MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/23/17
Clayton Kershaw is the biggest name on the slate, so it makes sense to start with him. He has been very good this season, just not as good as we expect from him. He is still an elite pitcher, just not as elite from a fantasy perspective because he is not getting the same number of strikeouts that we have seen in the past. Kershaw’s swinging strike percentage is down from 15.3 percent last season to 11.5 percent this season and his O-swing percentage is down from 34.4 percent to 31.2 percent. Both of these indicators suggest that, if Kershaw keeps pitching the way that he has for the first month-and-a-half of the season, we should not expect his strikeouts to return to the levels that we are accustomed to from Kershaw. He has seen a huge decrease in swinging strike percentage on his curveball and his slider, also indicating it is not something that we should expect to turn around soon. Kershaw has a very nice matchup with the Cardinals, who have struck out 22.3 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season with a .290 wOBA and 77 wRC+. He is a safe option and is a good bet to be one of the highest raw scoring pitchers on the slate. The issue is that Kershaw is still extremely expensive and, at this point, you are paying for his name more than his production. If we chose pitchers just based on their numbers, without knowing who’s name we were clicking, we would not pay Kershaw’s price compared to some of the other options on this slate. But since we do see who’s name we are clicking, it is likely that Kershaw is highly owned despite the bevy of other options. There is nothing wrong with rostering Kershaw, especially cash games, just be aware that he is not the same Clayton Kershaw as in previous seasons.
Lance McCullers is facing the Detroit Tigers in Houston and has a good chance to be the highest scoring pitcher on the slate. He is available for $3,200 less than Kershaw, but has the highest strikeout percentage (27.2 percent) and second highest swinging strike percentage (12.1 percent) on the slate. The Tigers have plenty of dangerous bats in their lineup, but most of them hit from the right side (Detroit’s projected lineup currently has 7 righties in it). Since the start of last season, McCullers has struck out 30 percent of righties that he has faced at home, and he has struck out 32.1 percent of righties this season. McCullers owns the 15th highest whiff per swing rate on his curveball amongst starters who have thrown at least 100 curveballs this season, and he has thrown more of them than everyone except Bronson Arroyo. Detroit has the 6th-highest strikeout percentage against right-handed pitching this season (22.9 percent) and close to a league average .317 wOBA and 99 wRC+. There is a ton of upside in this matchup for McCullers and he is my favorite pitcher in the top tier.
Rick Porcello has had a couple of tough outings in his last two starts but he has a chance to rebound at a reduced price at home against the Texas Rangers. Porcello has been giving up hard contact to hitters from both sides of the plate this season, which makes him a riskier option, but his strikeout numbers look good as he has struck out 23.8 percent of hitters that he has faced with an 11.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.2 O-Swing percentage. Texas has a 21.8 percent strikeout percentage, .321 wOBA and 98 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers this season. They also have the 9th-highest O-Swing percentage (30.3) and 5th-highest swinging strike percentage (11.0) in baseball this season. Hard contact is not as important when we expect a lot of swings and misses. This is an excellent spot to target Porcello and expect a strong bounce-back from his last couple of outings.
Jordan Montgomery is my favorite pitcher on the slate when price and probable ownership is factored in. He has the highest swinging strike percentage on the slate (12.4 percent- 17th highest in the majors) that suggests his 21.9 percent strikeout percentage should be even higher. The Kansas City Royals have struck out just 18.9 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season, but they also have just a .284 wOBA and 73 wRC+ as they lack power in their lineup. In addition, Kansas City has the 4th-highest swinging strike percentage (11.2) and the highest O-Swing percentage (33.8) in baseball this season. Over the last 14 days, Kansas City ranks 10th in swinging strike percentage (10.6) and 2nd in O-swing percentage (34.7). Montgomery throws an above average percentage of first pitch strikes, but a below average percentage of pitches in the strike zone overall. He has the 12th-highest O-Swing percentage in the majors at 34.4 percent and gets at least 13 percent whiffs from righties on all three of his secondary pitches. In addition, he has the 7th-highest whiffs per swing percentage on his curveball amongst all starters who have thrown at least 100 this season (putting him just behind some of our favorite pitchers this season- Perdomo, Morton, Cahill, Godley, Karns and Ray- and ahead of Nova, Strasburg and Marquez in the top 10). It is an excellent matchup for Montgomery because of the approach Kansas City takes at the plate and his pitching style that relies on swings out of the strike zone once he gets ahead in the count. He has not had a big fantasy game yet this season, but there are many to come and we should be looking to roster him before everyone else catches on to how good he is.
