MLB Deep Dive – 4/19/17
Clayton Kershaw [LHP – LAD] vs. COL – The aspect of my job that I love most is being able to provide comprehensive player breakdowns in order to give you, the reader, a sound understanding of the reasoning behind each play. Sure, projections and optimizers are fantastic tools that we all utilize in lineup building each day, but being able to understand the process behind why players perform well or fail to perform is an essential piece of the puzzle in becoming a successful DFS player.
Having said that, Clayton Kershaw needs no elaborative review. We need not discuss why he is the top overall pitching option not only on Wednesday’s slate, but on pretty much every slate he pitches. You’re paying a premium for him, but he’s a machine. It’s like paying extra money for a PowerBall ticket that’s guaranteed to win — you’re always gonna do it.
Pay for him against a Rockies team that struggles away from Coors, strikes out at an above average clip and owns a 2.4-run implied total on the road. Pay for him on a night where he’s an absurd -265 ML favorite in a pitcher-friendly park. Pay for him because he’s Clayton Kershaw. Pay for him.
Chris Archer [RHP – TB] vs. DET – Archer’s matchup appears tougher on paper than it should actually play out, as Detroit sports a righty-heavy lineup with a decent amount of strikeouts. Actually, the Tigers are striking out at the seventh highest clip against RHP this season, and that’s really all that matters when it comes to Archer. Tampa’s ace right-hander has held same-handed hitters to a .279 wOBA over his career, while holding opposing batters to a .275 wOBA inside the pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field. The Rays are -165 ML favorites at home with Detroit owning a paltry 3.1-run implied total, so Archer should be poised to rack up strong strikeout totals and is likely to earn the win.
Tyler Anderson [LHP – COL] @ LAD – Anderson isn’t likely to get much run support with Clayton Kershaw toeing the rubber for Los Angeles, but he should be able to keep the Dodgers off the scoreboard, too. L.A. was dismal vs. left-handed pitching last season, finishing with a league-worst .275 wOBA (15 points below the 29th-ranked Phillies), 28th ranked ISO (.118) and a 22.4 percent strikeout rate that sat right outside the top-10. 2017 hasn’t been much easier for them, and now they’ll temporarily be without the services of new additions Franklin Gutierrez and Logan Forsythe, who took a pitch off his toe last night. Neither of the two righties are elite hitters, but both of them own above average career splits against southpaws and would’ve been useful in Wednesday’s tilt.
Anderson has gotten off to a putrid start this season, allowing 14 earned runs over his first 14.2 innings of work. He did, however, post a 3.54 ERA with a 3.64 xFIP and 51 percent groundball rate across 114.2 innings last year, and 68 percent of those innings were pitched at Coors Field. Depending on the lineup that Dave Roberts rolls out on Wednesday, Anderson could see a lot of left-handed bats and a number of sub-par righties. He’s obviously a massive road dog against Kershaw, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Anderson throw his first solid game of the year.
Robert Gsellman [RHP – NYM] vs. PHI – Gsellman is striking batters out at a 26 percent clip this year, and although that number is entirely unsustainable, he could keep it up for one more night against the Phillies. Through three weeks of baseball, Philadelphia owns the eighth highest K-rate vs. RHP (23.7%), while also sporting a bottom-10 94 wRC+. I’m not saying Gsellman will toss a gem, but pairing a low-end arm with Kershaw won’t be easy. He’s both affordable and a -131 ML favorite at home in what most would consider a pitcher-friendly venue. Gsellman’s career 53.6 percent GB rate and 3.38 xFIP suggests that he should be able to pitch efficiently, if not with high upside depending on the strikeouts. You could do worse in this price range as an SP-2 to be paired with Kershaw on two-pitcher sites.
Masahiro Tanaka [RHP – NYY] vs. CWS – Tanaka has been bad to start the season, there’s simply no two ways around it. The 28-year-old right-hander has seen a drop in K-rate (18.6%) and a massive spike in his BB-rate (11.4%), while already coughing up 13 ER and 3 HR across 14 IP. I’m expecting improvement here eventually, as Tanaka clearly isn’t an 8-plus ERA pitcher, but he’ll need to cut his walk rate in half before being effective again.
Having said that, Wednesday’s matchup with Chicago poses an excellent opportunity for Tanaka to get back on track, as the White Sox rank bottom-four in wOBA (.266) and top-four in K-rate (25.2%) vs. RHP. Tanaka is also a massive -227 ML favorite at home with Chicago sporting an unsightly 3.2-run implied total. I’m not exactly confident in his ability to limit runs right now, especially when pitching at Yankee Stadium, but this is a better time than ever to deploy Tanaka in GPPs, as he should go heavily overlooked with his recent struggles overshadowing the potential upside.
