MLB DEEP DIVE – 6/14/17
Corey Kluber [RHP – CLE] vs. LAD – Wednesday’s slate is strange in that none of the top-tier pitchers are compelling must-play options. Jacob deGrom was a virtual lock on Monday, but he also drew a quality matchup and was underpriced across the industry. Kluber comes at a premium on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, but he’s easily the top option by default. The Dodgers haven’t been especially dominant vs. right-handed pitching this season, striking out at the sixth highest clip (23.4%), while ranking 13th in wOBA (.324) and 18th in ISO (.165) across 1772 PA. They’re far from an incompetent baseball team, but Kluber should draw the advantage at home where his Indians are -153 ML favorites and the Dodgers own a slate-low 3.6-run implied total.
Sometimes we have to trust pitchers based on their talent and less on their matchup. In Kluber’s case, he’s sporting career-high marks in swinging strike rate (13.9%) and strikeout rate (28.6%) with a 3.33 xFIP across 49.1 innings pitched. Kluber is fully stretched out since returning from injury, and shouldn’t have any limitations on Wednesday night. If you plan on paying at the position, pay for upside and safety with Kluber.
Michael Pineda [RHP – NYY] @ LAA – I won’t be paying top dollar for Pineda on DraftKings or FantasyDraft, but at $8,700 on FanDuel I’m willing to make an exception. The Angels don’t strike out much vs. right-handed pitching (20.1%/23rd), but they do rank bottom-five in both wOBA (.301) and ISO (.146) this season. Pineda is a -138 ML favorite on the road inside the pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium, and while he has struggled away from home this season it’s hard to believe pitching outside of Yankee Stadium will work against him.
The Angels have surprisingly found some success lately, but this is still a subpar offense. Mike Trout remains sidelined, and Kole Calhoun is the only competent left-handed bat. Assuming Pineda can avoid trouble against the top of this lineup, he should have no trouble carving up the bottom half. With the pitcher position being devoid of talent in the middle tier, Pineda makes too much sense at his depressed price point on FanDuel.
Chad Kuhl [RHP – PIT] vs. COL – No, this is not a joke. For the first time in 2017 I am highlighting Chad Kuhl as a legitimate cash game and tournament option based on the complete lack of talent at the position. Here’s the thing, though: Kuhl, in my opinion, actually makes for a strong play on Wednesday, not only because he’s close to minimum salary across the board, but because this matchup with Colorado is enticing.
The Rockies are far from a bad baseball team, but they don’t boast a heavy presence from the left side of the plate, where Kuhl has been known to struggle most. Dating back to the start of 2016, Kuhl is holding right-handed hitters to a .288 wOBA with a 27 percent hard-hit rate and .39 HR/9 allowed. Lefties have torched him to the tune of a .396 wOBA, .257 ISO and 37.9 percent hard-hit rate over the last one-plus seasons. Kuhl’s platoon splits have become even more pronounced in 2017, with all five of his home runs coming against left-handed bats.
Charlie Blackmon is the only concerning lefty in Colorado, as Carlos Gonzalez has been dreadful (especially outside of Coors where he’s sporting a .292 wOBA and 21 percent hard-hit rate vs. LHP), Gerardo Parra is sidelined, and David Dahl has still yet to make his season debut. That leaves them with Alexi Amarista, Tony Wolters and Raimel Tapia as their remaining left-handed bats on Wednesday night. The Rockies strike out at a 23.5 percent clip away from Coors (9th) and 22 percent vs. RHP on the year.
PNC Park is one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in baseball, which favors Kuhl quite heavily tonight. The 24-year-old right-hander has struggled this season, but his 11.2 percent swinging strike rate and .344 BABIP suggests some positive regression is on the horizon. There’s no shortage of risk here, but I’ll likely be using Kuhl as my SP-2 on both DraftKings and FantasyDraft in both cash games and GPPs.
Francisco Liriano [LHP – TOR] vs. TB – The first rule of rostering Francisco Liriano is never to watch Francisco Liriano. If you decide to pull the trigger on Toronto’s 33-year-old southpaw, it’s imperative that you leave your place of dwelling and forget about baseball for the few hours (or minutes) he’s on the mound. Unless you’re a masochist, watching Liriano pitch should not be implemented into your nightly routine.
