MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/1/17
READ THIS FIRST: Winds are set to blow 21 MPH out to center field at Wrigley Field on Monday, which means we’ll have to take a microscope to this game between the Phillies and Cubs. We’ll highlight the top bats to target later in today’s article, but it’s important to recognize that Wrigley becomes the closest thing to Coors when winds are blowing strong.
Clayton Kershaw [LHP – LAD] vs. SFG – Kershaw experienced an injury scare in his last start when he took a Hunter Pence line drive to the calf early in the game. It didn’t affect his performance, though, as he pitched seven innings of one-run ball featuring seven strikeouts and one walk against the Giants. Despite having his leg wrapped throughout the night, Kershaw showed no ill effects and appears to be fine heading into Monday’s start. His velocity was down less than a tick, and that likely had nothing to do with the bruised calf. That’s really all any of us need to know in order to roster the league’s top arm, and I don’t see any legitimate reason to be concerned about his health. This was a bruise that occurred six days back — not a strain, or tightness, or any other alarming red flag type ailment that could force an early exit.
San Francisco unsurprisingly owns an implied run total of 2.4 against the superhuman southpaw. They rank 28th in wOBA and 24th in ISO vs. left-handed pitching this season, so I’m not exactly concerned about their 20.7 percent K-rate. If you feel comfortable with some low-end bats on this 11-game slate, there’s no reason Kershaw shouldn’t be in your lineups. I wouldn’t label him a must play due to his exorbitant price tag, but he’s a virtual lock for 30-plus fantasy points (DKPTs) every time he toes the rubber.
Luis Severino [RHP – NYY] vs. TOR – New York’s 23-year-old right-hander has been phenomenal since scuffling in his season debut, tossing seven-plus innings in each of his last three starts. Severino is sporting a sparkling 27:3 K/BB rate over that stretch, while allowing only five earned runs and 11 hits across 22 innings of work. The third-year righty is a three-pitch pitcher who relies on a 97 MPH fastball and a much improved slider to stymie batters. His third offering is a changeup, but Severino doesn’t throw it much, mostly because it’s a below average pitch. I’d feel much more confident about Severino’s ability to dominate opposing lineups if he owned a viable changeup, but we’ll have to take what we can get — a dominant fastball and a slider that garners a 19 percent whiff rate.
Severino leads all starters in average fastball velocity (97.27 MPH) and ranks 13th in whiffs per swing (26.34%). This is a very solid pitch. His slider isn’t far behind, either, ranking 13th in whiffs per swing with a -1.65 vertical movement on the year. Severino won’t need a dominant changeup if he can continue to throw the four-seamer and slider with such precision.
Monday’s matchup with Toronto poses little threat to Severino. They continue to deal with injuries to Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, and don’t boast enough left-handed talent to cripple Severino. Severino has displayed some reverse splits over his short major-league career, but I’d expect those numbers to normalize as the sample grows for reasons mentioned above. He’s always susceptible to coughing up home runs, especially vs. lefties at Yankee Stadium, but Severino should rack up enough strikeouts to mitigate the damage. Look for him to neutralize the Blue Jays’ right-handers on Monday, where he’s a -164 ML favorite at home. Severino is a top mid-range pitching option across the board.
Lance McCullers [RHP – HOU] vs. TEX – There aren’t many pitchers I love as much as McCullers, who tortures opposing hitters with a filthy knuckle-curve and a mid-90’s fastball. He’s had a rollercoaster ride of a season thus far in 2017, posting elite performances in three of his first five starts while coughing up five earned runs in the remaining two. At only 23 years old McCullers is going to hit some speedbumps along the road to stardom, but he possesses such dominant stuff that I’d expect him to figure things out fast.
Interestingly enough, McCullers has been elite at home and miserable on the road, not just this season but over a career that spans three seasons. The Astros’ right-hander has posted a stellar 2.08 ERA at home with a .280 wOBA and 30 percent K-rate across 142.2 innings. He’s struggled mightily on the road, however, with a 5.32 ERA, .343 wOBA and 24.6 percent K-rate in 93 innings of work. As you know, I don’t read too far into these type of splits, but it’s worth noting on Monday as the Rangers have been miserable outside of Arlington. On the year, Texas owns a .274 wOBA (27th) and .145 ISO (18th) away from home, compared to a .315/.185 wOBA/ISO at Rangers Ballpark.
