MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/2/17
Chris Sale is the most expensive pitching option on the slate, and for good reason. He has scrapped last year’s “pitch to contact” philosophy since joining the Red Sox and is back to having elite strikeout numbers. So far this season, he has struck out 37.40 percent of hitters he has faced and he has a 17.00 percent swinging strike percentage, which is good for best on the slate by over 2 percentage points. The Orioles have dangerous hitters up and down their lineup, but they are better against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching despite having mostly righties in the lineup. It is possible that Sale gets touched up for a home run or two, but overall he is in line for another very good start.
Corey Kluber started out slowly but has quickly rounded into form. He has a 26.20 percent strikeout percentage this season with a swinging strike percentage of 11.30 percent. If we ignore his first two starts where his swinging strike percentages were 7.3 and 7.8 percent, his swinging strike percentage jumps all the way to 13.7 percent as he has not had a game below 12.7 percent in his last three. While there are dangerous bats in the Detroit lineup, there are also strikeouts in there as well. Kluber has a good chance of navigating his way through the order, although Miguel Cabrera’s likely return dampens his outlook just a bit.
James Paxton has looked just as good as we expected coming into the season, with the only blip on the radar so far being a game against the Athletics where he was BABIP’d to death. Even in that game, he racked up 8 strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings pitched. He has the second highest strikeout percentage and second highest swinging strike percentage on the slate, 31.50 and 14.70 percent respectively, and he comes at a steep discount from Chris Sale. The Angels do not strike out a ton as a team, but Paxton has elite stuff (and gets more strikeouts against righties than lefties) so we should feel confident giving the benefit of the doubt to Paxton in the strikeout department. People have probably caught on to how good Paxton is by now, but this is a slate where his ownership may be a little bit lower than it should be given his price because of all the other big name options on the slate.
Carlos Martinez has had some struggles this season but he has a high-upside matchup tonight against the Brewers. Milwaukee has shown a ton of power at the plate this season, but they are still a strikeout-happy team and it is possible they will be without Ryan Braun again tonight. Martinez has the third highest strikeout percentage on the slate, so there is clearly upside there despite the dangerous matchup. There is certainly reason to be concerned because of his rough start, but his xFIP is almost a full run-and-a-half lower than his ERA and he is only giving up 31.60 percent hard contact while inducing 26.30 percent soft contact so far this season. Finally, the Brewers feature a predominantly right-handed lineup which plays in Martinez’s favor. Overall, he is a high-risk, high-reward play but his price point factors in the risk so he makes for a strong GPP option.
Trevor Cahill has posted elite strikeout numbers to start the season, with a 29.10 percent strikeout rate and 14.10 percent swinging strike rate. He is pounding the strike zone early, with a 66 percent first strike rate, and then getting hitters to chase pitches out of the zone with a 34.90 percent O-Swing percentage. The Rockies do not chase a lot of pitches out of the zone, ranking in the top third in the league in O-Swing percentage, but they rank in the bottom third in zone contact percentage so we should see Cahill be able to get ahead in counts and get the Rockies to swing and miss on his filthy curveball. Cahill is throwing his curveball about 25 percent of the time to hitters on either side of the plate and the pitch has a 17.70 whiff percentage to righties and 25.5 whiff percentage to lefties, along with the second highest spin rate amongst curveballs/knuckle curveballs thrown in the major leagues this season. Basically, it is just an absolutely filthy pitch and Cahill is still priced to his name instead of his newfound ability. There are less bats to pay up for today than usual, but Cahill is an intriguing tournament option if you need a lower-priced pitcher (he is essentially free on DraftKings at $5,000 but is a strong play on FanDuel as well where he should be virtually unowned).
Secondary Pitching Options: Masahiro Tanaka, Matt Moore, Tyler Chatwood, Danny Duffy
Miguel Sano is not the highest priced hitter that I am recommending, but maybe he should be. The guy is absolutely mashing the ball this season with an average exit velocity of 99.3 miles per hour (3.5 miles per hour faster than second place Khris Davis) and he is facing Sonny Gray in Gray’s first start back from the disabled list. Gray, by all accounts, was good in his rehab starts but those were rehab starts against High-A and AAA hitters, not the guy hitting the hardest baseballs in the major leagues. Gray struggled mightily against right-handed power this season and, as someone who does not believe Sonny Gray is particularly good, I am going to be rostering hitters against him until he proves he can not give up home runs. Against right-handed pitching this season, Sano has a whopping 60.7 percent hard contact percentage with an even more impressive 0.0 percent soft contact.
Freddie Freeman is crushing the ball to start the season as well, ranking 19th in average exit velocity, 5th in barrels per plate appearance and tied for third in total barrels. He will be facing Matt Harvey, who is a shell of what he used to be. He has not been able to strike out hitters from either side of the plate this season and we know that, when Freeman hits the ball, he hits it hard and far. He has as much upside as anyone on the slate tonight.
Carlos Santana may seem like a weird choice to be amongst the best hitting options on the slate, given that he is facing Justin Verlander, but hear me out. Santana has a .268 ISO against right-handed pitching since the start of last season, however, and Justin Verlander (despite a big deal being made about his increased velocity in his last start) is not missing any bats this season. He has also essentially eliminated his changeup from his repertoire, so he is missing one of the best pitches to neutralize left-handed bats. Since the start of last season, Santana has a 91.9 mile per hour average exit velocity with a 29.9 degree average launch angle against right-handed fastballs greater than 94 miles per hour. It also does not hurt that he has had success against Verlander throughout his career. He will be a low-owned option that could win a tournament as a one-off (or as part of a stack, as we will get to).
