MLB DEEP DIVE – 6/24/17

PITCHING

There is a surprising amount of pitching to discuss for a slate that only contains seven games.  There are reasonable arguments for rostering over half of the pitchers on the slate, so I will discuss their pros and cons here and then give more of my personal preferences later on the Deeper Dive show once we have a better idea of what the opposing lineups look like.

Expensive

Clayton Kershaw is the most expensive pitcher on the slate in a matchup at home against the Colorado Rockies.  We have seen Kershaw have his share of struggles this season and his last start was a bad one as he allowed four home runs to a watered-down New York Mets lineup.  It does not appear that there are underlying factors that contributed to that start, however, as his velocity was at its normal levels and his plate discipline stats, while not elite, were not bad either.  Vegas certainly expects Kershaw to return to form, as the Rockies have an implied run total of just 2.7 runs.

For the season, Kershaw has struck out 28.8 percent of hitters with a 12.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.6 percent swinging strike percentage.  The Rockies have struck out an average of 23.3 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season with a .344 wOBA, but just a 94 wRC+ which accounts for the park that they play in.  It is a favorable matchup in a favorable ballpark for Kershaw.

Robbie Ray is at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.  There is certainly upside here for Ray, who has the second-highest strikeout percentage on the slate at 32.0 percent, while posting a 13.8 percent strikeout percentage.  More importantly, Ray has struck out 30.1 percent of the right-handed hitters that he has faced- which is important because the Phillies figure to have a predominantly right-handed lineup.  There is also downside for Ray, who is priced like an ace, because he has allowed 40.0 percent hard contact to righties this season and he will be pitching in hitter-friendly Chase Field.

The Phillies have struggled against all pitchers this season, but they have been better, as expected, against lefties.  The middle of the Philadelphia order with Kendrick, Altherr, Joseph and Franco is capable of doing damage against lefties and makes Ray a somewhat risky option at an expensive price point.  Still, there is a lot of upside and he will likely come at an ownership discount from Kershaw in the same price range.

Jacob DeGrom gets a nice ballpark boost pitching in San Francisco tonight.  The Giants finally have most of their team healthy and they do not have a lot of strikeouts in their lineup.  San Francisco has just a 27.7 percent o-swing percentage and 9.1 percent swinging strike percentage over the last 14 days, so there is likely a cap on DeGrom’s ceiling in this matchup.  Still, it is a “safe” one as the Giants are unlikely to do much damage against DeGrom, who has shown elite stuff this season striking out 28.1 percent of the hitters he has faced with a 14.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.5 percent o-swing percentage.

DeGrom has historically been better at home than on the road, though we can downplay those concerns somewhat because of how great AT&T Park is for hitters.  He is a safe option available at a slight discount from the higher upside plays of Kershaw and Ray.

Lance McCullers makes his return from the disabled list after throwing a couple of bullpen sessions and skipping a minor league rehab assignment.  Since he did not make a start in the minors, we pretty much have no idea how he is throwing.  Presumably, his back is fine and he is back at full strength.  There is still reason to think he may be a bit limited and, for McCullers, that is a concern since he tends to have an elevated pitch count early in games.

McCullers has been very good this season, posting strikeout numbers nearly identical to Clayton Kershaw.  He has struck out 28.6 percent of hitters, with a 12.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.7 percent o-swing percentage.  He is only worth considering as a tournament option since there is reason to be concerned with how long his leash will be, and it is a tough matchup against the Mariners, but there is upside if everything breaks his way and he should come at low ownership.

 

Mid-Tier/Value

Johnny Cueto has struggled lately, but three of his last four starts have also been on the road- and in hitter-friendly ballparks.  Cueto is available at a decreased price, particularly on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, in this matchup against home against the Mets.  Cueto’s swinging strike numbers have been below his season average of 11.6 percent in three straight starts, but his velocity is normal and his o-swing numbers have not suffered so everything seems fine.

