MLB DEEP DIVE – 5/6/17

PITCHING

Clayton Kershaw is the most expensive pitcher on the slate in a matchup against the San Diego Padres in Petco Park.  While the Padres are not a bad matchup by any means, they may not strike out as often as people think.  San Diego’s projected lineup has struck out an average of 23.2 percent of the time (plus the pitcher) against left-handed pitching since the start of last season, but that is inflated by a 40 percent strikeout rate from Ryan Schimpf and a 47 percent strikeout rate from Jabari Blash.  Five of the eight position players in the lineup strike out less than 20 percent of the time against lefties.  Clayton Kershaw, of course, is not just any lefty.  He has been more mortal, so far, this season, however.  His velocity appears to be fine, but his swinging strike percentage is down from 15.3 percent last season to 11.1 percent this season.  That would be his lowest swinging strike percentage since 2012.  His O-Swing percentage is also down from 34.4 percent last season to 31.4 percent this season, which would also be his lowest total since 2012.  This has led to a 27.7 percent strikeout percentage, which would be his lowest since the 2013 season.  All of this is not to say that Kershaw should not be rostered by any means, as he remains a strong option- especially in cash games.  It is just to say that there are reasonable questions about Kershaw’s effectiveness and, on a slate with a ton of good hitting to pay up for, Kershaw is not an automatic play in tournaments at his price tag with some other high-upside pitching options available

Lance McCullers comes at a discount to Kershaw, but has a 30.90 percent strikeout percentage and 13 percent swinging strike rate this season.  The game will be played in Anaheim, which is a park boost for McCullers, but it is worth noting that his strikeout percentage on the road is just 24.2 percent compared to 29.8 percent at home in his career.  This is not something that I put a lot of weight in, but it is worth mentioning as he has faced over 500 batters in each situation so far in his career.  There are four hitters in the Angels’ projected lineup with strikeout percentages over 20 percent, but there are also three that are under 15 percent.  Perhaps more concerning, is that McCullers is throwing just 57.7 percent first pitch strikes this season, with 45.3 percent of his pitches in the zone.  The Angels are in the bottom half of the league in swing percentage and o-swing percentage, as well as contact percentage.  While McCullers certainly has strikeout upside despite the difficult matchup, as evidenced by 8 strikeouts in 6.2 innings in his last start against the Angels, but it would not be surprising to see the Angels be able to work counts and drive up his pitch count which would obviously frustrate fantasy owners.  He is a stronger option on FanDuel at just $8,500 with no penalty for walks than he is at $11,400 on DraftKings.

Vincent Velasquez is a very interesting option if Bryce Harper sits, especially on FanDuel.  At first glance, his strikeout and swinging strike numbers are down this season.  Digging a little bit deeper, however, two matchups against a left-handed heavy Mets lineup that he always seems to struggle with are skewing his numbers.  In five starts this season, Velasquez has swinging strike rates of 18.1, 6.0, 2.4, 10.3 and 15.3 percent.  You can guess which two were against the Mets.  His velocity is fine and we should see his strikeout numbers move closer to last season’s totals of 27.6 percent strikeouts and 11.2 percent swinging strikes.  He will be a risky option and is viable only in tournaments, especially with the wind blowing out, but a watered down Nats lineup without Harper would give him significant upside- especially on FanDuel at just $7,400.

Jordan Montgomery has been phenomenal for the Yankees in his rookie season.  His 25.0 percent strikeout percentage ranks fourth on the slate behind McCullers, J.C. Ramirez and Clayton Kershaw, and his 15.0 percent swinging strike percentage leads the slate.  His swinging strike percentage is not artificially boosted by one or two starts, either, as he has totals of 16.9, 11.4, 14.1 and 17.4 percent in his four starts. Montgomery showed nice strikeout stuff throughout the minor leagues, as well.  The Cubs obviously represent a dangerous matchup for Montgomery, but he is so significantly underpriced for his upside across the industry that the risk is essentially priced in.  The wind is also blowing in today in Wrigley, which always bodes well for pitchers.

J.C. Ramirez has been outstanding this season, as well.  He ranks second on the slate with a 27.9 percent strikeout percentage and that is backed up by a 12.2 percent swinging strike rate.  For as well as he has pitched, he could actually be doing even better as his xFIP is about 0.6 runs lower than his ERA.  Ramirez is throwing his four-seam fastball less, his sinker and slider more, and has added a curveball this season.  He is a totally different pitcher than he has been in the past and it has made him much more effective.   His last start against Texas was his first start with less than a 10 percent swinging strike rate, but it was still 9.9 percent.  The Astros are not the strikeout happy team that they were last season, but Ramirez should still be able to have success against them- especially when you factor in how inexpensive he still is.

