MLB DEEP DIVE – 6/15/17
Chris Sale– Sale faces the Phillies tonight in Philadelphia. He has been the best pitcher in baseball this season, compiling a 35.3 percent strikeout percentage, 16 percent swinging strike percentage and 35 percent o-swing percentage while pitching to a 2.56 xFIP. He has been able to strike out hitters from both sides of the plate, sitting down 29.3 percent of lefties and 36.1 percent of righties with an xwOBA allowed of .308 to lefties and .246 to righties. The numbers against righties are particularly important tonight, as the Phillies will likely have a lineup full of right-handed bats. The Phillies are a team that is more fun to target with right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers because of the amount of right-handed power in the lineup, but Sale is obviously no ordinary lefty. As a team, Philadelphia has struck out 20.2 percent of the time against lefties this season. There is a risk that the Phillies get to him for a home run or two in the hitter-friendly Citizens’ Bank Park, but he is a safe play overall due to his strikeout upside. The only real question is whether you can fit him into your lineup on a day with a game in Coors Field. My early take is that I, personally, will be trying harder to fit him into my cash game lineups than my tournament lineups on DraftKings (where he is more than $14,000). On FanDuel, his price is much friendlier at just $11,500 and it is easier to justify rostering him in any format.
Jordan Montgomery– Montgomery has been a favorite of mine all season and he is finally starting to get his results to match up with his ability. For the season, he has struck out 23 percent of hitters with a 12.7 percent swinging strike percentage and 36.4 percent o-swing percentage. His o-swing percentage is 2nd among all qualified starters in the major leagues, sitting slightly below Zack Greinke’s 36.8 percent. His swinging strike percentage is 9th, sitting just above Clayton Kershaw. Montgomery has allowed a .337 xwOBA to lefties but just a .304 xwOBA to righties with a 13.2 percent whiff percentage this season. The latter number is more important for tonight’s matchup as the Athletics are likely to run out a string of hitters from the right side of the plate. Montgomery does a very good job of mixing his pitches against right-handed hitters, throwing a change-up 23 percent of the time, a curveball 21 percent of the time and a slider 12 percent of the time. All three of these pitches generate swings and misses, as the change-up has a 15.6 percent whiff percentage to righties, the curveball 17.8 percent and the slider 22.4 percent. He does not get as many swings and misses on his fastball, but it is still an effective pitch as it has the 6th most vertical movement in all of baseball. It is a huge ballpark boost for Montgomery tonight as he goes from hitter-friendly Yankees Stadium to the spacious Oakland Coliseum and the Athletics have the third highest strikeout percentage against left-handed pitching this season, despite all of the righties in their lineup, at 24.7 percent with just a .303 wOBA and 91 wRC+. Do not let Montgomery’s increased price scare you off of him. He was not a “price play” at his lower price tag. He was an extremely underpriced pitcher who still offers upside after the price increase (and, oh by the way, he is still just $7,500 on FanDuel).
Jeff Hoffman– Hoffman has been very impressive this season as he is living up to his first-round pedigree. The hard-throwing righty has struck out 33.3 percent of hitters in 27 innings with a 13 percent swinging strike percentage and 32.1 percent o-swing percentage. He has been dominant against hitters from both sides of the plate, allowing a .229 xwOBA with a 12.1 percent swinging strike percentage to lefties and a .254 xwOBA with a 14.4 percent swinging strike percentage to righties. The Giants are a difficult lineup to strike out (16.3 percent over the last 14 days) and the game will be played in the hitter’s paradise that is Coors Field, so there is certainly risk, but Hoffman is worth considering in GPPs simply because of the strikeout upside he has shown this season.
Michael Wacha– Wacha is essentially a price play on DraftKings and FantasyDraft where he is $6,300 and $12,400, respectively. Wacha has struck out 21.8 percent of hitters this season with a slightly below average 9.7 percent swinging strike percentage and 29.1 percent o-swing percentage. He will be facing a Brewers team that is capable of doing a lot of damage to opposing pitchers, or striking out a lot. The Brewers’ projected lineup has just three lefties in it and Wacha has been very good against righties this season, allowing a .259 xwOBA with an 11.9 percent swinging strike percentage. If the Brewers do have a right-handed heavy lineup, Wacha makes some sense as a cheap option that will allow you to fit in Coors bats. Just remember that he is very capable of disappointing and having alcohol nearby is recommended.
Justin Verlander– Nobody really knows what the hell is going on with Justin Verlander this season. He is not in play in cash games tonight, but there are some reasons he carries tournament appeal. First, the Tampa Bay Rays strike out a lot. While they have been well above average against right-handed pitching in terms of wOBA (.348) and wRC+ (121), they also lead the majors in strikeout percentage (25.4). Verlander has been bad against hitters from both sides of the plate this season, but he has been better against lefties since the start of May when he began re-incorporating his change-up into his repertoire after under-utilizing it and then scrapping it entirely for a game amidst rumors that he was uncomfortable throwing it because he thought he was tipping his pitches when he did. Since May 1st, Verlander has allowed a .321 xwOBA with an 11.8 percent swinging strike percentage to lefties. The most dangerous hitters in the Tampa Bay lineup are Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison, who both hit from the left side of the plate. He has been incredibly bad against righties over that time period, however, allowing a .393 xwOBA with just a 9 percent swinging strike percentage. While this is certainly reason to be alarmed and exercise caution, it is worth taking a look at the teams that Verlander has faced during this stretch. His results have more or less matched up with the strikeout upside offered by the opposing team. He had at least 19 DraftKings points against the Diamondbacks, Rangers and Royals while he struggled against the Angels, Astros, White Sox (left with injury) and Red Sox. The Rays plate discipline profile matches up much closer to the teams that Verlander had success against than the ones he struggled with so there may be reason for optimism tonight.