For the season, his 11.6 percent swinging strike percentage and 36.2 percent o-swing percentage suggest that his strikeout percentage should be even higher than the 22.5 percent that it is.  One reason to be concerned about this spot for Cueto is that he has struggled against left-handed hitters this season, allowing a .363 xwOBA and 1.72 home runs per 9 innings.  He is allowing just 0.8 home runs per 9 innings to them at home, however.  There is risk in this spot for Cueto, but he is worth considering at his reduced price tag.

Gerrit Cole is not the high-upside pitcher that a lot of people seem to think he is since he was the first overall pick in the draft.  Still, he is good against right-handed hitters and he will be facing, what projects to be, a right-handed heavy lineup for the Cardinals.  Cole has struck out just 19.7 percent of righties that he has faced this season, but has allowed just 24.4 percent hard contact with 27.4 percent soft contact and an xwOBA of .306.

Keep in mind that Cole has struggled against lefties so, if you roster him, you will need him to find a way to navigate Carpenter and Fowler (if he is in the lineup).  The weather in St. Louis is not expected to be hot and humid tonight, which is a plus for Cole.  He is not an exciting play, but he does make some sense as a mid-tier option that is likely to go six or seven innings with one or two runs allowed and a handful of strikeouts.

David Price has not had very good results since coming back from the disabled list, but his price tag on DraftKings and FantasyDraft makes him an interesting tournament option against the Angels.  Price has had a string of tough matchups since returning, facing a White Sox team that has crushed lefties all season, the Yankees in Yankees Stadium, and the Astros in three of his five starts.  He was very good in his start against the Orioles and pretty mediocre against the Phillies.  His velocity is up from last season and he had very good plate discipline numbers against the White Sox and Orioles, before struggling in his last three starts- which could be a result of matchup in two of them.

The Angels are a team that I hate targeting pitchers against because they do not chase pitches out of the zone and they do not strike out.  Price has a 63.2 percent first-pitch strike percentage so far this season, however, so he should be able to get ahead in counts despite the Angels’ refusal to swing at pitches out of the zone.  If Price were at his normal salary, this would be an easy fade on this slate.  Since he is discounted on some sites, however, he is worth considering in tournaments since he is available at a price that is accounting for his struggles this season but not factoring in the difficult matchups that he has had.

Tyler Chatwood has been good this season and will face the Dodgers outside of Coors Field.  Chatwood’s appeal will depend, in large part, on the Dodgers lineup for me.  Corey Seager left last night’s game with an apparent hamstring injury and, if he does not play tonight, Chatwood becomes much more interesting.  Chatwood does not have elite strikeout stuff, but it is good enough for his price as he has struck out 20.1 percent of hitters with a 10.0 percent swinging strike percentage.  He has a tremendous 57.6 percent groundball percentage this season and he has been good against hitters from both sides of the plate, which is important since the Dodgers have a lot of left-handed power.

Chatwood has held lefties to a .315 xwOBA this season.  He has struck out 20.3 percent of lefties while allowing just 25.4 percent hard contact with 23.8 percent soft contact and a 58.9 percent groundball percentage.  He is similar to Gerrit Cole in that he is unlikely to post a monster start, but he is pitching in a good ballpark in nice weather and is likely to produce an acceptable line for his salary- especially if Seager is not in the lineup.

Lance Lynn burned me in his last start against the Orioles, but we can kind of write off that start.  It was between 90 and 100 degrees in Camden Yards with a lot of humidity and it resulted in several fairly routine flyballs carrying into the 2nd row of seats.  We knew that the weather was a huge risk going into that game and it came back to hurt Lynn.  That is not expected to be the case tonight, however, as it appears the weather in St. Louis will be fine for pitchers.

The Pirates do not have a lot of strikeouts in their lineup, but they are expected to have a lot of righties.  The projected lineup for Pittsburgh has six righties, including the pitcher.  If that is the case, Lynn is a fantastic tournament option.  He has been elite against right-handed hitters this season, striking out 27.7 percent with a .267 xwOBA allowed.  It is unlikely that people will target him because of the amount of options on the slate and his horrible last outing, but he is in a very nice spot as long as the Pittsburgh lineup cooperates.