A.J. Cole is a risky option facing the Phillies in Philadelphia with the wind blowing out.  That said, he sits at just $5,400 on DraftKings, $5,700 on FanDuel and $10,800 on FantasyDraft.  He was homer prone in his time in the big leagues last season, but he also showed strikeout upside as he fanned 23.9 percent of lefties and 22.4 percent of righties en route to an overall strikeout percentage of 23.2 percent with a 9.9 percent swinging strike rate.  There is enough power in the Philadelphia lineup to do damage against Cole, but there are also plenty of strikeouts as only Cesar Hernandez (19.1 percent) and Maikel Franco (16.1 percent) strike out less than 20 percent of the time against right-handed pitching.  Cole has a deceptive delivery that hides the ball well and it can make him tough to hit when he is on.  There is definite upside to go along with the risk that the Phillies’ bats pose.

 

HITTING

HIGH-PRICED

Nelson Cruz has been mashing the ball lately, with 48.7 percent hard contact and 2.7 percent soft contact in the last 14 days.  Tonight, he faces a left-hander that he has had tremendous success against in the past.  Martin Perez is not a pitcher that I generally like to target as he does a good job of keeping the ball in the park, but Cruz has shown the ability to elevate Perez’s pitches and do damage.  In 11 batted ball events against Perez over the last two seasons, Cruz has an average exit velocity of 104.7 miles per hour and he has 3 home runs and 4 extra base hits in 12 lifetime at-bats against Perez.

Khris Davis is second in all of baseball in average exit velocity this season, at 95.5 miles per hour.  He is also tied for second in most barrels, with 16, and ranks fifth in barrels per plate appearance.  Needless to say, he has been crushing the ball.  He has an excellent matchup tonight against Jordan Zimmermann, who is just really not a good pitcher at this point in his career.  Since the start of last season, Zimmermann has allowed 1.52 home runs per nine innings with an 11.7 percent home run per flyball percentage.  He does not seem to have done anything to fix the home run problem this season, as he has allowed 2.84 home runs per 9 innings to righties so far.  To make matters worse, he also does not get strikeouts.  His strikeout percentage against righties last season was just 14.6 percent and it is not much better this season at 15.9 percent.  Davis is in a great spot to take him deep despite the big ballpark in Oakland.

Aaron Judge is facing left-hander Brett Anderson, of the 90.6 average mile per hour fastball.  Anderson is an extreme groundball pitcher, but that does not keep him from being home run prone to righties as, when he makes mistakes, his stuff is not good enough to keep batters from hitting the ball out of the park.  Judge has 39 plate appearances in his young career and has a 53.3 percent hard contact and 6.7 percent soft contact percentage over that time.  He leads all of baseball in total barrels (17) and barrels per plate appearance (15.7 percent), while ranking just behind Khris Davis for third in average exit velocity.  In addition, as mentioned before, Brett Anderson does not throw any of his pitches with much velocity.  Judge has the 14th highest xwOBA on pitches thrown less than 92 miles per hour, regardless of pitcher handedness or pitch type, amongst all hitters that have at least 100 at-bats since the start of last season.  The wind is blowing in at Wrigley but, if you find yourself questioning if that matters for Judge, just google pictures of him.

Daniel Murphy will be facing hard-throwing flyball pitcher Vincent Velasquez with the wind blowing out in Philly.  Murphy has a .251 ISO and .414 wOBA against right-handed pitching since the start of last season and he is very capable of hitting hard fastballs.  65 percent of Velasquez’s pitches to left-handed hitters this season have been four-seam fastballs, with an average velocity of 94.6 miles per hour.  Since the start of last season, Murphy has a .398 xwOBA against 93-97 mile per hour fastballs from righties, with a 90.9 mile per hour average exit velocity and 18-degree average launch angle.  Murphy has tremendous home run upside in this matchup with the wind blowing out at a pretty weak second base position.

Paul Goldschmidt hit two home runs last night and gets to face a lefty in Coors tonight.  Tyler Anderson is actually a pretty good pitcher, who has shown the ability to pitch well at Coors and to get out righties.  That said, Goldschmidt is not your normal righty.  He has hit the ball hard 46.6 percent of the time against lefties since the start of the 2016 season, with just 9.5 percent soft contact and a .206 ISO.  He is astronomically expensive, but he is a top option to pay up for if you decide to fade Kershaw in exchange for expensive hitting options.

