MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/22/17

PITCHING

 

Michael Pineda [RHP – NYY] vs. KC Pineda has a lot of factors working for him on Monday, including a prime matchup with the piss-poor Royals. Kansas City mounted three runs against him at Kauffman Stadium last week — all three of which came on two home runs from right-handed hitters — but he was rather dominant otherwise. Outside of those long balls, Pineda allowed a 22 percent hard hit rate with a 14.3 percent swinging strike rate on the night. If he can prevent home runs, which have arguably been his only weakness this season, Pineda should lay waste to this Royals team at home.

Kansas City ranks 28th in wOBA (.295), 25th in ISO (.145), 14th in K-rate (21.5%) and 26th in BB-rate (7.0%) this season. They’ve been hitting slightly better of late, but still lack power from both sides of the plate and are heavy road dogs on Monday night (NYY -176). The Royals continue to pose as a great matchup for opposing righties, regardless of venue.

Pineda’s command has been better in 2017, but he’ll need to stay sharp in order to avoid home runs at the left-friendly Yankee Stadium. Throwing pitches over the heart of the plate when down in counts has always been Pineda’s weakness, but the Royals don’t work many deep counts and draw walks at one of the lowest rates in baseball. They also own the lowest implied total of any team on this 9-game slate. Ultimately, Pineda makes plenty of sense at his price point, and offers as much, if not more upside than any pitcher on Monday night.

 

Zack Greinke [RHP – ARI] vs. CWS Despite having to toe the rubber at Chase Field, Greinke would’ve been my top pitching option on Monday had his salary not soared through the roof. The veteran right-hander has been phenomenal in 2017, and his price tag reflects that performance, as he is now priced in elite territory along with the top arms in baseball. Yes, Greinke’s production has been borderline elite, but a rather steep decline in fastball velocity begs the question of whether or not he can sustain it going forward.

Nevertheless, Greinke is sporting the highest K-rate of his career (28.6%), is walking batters a miniscule 4.6 percent of the time, and is inducing swinging strikes at a career-best 13.2 percent clip. If I had to guess, Greinke is compensating for decreased fastball velocity with excellent results on his breaking pitches and offspeed stuff, which are generating a ton of swinging strikes and soft contact this season. Seven of his nine home runs allowed have come at home, though, so there’s always some risk associated with pitching at Chase Field.

The White Sox have been dismal against right-handed pitching, owning a bottom-five wOBA and top-seven strikeout rate through two months of baseball. They’re also walking at a league-worst 6.2 percent clip. They are big dogs on the road against Greinke, but Vegas actually has them pegged with a 4.1-run implied total on Monday night. I’d be much more inclined to pick on Chicago if Greinke wasn’t significantly higher priced than Pineda, who also draws a stellar matchup in a less-than-friendly venue. There are plenty of expensive bats worth targeting on this 9-game slate, too, which makes saving at pitcher that much more important — especially considering Greinke and Pineda are in almost identical spots.

 

Jeff Hoffman [RHP – COL] @ PHI Jeff Hoffman is my go-to punt for Monday night. No, I’m not joking. The 24-year-old right-hander has front-of-the-rotation stuff but struggles with pitch mix and sequencing, which has gotten him into trouble. Hoffman averaged 9.4 K/9 with a 24.2 percent K-rate across 118.2 Triple-A innings last season, and has struck out 10 batters in 6.2 major-league frames this year.

When targeting punts at the pitcher position, strikeouts are absolutely essential. These low-end arms generally aren’t going to pitch eight scoreless frames, so being able to mitigate the damage with strikeouts is key. Hoffman struck out eight Dodgers in his only start this season, and I could see a similar situation playing out tonight in Philadelphia. The Phillies own the league’s 10th highest K-rate vs. RHP (21.9%), and are a far from imposing offense when it comes to power.

Hoffman could be a flop on Monday, that’s for sure, but a high-90’s fastball and an above-average curveball should give him a fighting chance. On a night where mid-range and low-end pitching options are nonexistent, I’ll be rolling the dice on Hoffman and high-upside price point across the industry.

 

J.C. Ramirez [RHP – LAA] @ TB J.C. Ramirez would’ve been my easy choice for SP-2 if this matchup came a few weeks back, but unfortunately I can’t say the same for him on Monday when he faces the K-heavy Rays at Tropicana Field. Everything looks good, right? The matchup is fantastic, the venue favors pitchers and Ramirez is sporting a 3.11 ERA and 3.59 xFIP across his last six starts. The surface numbers are strong, I won’t deny that, but there is something that concerns me enough to fade Ramirez entirely on Monday night…

Over his last three starts, Ramirez is throwing his two-seam fastball nearly 50 percent of the time. This pitch may be helping him prevent runs and fly balls, but it’s terrible for fantasy purposes, inducing a dismal 8.6 percent Whf/Sw rate on the year. Since ramping up his use of the two-seamer, Ramirez has seen his K-rate plummet to 9.9 percent, while his swinging strike rate has fallen to 5.1 percent in the process. He’s clearly pitching to contact right now, as his contact rate has jumped from 67.8 percent over his first four starts to 86.9 percent over his last three outings. We can’t blame this on the matchups, either, as he faced the White Sox and Tigers over that stretch, two teams that rank top-10 in strikeouts vs. RHP this season.

