MLB DEEP DIVE – 6/21/17

PITCHING

This is a deep pitching slate that looks like it has something for everyone, whether you prefer to pay up at pitcher or save money for bats and whether you prefer safety or upside.  There are viable pitching options in every price tier, so they will be broken down by price.

Expensive

Jose Berrios is the most expensive pitcher on DraftKings and FantasyDraft and will face the White Sox at home against the Twins.  I could be wrong because I am just going from memory, but it feels like Berrios has not been on a main slate in a really long time.  Hopefully that means that people have not been paying attention to him, because he is capable of being really good.  He is still prone to control issues, but he has been more good than bad so far this season.  He has struck out 24.7 percent of hitters since being called up to the majors this season with a 10.0 percent swinging strike percentage and 29.1 percent o-swing percentage.  While the swinging strike percentage and o-swing percentage are not elite, it is important to note that Berrios has faced a brutal schedule of opponents in terms of strikeout upside.  He has made seven starts and they have been against the Indians, Rockies, Orioles, Astros, Angels, Giants and Mariners.  Of those teams, four of them are in the bottom 10 teams in swinging strike percentage and one more has the 18th highest.  Only the Orioles and the Rockies have swinging strike percentages in the top half of the league.  The same holds true for o-swing percentages as the Indians, Astros, Angels, Giants and Mariners all sit no higher than 18th in o-swing percentage.  His swinging strike percentage at AAA this season was 10.5 percent and last season it was 12.3 percent.  The White Sox have the fifth-highest o-swing percentage in baseball this season at 32.3 percent and are tied for the 11th-highest swinging strike percentage at 10.9 percent.  Over the last two weeks, Chicago has an 11.3 percent swinging strike percentage and a 32.8 o-swing percentage.  They also have a lineup full of right-handed hitters and righties have an xwOBA of just .209 against Berrios since last season.  He has an elite curveball that has the fourth most horizontal movement among pitchers that have thrown more than 200 curveballs this season and righties have a .231 xwOBA against the pitch since the start of last season.  The White Sox are one of the best matchups that Berrios has had since being called up to the major leagues this season.  He is a little more expensive than is comfortable, but still has upside.

Carlos Carrasco has to pitch in Camden Yards against a high-powered Orioles offense but, like Corey Kluber two nights ago, he has a ton of upside.  The Orioles have a 12.4 percent swinging strike percentage and 35.2 percent o-swing percentage over the last 14 days and Carrasco has been excellent against right-handed hitters this season with a 26.0 percent strikeout percentage, 26.6 percent hard contact and a 44.6 percent groundball rate.  Righties have an xwOBA of just .279 against Carrasco this season.  Carrasco has a hard fastball, which the Orioles’ hitters tend to do well against, but he throws his slider nearly 29 percent of the time to righties and mixes in his curveball over 13 percent of the time so he should be able to keep them off balance.  There is risk whenever we roster a pitcher against the Orioles, but there is plenty of upside there tonight for Carrasco.

Jeff Samardzija has turned a corner this season due to some changes in his delivery.  He has struck out 27.5 percent of hitters he has faced with a 10.7 percent swinging strike percentage and an excellent 33.5 percent o-swing percentage.  The Braves have not been particularly patient at the plate lately, swinging and missing 10.9 percent of pitches and swinging at pitches out of the zone 34.7 percent of the time over the last 14 days.  Those numbers have only translated to an 18.5 percent strikeout percentage, however.  Pitching in Atlanta is a park downgrade for Samardzija, but he has plenty of upside at a price tag that is discounted compared to Berrios or Carrasco.  He is a viable tournament option.

