MLB Deep Dive – 4/17/17
Danny Salazar [RHP – CLE] @ MIN – Salazar will always have some flaws — he actually reminds me of a young left-hander who has yet to harness his stuff and gets by on pure talent when he isn’t issuing walks and running up his pitch count. Salazar isn’t a lefty, though, and he isn’t especially young, either. You have to wonder if he’ll ever be able to cut down on walks, because if he does, Salazar will immediately become an elite pitcher, both for fantasy and for Cleveland.
Sitting on a mid-90’s fastball and a world-class changeup, Salazar becomes incredibly difficult to hit when everything is working. You still have to wonder why he’s throwing his sinker a lot, considering it’s the one pitch that batters can consistently hit, but perhaps he’s interested in inducing ground balls with runners on base after he walks two straight. Nevertheless, Salazar has been electric to start the season. He’s still walking batters at an unsurprisingly high clip, but the fifth-year righty has struck out 20 through only 11.2 innings pitched. He’ll draw an opportunity to continue posting solid numbers on Monday when the Indians head to Target Field.
Minnesota ranks 23rd in strikeouts vs. right-handed pitchers this season, but I don’t see that trend continuing. The Twins struck out eighth most in 2016, and judging by their current roster, there’s no way they’ve improved this much overnight. Jason Castro is the only notable addition to the lineup, and he strikes out at a career 28 percent clip. Miguel Sano strikes out at a ridiculous 35.5 percent rate, and Byron Buxton has literally struck out on half of his plate appearances this season. This team has the strikeouts to offer Salazar, and I fully expect him to capitalize on the opportunity. The one true concern here is the walks; Minnesota won’t chase Salazar off the mound with just their bats, but things could get messy if he can’t throw strikes. I’m still ready to deploy him on Monday, though, as he offers higher upside than any pitcher on this nine-game slate.
John Lackey [RHP – CHC] vs. MIL – I initially wasn’t interested in paying a premium for John Lackey, but found myself rethinking the decision after getting a good look at our alternative pitching options for Monday’s slate. Lackey will benefit from winds blowing in at Wrigley Field, is a -192 ML favorite, and faces a Milwaukee team that strikes out at a near 27 percent clip vs. right-handed arms. I don’t expect Lackey to continue striking out 13 batters per nine — Lackey owns a career 7.26 K/9 mark — but there’s a good chance he could match his career-best 8.60 K/9 from 2016.
Left-handed hitters have always given Lackey trouble, predominantly because his best pitch, a slider, is far more effective vs. same-handed bats. He changed his approach in 2016, though, throwing a harder changeup with great drop and a strong whiff rate. Lackey is also burying his curveball in the dirt more, which, coupled with the improved changeup, has helped to neutralize lefties and increase his K-rate. So, while I don’t anticipate Lackey finishing the season with a 25 percent strikeout rate, he could definitely replicate last year’s marks, and the Brewers should help facilitate the process on Monday.
Oh, here’s a final stat you may find interesting: only Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto own a lower home ERA than Lackey since 2013, who has posted a stellar 2.45 ERA across 429.1 innings pitched over that span. I’m going to take my chances on Lackey in an ultra-high-upside matchup.
Robbie Ray [LHP – ARI] @ LAD – Arizona’s 25-year-old southpaw draws an interesting matchup on Monday, facing a Dodgers team that finished dead last in wOBA vs. LHP in 2016 (15 points behind the 29th place Phillies), but added Logan Forsythe and Franklin Gutierrez over the winter. The majority of the Dodgers’ talent hits righties much better, including Justin Turner, but I do expect them to improve their numbers against lefties this season, especially now that Yasiel Puig appears to have been revived from the dead. Having said that, Vegas still has this as a low-scoring affair, with L.A. owning a 3.8-run implied total at home.
Ray posted a 28 percent K-rate last season, but struggled with walks and right-handed hitters. He did, however, own a 3.45 xFIP last season and a 4.33 DRA, which was significantly lower than 4.90 ERA than he finished with on the year. The bottom line is this: Ray is a talented pitcher who should improve upon his 2016 totals if he can limit walks. He has good stuff and can strike batters out at an elite clip. Pitching at Chase Field won’t do him any favors, but tonight’s start comes at a pitcher-friendly venue at Dodger Stadium. I much prefer him on FanDuel at $8,000 where he’s significantly cheaper than both Lackey and Salazar. He’s cash viable on FanDuel. I prefer using Ray in GPPs only on DraftKings, though, where he’s overpriced at $9,800.
Brandon McCarthy [RHP – LAD] vs. ARI – McCarthy has started the season off strong, allowing only eight hits and two runs across 12 innings pitched. He’s sporting a disappointing 7.7 percent swinging strike rate and 18.2 percent K-rate thus far, though, and has never been someone to get by on strikeouts. McCarthy is, however, a heavy home favorite (-153 ML) against the Diamondbacks, who own a paltry 3.4-run implied total on Monday. McCarthy also has no platoon splits over his career, holding both lefties and righties to near identical marks. If I’m going cheap at the pitcher position, he would be my primary target. That being said, there are enough quality mid-range bats available on this slate to where McCarthy doesn’t seem necessary.