Joe Biagini is back to a sub-$5,000 price tag on DraftKings as he comes off his first bad start of the season. Biagini has thrown between 65 and 70 pitches in his last two starts, and likely would have gone deeper in his last start if he had been pitching better. For the season, he has a 22 percent strikeout percentage and a 9.4 percent swinging strike percentage with a 3.23 xFIP. Against righties (there are 6 in Milwaukee’s projected lineup), he has a 22.2 percent strikeout percentage, has allowed 25 percent hard contact, and has induced 23.1 percent soft contact. Against lefties, he has struck out 21.6 percent, allowed 27 percent hard contact, and induced 16.3 percent soft contact. Milwaukee, so far this season, has struck out 23.2 percent of the time against righties with a .338 wOBA and 103 wRC+. At just $4,600, Biagini is way too cheap to overlook.
Paul Goldschmidt has a .453 xwOBA against right-handed pitching this season to go along with a .209 ISO since the start of last season. He will be facing Dylan Covey, in Arizona, who is striking out just 12.8 percent of hitters this season. Covey has allowed 41.8 percent hard contact to righties and has pitched to a .495 wOBA and .426 xwOBA against them. Despite being a groundball pitcher, he has been incredibly home run prone, allowing greater than 4 home runs per nine innings with a 29.6 percent home run per flyball rate. We do not expect him to sustain that home run rate, but the .426 xwOBA suggests that, while he has been unlucky, he has still been really bad and is allowing a lot of hard hit balls that are likely to result in extra bases.
Jake Lamb is another top play from the Arizona lineup for the same reasons as Goldschmidt. Covey’s numbers against lefties have been “better” than against righties, but they are still really bad. He has pitched to a .340 wOBA and .369 xwOBA- suggesting that he has been getting lucky against lefties. He is allowing 1.45 home runs per nine innings to lefties. Look for Lamb, who has a .417 xwOBA against righties this season and .294 ISO against righties since the start of last season, to have a big game tonight.
Corey Seager is a very strong shortstop option against Lance Lynn, who has been unable to get lefties out this season. Lynn has always been worse against lefties than righties, pitching to a 4.87 xFIP with a .345 wOBA against them in his career, but he has been especially bad this season after missing last season. So far this season, Lynn has allowed a .408 wOBA (.367 xwOBA) to lefties. He has struck out just 14.6 percent, while allowing 36.5 percent hard contact, inducing just 9.5 percent soft contact, and giving up 3.12 home runs per 9 innings. Seager has posteda .440 xwOBA against righties this season, and has a .217 ISO against them dating back to last season. Cody Bellinger is a very strong play for the same reasons.
Charlie Blackmon faces Zach Eflin in Citizens’ Bank Park. Eflin is allowing 42.4 percent hard contact while getting just 9.1 percent soft contact with a 15.3 percent strikeout rate against lefties this season. He is allowing lefties to hit 1.33 home runs per 9 innings on a not-very-elevated 12 percent homerun per flyball percentage. Blackmon, like pretty much everyone, is a better hitter in Coors Field, but he has posted a .368 xwOBA against righties on the road since the start of last season.
Michael Conforto faces Jhoulys Chacin, who is excellent against righties. He is not as good against lefties, however, as he has allowed 1.43 home runs per 9 innings to lefties since the start of last season and 2.45 home runs per 9 innings to lefties so far this season. Conforto has been crushing the ball against righties this season, with a .400 xwOBA and 44.1 percent hard contact. His ISO since the start of last season against righties is .253 and his hard contact percentage over the last 14 days is 63 percent while his soft contact percentage is just 3.7. He makes for a very strong one-off against Chacin, as does Jay Bruce.