McCullers is a massive -215 ML favorite on Monday, while the Rangers have one of the lowest implied run totals (2.4) on this 11-game slate. I’ll continue to put my faith in McCullers’ 29 percent strikeout rate, 55 percent ground ball rate and 2.71 xFIP against a Rangers team that’s been far from potent as an offense. He’s my second ranked top-tier pitcher behind only Clayton Kershaw.
Michael Wacha [RHP – STL] vs. MIL – Wacha has looked outstanding this season, sporting a 10.8 percent swinging strike rate and an impressive 23.5 percent K-rate through his first four starts. The 25-year-old’s velocity is up significantly, too, sitting at 96 MPH on his four-seamer and 92 MPH on his cutter. Most impressive, however, has been Wacha’s changeup, which is garnering a career-high 24 percent whiff rate with 49 percent whiffs/swing (4th) and a 63 percent groundball rate (9th). If Wacha continues to throw the changeup with such dominance on Monday he should be able to neutralize Milwaukee’s left-handed talent. He’s already holding righties to a .277 wOBA on the season.
The Brewers are a rather scary team to pick on, but they also offer plenty of strikeouts to capable pitchers. Milwaukee’s 26.3 percent K-rate vs. RHP is the highest mark in baseball, but their .219 IS also leads the league by a rather wide margin. Having said that, Busch Stadium is a much friendlier pitching environment than Miller Park, and Wacha has been stellar at home over his career, allowing only .70 HR/9 with a 3.70 xFIP and sub-300 wOBA. He makes for a very strong SP-2 option on both DraftKings and FantasyDraft, as he’s affordably priced against a Brewers squad that owns one of the lower implied run totals on the night.
Anthony Rizzo [1B – L] vs. Velasquez [RHP] – I don’t see how I could fade Rizzo on Monday, facing the seemingly homer-prone Velasquez at Wrigley where winds are blowing 21 MPH out to dead center field. Rizzo has been stellar through the first month of baseball, recording six home runs, five doubles, 17 RBI and four stolen bases thus far. Velasquez has already surrendered four home runs and seven extra-base hits to left-handed hitters across only 53 batters faced. For his career, Velasquez is ceding 1.51 HR/9 to LHB with a 34 percent groundball rate — neither of which will do him any favors on a windy night at Wrigley. The Cubs own a slate-high 6.1-run implied total in a game that sports a massive 10.5-O/U in Chicago. If you aren’t viewing Rizzo as one of the top overall hitting options on Monday’s slate you’re surely doing it wrong.
NOTE: Playing multiple Cubs will likely force a Kershaw fade on most sites, which I’m not entirely against, but also not entirely in favor of. It’ll likely depend on what type of value pops up, too, but Kris Bryant [3B – R] should obviously be considered a top third base option regardless of price.
Mookie Betts [OF – R] vs. Bundy [RHP] – Betts is one of my favorite tournament plays on Monday, as he’s the highest priced hitter across the industry and will likely be minimally owned. Here’s why: most people will look at Dylan Bundy’s surface stats this season and assume he’s been great. Bundy has done a stellar job of limiting runs (1.65 ERA), but he’s also been very lucky, with a 89 percent strand rate and .264 BABIP against. The truth is, however, that Bundy’s performance has declined significantly since his first start, where his velocity has dropped nearly three ticks over the course of this month. His 30 percent groundball rate, 3.83 DRA and 4.09 xFIP don’t describe a pitcher who has seemingly shut down his opposition in every start.
Betts hasn’t enjoyed an explosive start to the season, but he’s still hitting righties for a .371 wOBA across 75 PA and owns a near .200 ISO vs. RHP for his career. This game has a rather low total and temperatures will be a bit chilly in Boston, but a Red Sox stack is certainly in play on a night where no one will target them. I’m not actively looking to target Betts in cash, but he should be strongly considered in GPP lineups where differentiation is key.
Jose Altuve [2B – R] vs. Cashner [RHP] – If I’m paying a premium at second base it’s going to be for Altuve. The veteran infielder packs a pretty impressive speed/power combination for being such a little fella, and that should come in handy on Monday when he squares off against Andrew Cashner. Texas’ right-handed gas can is walking batters at an astronomical 19.4 percent clip this season (-7.5% K-BB), which could cripple him against an Astros team that owns speed atop their lineup. Cashner also ranks bottom-seven in TRAA, and has been pedestrian at best at holding runners over his career. Altuve’s ceiling and floor should both be high against Cashner, as he owns a double-digit walk rate this year and is capable of racking up fantasy totals in a multitude of ways. Paying up at second base isn’t a necessity, but I’d highly recommend going with Altuve if that’s the direction you plan on taking.
