MLB DEEP DIVE – 6/19/17
Clayton Kershaw- Kershaw had a mediocre outing by his standards in his last start but that was a difficult matchup against a Cleveland team that is very good at making contact and putting the ball in play. Tonight, on the other hand, he has a matchup with a watered-down Mets lineup that has Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker on the disabled list. Most of the other dangerous hitters in the New York lineup are lefties with Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto and Lucas Duda providing most of the pop for the Mets. Kershaw has a 14.5 percent swinging strike percentage over his last five starts (including just 8.9 percent against the Indians), which is nearly two percentage points higher than his season average of 12.6 percent. It appears that whatever he was “working on” earlier in the season that was keeping his strikeout numbers down is a thing of the past and we are back to vintage Kershaw. He should be able to carve up a Mets team that has struck out 22.3 percent of the time against lefties this season with a .304 wOBA and 88 wRC+ that is also not at full strength.
Corey Kluber- Kluber has a dangerous matchup against the Orioles in Camden Yards where, as we saw yesterday, fairly routine flyballs can very easily turn in to home runs. The weather looks like it will be in Kluber’s favor tonight, however, as it is supposed to rain in Baltimore before (and possibly somewhat during) the game which should keep temperatures down. The ball flies in Baltimore on hot summer nights, but the stadium plays much bigger when it is not hot outside. Kluber has as much upside as anyone on the slate, as he has a 14.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 30.0 percent strikeout rate this season. Against righties, which is almost the entire Baltimore lineup, he has a 32.0 percent strikeout rate and a .295 xwOBA. While the Orioles are certainly capable of doing damage against anyone, his price tag is very appealing where he is available for significantly less money than Kershaw.
Jon Lester does not possess the same upside as Kershaw or Kluber, but he is in a very nice spot at home against the Padres. Wind does not appear to be a concern in tonight’s game at Wrigley, which means we can target Lester. He has a 24.8 percent strikeout percentage and 10.9 percent swinging strike percentage this season so, while he may not have the same upside as the two more expensive pitchers, he does have plenty of upside in his own right. The Padres have the 5th-highest strikeout percentage against lefties this season, at 24.3 percent, and own just a .289 wOBA and 77 wRC+ against southpaws. The majority of the San Diego lineup is projected to be right-handed, but Lester has not struggled against righties this season- striking out 22.6 percent with just 26.8 percent hard contact and an xwOBA allowed of .303.
Jake Odorizzi has made some changes this season that have improved his results, especially against right-handed hitters. His overall swinging strike percentage of 11.4 percent is a career-high- and it does not appear to be a result of facing weak opponents. He has recorded a swinging strike percentage greater than 10 percent in every start this season, with the exception of two starts against the Blue Jays (but it was 12.1 percent in his most recent start against them) and one start against the Mariners. Odorizzi has been a reverse-splits pitcher throughout his career, but he has been good against hitters from both sides of the plate this season. He is throwing his four-seam fastball 46.1 percent of the time to righties compared to 53.3 percent last season and also decreased his slider usage from 14.5 percent to 11.9 percent. He increased the usage of his cut fastball from 11.9 percent to 21.3 percent and of his splitter from 14.7 percent to 18.2 percent. He is also getting more swings and misses on his fastball, as his whiff percentage has increased from 9.5 percent last season to 15.9 percent this season. The whiff percentage on his cutter increased from 5.8 percent to 9.2 percent and on his splitter from 12.8 percent to 14.3 percent. While his cutter has not been more effective this season in terms of xwOBA allowed (.376 this season versus .334 last season), his fastball and splitter have been better- especially the fastball which went from a .392 xwOBA against last season to .313 so far this season. His velocity is not up- it is actually down slightly- but he is getting more arm-side run on his four-seam fastball which could be the reason for the increased swings and misses. It appears the main change that Odorizzi made outside of pitch selection is that he lowered his arm slot on all of his pitches. This allows him to get more arm-side run and possibly makes him more deceptive. Tonight, he will be facing the Reds at Tropicana Field. Since the start of the 2015 season, Odorizzi has struck out 23.3 percent of hitters at home with 1.1 home runs per 9 innings and a 4.08 xFIP compared to 19.6 percent of hitters with 1.5 home runs per 9 innings and a 4.45 xFIP on the road. While the Reds have struck out just 20.6 percent of the time against right-handed pitching as a team this season, their plate discipline numbers over the last 14 days suggest that Odorizzi could pile up some strikeouts. The Reds have an 11.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 33.6 percent o-swing percentage over that span, compared to 9.6 and 29.2 for the season. Odorizzi is in a great spot at a very reasonable price point tonight.
