MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/31/17

PITCHING

 

Jacob deGrom [RHP – NYM] vs. MIL deGrom’s peripherals have been otherworldly this season. Through two months of baseball, New York’s ace right-hander is sporting a 15.3 percent swinging strike rate (4th) and a 2.86 xFIP (5th), while ranking behind only Chris Sale in contact rate at 68.1 percent. Walks have been an issue at times, as deGrom’s nine percent BB-rate is a career-worst mark, but he’s made up for some spotty command with a career-high 32.2 percent K-rate across 10 starts. This feat becomes even more impressive when you consider eight of the ten teams deGrom has faced are striking out at a bottom-10 clip this season.

Wednesday’s matchup with Milwaukee is somewhat of a mixed bag; the Brewers rank top-10 in both wOBA and ISO vs. right-handed pitching, but Ryan Braun is sidelined and they own a whopping 24 percent K-rate as well. deGrom has surprisingly held lefties  to a lower wOBA than righties in 2017, but he’s striking the latter out at a 34.3 percent clip. deGrom’s 2.88 xFIP and .355 BABIP vs. right-handed hitting also suggest that he may be the recipient of some bad luck. I’m expecting his numbers to improve even more as the season moves forward, as further evidenced by his 1.79 DRA and uncharacteristically high walk rate.

Ranking deGrom over Scherzer isn’t easy, especially considering Mad Max draws a matchup with the Giants at AT&T Park. Having said that, deGrom is a -175 ML favorite at home inside Citi Field, where Milwaukee owns the lowest implied run total (3.2) of any team on Wednesday’s slate. Even if he coughs up a couple of runs, deGrom should post elite strikeout totals while working deep into the game. Consider him the top overall pitching option on the night — especially on DraftKings and FantasyDraft where he is significantly discounted from Scherzer.

 

Max Scherzer [RHP – WAS] @ SFG Scherzer makes for a phenomenal play on Wednesday, facing a Giants team that ranks dead last in both wOBA (.280) and ISO (.132) vs. right-handed pitching. San Francisco has been absolutely dreadful this season, so it’s no surprise that those aforementioned metrics drop to .273 (30th) and .103 (30th) at home, respectively. AT&T Park’s spacious outfield should help to curb Scherzer’s home run problems, too, as his 34.6 percent groundball rate won’t be nearly as much of a liability in such a pitcher-friendly venue.

The only downside to tonight’s matchup is San Francisco’s low strikeout totals (19.7%/25th), but it’s hard to get overly concerned when considering Scherzer ranks second in both K-rate (33.3%) and swinging strike rate (15.7%) among all qualified starters this season. Even if this isn’t the best draw from a strikeout standpoint, Scherzer still offers immense upside against the league’s worst offense. As a -174 ML road favorite, Scherzer should not only earn the win, but pitch seven-plus innings in the process. He and deGrom are interchangeable on sites where they share comparable price points, but I’ll likely roll with the cheaper deGrom wherever he’s discounted.

NOTE: This sounds insane, but I’m going to see if pairing these studs together on two-pitcher sites is feasible. It won’t be easy, but if value opens up at some of the night’s weaker positions (C, 2B, SS), rostering both Scherzer and deGrom could be a realistic approach on a non-Coors slate. 80 combined DraftKings points isn’t to be expected, but it’s far from unrealistic on Wednesday night.

 

James Paxton [LHP – SEA] vs. COL This play certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but it could yield phenomenal results if all the stars align. Paxton was enjoying a Cy Young-worthy season before hitting the disabled list with an ailing forearm, sporting a stellar 30 percent K-rate, 13.7 percent swinging strike rate and 3.19 SIERA through six starts in 2017. His high-90’s four-seamer and lethal curve combination was punishing hitters from both sides of the plate, while his ability to induce weak contact (29% Hard Hit) kept the home run total to zero.

The Rockies aren’t the same team away from Coors, and although they’ve hit left-handed pitching well this season, they still strike out at a 23.4 percent clip, good for seventh most in baseball. Safeco Field is also one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in the game, which is good for Paxton (39.8 GB%) and bad for the Rockies. The pitcher position lacks mid-range talent on Wednesday, too, so Paxton becomes an appealing tournament option at a discounted cost.

