MLB Deep Dive – 4/27/17 (EARLY)

MLB Deep Dive (Early)- April 27, 2017

I am filling in for Loughy today and will be breaking this early slate down game by game.  I know that we collectively have been killing it over the last couple of days, so I will do my best not to screw it up.


Miami Marlins (4.3) at Philadelphia Phillies (4.3)


Edinson Volquez has progressively gotten worse in every start so far this season and it appears there is still some regression to go.  He has a very impressive 24.7 strikeout percentage so far this season, but his swinging strike percentage is just 9.6 percent so it is unlikely that he maintains that strikeout rate for very long.  His swinging strike percentage is up about one percent from last season, but his velocity is about the same and none of his individual pitches stand out as the reason we should expect him to sustain his strikeout numbers.  In addition, he has not done a good job of inducing soft contact so far this season as lefties have a 44.4 percent hard contact rate and 13.9 percent soft contact rate and righties have a 33.3 percent hard contact rate with an 11.1 percent soft contact rate.  These batted ball numbers could become very problematic as his strikeout numbers regress.  It is possible that Volquez gains some traction as a value pitcher against a “weak” Philadelphia offense, but I personally will be looking elsewhere.

Jeremy Hellickson is someone that I roster more often than a lot of people as I think there are certain spots that he is very good.  This is not one of them.  Miami does not strike out often and Hellickson has not been piling up strikeouts so far this season.  This is an easy pass.


Miami Marlins

Going back to the start of last season, Hellickson has done a very nice job of limiting hard contact.  He has allowed just 26.6 percent hard contact to lefties and 26.4 hard contact to righties, while inducing 20.7 percent soft contact from lefties and 20.2 percent soft contact from righties, over that span.  Dee Gordon stands out as the top hitting option on Miami because Hellickson has been mediocre-to-bad at holding runners over the last few seasons.  Andrew Knapp is expected to start at catcher for Philadelphia and, while he has respectable caught stealing numbers in the minors the last few seasons, his arm does not grade out as anything special and it is unlikely he will deter Gordon from running.  There is always upside to rostering Stanton or Yelich, especially with a ballpark boost, but there are going to be better plays on this slate.

Philadelphia Phillies

Volquez’s batted ball profile does not look very good this season, as mentioned above.  Last season, he did a very good job of limiting hard contact to both sides of the plate and got a lot of groundballs.  This season, he has a 0.80 flyball-to-groundball ratio to lefties so far, along with the 44.4 percent hard contact rate.  Odubel Herrera and Michael Saunders are the Philadelphia lefties with the most power, but neither of them have been hitting the ball hard over the last couple of weeks and it is still not a great matchup with Volquez.  Maikel Franco is a high-upside GPP option as he has a 41.2 percent hard contact rate over the last week and is always capable of running into one.

Overall, I am inclined to stay away from this game despite the friendly hitting environment as I think that both pitchers are reasonably decent (but not good enough to roster).

Core: None

Secondary:  Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders, Odubel Herrera


Seattle Mariners (4.1) at Detroit Tigers (4.5)


Hisashi Iwakuma did not get many strikeouts last season and he is off to an even worse start this season with just a 10.80 percent strikeout rate and 6.90 percent swinging strike rate through his first 20 innings pitched.  He is not someone to consider rostering against a dangerous Detroit offense, even with Miguel Cabrera injured.  He usually does a decent job of not getting blown up, but he is home run prone as he allowed 1.40 home runs per 9 innings last season and has allowed 2.66 home runs per nine to start this season.  While his home runs per 9 this season is not sustainable, the point stands that he pitches to contact and is prone to the long-ball.

Justin Verlander had two good outings in his first two starts of the season and has struggled in his two most recent.  Verlander had a very healthy 27.50 percent strikeout rate last season with an 11.70 swinging strike percentage.  So far this season, he has just a 22.20 percent strikeout rate and 8.60 percent swinging strike rate.  It is likely that his strikeout numbers increase moving forward, as his velocity is up and he has shown the ability to get swinging strikes in two of his four games (Chicago and Cleveland) while generating very few in his other two games.  Verlander has been allowing a lot of hard contact to start the season, with righties hitting the ball hard 40 percent of the time with just 12 percent soft contact and lefties hitting the ball hard 39 percent of the time with just 4.9 percent soft contact. The projected lineup for Seattle only strikes out an average of 16.6 percent of the time. Ultimately, Verlander has upside, and warrants some GPP consideration on a relatively short slate, but there are enough factors working against him in this matchup that he will not be one of my core plays.