Mid-Tier

Mike Fiers has made some MAJOR improvements.  From the start of the season until his start on May 30th, Fiers was striking out 18.4 percent of hitters with a 4.88 xFIP and 3.5 home runs allowed per nine innings.  He had a 1.1 groundball-to-flyball ratio with 43.9 percent groundballs and 39.2 percent flyballs.  Since his start May 30th (four starts), Fiers has struck out 23.3 percent of hitters with a 3.43 xFIP and 0 home runs allowed.  He has a 2.6 groundball-to-flyball percentage with 60.3 percent groundballs and 23.5 percent flyballs.  Before May 30th, lefties had a .303 xwOBA and righties had a .444 xwOBA against Fiers this season.  Since then, .276 for lefties and .231 for righties.  So, what changed?  In his last four starts, Fiers has almost entirely scrapped his cut fastball and has replaced it with more curveballs and more change-ups.  Opponents have a .434 xwOBA with an 8.6 percent whiff percentage against his cutter this season.  In comparison, they have a .210 xwOBA and 13.8 percent whiff percentage against his curveball and a .313 xwOBA and 15.6 percent whiff percentage against his change-up.  Essentially, he stopped throwing a terrible pitch and replaced it with two much better ones.  In those four starts, Fiers has had swinging strike percentages of 15.8, 10.4, 12.6 and 7.2 percent and o-swing percentages of 34.7, 27.9, 27.9 and 38.9 percent.  They also have not been particularly easy matchups in terms of strikeouts, as the Angels, Red Sox and Twins were three of the four teams that he faced and they all rank in the bottom half of the league (Red Sox dead last) in swinging strike percentage.  Tonight, he will face the Athletics in Oakland.  The A’s are tied for the fifth-highest swinging strike percentage this season at 11.6 percent and lead the majors in swinging strike percentage over the last 14 days at 13 percent.  Fiers may not be the biggest name on the slate, but he is one of the best pitching options.

Jordan Montgomery is one of my favorite pitchers to roster, but he is in a tough spot against the Angels at Yankees Stadium.  Montgomery has struck out 22.8 percent of hitters with a 12.9 percent swinging strike percentage and league-leading 37.3 o-swing percentage.  He has been excellent against right-handed hitters, of which the Angels have a lot, holding them to a .299 xwOBA with a 23.4 percent strikeout percentage.  The problem for Montgomery today is the matchup with the Angels.  Montgomery throws a lot of first-pitch strikes and then relies on hitters to chase pitches out of the zone.  The Angels have the ninth-lowest swing percentage on pitches out of the zone and are 16th in swinging strike percentage over the last 14 days.  They have the 20th-highest strikeout percentage over that time.  Montgomery is still a viable option because he has four quality pitches and the Angels do not possess much power, but his upside may be a little limited because of their ability to make contact.

Michael Wacha faces the Phillies in Philadelphia.  Wacha has been pretty average this season, with a 22.0 percent strikeout percentage, 9.0 percent swinging strike percentage, 29.3 percent o-swing percentage and a 4.17 xFIP.  The Phillies have been bad offensively, especially against right-handed pitching, striking out 23.3 percent of the time with a .303 wOBA and 84 wRC+.  They have also struggled a lot recently, striking out 24 percent of the time with a .276 wOBA and 67 wRC+ over the last 14 days.  Wacha has been much better against righties than lefties this season, allowing a .350 xwOBA to lefties with an 18.8 percent strikeout percentage compared to a .281 xwOBA and 25.0 percent strikeout percentage against righties.  Wacha is a strong play at a reasonable price tag, and he becomes stronger the more righties that are in the lineup for the Phillies.

Value

Jeff Hoffman faces the Diamondbacks in Coors Field.  Rostering a pitcher in Coors Field is always scary, but the former first-round pick has shown elite strikeout upside this season as he his 28.4 percent strikeout percentage is the highest for any pitcher on the main slate.  The Diamondbacks have some power in their lineup, but they also have struck out 22.4 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season.  Hoffman has been excellent against hitters from both sides of the plate this season, with a .236 xwOBA allowed to lefties and .251 xwOBA allowed to righties.  He has struck out 25.0 percent of lefties and 31.8 percent of righties.  The upside is certainly there for Hoffman on sites where his price tag factors in Coors Field, but he is far from a safe option in this ballpark.

