MLB Deep Dive – 4/20/17

PITCHING

Noah Syndergaard [RHP – NYM] vs. PHI Syndergaard’s last start was shortened due to a torn fingernail, which came two starts after prematurely leaving his season debut with a blister. On one hand, it’s good to see another blister didn’t pop up, but on the other hand it’s a bit concerning to know that he’s been forced to leave two of his first three starts. I’m not too concerned, though, as both of these ailments appear to be rather flukey, and he still got through six innings in both starts before leaving the mound. I won’t be avoiding him on Thursday because he’s been plagued by blisters and fingernail tears.

Syndergaard draws a stellar matchup with the Phillies, who are striking out at the seventh highest clip vs. RHP this season. Maikel Franco is hitless over his last 21 at bats, Tommy Joseph is five for his last 27 with one XBH, and Odubel Herrera is striking out at a 37 percent clip over his last 30 at bats. Meanwhile, Howie Kendrick, one of the few Phillies who was actually hitting well of late, is sidelined with an abdominal injury. Needless to say, this is not a threatening lineup, as evidenced by their 2.6-run implied total at Citi Field. I think it’s safe to say we can lean on Thor’s 28.5 percent career strikeout rate against a Phillies squad that’s barely getting by less than a month into the season. Syndergaard is the top pitching option on Thursday’s 7-game main slate.

Aaron Nola [RHP – PHI] @ NYM Last year came to an abrupt and disappointing end for Nola, who was dealing with an elbow injury and fatigue. He was stellar in April and May but fell off a cliff in June and never managed to regain his footing. There is some good new, however, as Nola has displayed legitimate reasons to be encouraged in 2017. First, his average four-seam and two-seam velocity is up two MPH from last season, sitting at 92.6 MPH and 92 MPH over his first two starts, respectively. This is a great sign moving forward, as Nola was already fantastic at getting called strikes but struggled to get swinging strikes last season (9.6% SwStr). He’s only made two starts, but Nola owns a stellar 14 percent SwStr rate and a much improved whiff rate on both his fastball (19.2%) and changeup (37.5%). If Nola can supplement his elite called strike rate with swinging strikes he’ll be much harder to hit.

I’m sure he’ll have some hiccups along the way, but I’m buying Nola. He has great movement on his pitches, limits walks and generates ground balls at a well above average clip. His Z-Contact and O-Contact rates are down significantly to start the year, while his ability to throw pitches for strikes has remained consistent. The Mets have a few threatening bats throughout their lineup, and Nola isn’t likely to earn the win against Noah Syndergaard, but this game owns a 6.5-O/U with New York sporting a paltry 3.5-run implied total at home. If the velocity stays up and Nola continues to generate swinging strikes, he’s going to be a great daily fantasy option for us all season long.

James Paxton [LHP – SEA] @ OAK I’m totally sold on Paxton, a 28-year-old southpaw who sits on a 96 MPH fastball and continues to mature as Seattle’s future ace. Since last year’s All-Star break, Paxton ranks fifth in ERA, second in xFIP, second in wOBA allowed and fourth in K-BB% among all qualified starters. He is sandwiched in between, or ahead of bonafide major league aces over that span. Command had always been an issue for the all-potential lefty, but since lowering his arm slot, Paxton is throwing harder and for more strikes.

Not only is Paxton throwing more strikes, but he’s missing more bats, boasting a filthy 14.8 percent swinging strike rate and a 29.3 percent K-rate to start the year. When you can locate as well as Paxton can, outs become much easier to get. Whether he’s keeping the fastball low and away or climbing the ladder with 97 MPH heat, hitters will struggle. Maybe he’ll throw a curveball in the zone and freeze a hitter, or bury one in the dirt for a swinging strike — it really doesn’t matter. He’s doing it all right now and I am completely on board.

Paxton faces an Oakland team that ranks bottom-10 in both wOBA and ISO vs. LHP this season. The A’s won’t strike out a ton, but Paxton’s stuff has been so nasty that I’d be surprised to see him finish with fewer than six K’s on Thursday. Furthermore, Paxton is a -146 ML favorit on the road inside one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball. Oakland owns a paltry 3.1-run implied total and should have trouble generating any offense against one of the league’s best southpaws. Yeah, I said it… Paxton is one of baseball’s best lefties and he’ll continue to prove it as the season wears on.