Jharel Cotton [RHP – OAK] vs. TEX – Cotton owned a sexy K-rate throughout the minors and is off to a strong start in his rookie Major League campaign. He doesn’t induce many ground balls, but pitching in Oakland should mitigate those concerns, and the Rangers have been known to struggle away from Arlington. Cotton isn’t dirt cheap so I won’t be targeting him in cash, but he does have plenty of tournament appeal on a night where he’s a -130 ML favorite at home. Texas owns an unthreatening 3.8-run implied total this evening, and they offer plenty of strikeouts throughout their lineup.
Giancarlo Stanton [OF – R] @ Miranda [LHP] – If you listened to this morning’s podcast you know how much I love Giancarlo Stanton’s matchup. The power-hitting righty is facing an extreme flyball lefty in Ariel Miranda, who in 57 career innings pitched against opposite-handed hitters has allowed 14 home runs (2.21 HR/9) and strikes them out at a sub-20 percent clip. Miranda is inducing ground balls at a dreadful 29 percent clip vs. RHB with a 36 percent hard hit rate and a near five xFIP. Stanton, on the other hand, boasts a mouthwatering .415/.325 wOBA/ISO split vs. left-handed pitching, with a ridiculous 46.3 percent flyball rate and 45 percent hard hit rate across 804 plate appearances. We have an extreme flyball lefty pitcher vs. an extreme flyball righty bat, meaning Stanton will undoubtedly be getting some lift on Monday. I don’t care that this game takes place at Safeco Field — Stanton is in a perfect spot and shouldn’t be ignored on any site or in any format.
Freddie Freeman [1B – L] vs. Weaver [RHP] – Jered Weaver stunned us all with his performance at Coors Field last week, but that was more a result of the Rockies sucking and less of Weaver actually being good. The 87-year-old right-hander is averaging 84 MPH on is fastball — the type of pitch velocity you’d see at a charity softball event, not in the majors. He’s already allowed four long balls in 11 innings pitched, and is picking up right where he left off in 2016 when he served up 37 home runs. Weaver is a flyball pitcher with no ability to punch batters out, and I don’t see any way he’ll be able to send Freeman packing on Monday.
SunTrust Park, the Braves’ new home, is supposed to favor left-handed hitters with the center-right field walls being shortened 15 feet from Turner Field. Freeman expressed his enthusiasm towards the lefty-friendly venue earlier this spring, and he’ll earn an excellent opportunity to exploit it against Weaver. With a career .387 wOBA and .220 ISO vs. RHP, Freeman easily makes for the top first base play on this nine-game slate. I can’t think of any logical justification to fade him in cash.
Wil Myers [1B – R] does pose as an interesting tournament pivot away from Freeman, facing a southpaw in Jaime Garcia who has clearly lost his touch. Garcia’s once elite groundball rate is sitting at 40 percent through two starts this season, while his one-time stellar ability to limit home runs has up and left him over the past one-plus seasons. Garcia coughed up 26 home runs in 2016 (he had allowed double-digit home runs only once in his career prior to last season), and has already allowed three long balls through 11 innings in 2017. Since the start of last season Garcia is allowing a near .350 wOBA to right-handed bats.
Francisco Lindor [SS – L/R] @ Gibson [RHP] – Lindor has gotten off to a blistering hot start this season, riding a 10-game hit streak after going 0-6 over his first two games. Lindor has notched five multi-hit games over his last 10 starts, while racking up four home runs, four doubles and seven RBI over that stretch. He has only swiped one bag, but Lindor is capable of taking off in favorable spots, which will only add to his value. The switch-hitting shortstop was always praised for his elite defense, but his offensive prowess left much to be desired. That’s not the case anymore, though, as Lindor hit righties for a .351 wOBA in 2016 and is on pace to shatter that mark this season.
I’ll be targeting Lindor heavily on Monday against Kyle Gibson, a middling righty with no strikeout potential at all. Lindor’s Indians own a sexy 4.7-run implied total at Target Field, and I’d be very surprised to see their bats go quiet this evening. Carlos Santana [1B/OF – L/R] also makes for a strong play, but I would limit exposure to tournaments and Cleveland stacks instead of rostering him over Freddie Freeman in cash. Santana is, however, outfield eligible on DraftKings, which makes things easier.
HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Trout [OF – R] @ Morton [RHP]
Marcell Ozuna [OF – R] @ Miranda [LHP] – Ozuna would be in play at $4,200 on DraftKings, but he’s inexplicably priced at $3,500 in a matchup with the left-handed Miranda. Not only does Ozuna draw the platoon advantage against an extreme flyball, homer-prone lefty, but he leads the league in RBIs and is third in hits through nearly three weeks of baseball. Ozuna is tearing the laces off the ball right now, yet he’s still priced below the likes of Mitch Haniger, Josh Reddick, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton on DraftKings. I could continue, but you get the point. The only downside here is park factor, as Safeco Field is one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in the game. That’s not enough to keep me from loading up on Ozuna, though, as he is wildly underpriced in an optimal matchup.