The only concern here is Paxton’s pitch count, as Mariners’ manager Scott Servais said he’d be willing to let his ace southpaw throw five or six innings depending on how he looks. Paxton is capable of working short innings while racking up strikeouts at an elite rate, so a six-frame, 8-strikeout performance is more than feasible if Paxton shows no ill-effects from the month-long hiatus. He’s the heaviest favorite on Wednesday’s 9-game main slate (-180 ML), while the Rockies own the third lowest implied total ahead of only Milwaukee and San Francisco. There’s plenty of risk here, but at $8,200 on DraftKings and $15,900 on FantasyDraft, Paxton becomes one of the highest upside plays on the night even if he can only work six innings in his return.

 

Junior Guerra [RHP – MIL] @ NYM There aren’t any tried-and-true punts on Wednesday night, so we’ll have to settle on Guerra. The 32-year-old right-hander has only pitched 8.2 innings this season, but he’s sporting a 15.3 percent swinging strike rate over that stretch. Guerra posted a very respectable 10.9 percent swinging strike rate and 22 percent K-rate across 121.2 frames last season, too, so it’s not unrealistic to think he could continue to fan batters at an above average clip. Having said that, tonight’s matchup with the Mets isn’t great, as they strike out at a 19.1 percent rate vs. RHP and own the league’s 11th highest ISO (.177) through two months. I’ll likely take my chances with Paxton and forego using Guerra or Matt Cain [RHP – SFG] or any of the remaining scrubs at the bottom of the position.

 

TOURNAMENT PLAY: Chris Archer [RHP – TB] makes for a stellar tournament option once again, facing an underachieving Rangers squad in Arlington. The conditions he’ll be pitching in are far from friendly (high temperatures in a hitter-friendly park), but Archer possesses such immense strikeout upside against a K-heavy Texas lineup that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him power through this matchup and mitigate the damage by missing a ton of bats. Archer should be the lowest owned high-priced pitcher on Wednesday’s slate.

 

HITTING

 

HIGH-PRICED

 

Corey Dickerson [OF – L]/Logan Morrison [1B – L] @ Biben-Dirkx [RHP] Facing a pitcher named Austin Bibens-Dirkx should be enough reason to load up on Rays bats tonight, but this goes far beyond the silly name of a career minor-league from Oregon. Texas’ 32-year-old right-hander has pitched more than one thousand minor-league innings (1040.1 IP) compared to 11.1 innings at the major-league level — all of which came out of the bullpen this season. Bibens-Dirkx (lol) has posted modest strikeout totals for his career, induces ground balls at a below average clip, and has shown some homer-prone tendencies against left-handed bats. I don’t see how he can exit Rangers Ballpark with a pulse on a night where game-time temperatures will be hovering around 87 degrees in Arlington. Tampa Bay boasts the second highest implied total on the night at 5.2 runs.

Dickerson and Morrison have been a revelation this season, ranking top-20 vs. RHP in ISO and top-10 in home runs with 11 a piece. Morrison’s 46 percent flyball rate and 43 percent hard hit rate vs. righties is elite, while Dickerson isn’t far behind at 42.6 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Both of these sluggers get a massive park boost shifting from Tropicana Field to the homer-happy Globe Life Park, and neither should be ignored despite some very inflated price points.

I’m making it a priority to work at least two Rays bats into my lineups tonight, and you should be doing the same. Even if Bibens-Dirkx only last a few innings, Texas owns the league’s second highest bullpen ERA with the fourth fewest strikeouts in 2017. This is a stellar matchup on every level.

 

Mookie Betts [OF – R] @ Pelfrey [RHP] The only team with a higher implied run total than Tampa Bay on Wednesday is Boston (5.3), facing the 33-year-old Mike Pelfrey inside Guaranteed Rate Field. It’s truly shocking that Pelfrey somehow owns an ERA below five despite sporting a 12.2 percent K-rate and 45 percent groundball rate through his first seven starts. He does a decent job of limiting home runs, but I’m still expecting Mookie Betts to tune him up inside this hitter-friendly venue. Pelfrey simply doesn’t have the stuff to navigate around this potent Red Sox lineup, while Betts has homered in consecutive games and appears to be heating up.