Liriano hasn’t been good this season. Actually, he’s been downright trash. Through nine starts in 2017, the veteran lefty has made it through six innings only once, while averaging an inefficient 19.2 pitches per inning on the year. Having said that, Liriano continues to rack up the strikeouts when he’s on the bump, averaging 9.39 K/9 with a 10.8 percent swinging strike rate through 38.1 innings of work.
Liriano is still getting an elite number of whiffs per swing on his slider (43%), and doesn’t appear to have lost much, if any, velocity, but it does appear as though he isn’t fooling many batters with the changeup. The pitch is generating eight percent less Whf/Sw than it did in 2016, and owns a modest velocity differential of only seven MPH in 2017.
Nevertheless, Liriano is still capable of racking up strikeouts against a Rays team that owns a whopping 26.6 percent K-rate vs. left-handed pitching, good for second most in baseball. Tampa Bay has struggled against southpaw pitching overall, lugging around the league’s sixth lowest wOBA (.299) and 18th ranked ISO (.146) across 800 PA. Liriano makes for a risky proposition regardless of matchup, but at a dirt cheap price point across the industry you’d be hard-pressed to ignore him entirely. In tournaments, Liriano makes for one of the better overall options on the night.
Francis Martes [RHP – HOU] vs. TEX – I could see Martes being a relatively popular tournament play on Wednesday, but I don’t have much faith in the 21-year-old righty. Martes possessed solid strikeout potential in Triple-A this season, but he also averaged a terribly inefficient 20.7 pitches per inning, and was unable to make it through six innings in any of his eight starts. The Rangers do strike out quite a bit vs. RHP (23.6%) and on the road (25.9%), but I’m having trouble seeing a way in which Martes can make it through five innings in his first major-league start. Martes is a heavy favorite at home (-163 ML), but will he go deep enough to record the win? There’s a ton of risk here, and I’m simply not sure it’s worth the reward.
Jake Lamb [3B – L] @ Zimmermann [RHP] – Jake Lamb has been brilliant vs. RHP this season, leading the league in RBI (50) while ranking eighth in home runs (14) and seventh in wRC+ (169). Jordan ZImmermann, however, has been downright trash, owning the fourth worst xFIP (5.50) and 10th lowest soft-hit rate (14.5%) among all qualified starters. Moreover, Zimmermann is ceding a .404 wOBA and 2.43 HR/9 to left-handed bats. He is not only incapable of generating strikeouts, but Zimmermann is also garnering only 29 percent ground balls with a 43.3 percent hard-hit rate and 19 percent HR/9.
Needless to say, Lamb makes for a top option at the third base position. Comerica Park can’t save Zimmermann tonight, and neither can the Diamondbacks’ 29th ranked wOBA on the road. If you’re paying a premium at the position, Lamb should be the clear favorite in a pristine matchup with Zimmermann. I’ll have ample exposure to him across the board.
Mookie Betts [OF – R] @ Hellickson [RHP] – This should come as no surprise to anyone, but Boston is likely going to score a lot of runs tonight. They’ll square off against Jeremy Hellickson inside the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, and boast one of the highest implied run totals on the night at 5.3. Hellickson isn’t doing anything well this season, allowing a heap of fly balls and home runs while failing to record strikeouts at even a league average clip. On the surface he’s been worse against same-handed hitters, but Hellickson’s 6.87 xFIP and -0.7 percent K-BB rate vs. lefties suggests he’s been equally bad against both handed bats.
Betts and Andrew Benintendi [OF – L] make for stellar plays at their respective price points, as Hellickson won’t be able to keep the basepaths clean on Wednesday night. 80-degree game-time temperatures and a 10-run over-under should put both of these outfielders firmly in play, while the rest of this Red Sox offense deserves serious attention as well. Xander Bogaerts [SS – R], for example, makes for a top option at a very weak shortstop position.
Anthony Rizzo [1B – L] @ Harvey [RHP] – By now, most of the Matt Harvey truthers have finally given up hope. Most of the remaining stragglers have been silenced by countless underwhelming outings, while only the most ardent believers continue to pray for a turnaround. Anthony Rizzo should put the final nail in the coffin on Wednesday, when he squares off against Harvey inside Citi Field.