Seattle Mariners

There is merit to stacking the Mariners because Verlander has looked shaky at times this season and the Tigers bullpen is awful.  There is also merit to looking to individual Mariners as one-offs as Verlander has allowed more than 1 home run per 9 innings to hitters from both sides of the plate since the start of last season.

Robinson Cano has a 42.9 percent hard contact rate over the last 7 days and has a .263 ISO against right-handed pitching since the start of last season.  He is a strong play at a relatively weak second base position that consists of Daniel Murphy and not much else.

Nelson Cruz has been heating up and has a 46.7 percent hard contact over his last 7 games with just 6.7 percent soft contact.  He ranks 17th in all of baseball in average exit velocity so far this season.  He is always a strikeout threat, but makes for a very good one-off as he has double dong upside and is crushing the ball right now.  He tends to go lower-owned against righties than lefties, but he has a .369 wOBA and .229 ISO against righties since the start of 2016.

Taylor Motter is a nice value option at shortstop if he remains in the lineup.  He has been one of the better hitters in the league so far, ranking 11th in the majors in average exit velocity and 14th in average distance since the start of the season.  That is a lot of upside for a cheap shortstop.

Detroit Tigers

Stacking against Iwakuma does not usually go particularly well as he generally does not walk many hitters and is able to limit damage around the home runs that he allows.  His propensity to give up the long-ball makes him the perfect pitcher to take one-offs against, however.

Nick Castellanos jumps off the page as the best Tigers hitter today, as he has been absolutely destroying baseballs to start the season.  He has a 59.3 percent hard contact rate with only 5.6 percent soft contact to start the season.  Iwakuma is not a strikeout pitcher so Castellanos should be putting balls in play- and hard.  Castellanos ranks 9th in average exit velocity, 4th in average distance, 1st in batted balls with an exit velocity of 95+ miles per hour and 3rd in barrels per plate appearance so far this season.  He is the top third base option on a slate that includes Coors Field.

Core: Nick Castellanos

Secondary: Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Taylor Motter, Justin Upton


Atlanta Braves (2.8) at New York Mets (4.3)


R.A. Dickey is worth considering in only the best matchups at this stage of his career.  This is not one of them.

PLEASE NOTE: Noah Syndergaard has been scratched with a tired arm, RHP Matt Harvey will replace him.

Noah Syndergaard: “Thor will take on the Braves at home tonight in what is a solid if not spectacular matchup. The Braves are middle of the pack in strikeout rate vs. right-handed pitchers, but have had a below average offense vs. right-handed pitching so far. Syndergaard is an absolute beast of a pitcher, capable of pitching deep into games and generating a ton of whiffs and strikeouts. If you’re paying up at pitcher today, Thor is your man. He’s about as safe as they come and brings upside to the table as well. Your bats are going to suffer a bit if you roster him, but he’s got the upside to be worth the cap hit.” -DraftCheat.  That was DC’s take on Syndergaard before he was scratched last night and I agree with it entirely.  The Braves are not the easiest team to strikeout, but Thor is a monster and can strike out anyone.


Atlanta Braves

Freddie Freeman is a strong GPP option if you do not roster Syndergaard as he has the ability to hit for power against the best pitchers in baseball and he can shoot you up the leaderboards if he homers off the day’s chalk pitcher.  Freeman ranks 4th in average exit velocity so far this season and has an average exit velocity of 93.5 miles per hour in 7 batted ball events against Syndergaard.  He is obviously a risky play, but the upside is there.

New York Mets

Yoenis Cespedes is the righty power bat in the Mets lineup and we generally like to target same-handed hitters against knuckleballers- although Dickey is home-run prone to everyone.  BvP becomes a little more important when discussing knuckleballers, since they are their own special breed of pitcher, and Cespedes has 4 extra base hits in 22 at-bats against Dickey with a home run.  Perhaps more importantly, Cespedes has hit the ball against Dickey three times in the last two seasons and has an average exit velocity of 107 miles per hour so he is clearly capable of hitting it hard against him.