Mitch Moreland remains cheap across the industry, but he has a ton of upside in his matchup against Andrew Cashner. Cashner has allowed a higher walk percentage than strikeout percentage so far this season, and has allowed 1.48 home runs per nine innings with 38.6 percent hard contact and 11.7 percent soft contact against lefties since the start of last season. We have been waiting several starts for Cashner to finally blow up, and it could very easily be today. Moreland has a .380 xwOBA against righties this season and a .196 ISO since the start of last season. His .355 wOBA suggests that, although he has been productive, he has been a bit unlucky since it is .025 points lower than his xwOBA. Moreland always is low-owned because of his position, but he has upside at a cheap price. Andrew Benintendi is another strong target in this matchup at a low price.
Ryan Schimpf pretty much hits a home run or strikes out whenever he is at the plate. Tonight, he will face Matt Harvey who has not been getting many swings and misses this season and has always allowed home runs to lefties. Schimpf has a .304 ISO against righties since last season and is way too cheap for his matchup with Harvey.
Scott Schebler is in a sneaky good spot tonight against Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco has struggled in his career when he is on more than 6 days rest, allowing home runs to 4.5 percent of the hitters that he has faced, compared to 2 percent on normal rest. On top of that, he has struggled with left-handed power anyway, allowing 1.62 home runs per 9 innings to lefties with 37.8 percent hard contact and just 12.9 percent soft contact since the start of last season. Schebler has been hitting righties very well this season, with a .364 xwOBA and he has posted a .203 ISO since the start of last season. He should go very low-owned at a deep outfield position, but he has plenty of power upside.
Josh Reddick is too cheap for his matchup against Jordan Zimmermann, who is just awful at this point in his career. Reddick has a .353 xwOBA against righties this season with a respectable .176 ISO since the start of last season. Zimmermann has allowed 1.48 home runs per 9 innings to lefties since the start of last season, with 36 percent hard contact and 11.7 percent soft contact. In addition, he has struck out just 15 percent of lefties so there is a good chance Reddick will be putting the ball in play. The Tigers bullpen is terrible as well, so Reddick should be in good hitting situations throughout the game.
Arizona Diamondbacks- Arizona is everyone’s favorite stack tonight and there is not much not to like. We prefer the Diamondbacks against lefties, but a righty with a .426 xwOBA allowed to opposing righties works just as well. There is power and speed up and down the Arizona lineup and they have a good chance to put up several crooked innings against the White Sox.
Chicago White Sox- The White Sox will probably not get as much attention as the Diamondbacks, but they are in the same excellent hitting environment in Chase Field and facing a lefty in Patrick Corbin who, although he has been better this season, is still vulnerable against powerful righties as he has allowed 1.64 home runs per 9 innings this season along with a .360 wOBA. The White Sox are much better against lefties than righties, as they have the 6th-highest wOBA (.344) and 2nd-highest wRC+ (118) against lefties this season. They also have struck out just 17 percent of the time against south-paws. The road team in Chase Field is always one of my favorite tournament stacks and this is no exception. Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson (if he makes his way into the lineup somewhere) are a very strong core for a stack.
Los Angeles Dodgers- The Dodgers have left-handed power up and down their lineup and will be facing Lance Lynn, who has been awful against lefties since returning from the injury that forced him to miss all of last season. While he probably will not remain this bad, he was never great against lefties anyway so we should not expect him to start shutting them down. The Cardinals bullpen behind Lynn is very bad as well, so this is a spot where the Dodgers could continue to pile on runs throughout the game.
Houston Astros- Jordan Zimmermann is really bad and he shows it against hitters from both sides of the plate. The Astros are a right-handed heavy lineup, but Zimmermann has allowed a .389 wOBA to righties this season with 2.19 home runs per nine innings and just a 13.6 percent strikeout percentage. Factor in that the Astros themselves do not strike out often, and there should be a lot of hard-hit balls in play for the Astros tonight. As mentioned earlier, the Tigers bullpen is very bad behind Zimmermann, so the runs should not stop until the game is over for Houston.
Boston Red Sox- Boston is in a very good spot for a stack as they face a pitcher who allows a ton of walks and does not get strikeouts. It is tough to guess who will do the most damage from the Red Sox, especially since most of the lineup is right-handed and Cashner is “better” against righties, but it is a good bet that there will be damage done and stacking the Red Sox allows you to capture most of it in your lineup. They are the prime example of a team that does not have many great one-off plays, but makes one of the better stacks on the slate.