 Carlos Martinez [RHP – STL] @ MIL  Martinez will always be prone to blow up outings, as evidenced by the 6-run meltdown he suffered against the Reds in his second start of the season. He’ll also dazzle, though, and he’ll dazzle more than he’ll implode. Thursday’s matchup with Milwaukee isn’t optimal for cash game purposes, as the Brewers own a ridiculous league-leading .228 ISO vs. right-handed pitching this season, headlined by the miraculous rise of Eric Thames. Miller Park certainly won’t favor the pitcher, especially when facing teams with ample power. It is, however, a perfect matchup for GPPs, as Milwaukee owns the second highest K-rate in baseball vs. RHP (25.6%) and despite their power, sports a middle of the road .317 wOBA on the year.

Martinez has always boasted above average strikeout potential, but he seems to have elevated that upside in 2017 with a 30 percent K-rate and 13.8 percent swinging strike rate through his first three starts. We’re talking about a young righty who sits on a 96 MPH fastball, has a filthy changeup and a slider that will have hitters swinging out of their cleats. He’s done a solid job of limiting home runs, too, which should help him on Thursday. Martinez’s career 54 percent groundball rate is another aspect of his game that should aid his performance at Miller Park. I’ll absolutely be targeting him in tournaments tonight, as he boasts legitimate double-digit strikeout upside against the K-heavy Brewers.

HONORABLE MENTION: Danny Duffy [LHP – KC] @ TEX Duffy is worth a look in DraftKings GPPs, but only because he’s well underpriced. The Rangers light up the scoreboard in Arlington, where game-time temperatures will be around 82 degrees, and this game unsurprisingly owns a 9-O/U. That being said, the strikeout potential is evident with Texas sporting a near 30 percent K-rate vs. southpaws, and Duffy is $8,200 due to a bad park and sub-optimal matchup.

HITTING

HIGH-PRICED

 Bryce Harper [OF -L] @ Dickey [RHP] I’ve been talking about this a lot lately, but SunTrust Field is really going to benefit left-handed hitters. The right field wall is significantly shorter than Turner Field’s, and the results have already been evident. With 80-degree game-time temperatures in Atlanta, the right-handed R.A. Dickey could struggle to keep the ball inside the yard. He should especially struggle against Bryce Harper, who’s gone 9-12 with four home runs, three doubles and ten RBI over his last three games.

Harper hasn’t seen many knuckleballers over his career (I’ve counted 12 ABs), but I can’t say I’m concerned. He’s one of, if not the best left-handed hitter in baseball, and the Nationals own a 4.7-run implied total on the night. Dickey’s groundball rate plummets vs. lefties, and Harper owns a career .397/.246 wOBA/ISO split vs. RHP. If you’re paying up for hitting, you simply can’t go wrong with Harper.

Paul Goldschmidt [1B – R] @ Richard [LHP] Goldschmidt won’t have the luxury of hitting at Chase Field on Thursday, but a matchup with Clayton Richard should be enough to put him on the radar. Richard has allowed a whopping .350 wOBA to RHB over his career, while ceding 1.25 HR/9 with a 4.56 xFIP and 34 percent hard hit rate. Petco Park should keep him from imploding, but Richard isn’t likely to escape unscathed. Goldschmidt’s career splits against southpaws are jaw-dropping (.431/.258 wOBA/ISO), and although he’s been prone to striking out at an above average clip, that shouldn’t be a problem against Richard and his career 13 percent K-rate vs. right-handed bats.

A.J. Pollock [OF – R] has also been impressive with the platoon advantage, along with a number of these Arizona righties. My assumption is people will fade D-Backs hitters based on the unfavorable park conditions, but that just makes them more appealing in tournaments. Richard is bound to struggle against a lineup that led the league in both wOBA (.348) and ISO (.201) against lefties in 2016.

Manny Machado [3B – R] @ Feldman [RHP] At this point, everyone has been scared off of Machado after he squandered two very exploitable matchups inside the best righty power park the league has to offer. Call me crazy, but this is the time to pounce. Machado’s bat won’t stay quiet forever, and Thursday’s matchup with Scott Feldman poses an excellent opportunity to come alive. Feldman allows a career .330 wOBA to opposing righties with an unimpressive GB-rate and 12.4 HR/9. He isn’t a complete gas can, but Feldman is far from ace material.

