MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/4/17 (EARLY)
Max Scherzer is the elite pitching option on the slate, going up against the Arizona Diamondbacks at home in Washington. Scherzer has a 30.30 strikeout percentage and 15.10 swinging strike percentage to start the season and is facing an Arizona team that has strikeout happy righties up and down the lineup. Arizona is not as dangerous of an offense on the road as they are at Chase Field, obviously, so all things look good for Scherzer. The only issue with Scherzer is that, especially on FanDuel, it is really difficult to fit him in with good bats. He is far and away the best pitching option on the slate, however.
Ian Kennedy comes in as the number two pitching option with the postponement of the Cleveland game. Kennedy is a stronger play when he is pitching in Kaufmann Stadium than he is in most road ballparks, as the flyballs he gives up are less likely to leave the park. The White Sox struggle mightily against right-handed pitching and have strikeouts up and down their lineup. Kennedy has a 23.10 percent strikeout rate so far this season. While his 9.80 percent swinging strike rate is a little lower than we would like, he has had swinging strike rates over 10 percent in three of his five games this season so the potential is certainly there. His two most recent games have gotten less swinging strikes, but his velocity looks fine so there is not much to be worried about. He is a strong mid-tier option if you cannot find a way to fit Scherzer with your bats.
John Lackey has not gotten off to a good start this season, but some of that can be attributed to luck. His xFIP is about one-and-a-half runs lower than his ERA to start the season. We have seen his velocity down so far this season, but there are a couple reasons to be optimistic about it from this point forward. First, there was a recent article suggesting that velocity readings are off with the switch from Pitch F/X to Statcast and that Wrigley Field appears to be registering below average velocities across the board. Second, Lackey’s velocity in his last start against Boston was his highest of the season, with his fastball velocity in line with last season and his slider/cutter velocity a tick up from last season. The Phillies present a lineup that will strike out and their power is not as dangerous outside of Citizens Bank Park. Keep an eye on the wind. If it is blowing in, Lackey makes for a strong option.
Kyle Gibson and Tim Adleman make for extremely risky options that may be worth taking a chance on if you are multi-entering GPPs, particularly on FanDuel. For every positive thing I can say about either one, there are about three negative things working against them. But at least they are cheap.
Adleman has a very healthy 24.20 strikeout percentage that is backed up by an 11.90 percent swinging strike rate to start the season. These numbers do not seem like they are going to hold, however, as his zone contact percentage is lower than we would expect to hold up over the course of a season and his minor league numbers do not suggest this kind of strikeout potential. Still, his current strikeout stuff would need to regress a long way before we are upset about rostering him at his current price tag. The bigger issue is that he is allowing 46.50 percent hard contact and inducing just 4.70 percent soft contact so far this season and will be facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, who make a lot of contact, in Great American Park where balls tend to fly out in a hurry. If you roster him, do not watch the game and immediately begin praying that your stack scores at least 10 runs.
Gibson is in the same boat. He has a better matchup in a better park against the Oakland Athletics, who have more strikeouts in their lineup than most people give them credit for. Five of the nine hitters in their projected lineup strikeout at least 20 percent of the time against right-handed pitching. While Gibson has just a 12.20 percent strikeout rate this season, his 9.80 percent swinging strike rate suggests we should see improvement in his strikeout numbers. His swinging strike rate has actually been even healthier as, if you look game by game, he has three games of at least 12 percent, one game at a below average but not absolutely awful 8.2 percent, and one game completely throwing the numbers off at 3.4 percent against the Cleveland Indians. The Athletics rank 10th in the league in swinging strike percentage, but the matchup is still a bit concerning as Gibson has relied on high O-Swing percentages in the three games that he got a lot of swings and misses and Oakland ranks 26th in O-Swing percentage. It is a risky spot where Gibson could easily fail but there is at least a path to success and the risk could pay off nicely on sites with tight pricing if he gives you a decent start for very cheap.
Miguel Sano continues to hit the ball hard and is now facing Jharel Cotton. Cotton is a right-handed whose best pitch is a change-up, which usually screams reverse-splits. Cotton is due for major home-run regression against righties. He is allowing 40.7 percent hard contact with just 11.1 percent soft contact, 35.2 percent flyballs and 24.1 percent line drives to righties this season, but he has yet to allow a home run. Miguel Sano is likely to change that as he is the league leader by a large margin in average exit velocity this season and he does nothing but hit balls hard. Factor in that Cotton is not a strikeout pitcher and we should see Sano do some major damage tonight.