Nolan Arenado faces Patrick Corbin in Coors.  Corbin has shown signs of improvement this season, with a 12 percent swinging strike percentage so far this season that is trending in the right direction over his last few games.  Still, these improvements are over a small sample size, especially compared to the sample size over which Arenado has been mashing lefties in Coors Field.  Arenado had a .318 ISO and .429 wOBA at home against lefties last season after posting a .269 ISO and .417 wOBA at home against lefties in 2015.

 

VALUE

It remains to be seen whether or not Nick Hundley cracks the lineup today but, if he does, he is a very strong option against Amir Garrett.  Garrett has allowed 40 percent hard contact to righties so far this season and Hundley has a .213 ISO and .366 wOBA against lefties in 131 plate appearances since the start of 2016.  Hundley gets a huge park upgrade going from San Francisco to Cincinnati and offers salary relief without losing upside at the catcher position.

Tommy Joseph is cheap across the industry, facing a pitcher who gives up a ton of flyballs, in Citizens Bank Park, with the wind blowing out.  A.J. Cole has been home run prone to hitters from both sides of the plate in his limited major league experience, but he has been more homer prone to righties- which makes sense because he relies on his changeup, which is a pitch that is usually better against hitters of the opposite handedness.  Joseph has plenty of power, with a .211 ISO against righties since last season, and he has a 35.7 percent hard contact rate against right-handers so far this season.

Chris Carter is a very sneaky play that should go under the radar against Brett Anderson, especially if he is toward the bottom of the lineup as that will not draw attention to him.  Anderson, as mentioned above, has a tendency to make mistakes to right-handed hitters and those mistakes get hit a very long way.  Carter has a ton of power and has been much better against groundball pitchers than flyball pitchers throughout his career, likely as a result of his looping swing path that is unusual for right-handed hitters.  Anderson is about as “groundball pitcher” as they come, and Carter will have a chance to take him deep at a very cheap salary.

Freddy Galvis is not a name that you normally think to roster in daily fantasy, but shortstop is pretty weak today and Galvis has a .180 ISO against righties since the start of last season.  As mentioned a couple times already, Cole will give up home runs and the wind is blowing out in Philly.  You can do worse than paying down to Galvis at shortstop in GPPs.

Curtis Granderson was terrible to start out the season, but he appears to maybe be turning things around.  He is still making too much soft contact, but his hard contact percentage is up to 30 percent over the last 14 days and 35.7 percent over the last 7 days, compared to just 28 percent for the season.  Despaigne does a good job limiting hard contact to both sides of the plate but, at just $2,400 on FanDuel specifically, Granderson offers salary relief with some upside.

 

Team Stacks

The Diamondbacks and the Rockies are both top stacks on this slate as they face off in Coors Field.  Both pitchers are interesting, in that Tyler Anderson is off to an awful start for the Rockies but his numbers indicate that he will turn it around soon and he has shown that he can pitch well at Coors and Patrick Corbin has shown signs of improvement after a disastrous season last year.  While I do not dislike the outlook for either pitcher moving forward, especially Anderson, they are both in bad spots in this game.  The Diamondbacks have a ton of right-handed power up and down their lineup that can do damage against Anderson and, while the Rockies do not have quite as much right-handed power, they did just get Ian Desmond to stabilize the middle of their lineup against lefties.

San Francisco Giants- The Giants get a massive park shift going from San Francisco to Cincinnati and they will face Amir Garrett who, despite being good this season, has allowed 40 percent hard contact to righties so far.  The San Francisco lineup is expected to be predominantly right-handed and loaded with guys who do not strikeout easily.  Hitters who make contact facing a pitcher who gives up hard contact in a park that is very conducive to hitting generally leads to good conditions for a stack.  It is worth noting that the Reds bullpen has the 2nd best xFIP in the majors this season overall and the 10th best xFIP against right-handed hitters.  That is not enough to get me off the Giants, but it is worth noting that there is some risk in the late innings.

Philadelphia makes for a stack that may go overlooked against A.J. Cole.  I obviously have interest in Cole because he has strikeout upside, but there are plenty of hitters in this Philadelphia lineup than can do damage against him if he is not on his game, as they have power and will be hitting hard flyballs into the wind.  If making a lot of lineups, I would have exposure to both sides.