Marco Estrada is a risky option that offers upside if things go right. He has shown excellent strikeout stuff this season and Texas has struck out 23.0 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season and 24.3 percent of the time over the last 14 days. Estrada has a 26.6 percent strikeout percentage this season with a 12.3 percent swinging strike percentage and 33.5 percent o-swing percentage. The downside for Estrada is the weather and ballpark. If this game were in the dome in Toronto, he would be one of my favorite plays on the slate. The game is being played in Texas, however, on a hot and humid summer night where the ball is going to carry. Estrada has a 44.5 percent flyball rate and 20.5 percent line drive rate this season with a flyball-to-groundball ratio of 0.78. That makes him an extremely risky play in the Texas heat, but the upside is certainly there if you are not risk-averse.
Brad Peacock- Speaking of risk, Brad Peacock is on the mound tonight. He has some very interesting numbers so far, as he has struck out 35.6 percent of hitters with a 13.6 percent swinging strike percentage, yet hitters are swinging at just 24.0 percent of the pitches that he throws outside of the strike zone. His zone contact percentage is incredibly low at just 76.0 percent. This indicates that he is probably due for some regression in his strikeout numbers because it is unlikely that hitters are going to continue to swing and miss on nearly 25% of the pitches that they swing at in the strike zone. Therefore, we should look to target Peacock against teams that swing and miss a lot on their own, and not view Peacock as someone who has the stuff to pile up strikeouts against anyone. The Athletics are a team that strikes out a lot. They have struck out 23.5 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season and 24.8 percent of the time in the last 14 days. While they have hit better at home than on the road, they still have struck out 23.0 percent of the time at home. Now, to the important numbers. Oakland has the 4th-lowest zone contact percentage in baseball this season at 84.8 percent, with a 10.8 percent swinging strike percentage and 29.1 percent o-swing percentage. Over the last 14 days, their zone contact percentage is 83.8 percent and they have a 12.6 percent swinging strike percentage and 33.9 percent o-swing percentage. They profile as exactly the type of team that we want to roster Peacock against. While there is still risk in rostering Peacock, especially on sites where he is more expensive, there is massive upside here in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
Ryan Zimmerman faces a lefty who pitches to contact in Justin Nicolino and should be able to have success. While Nicolino is usually able to magically find a way not to get blown up despite being a terrible pitcher, Zimmermann has a good chance to take him deep as Nicolino has allowed 1.15 home runs per 9 innings to righties in his career and Zimmerman has a .446 xwOBA against left-handed pitching this season. The ballpark is not ideal, but Zimmerman has been an elite power hitter this season.
Eric Thames is heating up again and he gets a very nice matchup against Gerrit Cole. While Cole carries a big name since he is a former number one overall pick, he has struggled mightily with left-handed power hitters this season, allowing 2.2 home runs per 9 innings (despite playing his home games at PNC park) and an xwOBA of .367 to left-handed hitters. Thames has a .372 xwOBA and .342 ISO against righties this season and will get to face Cole in hitter-friendly Miller Park.
Nelson Cruz faces Anibal Sanchez tonight in Seattle. Sanchez was awful out of the Tigers’ bullpen earlier this season, allowing 9 home runs in 21 innings, and he continued to serve up long balls after he was demoted to AAA-Toledo, where he allowed 3 in 15.2 innings pitched. Sanchez’s strikeout numbers have been good this season, but nothing else has and Cruz has the most power in the Seattle lineup. Known as a lefty-masher, Cruz also can handle righties as he has posted a .375 xwOBA and .245 ISO against righties this season. Cruz is also 5-12 with 4 home runs in his career against Sanchez, and an average exit velocity of 92.2 miles per hour on 6 batted balls over the last 2 seasons. Sanchez has struck him out just once.
Alex Avila usually does not make this list since he is a catcher, but he is still one of the better hitters in baseball against right-handed pitching now that he appears to be fully healthy for the first time in a very long time. He has a ridiculous .497 xwOBA against righties this season and will get to face Sam Gaviglio, who has struck out just 17.5 percent of lefties while allowing 2.25 home runs per nine innings with an xwOBA of .354 so far this season. Avila is the top catching option on the slate and is in play on FantasyDraft even though you are not required to roster a catcher.
Cody Bellinger did not come through with a home run off of Bronson Arroyo yesterday, but he has a sneaky good matchup again tonight. He should be available at a fraction of the ownership that he was at yesterday, but he will be facing Zack Wheeler of the Mets. Wheeler has been able to strike lefties out this season, which could be an issue for Bellinger, but he also has allowed 1.88 home runs per 9 innings with 42.1 percent hard contact and 11.8 percent soft contact. The Mets’ bullpen behind Wheeler has the 8th-worst xFIP in the majors so Bellinger should be in plus-matchups all night long.