Dinelson Lamet was originally scheduled to pitch yesterday but had his start pushed back to today, allowing us to roster 5 percent owned Luis Perdomo for 25 DraftKings points at $5,600.  Let’s go back to the well tonight with Lamet.  The Tigers are obviously a dangerous offense, but they also are almost entirely right-handed.

Detroit has struck out 23.0 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season and that number would likely be higher if they had played the whole season without Victor Martinez.  The game will be play in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, which will also help to negate some of Detroit’s power.  Lamet has struggled with left-handed hitters since being called to the Major Leagues, which was expected based on his minor league numbers because his change-up is still a work in progress.  He has been elite against right-handed hitters, however, striking out 42.6 percent with a .253 xwOBA allowed.  While we should not expect him to continue striking out 42.6 percent of right-handed hitters, his elite strikeout numbers in the minor leagues do support him being a well above average pitcher in terms of strikeout upside.

In 24 innings in the majors this season, Lamet has a slate-leading 34.6 percent strikeout percentage with a 14.2 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.9 o-swing percentage.  He has also demonstrated the ability to throw strikes with a 59.8 percent first-pitch strike percentage and 47.0 percent zone percentage.  Lamet’s inexpensive price tag factors in all of the risk of being a rookie facing a powerful offense and leaves a lot of room for upside.  Lamet could very well be one of the highest scoring pitchers in raw points on this slate.

 

Hitting

High-Priced

Jake Lamb let everyone down last night but he has another great matchup tonight against Ben Lively in Chase Field.  Lively has struck out just 8.0 percent of left-handed hitters this season, while allowing a .369 xwOBA to lefties.  Any time that Lamb faces a pitcher who pitches to contact, it is a bonus in Lamb’s favor since his main weakness is his propensity to strikeout.  Lively has gotten by so far on smoke and mirrors in the majors, but Lamb has a good chance to get to him tonight.  In addition, the Philadelphia bullpen is not very good so Lamb could get favorable matchups late in the game as well.

David Peralta has the same excellent matchup as Lamb and has been hitting the ball extremely well lately.  He ranks 8th in hard contact percentage over the last 14 days with 54.1 percent hard contact and 8.1 percent soft contact.  His 43.2 percent groundball percentage over that span is not ideal, but we can take our chances with a power-hitting lefty against a righty who pitches to contact in Chase Field.

Josh Reddick is back in the lineup for Houston and will face Sam Gaviglio in Seattle.  Gaviglio is another pitcher who does not get many strikeouts, striking out 17.1 percent of lefties he has faced this season while allowing 37.3 percent hard contact with just 2.0 percent soft contact and 2 home runs per nine innings.  Gaviglio has allowed a .342 xwOBA to lefties this season while Reddick has posted a .342 xwOBA against righties.  Reddick is a top option on the slate despite not playing in the best hitter’s park.

Cody Bellinger has a tough matchup against Tyler Chatwood but is still worth mentioning on a slate that has a lot of hitters in less than favorable matchups.  While Chatwood has been good overall against lefties, he has allowed 1.3 home runs per 9 innings to them outside of Coors Field this season.  Bellinger clearly has as much power as just about anyone in baseball right now and continues to lead the hard contact leaderboard over the last two weeks with 64.3 percent hard contact and just 9.5 percent soft contact.  Also working in Bellinger’s favor is that the Rockies bullpen has been atrocious lately, posting the fifth-highest xFIP in the league over the last two weeks.

 

Value

Matt Carpenter is one of the only bats in the Cardinals lineup that appears to pose a threat to Gerrit Cole, but it is a big threat.  Carpenter has a 44.4 percent hard contact percentage over the last 14 days, with just 8.3 percent soft contact, and Gerrit Cole has allowed 2.28 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season on 41.8 percent hard contact.  Carpenter also has BvP in his favor, as he is 11-34 with 3 home runs in his career against Cole and has an average exit velocity of 95.6 miles per hour on 15 batted balls against Cole over the last two seasons.

