6-plus innings in all but three of 29 starts, while going 7-plus innings 15 times and 8-plus innings six times over that span. Bumgarner’s 27.5 percent K-rate was a career-high mark, while his 11.5 percent swinging strike rate was nothing to sneeze at, either.
Bumgarner faces a Padres team that unsurprisingly owned the league’s second highest strikeout rate vs. left-handed pitching in 2016. They were a league-average team when it came to power (.163 ISO), but players like Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton and even Derek Norris helped in that department. This season, San Diego is starting Margot, Myers, Solarte, Renfroe, Schimpf, Hedges, Aybar and Jankowski vs. LHP — not exactly the most threatening lineup. They own a 2.5-run implied total inside the pitcher-friendly Petco Park, and the Giants are -194 ML favorites on the road. The Strikeouts, the innings, the win — all of them should be available on Saturday night.
Yu Darvish [RHP vs. OAK] – The career 30.2 percent K-rate Darvish owns is a reason to consider him whenever he’s on the mound, but I wouldn’t consider him a top cash game option with Bumgarner facing the Padres. Darvish draws a much friendlier matchup than he did in his opening day start against Cleveland, but this game will still take place inside one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball. Darvish has managed to maintain even splits at home and on the road, though, which mitigates much of the concern we would have with other pitchers at Globe Life Park. Naturally, Darvish has performed better against right-handed batters, but Oakland’s lefties don’t pose much of a threat; Matt Joyce, Lef Lowrie, Stephen Vogt and Yonder Alonso won’t exactly scare a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber off the bump.
In tournaments I see plenty of merit to deploying Darvish, who threw 98 pitches in his 2017 debut and doesn’t seem to have any restrictions. He has easy double-digit strikeout upside and an offense behind him that should pile some runs on Kendall Graveman this evening. As a -175 ML favorite and a price point significantly lower than Bumgarner’s, Darvish could easily be a key piece in taking down some large-field GPPs on Saturday night.
Dallas Keuchel [LHP vs. KC] – Keuchel became one of my favorite pitchers a couple years back, and last season’s hiccup was just that — a hiccup. Here’s why Keuchel struggled so much in 2016: he threw a lot of pitches (namely his slider) out of the zone, forcing batters to chase. It raised his K-rate to a career-high 23.7 percent in 2015, but did not come without consequences. In 2016, hitters stopped chasing, and his O-swing rate dropped more than three percent as a result. A brutal start to the season and an inflated walk rate forced Keuchel to start throwing more strikes, which sent his contact rate up almost three percent. Now, Keuchel is an elite groundball pitcher, so when his stuff is working he’ll get plenty of easy outs and prevent home runs. An interesting stat cited by Eno Saris is that Keuchel led the league in inches the catcher had to move his glove from target to acquisition in 2014. He pitches with excellent command which makes up for a low-velocity fastball, and his secondary pitches are good enough to get him through games.
I’m not projecting Keuchel to drop 40 fantasy points on the Royals tonight, but I do see him possessing 25-30 FP upside in a matchup that suits his skill set. Kansas City was much better against lefties than they were against righties in 2016, but their 2017 lineup is far from intimidating. Kendrys Morales is gone, so they’re using three lefties in the top four spots of the order against Southpaws (or at least they did against Hector Santiago earlier this week). Save for Lorenzo Cain and to some extent Salvador Perez, this team is very underwhelming from the left side of the plate. Keuchel has held LHB to a stellar .268 wOBA over his career, while striking them out at an above-average 23.1 percent clip. I’m assuming most will avoid him based on last season’s numbers, but I’m willing to bet he’s figured it out. Keuchel’s command is too good for him to suffer as he did in 2016.
HONORABLE MENTION: Clayton Kershaw [LHP @ COL] draws a start inside most extreme hitter’s park around, but his price tag has plummeted across the board as a result. Starting any pitcher at Coors Field is a risk, even Kershaw, but that price point is incredibly tempting. He’s legitimately $3K+ less expensive than he should be at any other park, and continues to be the best hitter on planet earth. I’ll have some shares in GPPs for sure.
Kyle Hendricks [RHP @ MIL] put himself on the map last season after finishing with a 2.13 ERA, 23 percent K-rate and a 10 percent swinging strike rate across 190 innings of work. Kendricks walked batters at a sub-six percent clip while allowing minimal hard contact throughout the year. I don’t expect him to replicate 2016’s miniscule ERA, but he should still be a very serviceable arm if he continues to throw strikes and induce ground balls at a slightly above-average clip. As we know, the Brewers are a strikeout-prone, high-variance team that Hendricks should perform well against. They’re also liable to score runs in a hurry, so this one is no guarantee.
Kris Bryant [1B – R] @ Milone [LHP] – If there was ever a time for Bryant to remember who he is, it would be on Saturday in a matchup with Tommy Milone. Over the last several years, the left-handed Milone has been rocked by right-handed batters, and he’s still never had to pitch in a hitter-friendly venue. That’ll change in 2016, when Milone takes the mound for Milwaukee at Miller Park, where many pitchers go to die. Milone is a flyball pitcher who strikes batters out at a well-below average clip and sits on an 88 MPH fastball. If Bryant, who has annihilated southpaws to the tune of a .397/.272 wOBA/ISO over his two-plus season career can’t figure it out on Saturday, I’ll be shocked to say the least.