Sean Newcomb has shown impressive stuff in his first two major league starts.  He had a 12.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 40.4 o-swing percentage in his debut against the Mets and followed that up with a 10.4 swinging strike percentage and 31.5 percent o-swing percentage against the Marlins.  Tonight, he will face a Giants team that is difficult to strike out but also is not particularly good at hitting baseballs.  San Francisco has struck out just 17.7 percent of the time against lefties this season with a .303 wOBA and 89 wRC+.  Newcomb’s upside is capped somewhat by the lack of strikeouts for the Giants but, at his price, he still makes sense as someone to have some exposure to in tournaments.

Hitting

High-Priced

Aaron Judge is at the top of the list of hitters tonight in a matchup against Ricky Nolasco in Yankees Stadium.  Judge leads all of baseball with 14.3 barrels per plate appearance and Nolasco sits third behind Jered Weaver and Phil Hughes in barrels per plate appearance allowed.  A massive power hitter who has been the best in baseball at squaring up pitches that he connects with against a pitcher who has been one of the easiest pitchers to square up is not a spot that we want to miss out on in DFS.  Nolasco has allowed a .369 xwOBA and 3 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters this season.  Load up on Aaron Judge once again.

Cody Bellinger has been on fire lately with 10 home runs in his last 10 games and his 65.8 percent hard contact over the last 14 days leads all of baseball.  He will face Tyler Pill, a right-hander for the Mets who pitches to contact and has not fared particularly well against lefties this season.  Pill has a 6.3 percent swinging strike percentage this season and, although he has yet to allow a home run to a left-handed hitter, his .370 xwOBA allowed to them suggests that it is just a matter of time.  Bellinger will be a popular option, but for good reason.

Edwin Encarnacion homered last night against Chris Tillman and is in another prime matchup against Kevin Gausman.  Normally we prefer Encarnacion against lefties, but Gausman has allowed 1.79 home runs per nine innings to righties this season along with an xwOBA of .388.  Gausman has really struggled against both sides of the plate this season, but over the course of his career he has been much better against lefties than righties because of his very good change-up.  Encarnacion is an elite play because, even if Gausman finally manages to regain some of his old form, he will still be able to give him trouble.

Andrew McCutchen has regained his form as a top hitter lately, posting a .395 xwOBA with .313 ISO over the last month.  Junior Guerra is tougher on lefties than righties, allowing a .348 xwOBA and 3.07 home runs per nine innings to righties so far this season.  McCutchen will probably go somewhat overlooked as long as he remains entrenched in the six spot in the order, but has tremendous upside in this matchup in hitter-friendly Miller Park.

Nelson Cruz is the an elite option tonight against Tigers’ “ace” Justin Verlander.  Verlander has allowed a .387 xwOBA to right-handed hitters since the start of May and Cruz, while known for crushing lefties, is very good against righties as well.  Cruz has also fared well against Verlander recently with an average exit velocity of 97.6 miles per hour in 8 batted ball events over the last two seasons.  Cruz makes for a great tournament option that should come at very low ownership despite having a ton of upside in a favorable matchup against Verlander and a dreadful Tigers’ bullpen.

Value

Odubel Herrera is just $3,100 on DraftKings and is expected to lead-off against Michael Wacha.  While Wacha has been very good against righties this season, he has struggled against lefties.  Left-handed hitters have a .350 xwOBA against Wacha and have hit 1.53 home runs per 9 innings.  Herrera got off to a slow start this season, but he has a .405 xwOBA and .250 ISO against right-handed pitching since the start of June.  He will probably also serve as a leverage play in tournaments because it is likely that Wacha draws relatively heavy ownership as an SP2 on this slate.