HONORABLE MENTION: Trevor Bauer [RHP – CLE] @ MIN [GPP]
Joey Votto [1B – L] vs. Jimenez [RHP] – Paying for hitting won’t be easy tonight, so I’m only going to list a few players in this tier. Votto is one of those few players, facing a deteriorating right-hander at one of the best hitter parks in baseball. Ubaldo Jimenez, since the start of 2016, is allowing a .379 wOBA to LHB with a .218 ISO, 4.59 xFIP and 15.5 percent HR/FB rate. Tonight’s meeting with Cincinnati owns a 9-O/U with both teams expected to pile on the runs, and Jimenez will likely get tuned up by the top of this Reds order.
Votto hasn’t been hitting for average to start the year, but he’s already tallied four home runs and three doubles in 14 games. He also owns a spectacular .418/.234 wOBA/ISO split vs. righties over his career. Votto won’t come cheap, but he should see every opportunity to produce against Jimenez. My only concern here is Baltimore’s bullpen has been stout in 2017, so if Jimenez gets chased from the mound early the matchup could become a whole lot more difficult.
Manny Machado [3B – R] @ Garrett [LHP] – Machado let many of us down on Tuesday, squandering a great matchup against Bronson Arroyo and a Reds bullpen that ranks 27th in ERA and owns the league’s highest xFIP in 2017. He’ll draw an opportunity to redeem himself this evening against the rookie southpaw Amir Garrett. Now, Garrett has looked strong over his first two Major League starts, but this is still a pitcher who saw his K-rate drop below 20 percent in Triple-A, and induces ground balls at a below average clip vs. opposite-handed hitters. Vegas has Baltimore with the third highest implied run total on the night (4.7), and I’d be surprised to see them struggle again at such a great righty power park. I’m willing to go back to the well on Machado, who significantly improved his hitting vs. lefties last season. I understand if you aren’t on board, though, and he’ll be a difficult player to fit anyway with Kershaw being a priority.
George Springer [OF – R] vs. Ramirez [RHP] – J.C. Ramirez in 74.1 career IP vs. RHB (most of them out of the bullpen), has allowed a Goliath .352 wOBA, .227 ISO and 19.1 HR/9. He’ll be pitching at Minute Maid Park, which ranks top-10 for right-handed power, against an Astros team that currently owns the highest implied run total on the night (5).
Needless to say, Springer finds himself in an excellent spot on Wednesday, and he’s already been fantastic to start the year, recording seven home runs and 12 RBI in only 14 starts. I’ll take a leadoff hitter with power and the ability to steal an occasional bag against J.C. Ramirez any day of the week. Springer’s salary still doesn’t exactly reflect his early-season performance, and it would be smart to continue riding him while he’s hot.
HONORABLE MENTION: Bryce Harper [OF – L] @ Teheran [RHP]; Carlos Santana [1B/OF – L/R] @ Mejia [LHP]; Jose Altuve [2B – R] vs. Ramirez [RHP]
Billy Hamilton [OF – L/R] vs. Jimenez [RHP] – Ubaldo Jimenez allowed the fourth most stolen bases in 2016 despite making only 25 starts, and the eighth most stolen bases in 2015. In case you were wondering, we like Billy Hamilton against pitchers who can’t hold runners. We like Billy Hamilton on Wednesday against Jimenez, especially considering Baltimore’s righty will also serve up plenty of extra-base hits. Welington Castillo is better at throwing out runners than Matt Wieters was, but the pitcher has more influence on stolen bases allowed than their catcher, anyway.
Hamilton unsurprisingly leads the league in stolen bases this season (6) along with teammate Jose Peraza, and I’d be surprised to see them not take off on every available opportunity. Base stealing is a highly overlooked factor in DFS, and we need to target these type of hitters when they’re in optimal spots. With the ability to rack up home run-type points without recording a hit, Hamilton possesses value that is fare rarer than the power-hitting slugger.
Eduardo Nunez [3B/SS – R] @ Vargas [LHP] – Something strange is happening with Salvador Perez this season — the usually dominant defensive backstop has prevented only one stolen base on ten attempts this season, worse than every backstop in baseball not named Francisco WOATvelli. Maybe it’s a result of his banged up knees or the fact that he absolutely never gets a break behind the dish, but he hasn’t been nearly as sharp in 2017. As a result, I’m more inclined to target someone like Eduardo Nunez, who batting sixth in the Giants order won’t see as many stolen base opportunities as he did in 2016, but still offers plenty of value at is price point.