I’m expecting Machado’s ownership to be unusually depressed in this spot, aided by a recent lack of production. If you fancy yourself a risk taker, an Orioles stack should warrant plenty of consideration. Baltimore currently owns the highest implied run total (4.7) on the night. Chris Davis [1B – L] is another very enticing option on this seven-game slate.

HONORABLE MENTION: Chris Davis [1B – L] @ Feldman [RHP]; Daniel Murphy [2B – L] @ Dickey [RHP]; Robinson Cano [2B – L] @ Valdez [RHP]; Wil Myers [1B – R] vs. Corbin [GPP]

MID-RANGE

Zack Cozart [SS – R] vs. Miley [LHP] Cincinnati’s starting shortstop is off to a ridiculously hot start, and while there’s no way he’ll sustain such a pace, we should continue to target him while he bats sixth in the order. Cozart’s value has always been hamstrung by batting lower in the Reds’ lineup, but now he becomes more appealing. Cozart has racked up three triples, two doubles, a home run and eight RBI on the young season, and now he’ll face a lefty in Wade Miley who allows a career .332 wOBA to right-handed hitters.

Miley is also off to a strong start, but I don’t expect it to continue through Thursday. Great American Ballpark is the best righty power venue in baseball, and Cincinnati owns a solid 4.5-run implied total at home. I don’t see how Miley will navigate around all these red-hot righties, leaving Cozart with ample opportunity to knock in runs at the middle of the lineup. Chris Owings [SS – R] is another interesting mid-range shortstop play if he bats second against Richard. Sandwiched between Pollock and Goldschmidt is generally an effective way to see some very hittable pitches.

Mike Moustakas [3B – R] @ Cashner [RHP] Moustakas might be my favorite mid-range play on Thursday night, facing a trash righty at Rangers Ballpark where game-time temperatures will be hovering around 82 degrees. Arlington is a phenomenal hitter’s park, especially when the weather starts to warm, and I simply don’t see any way Andrew Cashner will be able to pitch effectively.

Since 2015, Cashner is allowing a Goliath .382 wOBA to left-handed hitters, with a ridiculous .236 ISO, 4.96 and xFIP. Cashner is also coughing up 1.59 HR/9 to lefties over that span, while his 38.1 percent hart hit rate against just makes matters worse. Moustakas, on the other hand, has more than enough power to tattoo one off of Cashner at one of the most hitter-friendly parks around.

Eric Thames [1B – L] vs. Martinez [RHP] Thames has been on an unbelievable tear to start the year — it’s actually not believable. He continues to smash, though, and draws a home matchup at one of the best power parks in baseball. Now the draw against Martinez isn’t great, but CarMart’s primary bugaboo over his career has been left-handed bats (.329 wOBA allowed). Martinez’s K-rate dips to 18 percent vs. opposite-handed bats and his hard hit rate inflates by eight percent. I’m not high on most Brewers bats tonight, but Thames is too cheap and too hot to ignore on DraftKings.

HONORABLE MENTION: Chris Owings [SS – R] @ Richard [LHP]; Eugenio Suarez [3B – R] vs. Miley [LHP]; Salvador Perez [C – R] @ Cashner [RHP]; Kyle Seager [3B – L] @ Valdez [RHP]

VALUE

Jarrod Dyson [OF – L] @ Valdez [RHP] Cesar Valdez is 32 years old and he’s pitched 20 career major league innings — which came back in 2010 with Arizona. Valdez has been solid in Triple-A ball over the past few years, but I’m still more than willing to target Jarrod Dyson if he continues to lead off. Dyson has stellar speed, and he’ll face a catcher in Stephen Vogt who has allowed eight stolen bases on nine attempts this season. I’m not familiar with Valdez’s ability to hold runners, but I’m still on board with Dyson, as he’s going to run regardless. If he gets on base he’s going to run, and Seattle owns a high enough implied run total to suggest Dyson should have plenty of chances. He draws the platoon advantage against a career minor leaguer and offers value at a very low price point across the industry.

Austin Hedges [C – R] vs. Corbin [LHP] There is barely any viable value on the board tonight which is why we’re discussing Hedges. It’s hard to find catchers batting higher than seventh in the order who aren’t overpriced, so at $2,900 on DraftKings and $2,500 on FanDuel, Hedges makes for a fine punt with the platoon advantage if you’re looking to spend elsewhere. Punting catcher is never a bad move on slates like Thursday’s, just don’t expect much production.

HONORABLE MENTION: Cesar Hernandez [2B – L/R] @ Syndergaard [RHP] [GPP];