Jake Lamb is in play only in tournaments, but he is a strong leverage play if you do not roster Scherzer. Scherzer is an elite pitcher, but he does have a tendency to give up home runs to left-handed power. Lamb is not as good outside of Chase Field, but he can catch up to Scherzer’s fastball. Since the start of last season, Lamb has a 93.9 mile per hour average exit velocity with a 17.6 percent average launch angle and average distance of 242 feet against right-handed fastballs thrown greater than 93 miles per hour. He has an average exit velocity of 94.4 miles per hour against Scherzer specifically. He is a high-risk option for sure, but he has upside as a great leverage play.
Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy have two of the best matchups on the slate. They both absolutely mash right-handed pitching- no need to go deep into the numbers- and they are facing Braden Shipley who was just called up from the minors. Shipley is bad. Since the start of last season, he is allowing 2.43 home runs per nine innings to lefties (20.80 HR/FB which is actually lower than you normally see with that kind of HR/9) and 35.30 percent hard contact with just 13.20 percent soft contact. He strikes out just 14.30 percent of lefties, so Murphy and Harper should both be able to put the ball in play hard. Ryan Zimmerman is a strong play from the Nats as well as Shipley does not discriminate in who he gives up hard contact to and Zimmerman has been hitting the ball as hard as almost anyone in baseball this season.
Anthony Rizzo has a very nice matchup with Zach Eflin and is likely to go somewhat overlooked because of the expensive Washington bats. This play depends a lot of what the wind is doing as if it is blowing in at 15-20 miles per hour it is a lot tougher to like Rizzo. Eflin’s strikeout numbers against lefties are up from last season, but he is stil giving up 44.1 percent hard contact and inducing just 11.8 percent soft contact with a home run per 9 innings of 1.46. It is a great spot for Rizzo to take him deep as long as the wind does not get in the way.
Robinson Chirinos is likely to finally be in the lineup in a day game after a night game and he will face Joe Musgrove who, while at times looking like a promising young pitcher, has had trouble with right-handed power since he was called up last season. Musgrove has allowed 1.60 home runs per nine innings since the start of last season and Chirinos has a ton of power, leading the Rangers with a .291 ISO against right-handed pitching since last season began. He has a 39.6 percent hard contact rate against righties over that stretch. He is overlooked almost every time he plays since he is a backup catcher, but he has legitimate power and this is a nice home run matchup.
Yuliesky Guriel is likely to fly way under the radar but he has home run potential against A.J. Griffin. Griffin allows a ton of hard hit flyballs and that can quickly be a problem in whatever the name of Houston’s stadium is now- Minute Maid I think. Guriel has a 37.7 percent hard contact rate against right-handed pitching this season and provides some much-needed salary relief without sacrificing too much upside. The downside is that he is a third baseman on FanDuel and a first baseman on DraftKings, so you have to sacrifice really good players to roster him. He is an even stronger option on FantasyDraft because of the roster flexibility.
Josh Reddick will also benefit from the matchup with A.J. Griffin. Griffin is allowing 2.74 home runs per nine to lefties since the start of last season and Reddick has shown some pop to start out this season. His salary is still very low across the industry, which is especially nice on FanDuel. He will probably be a popular one-off given his price, but he will be helpful in affording Scherzer.
Washington Nationals- Washington is the top stack on the slate as they have power up and down their lineup and face Braden Shipley who allowed the most hard contact out of any pitching going today, night or day, to right-handed bats last year paired with 35.30 percent hard contact to lefties. He allowed over 2 home runs per nine innings to lefties. He did a much better job keeping the ball in the park against righties with a 1.92 groundball-to-flyball ratio (compared to 0.98 against lefties) but the righties are in play for the Nats as well as they should be able to put together some big innings. It is tough to afford Washington and Scherzer together, which may keep the Nats ownership down somewhat on a slate that is devoid of pitching behind Scherzer. My guess is that we see huge ownership on guys like Harper and Murphy but that if you stack four or five Nationals you will get a few with pretty low ownership.
Houston Astros- A.J. Griffin gets a lot of weak infield pop-ups. He also gives up a lot of hard hit flyballs that go over the fence. He has allowed over 2 home runs per nine innings to righties and lefties since the start of last season and he is facing an Astros team with power up and down the lineup in a small ballpark. Stacking against Griffin can be frustrating at times because it feels like magic when he gets all of your guys to pop the ball straight up into the air, but it is more than made up for in the starts that he gives up multiple home runs.