HONORABLE MENTION: Freddie Freeman [1B – L] vs. Gsellman [RHP]; Hanley Ramirez [1B/OF – R] vs. Bundy [RHP] [GPP]
Kyle Schwarber [OF – L] vs. Velasquez [RHP] – Outside of Rizzo, Schwarber will be my highest owned Cubs bat on Monday, leading off against Velasquez in abundantly windy conditions. Schwarber profiles perfectly for this matchup, boasting a massive 47 percent flyball rate vs. RHP and a career .373/.353 wOBA/ISO split vs. opposite-handed arms. He’ll strike out more than we’d prefer, but the power potential is too high to ignore against Velasquez. Schwarber’s salary is also discounted when factoring in the wind and Velasquez’s homer-prone tendencies (career 1.51 HR/9 vs. LHB). He’ll be one of my highest owned hitters on every site without exception.
Billy Hamilton [OF – L/R] vs. Cole [RHP] – Cole has been sharp this season, but he’s clearly still struggling to set down left-handed bats, allowing a .339 wOBA with four home runs and eight extra-base hits across 62 batters faced. Now, I’m not expecting Hamilton to take Cole deep, but I am expecting him to run wild if he get aboard. Cole ranked bottom-10 in SRAA last season and has struggled to hold runners over his career. Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh’s starting catcher, is the literal worst at throwing runners out. Needless to say, Hamilton, whose 10 stolen bases leads the league, offers immense upside on the basepaths tonight. I’m a sucker for speed, especially when it’s available at an affordable price point.
Francisco Lindor [SS – L/R] @ Norris [LHP] – Lindor should be listed in the above segment, but his salary on DraftKings ($4,300) and FantasyDraft ($8,400) remains too cheap. Lindor is the third highest priced shortstop on DraftKings and the 16th highest price infielder on FantasyDraft, which is odd when you consider his fantasy point per game production far exceeds that price point. Lindor is appropriately priced on FanDuel at $4,000, but remains in play against Daniel Norris. Detroit’s southpaw owns a 4.62 xFIP and 18 percent K-rate vs. right-handed hitters over his career, and is allowing a 45 percent hard hit rate this season. Lindor’s career numbers from the right side of the plate are comparable to the right, but the bottom line is he’s been too good this season to ignore against a sub-par lefty — especially when the price point doesn’t mirror his production.
Maikel Franco [3B – R] @ Anderson [LHP] – Franco has endured some serious bad luck this year, yet his 21 RBIs still ranks inside the league’s top ten. We’re talking about a player who has consistently made hard contact and is towards the top of the league in average exit velocity, but owns a .203 BABIP to start the year. Franco’s 13.1 percent strikeout rate is at a career-low and his 8.1 percent walk rate is a career-high, so I’m not even slightly concerned about his approach at the dish.
Brett Anderson is an extreme groundball pitcher, but his 52 percent GB-rate is down six percent from his career average and his paltry 15 percent K-rate is down two percent from his career. Anderson doesn’t allow many fly balls, but when he does, they are going to carry. Philadelphia’s 4.6-run implied total at Wrigley is encouraging, as Anderson simply isn’t good enough to stymie the Phillies by simply looking to induce weak contact. Franco makes for one of the best overall mid-range options on the night.
HONORABLE MENTION: Addison Russell [SS – R] vs. Velasquez [RHP]; Evan Longoria [3B – R] @ Chen [LHP]; Todd Frazier [3B – R] @ Vargas [LHP]; Ben Zobrist [2B/OF – L/R] vs. Velasquez [RHP]; Tommy Joseph [1B – R] @ Anderson [LHP]; Andrew Benintendi [OF – L] vs. Bundy [RHP]
Tim Anderson [SS – R] @ Vargas [LHP] – The White Sox are one of my favorite low-owned stack options on Monday, and Tim Anderson should be included in that grouping of players. Sure, he’s been rather awful, and for all intents and purposes he probably is awful at baseball as a whole, but Anderson comes at a discounted price and is available at a weak shortstop position. Moreover, Anderson bats second in Chicago’s order and is a capable base stealer. His career .335 wOBA vs. left-handed pitching is enough to consider him on this 11-game slate.