A Boston stack makes plenty of sense in this matchup, with Hanley Ramirez [1B – R], Xander Bogaerts [SS – R], Andrew Benintendi [OF – L] and even Mitch Moreland [1B – L] making for excellent options at their respective positions. You shouldn’t need to overexpose yourself to Boston bats in cash, but all of them are viable plays in their own right.

 

Aaron Judge [OF – R] @ Gausman [RHP]  Outfield is clearly the position to spend at tonight, as it offers a wealth of power and upside towards the top. Aaron Judge is no exception, boasting a ridiculous 49.4 percent hard hit rate vs. right-handed pitching while ranking second in average exit velocity (94.8 MPH) behind only Miguel Sano. Judge also leads the league in barrels per plate appearance (13.8%) and is the only right-handed hitter to rank top-five in ISO (.379) vs. right-handed pitching.

Needless to say, Judge makes for a phenomenal play against Kevin Gausman, who’s serving up a .417 wOBA and 1.74 HR/9 to RHB this season. To say Gausman has struggled would be an understatement, and although he’s endured some bad luck through his first 11 starts, there are only so many excuses to explain away his troubles. He’ll likely see some positive regression going forward, but Gausman has still yet to figure things out at the major-league level, and that bodes well for Judge on Wednesday night.

Camden Yards ranks as the sixth best power park for right-handed hitters, so Judge should have no trouble powering one over the fence this evening. Gausman isn’t striking batters out and doesn’t induce enough ground balls to mitigate damage against power-laden offenses. I’d be surprised if Judge didn’t get ahold of one (or two) on Wednesday night.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Gary Sanchez [C – R] @ Gausman [RHP]; Michael Conforto [OF – L] vs. Guerra [RHP]; Jay Bruce [1B/OF – L] vs. Guerra [RHP]; Robinson Cano [2B – L] vs. Senzatela [RHP]; Jose Abreu [1B – R] vs. Pomeranz [LHP] [GPP]

 

MID-RANGE

 

Kevin Kiermaier [OF – L] @ Bibens-Dirkx [RHP] As earlier noted, Bibens-Dirkx is going to serve as a human punching bag on Wednesday night. The 32-year-old career minor-leaguer will have to pitch under ultra-hitter-friendly conditions tonight, with temperatures sitting in the mid-80’s at one of the most homer-happy ballparks in baseball. His opponent, the Rays, own the night’s second highest implied run total (5.2), and will likely have three talented lefties atop their lineup.

If Kiermaier continues to hit second, where he’s thrived over the past one-plus weeks, you’ll want to target him in all formats. He’s an elite play on FanDuel at an inexplicable $2,900, where I’ll be sure to have him in all of my lineups. Kiermaier, Dickerson, Morrison and Colby Rasmus [OF – L] all make for stellar options across the industry, while the Rays make for one of the best stacks as a team.

 

Todd Frazier [3B – R] vs. Pomeranz [LHP] The third base position is devoid of talent on Wednesday, which leads us to Todd Frazier and his very palatable price tag against Drew Pomeranz. Frazier won’t hit for average, and he’ll often leave us frustrated after falling flat in optimal matchups, but the veteran third baseman still boasts a ton of power vs. left-handed pitching. On the season, Frazier owns a .250 ISO vs. southpaws — identical to his career average — with a 41 percent flyball rate and 15.5 percent K-rate across 58 plate appearances.

He’s been putrid against same-handed pitching, and Boston’s bullpen is elite, but Frazier should should still see a number of plate appearances against Pomeranz, who is susceptible to coughing up the longball (1.51 HR/9 vs. RHB). You could do a whole lot worse at a depleted third base position. Kyle Seager [3B – L] also makes sense against Senzatela, weighing in at a respectable mid-range price point and hitting in the middle of Seattle’s order.

 

Whit Merrifield [2B – R] vs. Boyd [LHP] The Royals are one of the worst teams in baseball from an offensive standpoint, but they’re going to provide us with some much needed value on Wednesday, so buckle up and enjoy the ride. Merrifield has been one of only a couple Kansas City bats who hasn’t been terrible this season, and his splits against left-handed pitching have actually been quite impressive (.460 wOBA/.229 ISO). He’s sporting a 43 percent flyball rate vs. southpaws and a very respectable 37 percent hard hit rate across 39 plate appearances, so I have no problem targeting Merrifield at a mid-range price point against one of the worst pitchers going on this slate.