Core: Yoenis Cespedes

Secondary: Freddie Freeman, Jay Bruce


Toronto Blue Jays (3.4) at St. Louis Cardinals (4.7)


Mat Latos is not worth these eight words.

Carlos Martinez has been electric this season, but has also had very bad results in two of his four starts.  Martinez has a 13.3 percent swinging strike rate so far this season and has been above 11 percent in three of his four starts.  Toronto has been atrocious at the plate this season and will have one less hitter today with the loss of the designated hitter.  Five of the eight hitters in Toronto’s projected lineup (Carrera, Bautista, Martin, Coghlan and Goins) have strikeout percentages over 22 percent against right-handed pitching over the last two seasons.  The only hitter in the projected lineup who is actually difficult to strike out is Kevin Pillar.  Martinez has two different pitches that he has gotten more than 20 percent whiffs per swing on this season in his slider and his changeup and he is willing to throw them both to hitters of either handedness.  He burned a lot of people as chalk in his last start against Milwaukee but this is a great bounce-back spot for Martinez.


Toronto Blue Jays


St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are in a very nice spot to stack, as Mat Latos is a groundball pitcher who pitches to contact and sometimes struggles with his control.  It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly who is going to blow up against these kinds of pitchers but it makes sense to stack against them because they are so prone to putting men on base.  Pretty much the entire Cardinals lineup is in play, as they have power up and down the lineup.

Jedd Gyorko showed a ton of power against right-handed pitching last season, with a .295 ISO and .349 wOBA to go along with 35.6 percent hard contact and only 13.4 percent soft contact.  He has picked up right where he left off this season, with 36 percent hard contact and 12 percent soft contact in his 42 plate appearances against righties so far.  Gyorko has been a much better hitter against groundball pitchers than flyball pitchers throughout his career, which should play to his advantage against Latos.  He very well could go overlooked but he has a very good matchup.

Dexter Fowler should be able to run wild if he gets on base, as Latos has struggled to hold runners throughout his career and Russell Martin had a huge drop-off in his ability to throw out baserunners last season.  If Martin starts at third base and Saltalamacchia starts behind the plate, it is even better for Fowler as Saltalamacchia has been terrible at controlling the running game for his entire career.

Core: Jedd Gyorko, Dexter Fowler

Secondary: The rest of the Cardinals lineup.


Washington Nationals (5.7) at Colorado Rockies (5.4)


Gio Gonzalez is not the kind of pitcher that we want to target in Coors Field.  Both of his secondary pitches, the curveball and changeup, have vertical movement which is more affected by the altitude than horizontal movement.  He is also prone to control issues and putting additional runners on base in Coors does not usually lead to good results.

Antonio Senzatela is a pitcher that I think is a good fit for Coors Field as he has good control, a good fastball, a hard slider, and keeps the ball on the ground.  That being said, this Nationals lineup has too much power up and down it to consider Senzatela in this spot.


Washington Nationals

The Nationals will undoubtedly be popular today but it is worth noting that, while Turner, Harper and Murphy draw massive ownership, five man Washington stacks have been relatively low-owned over the first two games as the likes of Adam Eaton, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon have gone overlooked.  All of the Nats are in play today against the rookie Senzatela and an overworked Colorado bullpen.  It is worth noting that Senzatela is quick to the plate, so the stolen base upside for some Nationals could be limited.  Probably not for Trea Turner though. That dude is fast.

Trea Turner, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman have all been crushing the ball lately, as they have 43.8, 37.5 and 46.4 percent hard contact rates respectively over the last 14 days.  The huge outfield plays to Turner’s advantage as he can turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples in the extra time that it takes outfielders to get to balls.  Daniel Murphy only has a 21.1 percent hard contact rate over that span, but only 15.8 percent soft contact.  Based on his ability to mash right-handed pitching, we can expect a lot of that medium contact to start turning into hard contact.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies are a very strong stack today as well, and will likely come at lower ownership than the Nationals.  Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story stand out as the two best Rockies.  Arenado is not the lefty masher that a lot of people seem to think he is, but he is still a very good hitter and benefits from hitting in Coors.  In 213 plate appearances against lefties since the start of last season, Arenado has a 39.6 percent hard contact rate and just 13.4 percent soft contact.  Story has struggled to start the season, but he still has a ton of power and upside.  He leads the league in average distance on his batted balls and in his 142 career plate appearances against left-handed pitching he has a 56.6 percent hard contact rate with just 11.8 percent soft contact.  Gonzalez is not getting a ton of swings and misses this season with just an 8.90 percent swinging strike percentage and Story should have success as long as he can make contact.