Billy Hamilton is not a great hitter but his upside comes when he is on the bases. It was already mentioned that Odorizzi is a strong play against the Reds tonight but, if you do not have Odorizzi on a roster, Hamilton makes for a great value play if Derek Norris is catching. Odorizzi is average to above-average at holding runners, but Norris has thrown out just 7 of 40 runners who have attempted to steal against him this season. Throwing out Hamilton requires a good pitcher and a good catcher, so we should see him run freely if he is able to get on base against Odorizzi.
Brandon Belt is going through a bit of a slump but his $3,600 price tag on DraftKings is absurd. Belt has a .399 xwOBA against right-handed pitching this season and would be a household name if he did not play half his games in AT&T Park. R.A. Dickey is a shell of his former self and has allowed 1.54 home runs per 9 innings to left-handed hitters this season. Belt gets a huge ballpark boost playing in Atlanta instead of San Francisco and is an especially strong play on DraftKings and FantasyDraft where he does not come at the expense of other first basemen.
Gregory Polanco has really struggled this season, posting just a .326 xwOBA against right-handed pitching, and is possibly playing through injuries. Still, he is extremely inexpensive at just $3,400 on DraftKings and he has a great matchup in Miller Park against Matt Garza. Garza has been good against righties this season, holding them to a .303 xwOBA, but he has allowed a .350 xwOBA and 1.17 home runs per 9 innings to lefties. There is reason to think more home runs could be on the way, as he has limited lefties to just 7.8 percent soft contact.
Kyle Seager is way too cheap in his matchup against Sanchez. As previously mentioned, Sanchez has been giving up home runs at an astounding clip this season. Although is ISO is just .171 this season, he does have an impressive .391 xwOBA against righties. He should be able to take advantage of the matchup with Sanchez and then will get to face a dreadful Tigers bullpen once Sanchez exits the game.
Cleveland Indians- Stacking against the Orioles every night is a profitable strategy right now as their bullpen is in shambles and their starting pitching sucks. On top of that, they play in hitter-friendly Camden Yards. There are a couple of factors working against the Indians that keep this from being the perfect spot. First, the Indians have been significantly worse on the road than at home for multiple seasons. Second, the weather tonight is not supposed to be as hot and humid as it was over the weekend so balls will have to be hit a little better to turn into home runs. Still, while Dylan Bundy has been the most consistent Orioles’ pitcher in terms of results, he is worse against lefties than righties and the Indians’ lineup will consist mostly of left-handed bats. Bundy has allowed a .341 xwOBA to lefties compared to just .306 to righties, and has a 48.0 percent flyball rate to lefties. There is a ton of upside for a Cleveland stack.
San Francisco Giants- Stacking the Giants at cheap prices outside of AT&T Park is a strategy that I love, although it has not paid off particularly well this season. I will not stop doing it, however, as the Giants are finally near full strength and there is more power upside in the lineup than people realize- especially in Atlanta which has quickly become one of the best places to hit. R.A. Dickey has allowed 1.75 home runs per 9 innings this season.
Texas Rangers- This is a high-risk/high-reward spot against Marco Estrada. Estrada, as mentioned earlier, is capable of picking up a lot of strikeouts. He also allows a lot of flyballs, however, and the weather in Texas tonight should be conducive to home runs. There is power up and down the Texas lineup and they can put a lot of runs on the board with multiple homers if they are able to make contact with Estrada’s pitches.
Seattle Mariners- Seattle is my favorite stack right now against Anibal Sanchez. There is a chance that Sanchez figured something out in the minor leagues and is going to be better than he was earlier in the season, but I am willing to take that risk. There are articles from Detroit papers suggesting that Sanchez was brought back to the majors because there were conditions on his demotion that said he had to be, which would imply that he probably did not figure things out in the minors. There is just too much upside here to ignore, as Sanchez was demoted from one of the worst bullpens in baseball and will now be getting the start against an above-average Mariners offense. If he falters, the Mariners will get to tack on runs against the Tigers’ bullpen that has been the worst in baseball over the last month.
Los Angeles Dodgers- Zack Wheeler’s biggest weakness is power-hitting lefties and that is exactly what the Dodgers have up and down their lineup. Several Dodgers are underpriced on dynamic price sites, which allows you to stack them with high-upside pitchers and puts you in line for a potentially very big night if the late game offense comes through. The Mets bullpen has been better lately than they were earlier in the season, but this is still a nice spot for the Dodgers.