The Cubs boast a 4.8-run implied total against New York’s incompetent right-hander, who is serving up a .356 wOBA and .223 ISO to left-handed hitters this season. This hasn’t just been a spell of bad luck, either, as Harvey owns a dismal 5.84 xFIP and 15.4 percent K-rate vs. LHH, while allowing 2.15 HR/9 and 35 percent hard contact. Moreover, lefties have recorded a .258 BABIP against Harvey this season, who is stranding runners at a 76.5 percent clip. Believe it or not, Harvey has actually been lucky through two and a half months!
Rizzo should have little trouble making good contact against a righty who has a sub-30 percent whiff/swing rate on all of his pitches. Harvey’s 7.7 percent swinging strike rate is by far his career worst mark, and his inability to get swings on pitches out of the zone has resulted in an 11.6 percent walk rate and 72 percent outside contact. He’s been far too putrid for me to avoid Rizzo, whether he’s leading off or batting third behind Kris Bryant. Expect another fine performance from Chicago’s power-hitting first baseman on Wednesday night.
Brian Dozier [2B – R] vs. Gaviglio [RHP] – The Minnesota Twins, not the Red Sox or the Astros, boast the highest implied run total on Wednesday night. We’ve seen some football scores through the first two games of this series (20-7, 14-3), where a total of 44 runs have been scored at Target Field. I’ll be going back to the well again on Wednesday when Sam Gaviglio toes the rubber for Seattle.
Gaviglio owns a 5.8 percent swinging strike rate through his first five major-league starts. He’s sporting an 86.8 percent contact rate (third highest in baseball), a number that won’t do him any favors tonight. Targeting Dozier, who has racked up five XBH and five RBI over his last five starts, seems wise on this 11-game slate. Dozier’s splits vs. RHP haven’t been great this season, but he’s looked outstanding of late, and it’s a near certainty that he’ll put the ball in play against Gaviglio. There’s a high ceiling for Dozier on a night where he leads off for a team with the highest implied run total on the slate.
HONORABLE MENTION: Paul Goldschmidt [1B – R] @ Zimmermann [RHP]; Miguel Sano [3B – R] vs. Gaviglio [RHP]; Jose Altuve [2B – R] vs. Cashner [RHP]; Josh Donaldson [3B – R] vs. Odorizzi [RHP] [GPP]; George Springer [OF – R] vs. Cashner [RHP]
Matt Carpenter [1B – L] vs. Garza [RHP] – Carpenter may be waking up as we near the midway point of the season, as he’s now gone 11-28 over his last seven starts with three home runs, four doubles and eight RBI in that span. Fortunately, Carpenter remains cheap across the industry for this plus matchup with Garza, who’s allowing a .341 wOBA and 44 percent flyball rate to left-handed hitters this season. Garza has been quite lucky, too, as he owns a 5.77 xFIP and .275 BABIP vs. LHH. He’ll likely start allowing more home runs as the season wears on, and tonight would be a good place to start.
Carpenter matches up really well with Garza, as he’s hitting 51.6 percent fly balls with 44.3 percent hard contact vs. right-handed arms. Carpenter is a flyball lefty against a flyball righty, and he just now appears to be heating up. Look for that .253 BABIP to begin its correction phase on Wednesday night.
David Peralta [OF – L] @ Zimmermann [RHP] – Peralta hasn’t boasted much of a power stroke this season, but he’s still hitting right-handed pitchers well. The lack of fly balls is concerning (22% FB), but Peralta isn’t making poor contact (35.7% HH) and owns a very respectable .369 wOBA vs. RHP. I’m willing to roll the dice on Arizona’s right fielder against one of the worst righties in baseball.
As earlier noted, Jordan Zimmermann ranks fourth worst among all qualified starters in xFIP, and ranks bottom-10 in soft-hit rate this season. Lefties have tortured him to the tune of a .404 wOBA with 2.43 HR/9, while making hard contact 43.3 percent of the time. Peralta is reasonably priced across the industry, making him a strong mid-range outfield play in both cash games and GPPs.
Max Kepler [OF – L] vs. Gaviglio [RHP] – Kepler is one of the best values on Wednesday’s slate, facing Sam Gaviglio in a game that’s certain to see its fair share of runs. The Twins boast the highest implied run total (5.7) of any team on the night with temperatures touching 86 degrees in Minnesota. Gaviglio has gotten lucky through his first five starts, as evidenced by his 5.05 xFIP and 14 percent K-rate vs. left-handed bats.