Gregory Polanco seems like he may finally be rounding into shape at the plate and has a friendly matchup against Lance Lynn.  Lynn has been elite against right-handed hitters, but has struggled mightily with lefties.  He has allowed 33.0 percent hard contact to lefties with 44.8 percent flyballs.  This has resulted in 2.67 home runs per nine innings to left-handers.  While Busch Stadium is not the greatest place to hit, it is a step up from PNC Park for Polanco.  Polanco also has a bit of BvP working in his favor as his average exit velocity on 6 batted balls against Lynn in the last two seasons ins 103.6 miles per hour.

Mitch Moreland is inexpensive in a great matchup at home against J.C. Ramirez.  Ramirez has been good against righties at times this season, but he has really struggled with left-handed power as he has allowed 2.45 home runs per nine innings to lefties while also allowing 44.4 percent hard contact and inducing just 10.3 percent soft contact.  Moreland has a very impressive .392 xwOBA against right-handed pitching this season.

Alex Avila is the most dangerous hitter in the Tigers’ lineup for Dinelson Lamet.  Lamet has allowed 37.8 percent hard contact to lefties in his brief time in the majors with a 56.8 percent flyball rate.  This has translated into 4.15 home runs per 9 innings.  Avila has been absolutely destroying right-handed pitching this season, with a .481 xwOBA that is tied for the major league lead with Freddie Freeman among all hitters who have at least 100 at-bats against righties.  I am normally not an advocate of rostering a hitter against your pitcher but, on a seven game slate with a lack of good hitting options, rostering Avila and Lamet on the same team is not the worst idea in the world.

 

Stacks

There are not any stacks that I am completely in love with and on DraftKings and FantasyDraft it is a slate where I will probably lean toward rostering my favorite individual hitters.  That said, here are the teams that I will be looking to stack the most on FanDuel where stacking is more important.

Arizona Diamondbacks- The Diamondbacks let most people down last night but that is not a reason to avoid them tonight against the fraud that is Ben Lively.  As previously mentioned, Lively has been very bad against left-handed hitters.  He has allowed just a .300 xwOBA to righties, but he is still striking out just 11.3 percent of them and allowing 43.1 percent flyballs.  He has done a good job inducing soft contact against both sides of the plate, but there is a ton of upside in rostering hitters against a pitcher in Chase Field who does not get strikeouts.  Bonus points in the Diamondbacks run out a lineup with Chris Hermann and as many lefties as they can.

Houston Astros- Sam Gaviglio is another pitcher who does not strike anyone out and he has allowed greater than 2 home runs per nine innings to hitters from both sides of the plate.  The Astros have a ton of right-handed power in their lineup, balanced out by lefty power bats in Josh Reddick and Brian McCann.  The ballpark is not ideal, but it is still a great matchup against Gaviglio and a Seattle bullpen that has the 4th-highest xFIP in baseball over the last 14 days.

Boston Red Sox- This is not one of my favorite stacks, but with a 5.8 implied run total they are worth mentioning.  J.C. Ramirez has been much better against righties than lefties and the Red Sox will likely have a right-handed heavy lineup.  In addition, the Angels bullpen has the 24th-highest xFIP in baseball over the last two weeks.  There is always upside in stacking the Red Sox at home, however, as Mookie Betts is incredibly good at hitting 30-foot high flyballs that land on top of the Green Monster and there are good hitters who put the ball in play up and down the lineup.

San Diego Padres- Anibal Sanchez pitched relatively well against the Mariners in his first stack back from the minor leagues, but there is nothing that indicates he is improved.  He had a 5.6 percent swinging strike percentage and 20.5 o-swing percentage and, despite Brad Ausmus claiming that Sanchez was now throwing 93 miles per hour in the minors, his velocity was about the same as it was before his demotion.  Sanchez has had decent strikeout stuff this season, striking out 20.3 percent of hitters, but he has allowed 3.46 home runs per nine innings in the majors (he allowed 1 in 5 innings in his first start back) and allowed 3 home runs in 15.2 innings in the minors.  He has not been good at holding runners throughout his career, which adds upside for the Padres- as does the Tigers’ bullpen posting a league-worst 5.35 xFIP over the last 14 days.