J.T. Realmuto [C – R] @ Miranda [LHP] – We’ve already discussed Miranda’s glaring weaknesses, so there’s no need to elaborate there. We haven’t talked about Realmuto’s strong play, though, so we’ll take the time to do that now. The third-year backstop, like most Marlins hitters, is off to a hot start in 2017, sporting a .395 AVG and a 1.110 OPS across his first 38 at bats. He’ll come back down to earth eventually, but that’s not important. The fact that he’s batting second in Miami’s order behind Stanton and Ozuna is important, and it makes him the top catcher option on Monday night. Realmuto is especially enticing on FanDuel where he’s priced at a head-scratching $2,400, but I’ll be rostering him everywhere against Miranda.
Jose Ramirez [2B/3B] @ Gibson [RHP] – We’ve already touched on Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana, so why not talk about Jose Ramirez? Through his first 12 starts Ramirez has tallied three home runs, three doubles and 13 RBI, while sporting a fantastic 1.20 BB/K rate over that span. He’s batting in the middle of an Indians order that houses Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley ahead of him, so it’s safe to assume Ramirez will continue to see his fair share of hittable pitches. Ramirez hits from both sides of the plate and is one of the better young infield bats in the game. I’ll continue to target him until he’s priced out of contention, but at $4,000 on DraftKings and $3,700 on FanDuel he’s still very much in play.
HONORABLE MENTION: Robinson Cano [2B -L] vs. Koehler [RHP]; Logan Forsythe [2B/3B – R] vs. Ray; Jake Lamb [3B – L] @ McCarthy [RHP]
Hunter Renfroe/Manuel Margot [OF – R] @ Garcia [LHP] – Renfroe and Margot both offer solid outfield value on Monday, squaring off against a pitcher in Jaime Garcia who has unraveled over his past one-plus seasons. As earlier noted, Garcia’s groundball rate continues to decline while his home run rate subsequently shoots through the roof. The sinker isn’t doing its job like it used to, and Garcia doesn’t have the power to blow by hitters with his four-seamer. His slider has also been hammered when he’s attempted to throw it over his first two starts this season. I’m not interested in using Renfroe and Margot in the same lineup, but I’ll definitely be looking their way to round out my outfield on DraftKings. Renfroe has smashed southpaws in a small Major League sample, while Margot has been quite effective himself, and both of them own very favorable spots in the Padres’ order. I have no problem targeting them against an eroding Garcia, who is allowing a .348 wOBA and 1.56 HR/9 to opposing righties since the start of 2016.
Adam Frazier [2B/SS/OF – L] @ Lynn [RHP] – Frazier is a pure price play on Monday, weighing in at $2,100 on FanDuel and $3,000 on DraftKings. He’ll have the platoon advantage against Lance Lynn, who although he’s been much better at home over his career, has very much struggled against left-handed bats. Lynn is allowing a .342 wOBA to LHB compared to a .279 wOBA to righties, while owning a 4.81 xFIP and 2.88 xFIP over his career, respectively. Frazier isn’t a particularly exciting player, but he should lead off for Pittsburgh and could potentially see another five plate appearances atop the lineup. It also doesn’t hurt to see that Frazier is 5-9 with a home run, triple, double and four RBI over his last two starts.
Lonnie Chisenhall [3B/OF – L] @ Gibson [RHP] – Chisenhall has been off the DL for several days now, and is back to hitting sixth in Cleveland’s order when righties are on the mound. He isn’t the most consistent hitter and can have some truly ugly at bats, but Chisenhall is affordable across the industry and batting near the middle of a ridiculously formidable Indians lineup. Simply put, Chisenhall should see plenty of opportunity to knock in runs against Kyle Gibson, and can easily pay off his salary with one swing of the bat. I have no problem using him as a punt in lineups where you’re pairing Salazar/Lackey or paying up for the majority of your hitters. Chisenhall also makes for a perfect cheap piece in Cleveland stacks on Monday.
Dansby Swanson [SS – R] vs. Weaver [RHP] – Swanson is off to a predictable slow start, but hopefully a matchup with Jered Weaver can remedy his struggles. Again, this is a price play, and although I’m not looking for home runs, he should be able to gap one against the decrepit arm of Weaver. He’s batting second, is very cheap, and is facing Weaver. That’s all we need. I’ll take some fliers on Swanson tonight.
HONORABLE MENTION: Stephen Vogt [C – L] vs. Griffin [RHP]; Tyler Moore [1B/OF – R] @ Miranda [LHP]; Matt Joyce [OF – L] vs. Griffin [RHP]