Evan Gattis has a nice matchup against Cole Hamels, who has been even worse than Justin Verlander at missing bats this season as he has just a 7.50 percent swinging strike rate through five starts. Gattis has a ton of power against lefties and is in a nice hitting environment in Houston. There are a lot of actual good pitchers going on this slate, so we should not be afraid to roster guys who are facing pitchers whose names far exceed their performance.
Jose Altuve has the same matchup as Gattis, which makes him a very appealing second base option. Add in that Hamels is awful at holding runners and you get a ton of upside with the bat and the legs. He is expensive, but is a very strong play in tournaments.
Brett Gardner will be facing Mat Latos in Yankees Stadium. Gardner has shown some power lately, but that is just an added bonus. The Yankees should be able to put plenty of runs on the board today, unlike the Cardinals in Latos’s last start, and Gardner is likely to be in the middle of it. Latos has struggled with his control and does not get strikeouts, so Gardner has a very good chance to be on base today. Latos is also bad at holding runners so, if Gardner does reach, it is likely to be worth more than a double.
Corey Dickerson is facing a right-handed pitcher who gets a lot of groundballs and does not strike out a lot of lefties. Edinson Volquez has only struck out 16.70 percent of the lefties that he has faced since the start of last season and has allowed 35.50 percent hard contact. Dickerson has been significantly better against groundball pitchers than flyball pitchers throughout his career and has a very good chance to take Volquez deep today.
Billy Hamilton is in another prime spot against Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow is not a bad pitcher in terms of what happens when opposing batters hit the ball. He is bad, however, in terms of his control and holding runners. Hamilton has an increased chance to get on base since Glasnow struggles with the strike zone and, if he is on, he should have no trouble stealing as many bases as he wants in this matchup.
Mitch Moreland is going to be hitting in the middle of, what is likely to be, a popular Boston offense but he tends to go overlooked- especially on FanDuel where he is the same position as Hanley Ramirez. Moreland has been hitting the ball very hard off of right-handed pitchers all season long and, although Alec Asher has somehow found a way to not get blown up very often so far in his career, he does not strike many people out. Moreland is a cheap bat that should come at relatively low ownership in a good hitters park against a pitcher that will let him put the ball in play.
Robinson Chirinos may not crack the lineup tonight but he is worth mentioning anyway. Mike Fiers is a reverse splits pitcher and is very prone to allowing home runs to right-handed power bats. Chirinos has a .291 ISO against right-handed pitching since the start of last season, which actually leads the Rangers, and a 39.6 percent hard contact rate against righties. If he is in the lineup, he is almost guaranteed to go overlooked but he will be one of the top catching options on the slate regardless of price. If LuCroy gets the start, he will be in play though not quite as exciting as Chirinos is.
New York Yankees vs Mat Latos– This is likely to be one of the more popular stacks on the slate and there is no reason that it should not be. Latos is washed up at this stage of his career and is capable of putting runners on base in all sorts of ways. The Yankees have some speed and a lot of power throughout their lineup and you can really mix and match your way through it, especially with Didi Gregorious back.
Boston Red Sox vs Alec Asher- I expect this to also be a popular stack as Alec Asher does not carry name recognition and the Red Sox are at home with an implied total of over 5 runs. I agree that Boston is a strong stack, although it has more to do with Baltimore’s bullpen than it does with Asher himself. Asher has found a way to be pretty good at limiting damage so far in his young career but, as mentioned before, he does not get many strikeouts and this is a Boston team that does not strike out much. Any time balls are going to be put in play, there is an added risk that a pitcher just gets unlucky and gets knocked out of the game early due to multiple base hits. The Orioles bullpen right now is a mess. Zach Britton is on the disabled list, which has forced Darren O’Day, Brad Brach and, at times, Donnie Hart to try and close out games. It has left the middle of the bullpen more vulnerable than usual and the front end is just terrible as Mike Wright is likely the current long man. Overall, I think I feel a little bit worse about the spot for the Red Sox about Asher than most, but I still think it is an extremely strong stack because it has the potential to absolutely blow up if they can get in to the bullpen early.
Cleveland Indians- Cleveland is a strong tournament stack, especially on DraftKings where they are priced down. As mentioned earlier, Justin Verlander is not getting swings and misses and this is a Cleveland team with a ton of left-handed power up and down the lineup. If they are able to square up some Verlander fastballs (more likely without worrying about a changeup), and/or just put together some hits to get to the bullpen early, there is a ton of upside here.
Houston Astros- Houston is surprisingly favored with Mike Fiers facing Cole Hamels and that says a lot about the Houston offense. Hamels has a 5.20 xFIP compared to a 3.03 ERA so far this season and is striking out nobody while allowing 36 percent hard contact and just 14 percent soft contact. Houston has right-handed power throughout the lineup and they also have speed up and down the lineup. Although nobody has stolen a base on Hamels this season, that is likely a result of circumstances and a small sample size as he has been atrocious at holding runners throughout his career.
Minnesota Twins- They face Sonny Gray in his first start back from the disabled list. Gray was lights out in two minor league rehab starts, but that was the minor leagues. He was supposedly sitting at 94 miles per hour as well, but that would be the fastest he has ever thrown so I am chalking that up to hot minor league radar guns. This is a Minnesota team with a lot of power throughout the lineup. They can be used as a full stack (preferably something like Dozier, Kepler, Sano, Vargas, Castro) or, maybe even better, a mini-stack of Brian Dozier, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano.
Cincinnati Reds- They get another very high-upside spot playing in one of the best parks on the slate and facing a pitcher who is wild and cannot hold runners. Despite being perceived as a bad team, the Reds have a lot of power in their lineup and they get much more dangerous when they can run at will as almost everyone on the team is capable of stealing a base in the right circumstances, led by Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza who can run against almost anyone. They make for a somewhat risky (Glasnow can be good if he is on but we have not seen that yet) high upside stack.