Finding mid-range talent on Wednesday’s slate will be important, and Nunez offers speed with enough gap power to be relevant. Moreover, I’m not at all sold on Jason Vargas being good (again?), as his 50 percent GB rate isn’t sustainable and neither is his ridiculous 28 percent K-rate. If you’re in search of a lower mid-range bat with the platoon advantage, Nunez definitely makes for a serviceable solution.
Yankee Left-Handers vs. Covey [RHP] – I definitely think targeting some of New York’s lefty bats makes a lot of sense on Wednesday, as they’re facing a rookie right-hander in Dylan Covey who owns a ZIPS projection of 5.89 and a Steamer projection of 5.07 for 2017. Covey was fine in his Major League debut, but he doesn’t get strikeouts and has some serious issues with limiting walks. The Yankees own a 4.9-run implied total inside the most lefty-friendly park in baseball, so I have a difficult time believing Covey will escape unscathed.
Chase Headley [3B – L/R] may be my favorite Yankee bat on Wednesday, as he’s batting in the middle of the order, possesses more than enough power to clear a short right field fence, and is actually hitting really well to start the season. At a discounted price point on DraftKings, Headley should serve as a perfect salary relief bat in Kershaw-anchored lineups.
Brett Gardner [OF – L], Jacoby Ellsbury [OF – L] and Aaron Hicks [OF – L/R] also offer value depending on what New York’s outfield looks like, while Hicks may be the most enticing, being the cheapest of the trio across the industry, but also having the most power. At first base I’m not against considering Greg Bird [1B – L], either, as he’s affordable, draws the platoon, and is batting sixth in the order. I’ll definitely run out some Yankee stacks and hope Covey unravels at one of the worst parks for right-handed pitchers.
HONORABLE MENTION: Buster Posey [C – R] @ Vargas [LHP]; Brad Miller [2B – L] @ Zimmermann [RHP]; Asdrubal Cabrera [SS – L/R] vs. Velasquez [RHP]; Michael Conforto [OF – L] vs. Velasquez [RHP]; Jose Peraza [2B – R] vs. Jimenez [RHP]
Corey Dickerson [OF – L] @ Zimmermann [RHP] – Jordan Zimmermann isn’t who he used to be, but one may argue he never should’ve been as good as he actually was. Either way, I have no problem picking on the veteran right-hander, who’s sporting a miserable 21.9 percent GB rate over his first two starts, while striking out 13 percent of batters in the process. Not only is Zimmermann allowing far too many fly balls, but these fly balls have been hit hard. He’s coughing up 43.8 percent hard hit balls and 25 percent line drives, which is amazing when you consider Zimmermann has only allowed one home run thus far. He should struggle with the top of this Rays order, doesn’t have the stuff to strike them out, and has already walked as many batters as he’s K’d in 2017. I’ll have some Dickerson exposure as a cheap leadoff bat with the platoon advantage against a struggling righty. After all, Dickerson does own a career .261 ISO vs. right-handed arms.
Cesar Hernandez [2B – L/R] @ Gsellman [RHP] – Hernandez isn’t a .345 hitter, but he’s better than he was in 2016. He’s also underpriced on DraftKings as a switch-hitting leadoff man in a pretty exploitable matchup. Hernandez’s power probably won’t hold up, either, but he’s also a better base stealer than we’ve seen to start the year, so it should balance out any loss of power he experiences going forward. At $3,100 on DraftKings Hail Cesar makes for a very solid value option and has the chance to see five plate appearances. I don’t hate Gsellman as a cheap SP-2, but that shouldn’t mean Hernandez should be ignored. If he gets on base he’s going to run against d’Arnaud, too.
Brian McCann [C – L] @ Ramirez [RHP] – I’m really not a fan of rostering McCan’t, who routinely lets us down in good spots. That being said, I’m not interested in paying a premium for Buster Posey, either. McCann at least draws a fantastic matchup with the platoon advantage against J.C. Ramirez, and the Astros own a slate-high implied run total of five. Even though he’s aging rather quickly, McCann still provides some power against right-handed pitchers and won’t cost much at a weak catcher position. Welington Castillo [C – R] is also in play against Amir Garrett and has hit lefties very well over his career, while Chris Herrmann [C – L] is cheap enough to consider if he gets the start and doesn’t bat eighth.
HONORABLE MENTION: Kike Hernandez [SS/OF – R] vs. Anderson [LHP]; Trey Mancini [1B – R] @ Garrett [RHP] [GPP]; Craig Gentry [OF – R] @ Garrett [LHP]