Tim Beckham [SS – R] is another Tim shortstop who isn’t particularly good, but is worthy of consideration on Monday. Beckham has tallied four home runs on the season and is capable of adding to that tally against Wei-Yin Chen, who has for years been serving up immense power to opposing righties. If Beckham bats sixth in the Rays’ order I’d be willing to utilize him as a shortstop punt in Kershaw lineups.
Aaron Altherr [OF – R]/Daniel Nava [OF – L/R] @ Anderson [LHP] – Both of these Phillie outfielders are a product of Wrigley wind on Monday. Nava and Altherr own dirt cheap price points and are projected to bat first and second in the order, respectively. Neither of them boast stellar career numbers vs. left-handed pitching, but both draw the platoon advantage on a night where winds will be blowing 21 MPH out to center field. That’s really all there is to it; we can’t totally ignore two player in such a favorable spot, even if they aren’t particularly talented at playing the baseball.
Jay Bruce [1B/OF – L] @ Teheran [RHP] – Julio Teheran is once again struggling with left-handed hitters this season, allowing a .350 wOBA across 73 batters faced. He could be in for a long night on Monday against the lefty-heavy Mets, as this game takes place as SunTrust Park where the right field wall has proven very accommodating for lefties. Bruce remains dirt cheap on both DraftKings and FantasyDraft, which makes his .476/.355 wOBA/ISO split vs. righties that much more enticing this evening. Michael Conforto [OF – L] is also in play at the top of New York’s lineup for the same reason Bruce warrants consideration.
Rickie Weeks [1B – R] @ Chen [LHP] – Punting the first base position isn’t something I’m excited about on Monday, but he deserves a mention if he bats cleanup against Chen. Weeks isn’t getting any younger, but he can still hit southpaws for power and Chen is more than eager to serve up dong to opposing righties. It’s really that simple.
Daily Catcher Blurb: Here is your daily one-paragraph writeup on the catcher position, which is predictably putrid once again. I’m all about waiting until lineups are released to make a decision at the backstop position, as we could see Miguel Montero [C – L] bat sixth against Velasquez, which would make him the top option on the night, or we could see him bat eighth. Brian McCann [C – L] has been moved all around the order in Houston, so we have no idea what his value will look like until the Astros lineup is out. Like Montero, McCann could make for a very solid play against Andrew Cashner. Alex Avila [C – L] remains cheap and is batting in the middle of Detroit’s order, but I’d like to think we can find better matchups on Monday. Salvador Perez [C – R] is the one playable backstop whose lineup positioning is stable. Still, I’d recommend waiting until some lineups are available before we make a decision.
HONORABLE MENTION: Cesar Hernandez [2B – L/R] @ Anderson [LHP]; Josh Harrison [2B/3B – R] @ Garrett [LHP]; Cameron Rupp [C – R] @ Anderson [LHP]; Mike Moustakas [3B – L] vs. Covey [RHP]
TOP TOURNAMENT STACKS
Chicago White Sox @ Vargas [LHP] – The White Sox amazing rank fourth in wOBA, 10th in ISO and 27th in K-rate vs. left-handed pitching this season — polar opposite production to what they’v been able to do against righties (nothing). I’m expecting most of the daily fantasy community to ignore these Chicago bats, though, as Vargas has been solid on the season and there are a lot of quality team stacks on the board. I wouldn’t recommend ignoring them, as they are all very affordable, can be worked into Kershaw lineups, and are able to play a near full lineup of righties against Vargas.
Chicago Cubs vs. Velasquez [RHP] – I won’t waste much time here — Velasquez is serving up a ton of power to lefties this season and winds are blowing out to center field at 21 MPH in Wrigley. This is the top projected stack on the night, but it will be ultra-chalky across the industry.
Philadelphia Phillies @ Anderson [LHP] – I’m not worried about Anderson’s groundball-inducing tendencies on Monday, as these Phillie bats are far too cheap to ignore. You can make many dirt cheap stack variations here and still fit Kershaw and maybe even McCullers. The Phillies make for a perfect expensive pitcher/cheap bats lineup stack on this 11-game slate.
Boston Red Sox vs. Bundy [RHP] – I had high hopes for Bundy heading into this season, and on the surface he’s looked great. A deeper look reveals much more concerning results, though, as his velocity is down significantly and Bundy has received a lot of favorable luck. He’s going to get hammered soon, and it could come against the Red Sox this evening. All of these Boston bats should be very low owned.
HONORABLE MENTION: Tampa Bay Rays @ Chen [LHP]; Houston Astros vs. Cashner [RHP]