Domingo Santana is a very sneaky option that could pay off very nicely in tournaments.  Trevor Williams has been better against lefties than righties this season and has allowed 1.82 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters.  Santana is known for being good against lefties, but holds his own against righties with a .332 xwOBA and .171 ISO against them since the start of last season.  Williams has also struck out just 15.1 percent of right-handed hitters, so Santana should be able to put the ball in play.  He offers nice upside at a discounted price as long as he is hitting in the middle of the Brewers lineup.

Miguel Sano is inexplicably $3,900 against White Sox lefty David Holmberg.  Holmberg has managed to keep the ball in the park against righties so far, but he does still allow 37.1 percent hard contact and 43.5 percent flyballs to them.  Sano has the 6th-highest hard contact percentage over the last 14 days with 55.9 percent hard contact and just 8.8 percent soft contact.  Sano has a .397 xwOBA and .327 ISO against left-handed pitching this season.

Chase Utley is too cheap for his matchup with Tyler Pill as long as he is at the top of the Dodgers lineup.  Utley started out the season terribly and looked like he was washed up, but he has really turned a corner lately.  Utley has a .350 xwOBA and .250 ISO against right-handed pitching over the last month and, as previously mentioned, we should expect Pill to struggle with left-handed hitters moving forward.

Stacks

New York Yankees- The Yankees are at home against a pitcher who has allowed the third-most barrels per plate appearance this season and who is allowing 3 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters (and 1.8 to lefties).  There is home run upside up and down this Yankees lineup and a full stack makes a lot of sense because there could be multiple home runs and possibly more than one hitter with two home runs if Nolasco is not on top of his game.

Cleveland Indians- The Orioles made it 17 consecutive games with 5 runs allowed yesterday and Kevin Gausman will take the mound tonight.  In previous seasons, this would have been a good time to jump off the Indians as Gausman has shown the ability in his career to neutralize lefties.  That has not been the case this season, however, as he has allowed 1.21 home runs per nine innings and 35.0 percent hard contact to lefties with a .378 xwOBA.  Edwin Encarnacion is my favorite one-off from the Indians, but they make for a top stack option as well because of the weak bullpen they will face if they can get Gausman out of the game early.

Milwaukee Brewers- The Brewers have a lot of upside tonight against Trevor Williams.   Williams has been better against lefties than righties, but the Brewers have a lot of right-handed hitters in their lineup- and their two best hitters are lefties that are good enough they should not have much trouble with Williams.  I like to stack teams when the weaker hitters are in plus matchups because great hitters can generally hit against anyone.  That is the case for the Brewers tonight, as their mediocre right-handed hitters face a pitcher who has not shown the ability to get righties out.  Keon Broxton, Hernan Perez, Domingo Santana and whoever is catching are all viable options to mix with Eric Thames and Travis Shaw in a Brewers stack.

Los Angeles Dodgers- The Dodgers are heating up and this is a great matchup for them.  Pill pitches to contact and has a very limited sample size against left-handed hitters.  He has not allowed a home run to them yet, but his xwOBA allowed is .370 which suggests that they are hitting the ball well against him.  Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager are in the top 10 in hard contact percentage over the last 14 days, while Justin Turner is 30th.  Joc Pederson always profiles better against pitchers who do not get strikeouts, and Yasmani Grandal provides nice upside at the catcher position.  Add in Chase Utley at the top and Chris Taylor who is in the middle of a breakout season and there are a lot of ways to go with this Dodgers’ lineup.

Detroit Tigers- This is more of a deep tournament option that has a lot of upside if things break the right way.  James Paxton has not had close to the same plate discipline numbers since his return from the disabled list that he had before his injury.  There have been reports that he is struggling with his mechanics and has been unable to harness what he was doing earlier this season that made him so effective.  This means that he could come out and be great tonight if he figured things out in his bullpen session.  It also means that he could continue to struggle.  If that is the case, the Tigers have a ton of upside as they have power up and down their lineup, the Mariners bullpen has struggled recently, and they are very cheap on DraftKings and FantasyDraft.