Core: Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story

Secondary: Stack up both of these teams at will.


Los Angeles Dodgers (4) at San Francisco Giants (3.6)


Julio Urias is an insanely talented young pitcher for the Dodgers.  He does not have a bad matchup against a short-handed Giants team that struggles with lefties in the best pitcher’s park in the league.  The concern with Urias is that the Dodgers were extremely cautious of his pitch count last season and it would be surprising to see him completely unleashed to start this season.  He is not discounted for his short leash, which limits his upside in GPPs- especially against a San Francisco team that generally does a good job of fouling off pitches and working counts.

At first glance, Matt Moore has a good matchup in AT&T Park with a Dodgers team that struggles with lefties.  Looking closer, however, there are reasons to be concerned about Moore.  His fastball velocity is down 1.7 miles per hour from last season and his velocity is down on all of his other pitches as well.  His swinging strike percentage so far this season is 7.9 percent, compared to 10.4 percent last year, 9.9 percent the year before that, and his career average of 10.5 percent.  Since having a 10.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 92.5 mile per hour fastball velocity in his first start this season, Moore has had swinging strike percentages of 6.5, 6.7 and 8.6 percent in his next three starts.  It is worth noting that his fastball velocity returned to 92.4 miles per hour in his last start, so maybe he was just dealing with a brief dead arm period.  There is reason to consider Moore in GPPs because it is a nice matchup, just know that there are a lot of things not to like.


Los Angeles Dodgers

Core: None

Secondary: Yasiel Puig, Corey Seager

San Francisco Giants

Core: None

Secondary: Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Eduardo Nunez


Houston Astros (3.8) at Cleveland Indians (4.8)


Mike Fiers is a very cheap SP2 option on DraftKings at just $5,200.  There is less reason to look to him at $6,900 on FanDuel.  He has an 11.20 percent swinging strike rate so far this season, although that is misleading because it was 14.4 percent in his first start of the year against Kansas City.  It has still been a respectable 9.0 and 9.9 percent in his other two starts, however.  He is throwing his four-seam fastball less this season and has replaced it with more sliders to righties and more cutters, especially to lefties.  He is throwing the lefties to cutters 27.22 percent of the time so far this season, up from 15.85 percent last season and they are whiffing on it 20.53 percent of the time.  On top of that, Fiers has been better against lefties than righties throughout his career.  As we know, Cleveland has a ton of lefties in their lineup.  The problem, of course, is that those lefties all hit very well and do not strike out often.  Cleveland currently is 29th in the league in swinging strike rate this season.  There is a ton of risk to rostering Fiers today but, if you are looking to pay up for Coors bats, he may be worth the risk at his price point.


Corey Kluber is a much more appealing pitcher than Fiers, of course.  Kluber started out the season slow, but turned in a great outing in his last start against the White Sox.  His velocity is down a little bit from last year, but it appears to be trending in the right direction and his swinging strike percentage definitely is, as he racked up 15 and 12.7 percent swinging strikes in his last two starts after only 7.3 and 7.8 percent in his first two starts.  The Astros are not as strikeout friendly as they were last year, as they rank 24th in the league in swinging strike percentage and their projected lineup has an average strikeout rate of just 17.7 percent.  That said, Kluber is one of the best pitchers in baseball and has upside regardless of matchup.


Houston Astros

Core: None

Secondary: George Springer

Cleveland Indians

While I like Fiers as a punt option to pay up for bats, there is also merit to stacking the Indians against him as they have such a dangerous lineup with power throughout.  Fiers is good at holding runners, so the stolen base upside is somewhat limited.

Edwin Encarnacion stands out as a strong play as Fiers is more prone to allowing home runs to righties than lefties (although he will allow them to anyone).  Encarnacion has been hitting into a bit of bad luck to start the season, as he has a 46.4 percent hard contact rate against right-handed pitching and just a .280 BABIP.

Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley are both very strong plays as well, as they continue to mash right-handed pitching.  Lindor has a 36.6 percent hard contact rate and 7.3 percent soft contact rate against righties this season, while Branley sits at 58.1 and 12.9 percent.

Core: Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion

Secondary: Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis