MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/30/17
Chris Sale is the premier pitching option on this slate as he returns to Chicago to face his former White Sox club. Sale has been electric this season as he has scrapped the pitch-to-contact approach that the White Sox forced upon him last season and has struck out 36.7 percent of all hitters that he has faced this season, with a 16.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 33.5 percent O-Swing percentage. His strikeout percentage and swinging strike percentage rank first amongst all qualified starting pitchers and his O-Swing percentage ranks 10th. The White Sox have been much better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching, as they lead the major leagues in wOBA and wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season- led by a core of powerful righties in Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson. While we could see one or two of these guys get to a Sale mistake for a home run, he has been very good against righties this season- posting a 38 percent strikeout percentage and allowing just a .242 xwOBA to opposing righties.
Robbie Ray is another expensive, high-upside pitching option who is available for considerably less money than Sale on most sites across the industry. Ray has the second highest strikeout percentage on the slate so far this season, striking out 29.8 percent of hitters that he has faced with a 12.8 percent swinging strike percentage. Pittsburgh has been more strikeout prone against lefties than righties, striking out 20.3 percent of the time against southpaws compared to 18.1 percent of the time against their right-handed counterparts. Like Sale, Ray has had no trouble striking out right-handed bats, as he has sent 27.9 percent of right-handed hitters that he has faced back to the bench on strikes. Ray will also benefit from a very favorable park shift, going from a very hitter friendly home park in Arizona to a very favorable park for pitchers in Pittsburgh. Ray does not compare favorably to Sale in terms of raw point projections but, when price is factored in, he makes for a strong SP1 if you cannot afford Sale.
Jeff Samardzija makes for an intriguing tournament option against the Washington Nationals. As we all know, the Nationals are one of the best teams in baseball and they rank in the top 5 in wOBA and wRC+ against right-handed pitching this season. That being said, there are a lot of things to like about Samardzija tonight. He has been much better this season than in previous seasons, and it appears that a change in his delivery is likely to be the reason. His swinging strike percentage has increased from 9.2 percent last season to 11.6 percent this season and his O-Swing percentage has increased from 32 percent last season to 33.5 percent this season. As a result, we have seen his strikeout percent jump all the way from 20.1 percent last season to 28.6 percent this season. His slider is his go-to out pitch and his whiff percentage on that pitch has increased from 12.8 percent against righties and 13.4 percent against lefties last season to 20.8 percent against righties and 19.3 percent against lefties this season. In addition, he has a splitter that he throws more frequently to lefties than righties. His whiff percentage on that pitch has climbed from 14.4 percent to lefties last season to 20.2 percent this season. The Nationals projected lineup features a total of six righties (including the pitcher) and Samardzija has struck out 29 percent of righties that he has faced this season, while inducing more soft contact (26.1 percent) than he has allowed hard contact (25 percent). He has allowed just a .232 xwOBA to right-handed bats this season as well. On top of all of that, the game will be played in San Francisco where it is very difficult for hitters to have success.
Tyler Anderson faces a Seattle team that has been awful against left-handed pitching and was even shut out earlier this week by Red Sox rookie lefty Brian Johnson. For the season, Seattle ranks dead last in wOBA and tied for last in wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Anderson has proven since he came to the major leagues last season that he is capable of pitching in Coors Field. He has also shown that he is capable of getting out right-handed hitters, allowing just a .291 xwOBA to righties since he was called up last season. Overall this season, Anderson has struck out 23.6 percent of hitters with a very impressive 12.9 percent swinging that sits behind only Chris Sale and Kenta Maeda on this slate.
Ivan Nova has not posted good strikeout numbers this season, but he gets a very nice matchup at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks and he is at his lowest price point of the season on some sites. Rostering Nova today is highly dependent on the lineup that the Diamondbacks use, as he is much better against righties than lefties. He has struck out 18 percent of righties this season compared to just 8.5 percent of lefties and has allowed an xwOBA of .291 to righties since the start of last season compared to .361 to lefties. If the Diamondbacks have a lot of righties in their lineup, there is sneaky upside here for Nova.
Dinelson Lamet made his major league debut against the Mets in his last start and fared very well as he struck out 40 percent of the Mets that he faced with a 12.1 percent swinging strike percentage. While the strikeout rate obviously is not sustainable, he did post very good strikeout numbers in the minor leagues, striking out 29.9 percent of the hitters that he faced in 39 innings at AAA this season and 29.2 percent of the hitters that he faced in 74.1 innings at AA last season. The Mets were a tough test for Lamet as they feature a lot of power hitting lefties, but he managed to hold his own. Tonight he gets another test in the defending champion Chicago Cubs, but we should keep in mind that the Cubs offense has been pedestrian against right-handed pitching, striking out 21.9 percent of the time with a .308 wOBA and 88 wRC+ so far this season. Lamet is in play as a GPP option that will allow you to pay up for hitters while still giving you plenty of upside at SP2.
Aaron Judge faces Chris Tillman in the friendly confines of Camden Yards. Tillman has allowed a .339 xwOBA to righties since the start of last season and Judge has posted a .445 xwOBA against right-handed pitchers so far this season. In his 11 2/3 innings against righties this season, Tillman has allowed 33.3 percent flyballs and 35.9 percent line drives, while also allowing opposing hitters to pull the ball 46.2 percent of the time. Judge ranks 2nd in baseball in overall average exit velocity and average exit velocity on flyballs and line drives, and leads baseball in barrels per plate appearance. He is in a great spot to take advantage of a mediocre Chris Tillman tonight in Baltimore.
Nolan Arenado faces lefty Ariel Miranda in Coors Field tonight. While Miranda is a decent pitcher that is better than some people give him credit for, he does have a tendency to allow home runs to right-handed hitters, as he has allowed 1.9 so far this season with a 14.5 percent home run to flyball ratio that does not suggest he is getting too unlucky. Arenado has posted a .455 xwOBA against left-handed pitching this season and there is a good chance that he has success against Ariel Miranda.
Corey Dickerson gets a ballpark boost facing Nick Martinez in Texas. Martinez usually does a nice job of not getting blown up by opposing offenses, but he has allowed 1.69 home runs per nine innings to left-handed hitters so far this season and a .395 xwOBA to lefties since the start of last season. Dickerson has made changes in his approach this season and has been crushing the ball, with a .303 ISO, .348 xwOBA, 40.9 percent hard contact and just 10 percent soft contact against right-handed pitching this season.
Miguel Sano still leads the major leagues in average exit velocity and will face Mike Fiers who has been forced back into the rotation after a demotion to the bullpen, due to Charlie Morton’s injury. Fiers has allowed a whopping 3.47 home runs per nine innings in the 46 2/3 innings that he has pitched this season, and an even more alarming 5.49 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters this season. Sano has a .287 ISO, 55.3 percent hard contact and just 3.2 percent soft contact against righties this season to go along with a .407 xwOBA.
J.D. Martinez has been on fire since returning from the disabled list and he will face rookie lefty Eric Skoglund tonight in Kansas City. Skoglund allowed 1.08 home runs per nine innings to righties at AA last season and was having some struggles against righties at AAA early this season as well. Martinez has a very impressive .419 xwOBA against lefties since the start of last season and is in line for a huge game tonight. Miguel Cabrera is a very strong option as well for the Tigers.
Speaking of Tigers, Nick Castellanos has been incredibly unlucky so far this season as he leads all hitters who have had at least 100 at-bats in xwOBA-wOBA, which measures how far off a player’s actual wOBA is from where it would be if you factor in how the player is actually hitting the ball by using hit probabilities (also note that Miguel Cabrera is second to Castellanos). Castellanos has a .348 xwOBA against left-handed pitching since the start of last year and a .382 xwOBA against lefties so far this season. Castellanos’s price is deflated as a result of the bad luck that he has been hitting in to, but we should not let the results deter us from rostering him in a plus matchup.
Kendrys Morales, who ranks third in xwOBA-wOBA, and Justin Smoak are both strong options against right-handed Asher Wojciechowski. They have both been destroying right-handed pitching this season. While Smoak has gotten better results than Morales, Smoak’s .376 xwOBA actually is lower than Morales’s .411. Point being, they are both very strong plays at cheap price points. On FantasyDraft, where you can roster multiple first basemen, rostering them both is a good idea.
Ryan Schimpf is cheap and is facing Eddie Butler, who has struck out just 11.7 percent of the lefties that he has faced in his career and just 15 percent of all hitters that he has faced this season. As we knowm Schimpf strikes out a lot but, when he does not strike out, he is very capable of putting the ball over the fence. He has a .266 ISO against righties since the start of last season and is available at a cheap price because of how often he strikes out. Strike outs are not as much of a concern against Butler, so he is a strong play.
Luis Valbuena has struggled to start this season, but has been productive against right-handed pitching in the past. Bartolo Colon is nearing the end of his run as Major League Baseball’s fattest pitcher, and is doing so by allowing 1.69 home runs per nine innings to opposing lefties this season. There is opportunity cost to rostering Valbuena, especially on sites where he is listed as a first baseman, but there is home run upside there at a very cheap price.
Colorado Rockies- Ariel Miranda is a decent pitcher, but he will be facing a lot of right-handed bats in Coors Field. He has been home run prone against righties and the thin air will not help his cause. In addition, he relies on a change-up and a splitter as his secondary pitches. Those are both pitches that rely on vertical movement to be successful, and vertical movement can be hard to come by in the altitude. Colorado ranks third in baseball in wOBA against left-handed pitching this season and they are in a nice spot against Miranda and the Mariners.
Milwaukee Brewers- Milwaukee faces Tyler Pill, who has shown no signs of being able to strike hitters out in the minor leagues, as he has a 12.2 percent strikeout percentage at AAA this season. Milwaukee is a flawed offense that strikes out a ton but also has a lot of power. By negating the strikeouts, you are left with power hitters that will probably be making contact. It is also helpful for the Brewers that the Mets bullpen has the third highest xFIP in baseball over the last 30 days. Do not overlook Domingo Santana in your stacks, as he actually leads the Brewers regulars in xwOBA against right-handed pitching this season.
Minnesota Twins- Minnesota has a great matchup against Mike Fiers. The downside is that the Houston bullpen is very good, so it may be tough to add on runs in late innings. The best approach is probably to take a couple of hitters from Minnesota in a mini-stack, but there is merit to a full stack hoping to get enough early home runs that the bullpen does not matter as much.
Detroit Tigers- Detroit is facing a rookie left-hander and has been one of the most unlucky teams offensively in baseball so far this season. There is right-handed power up and down this lineup that should be able to do damage against Skoglund. On the downside, Kansas City’s bullpen has been very good over the last 30 days which limits some upside for the stack, especially if the game stays close and the Royals use their better bullpen arms.