Rougned Odor [2B – L] vs. Graveman [RHP] – The 23-year-old second baseman has already hit three home runs on the young season, but that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise after he tallied 33 of them in 2016. Odor continues to offer excellent power from the left side of the plate, and in 463 plate appearances vs. righties last season he boasted a .247 ISO with a 43 percent flyball rate. He’ll face a right-hander in Kendall Graveman who started the season off well with a fine performance at O.Co., but is going to have a much tougher time impressive at Globe Life on Saturday.
Here’s the thing, Graveman is a groundball artist who uses a decent sinker to keep balls out of the air, but he won’t have the spacious Oakland Coliseum to fall back on as a crutch this evening. Graveman lugged around a 4.70 xFIP and 12 percent K-rate away from home last season, while his HR/FB rate inflated by four percent outside of Oakland. He does a decent job of limiting the overall damage, but he’ll have to work around a number of talented bats on Saturday, and doesn’t have the arsenal to set them down by way of strikeout. This could be a long night for Graveman in a game where he is a heavy dog at an extreme hitter’s park, and Odor should be sure to remind him that he’s a long way from home.
Bryce Harper [OF – L] @ Nola [RHP] – Much like last season, Harper is off to a hot start, registering two home runs, three XBH and five RBI over his first four games. He’ll draw a matchup with Aaron Nola on Saturday, who after a very nice start in 2016 deteriorated over the summer months before being shut down for the year. Nola was dealing with fatigue and elbow problems which likely led to many of his struggles, but his brutal spring training stats from last month (19.1 IP/18 ER/4 HR/7 BB/23 K) would indicate that there’s still plenty to work on. Nola was racking up strikeouts at an elite clip this spring, but that was the extent of his success. I’d expect Harper to give him some trouble at the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, as his extreme success against right-handers has been very well-documented.
HONORABLE MENTION: Carlos Santana [1B – L/R] @ Greinke; Corey Seager [SS – L] @ Gray; Adrian Gonzalez [1B – L] @ Gray
Nomar Mazara [OF – L] vs. Graveman [RHP] – Like Odor, but to an even more impressive extent, Mazara has been mashing the ball to start the year. The 21-year-old outfielder has racked up multiple hits in each of his first four starts, with two home runs, two double, nine RBI and two-three-hit games in that span. He’ll come back down to earth at some point, but a matchup with Kendall Graveman could allow him to stay hot for at least one more night. Batting third in the Rangers’ order at the hitter-friendly Globe Life Stadium should benefit him nicely against the right-handed Graveman who requires spacious ballparks to thrive. Mazara is a phenomenal play at his current price point, sitting at $3,100 on FanDuel and $3,800 on DraftKings. Much like last night, I’m more than willing to load up on Rangers lefties and see what it takes me.
Willson Contreras [C – R] @ Milone [LHP] – Draws the platoon advantage for the first time this season, as he’s only had one plate appearance against a southpaw thus far, which he hit for a double. The left-handed Tommy Milone is far from frightening, and he’ll no longer have the luxury of using pitcher-friendly home ballparks to mitigate his high flyball rate. Contreras has plenty of power, is batting in the middle of a potent Cubs lineup, and sported a very acceptable .365/.189 wOBA/ISO in his rookie campaign. He’s affordable on both FanDuel and DraftKings, making the decision at catcher a rather easy one if you’re looking to save.
Jake Lamb [3B – L] vs. Bauer [RHP] – Just because Trevor Bauer throws 37 different pitches doesn’t make him elite. Don’t get me wrong, he flashed elite stuff last season and does have a few plus pitches in his arsenal, but a below-average walk rate and groundball rate vs. left-handed batters could give him trouble on Saturday. Jake Lamb provides us with a middle of the order bat with the platoon advantage and an affordable price tag. He’s also hitting inside Chase Field, where for his career he owns a .228 ISO compared to .174 on the road. Lamb’s career .213 ISO vs. RHP is also well above average, and he’ll see plenty of good pitches hitting between two power-hitting righties. Bauer isn’t a scrub by any stretch, but he can get wild at any moment and isn’t mentally stable enough (check out some of his Twitter rants from last year) to collect himself when things start moving south.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ben Zobrist [2B/OF – L/R] @ Milone [LHP]; Addison Russell [SS – R] @ Milone [LHP]; Joey Gallo [3B/OF – L] vs. Graveman [RHP]; Giancarlo Stanton [OF – R] vs. Conley [LHP] GPP ONLY
Chris Herrmann [C – L] @ Bauer [RHP] – Herrmann should earn plenty of starts against righties this season, but because he’ll be platooned his salary will remain low. He’s dirt cheap across the industry, has proven that he can hit right-handed pitching, and is batting sixth in a lineup filled with power. RBI opportunities should be available on Saturday if he starts, and he isn’t going to cost you much at a weak catcher position.
Wilmer Flores [2B/3B – R] vs. Conley [LHP] – Flores’ splits against left-handed pitching are astounding, and certainly not what I would’ve expected. He’s smashed them for a .400+ wOBA and .300+ ISO since 2015, and remains very cheap across the industry. Adam Conley is a solid pitcher with good stuff, but he lacks velocity and can sometimes lose his command entirely. Flores is no lock to produce on Saturday, but batting in the middle of the Mets’ order with the platoon advantage is enough for me to consider him at his price point.
HONORABLE MENTION: Cesar Hernandez [2B – L/R] vs. Guthrie [RHP]; Mitch Haniger [OF – R] @ Nolasco [RHP]; Andrew Toles [OF – L] @ Gray [RHP]