Ryan Zimmermann has been excellent at the plate this season, including against right-handed pitching. Zimmermann has a .411 xwOBA against righties and opposing pitcher, Robert Gsellman, has struggled with right-handed hitters this season, allowing a .356 xwOBA and 1.29 home runs per nine innings. Gsellman has also only gotten whiffs on 8.4 percent of his pitches to righties, which bodes well for Zimmermann’s chances of putting the ball in play and, when Zimmermann puts the ball in play, good things tend to happen.
Nolan Arenado faces lefty Matt Moore at home in Coors Field. Moore has been good against righties this season, limiting them to a .325 xwOBA, but he has struggled outside of San Francisco. Coors Field is as drastic a park shift as you can get from AT&T Park and it is likely that we see Moore struggle in this one. Arenado has posted a .378 xwOBA against lefties in Coors Field since the start of last season and he makes for a great option in any format tonight.
Eric Thames homered off Mike Leake last night and continues to show off his impressive power. While Michael Wacha has been good against righties this season, he has struggled with lefties as he has allowed them a .347 xwOBA and 1.63 home runs per nine innings. Even if Wacha is able to have success against most of the rest of the Milwaukee lineup, he will be in a very dangerous spot every time that Thames comes to the plate tonight.
Stephen Piscotty has hit well against right-handed pitching this season, even if his results do not necessarily show it. His .391 expected wOBA against righties is .029 points higher than his .362 actual wOBA this season. While some of that can be explained by playing his home games in a less-than-hitter friendly home park, the ball tends to carry on hot nights in St. Louis and temperatures are expected to be around 90 degrees tonight. Zach Davies has struggled this season and has allowed a .357 xwOBA to right-handed hitters with just a 7.7 percent swinging strike percentage. Piscotty offers plenty of upside at a reasonable price tag.
Albert Pujols has a .368 xwOBA against left-handed pitching since the start of last season and is dirt cheap in a matchup with Kansas City left-hander Matt Strahm. Strahm has pitched out of the bullpen this season and has been much better against lefties than righties. He has limited lefties to a .251 xwOBA while righties have gotten to him for a .369 xwOBA and 1.93 home runs per nine innings. The ballpark is favorable for pitchers, but we know that Pujols has enough power to hit it out and he makes for a nice play where he is inexpensive.
Jorge Bonifacio has been one of my favorite value plays for most of the season and tonight is no different. The powerful right-hander will face Ricky Nolasco, who has allowed a .368 xwOBA and 3.06 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters so far this season. Bonifacio has a .368 xwOBA and .254 ISO against righties and makes for an extremely strong play, especially if he continues hitting near the top of the order.
Colorado Rockies- It is never fun to write about a Coors team as a top stack because I have an ego and I like being right about things that are not obvious. But, Colorado is a top stack tonight. As briefly mentioned earlier, Matt Moore has struggled outside of AT&T park this season. He has allowed a .433 wOBA and 1.85 home runs per nine innings on the road while pitching to a 5.94 xFIP (4.74 at home) with a 15.2 percent strikeout percentage (19.3 at home) and a 10.4 walk percentage (7.0 at home). While I am normally not one to harp on home/road splits, it is something to pay attention to when the pitcher in question pitches in the best pitcher’s park in baseball and will be traveling to the best hitter’s park in baseball tonight. The Rockies are 2nd in baseball with a .356 wOBA against lefties this season and they have already done damage against Moore twice this season, once in Coors (4 innings, 6 earned runs, 3 home runs) and once in San Francisco (5.2 innings, 5 earned runs, 1 home run). Do not exclude the lefties from your stacks, either, because Moore has struggled against lefties (.341 xwOBA since the start of last season) and the Giants bullpen has the 3rd-worst xFIP in baseball over the last 30 days so there will be productive at-bats to be had throughout the game.
St. Louis Cardinals– The Cardinals have been a disappointing offense for much of the season but tonight they will face off against a pitcher who is not living up to expectations in Zach Davies. Davies is allowing hitters from both sides of the plate to hit the ball well, with a .330 xwOBA allowed to lefties and a .357 xwOBA allowed to righties this season. Most of the St. Louis lineup will be right-handed power bats and they should be able to take advantage of the warm weather in St. Louis. The Cardinals’ hitters are priced very fairly and are a great way to load up on offensive upside without sacrificing too much at pitcher.
Tampa Bay Rays- Yes, I wrote a lot of words about Justin Verlander in the pitching section. But, most of those words were talking about how bad he has been for most of the season and that nobody really knows what is wrong with him. While there is certainly enough upside to consider rostering him in GPPs, there is also a lot of upside in rostering these Rays hitters against Verlander and the Detroit bullpen. The Rays, surprisingly, have the 4th-highest wOBA in baseball against right-handed pitching this season and, if Verlander is still not on his game, they will be able to take advantage of his mistakes. The Tigers bullpen also has the worst xFIP in all of baseball over the last 30 days so it is unlikely that the Rays stop scoring runs once they get Verlander out of the game.