Opposite-handed hitters are making 42.2 percent hard contact against Gaviglio, which makes Kepler even more enticing when you factor in his 40 percent hard-hit rate and 41.6 percent flyball rate this season. Furthermore, Kepler is registering a .367/.218 wOBA/ISO vs. RHP in 2017, and now he’ll face a weak righty who Vegas has pegged to cough up a ton of runs at the Target Center.
Miguel Cabrera [1B – R] vs. Walker [RHP] – It’s worth noting that Miguel Cabrera is ridiculously underpriced on both DraftKings and FantasyDraft. I still prefer Carpenter over him in cash games, but it’ll be difficult to overlook Cabrera in GPPs. Taijuan Walker has no platoon splits over his career, and is susceptible to having blowup outings on any given night. Cabrera is still one of the more talented hitters in baseball, and despite some recent struggles doesn’t warrant a low-$3K price tag in a neutral matchup.
HONORABLE MENTION: Tommy Joseph [1B – R] vs. Johnson [LHP]; Aaron Altherr [OF – R] vs. Johnson [LHP]; Jason Kipnis [2B – L] vs. McCarthy [RHP]; Chris Owings [SS/OF – R]/Brandon Drury [2B – R] @ Zimmermann [RHP]; Alex Avila [C/1B – L] vs. Walker [RHP]; Steven Souza Jr. [OF – R] @ Liriano [LHP]; Ian Happ [2B – L/R] @ Harvey [RHP]
Eduardo Escobar [3B/SS – L/R] vs. Gaviglio [RHP] – Most of these Twins bats can be had at a discount on Wednesday, which makes them extremely appealing plays on a night where they own the highest implied run total of any team scheduled. Escobar will never be viewed as a sexy option at shortstop, but he’s enjoying a decent season and is discounted enough to consider at a lower mid-range price point. Moreover, Escobar has been hitting sixth for Minnesota, and has gone a stellar 13-22 at the dish over his last five starts. With the shortstop position being a barren wasteland on this nine-game slate, Escobar should serve as a solid secondary play with the platoon advantage against Seattle’s middling right-hander.
Maikel Franco [3B – R] vs. Johnson [LHP] – Franco has been very disappointing this season, but not disappointing enough to be ignored at $2,600 on DraftKings. Franco is still making 41 percent hard contact against left-handed pitching with a .234 BABIP despite a strong 11.1 percent K-rate and 39 percent flyball rate in 2017.
Brian Johnson has looked fine through three starts with the Red Sox, but he’s actually struggled vs. right-handed bats, allowing a .349 wOBA, .235 ISO and 2.35 HR/9 across 68 TBF. Johnson is serving up a lot of fly balls and isn’t inducing enough soft contact to keep balls in the yard on Wednesday. While he’ll probably still walk off the mound with a decent overall line on Wednesday, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Johnson get touched up at times. Aaron Altherr [OF – R], Tommy Joseph [1B – R] and Franco are all capable of hitting the southpaw for some power, and a strong performance from one or more of them will be the likely result tonight.
Wilmer Flores [2B/3B – R] vs. Montgomery [LHP] – If you aren’t spending for Jake Lamb at third base or Brian Dozier at second base, Wilmer Flores should make for a fine pivot against Mike Montgomery. Flores doesn’t produce impressive numbers without the platoon advantage, but he’s been stellar against southpaws over the past several seasons. In 253 plate appearances since 2015, Flores is crushing lefties to the tune of a .425 wOBA, .312 ISO, 44.2 percent flyball rate and 22 percent HR/FB rate. Mike Montgomery is a talented southpaw, but I’m more than willing to take a chance on Flores at a dirt cheap price point.
Chris Herrmann [C/OF – L] @ Zimmermann [RHP] – Herrmann will immediately become a top backstop option if he’s slotted into the Diamondbacks’ lineup on Wednesday. Herrmann isn’t hitting for average whatsoever, but his .336 wOBA and .273 ISO vs. right-handed pitching this season tells an entirely different story. We’re talking about a catcher with uncharacteristic power at such a low price point, and it would be foolish to overlook him if batting in the middle of Arizona’s lineup. I’ll have ample exposure to Herrmann if he’s starting on Wednesday, as Jordan Zimmermann has become nothing short of a human punching bag in 2017.
HONORABLE MENTION: Kennys Vargas [1B – L/R] vs. Gaviglio [RHP]; Derek Norris [C – R] @ Liriano [LHP] [GPP]; Eric Sogard [2B/SS – L] @ Leake [RHP]