I would’ve loved to target Ramirez against a Rays team that strikes out at a league-leading 26.6 percent clip vs. right-handed pitching, but there are enough red flags from a fantasy standpoint to walk away. Strikeouts are king in daily fantasy baseball, and without them we’re essentially relying on a 7-plus inning gem with no runs allowed. I’ll sadly have to pass on Ramirez.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Jerad Eickhoff [RHP – PHI] vs. COL [GPP]

 

HITTING

 

HIGH-PRICED

 

Kris Bryant [3B – R] vs. Blach [LHP] If you listened to this morning’s podcast you heard my breakdown on Ty Blach, a pitiful southpaw with an inability to miss bats. Blach is striking out 2.86 batters per nine innings this season! He owns an absolutely dismal 7.6 percent K-rate, and a league-worst 4.7 percent swinging strike rate across 34.2 innings pitched. Yes, Blach’s 4.7 percent swinging strike rate ranks dead last in baseball among every single pitcher.

The Giants will ask Blach to take the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday, where winds are blowing 16 MPH out to center field. He will not make it out of here alive. A left-handed pitcher who doesn’t miss bats but also doesn’t induce ground balls (45% GB) has absolutely no chance of surviving this start. My advice to Blach would be to call out sick and come back in a week when the Giants are back at AT&T Park. Blach has managed a 4.15 ERA this season, but 28.1 of his 34.2 innings pitched have come at home, which is one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in baseball.

To put it simply, don’t fade Kris Bryant tonight. He will put every ball in play on a night where winds are blowing strong. You can’t ask for more than this, especially when you consider Bryant owns a .419 wOBA and .299 ISO vs. left-handed pitching for his career. He’ll be chalk, but you won’t find a better hitting option than Bryant on Monday’s slate — or any slate for that matter.

NOTE: Jake Lamb [3B – L] is an outstanding play against Miguel Gonzalez inside Chase Field, but his price point is astronomically high on Monday night. It’s worth noting, however, that Lamb will be much lower owned than Bryant across the board, and is an elite tournament option for those of you looking to differentiate at third base.

Aaron Judge [OF – R] @ Vargas [LHP] Jason Vargas got rocked his last time out, which coincidentally came against the same Yankees team he’ll be facing on Monday night. I’m sure he’ll bounce back some tonight, but Vargas won’t be tossing a gem. The Yankees boast too much power from both sides of the plate, and they’ll be hitting in a much friendlier park than Kauffman Stadium. Vargas has a very solid changeup which allows him to neutralize opposite-handed bats, but Aaron Judge isn’t your average righty.

On the season, Judge leads the league in HR/FB rate (45.5%), ranks seventh in hard hit rate (46.7%), and sits top-five in both wOBA (.464) and ISO (.386) through two months of baseball. Judge has hammered left-handed pitching despite seeing limited opportunity, and has been so ridiculously dominant at home that numbers won’t do him justice. As a right-handed power hitter with the platoon advantage against a regressing Vargas, Judge should undoubtedly be viewed as one of the top overall hitting options on Monday’s nine-game slate.

 

Adam Duvall [OF – R] vs. Tomlin [RHP] Josh Tomlin is one of the few true reverse-splits pitchers in baseball, which should do him absolutely zero favors at Great American Ballpark. As we know, GAB is the best non-Coors righty power park in the game, which places Tomlin in an unenviable spot against the Reds. Tomlin is allowing 1.89 HR/9 to RHB this season and 1.58 HR/9 to RHB for his career. He doesn’t induce enough ground balls to limit the long ball, and doesn’t miss enough bats for me to worry about this matchup even slightly.

Adam Duvall isn’t going to hit for average, but he has ample power and drives in runs at a rather elite clip. Duvall owns a career .253 ISO vs. right-handed pitching with a stellar 46 percent flyball rate to boot. He strikes out plenty but that shouldn’t be a concern against Tomlin, especially not at Great American Ballpark. Duvall makes for a phenomenal play across the board on a night where he should actually go vastly overlooked. Joey Votto [1B – L] isn’t a righty, but he is also a stellar high-end option against Tomlin.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Joey Votto [1B – L] vs. Tomlin [RHP]; Paul Goldschmidt [1B – R] vs. Gonzalez [RHP]; Charlie Blackmon [OF – L] @ Eickhoff [RHP]; Corey Dickerson [OF – L] vs. Ramirez [RHP] [GPP]; Jake Lamb [3B – L] vs. Gonzalez [RHP]; Gary Sanchez [C – R] vs. Vargas [LHP]

 

MID-RANGE

 

Willson Contreras [C – R]/Ben Zobrist [2B/OF – L/R] vs. Blach [LHP] I won’t waste anymore time describing how bad Ty Blach is, as we’ve already highlighted the bulk of his inadequacies earlier in the article. No strikeouts, modest groundball rate, and winds blowing 16 MPH out to center field. What more do we need? Contreras might bat seventh in the Cubs’ order, but he’s still an elite play against Blach. The catcher position is generally so weak that batting order means much less than it would at other positions, but rarely do we find a backstop in such an optimal spot. Contreras owns a career .360 wOBA vs. left-handed pitching, and that number should only rise on Monday night.