Amazingly, Merrifield is riding a 15-game hit streak where he’s tallied three home runs and five multi-hit efforts over that stretch. He isn’t a much of an RBI producer and only has a combined four doubles/triples on the season, but Merrifield’s speed (6 SB) makes up for the lack of extra-base hits. If he draws a spot at the top or middle of the Royals’ order against the left-handed Boyd, Merrifield will make for a very solid option at a weak second base position.

 

GPP NOTE: Only 11 starting pitchers have allowed a higher average exit velocity than Masahiro Tanaka [RHP – NYY] this season, while only six pitchers rank below him in barrels, a Statcast metric defined as a well-struck ball where the combination of exit velocity and launch angle generally results in a minimum batting average of .500 and slugging percentage of 1.500. It’s hard not to have some love for Baltimore bats on a night where they are all discounted on DraftKings. Tanaka is coming off his best performance on the season, so most people will be inclined to avoid Oriole bats in all formats. The truth is, however, that Tanaka has been rather bad this season, and he is still very susceptible to getting rocked by hard-hitting offenses like the Orioles.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Colby Rasmus [OF – L] @ Bibens-Dirkx [RHP]; Joey Gallo [3B – L] vs. Archer [RHP] [GPP]; Kyle Seager [3B – L] vs. Senzatela [RHP]; Matt Holliday [1B – R] @ Gausman [RHP]; Tommy Pham [OF – R] vs. Ryu [LHP]; Miguel Cabrera [1B – R] @ Kennedy [RHP]

 

VALUE

 

Alcides Escobar [SS – R] vs. Boyd [LHP] Alcides Escobar stinks… I mean this guy is really bad at baseball. Two months into his 2017 campaign, the 30-year-old shortstop is lugging around a .194 wOBA with a 2.4 percent walk rate and an 11 wRC+! He’s so unbelievably bad. That being said, Escobar should lead off against an equally bad left-handed pitcher, and he is scraping the bottom of the player pool on DraftKings at $2,200. This isn’t about Escobar’s skill set because he doesn’t really have one, but the Royals own a 4.7-run implied total at home and Matt Boyd is a terrible pitcher. If you’re looking to pay up for both of your pitchers, Escobar is a disgusting, yet necessary piece at a barren shortstop position.

Lorenzo Cain [OF – R] and Salvador Perez [C – R] are also in play against Boyd, as they are dirt cheap at their respective positions and both draw the platoon advantage on a night where the Royals are projected to score a fair amount of runs (4.7 TT). Cain has been dismal this season, but he is still much better than his current salary suggests. Perez, on the other hand, draws the platoon advantage at a routinely terrible catcher position, and is hitting in the middle of Kansas City’s order. It never feels good to roster Royals bats under any conditions, but Wednesday actually poses some appeal now that their salaries have bottomed out.

 

Josh Rutledge [2B/3B – R] @ Pelfrey [RHP] It’s unclear whether or not Rutledge will bat second on Wednesday, or if he’ll even be in the Red Sox lineup against a right-hander. If he is, though, we’ll want to consider him a top value option against Mike Pelfrey. I don’t have the stats to back up this play, but it simply comes down to opportunity and matchup. Rutledge would be hitting in the thick of a potent Boston lineup, which provides him with value by default. With Dustin Pedroia sidelined, Rutledge could see plenty of at bats until the veteran second baseman returns.

 

Andrew Romine [2B/OF – L/R] @ Kennedy [RHP] Romine is another opportunity cost play, as he could lead off for Detroit against a struggling Ian Kennedy. If he gets the start at second base with Ian Kinsler sidelined again, Romine would figure to lead off, and that’s all we’d need to consider him at a dirt cheap cost. If Romine isn’t in the lineup, Dixon Machado [2B/SS – R] would be the likely replacement. Both are priced through the floor across the industry.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Jorge Bonifacio [OF – R] vs. Boyd [LHP]; Alex Avila [C/1B – L] @ Kennedy [RHP]; Chris Davis [1B – L] vs. Tanaka [RHP] [DraftKings – GPP]