Zobrist has been dealing with nagging injuries for some time now, but he’ll need to be considered a top mid-range option if he continues to lead off against Blach. Zobrist homered yesterday with heavy winds blowing out, and he’ll draw similar conditions tonight against a much worse pitcher. Blach is a vulnerable as it gets, and can no longer hide behind the safety of AT&T Park. I would be absolutely shocked if Zobrist didn’t see at least five plate appearances out of the lead off spot on Monday.

 

Josh Bell [1B – L/R] @ Foltynewicz [RHP] Josh Bell has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball over the past one-plus weeks, and he’ll draw another opportunity to keep producing on Monday against Foltynewicz. Atlanta’s hard-throwing right-hander has really struggled with left-handed hitters, and life won’t get any easier now that the Braves have moved to Suntrust Park. This venue has been ultra-friendly towards lefty bats, and Bell should benefit as a switch-hitting first baseman.

Foltynewicz has allowed a .367 wOBA and .230 ISO to left-handed hitters for his career, while sporting a 4.99 xFIP with 1.74 HR/9 allowed. Folty is also allowing 48 percent fly balls to LHB, something that should plague him when pitching at home. Bell has a long way to go before coming a trustworthy hitter for fantasy purposes, but I’m more than willing to roll the dice on Monday with his price point remaining affordable.

 

Adam Frazier [2B/OF – L] @ Foltynewicz [RHP] As earlier noted, Foltynewicz struggles mightily with left-handed hitters. He’s also been torched inside Suntrust Park. I generally don’t like targeting Pittsburgh bats but they’ll get a massively favorable park shift moving away from PNC Park and own one of the higher implied run totals on Monday night (4.6). Frazier has been hitting well of late, with double-digit DraftKings Points in six of his last eight starts, recording multi-hit efforts in seven of those games. He won’t hit for much power, but Frazier can post serviceable fantasy totals as the Pirates’ leadoff man, and is respectably priced across the board.

 

Seth Smith [OF – L] vs. Gibson [RHP] Smith makes for one of the best mid-range options every time he’s facing a weak right-handed pitcher. Kyle Gibson certainly qualifies as a weak right-handed pitcher, and he’ll have to pitch inside the hitter-friendly Camden Yards on Monday night. Smith isn’t a particularly exciting hitter, but his .357/.200 wOBA/ISO split vs. RHP for his career is more than enough to consider him at his current price point. Baltimore’s 5.4-run implied total serves as the third highest mark on this nine-game slate, making smith and Chris Davis [1B – L] two very appealing Oriole lefties against Gibson.

Oh, in case you were wondering, Gibson is allowing a .441 wOBA to left-handed hitters with a near .300 ISO and a 6.21 xFIP. He’s striking them out at an 11 percent clip with an 18.2 percent HR/FB rate in 2017. This is a phenomenal matchup for all Baltimore bats, but especially their lefties towards the top of the order.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: David Peralta [OF – L] vs. Gonzalez [RHP]; Alex Avila [C/1B – L] @ Peacock [RHP]; Javier Baez [2B/SS – R] vs. Blach [LHP]; Mike Moustakas [3B – L] @ Pineda [RHP] [GPP]; Cesar Hernandez [2B – L/R] vs. Hoffman [RHP]; Billy Hamilton [OF – L/R] vs. Tomlin [RHP]

 

VALUE

 

Brandon Crawford [SS – L] @ Lackey [RHP] The shortstop position doesn’t offer much appeal on Monday, which makes me want to differentiate a bit. Crawford, who draws a matchup with John Lackey inside windy Wrigley Field, is more than affordable for a shortstop hitting middle of the order. This has been a rather unremarkable year for Crawford through two months, but he’s capable of hitting for power and gets a boost from the 16 MPH winds blowing out to center field. Lackey has struggled with home runs this year and is striking lefties out at a sub-20 percent clip. San Francisco owns a respectable 4.3-run implied total, and although I won’t be looking to stack them against an above-average righty, Crawford is a great way to save at a weak shortstop position.

 

Joe Panik [2B – L] @ Lackey [RHP] Joe Panik has been miserable this season, but none of that matters on Monday. He could be batting second in the Giants’ order on a night where winds are blowing 16 MPH out to center field, and is dirt cheap across the industry. This isn’t a talent play, but more of a price play in optimal conditions. Panik at least draws the platoon advantage and hits towards the top of San Francisco’s order. If he’s slotted into the two-hole Panik will make for a very solid punt at an underwhelming second base position.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Tyler Collins [OF – L] @ Peacock [RHP]; Denard Span [OF – L] @ Lackey [RHP]; Addison Russell [SS – R] vs. Blach [LHP]