MLB DEEP DIVE – 6/27/17
We have a 15-game slate this evening with a TON of interesting pitching options. Similar to the last article that I wrote on a deep pitching slate, I am going to do my best to break down each pitching option that I think there may be some sort of compelling case for rostering, whether I personally plan on rostering them or not, so that you can draw your own conclusions from the stats. I will include my opinion at the end of each segment because I will be hanging out in Omaha later for the College World Series so I may not be quite as accessible as usual leading up to lock.
Max Scherzer is the most expensive pitcher on the slate and he has been absolutely phenomenal lately, striking out at least 10 hitters in six consecutive games- and they were not all cupcake matchups in terms of strikeouts as the Marlins, Mets and Giants all rank in the bottom 11 in strikeout percentage against right-handed pitching this season. The Cubs have not been the dominant offensive force that many predicted heading into the season, striking out 23.4 percent of the time (fourth-highest in the league) with a .314 wOBA and 90 wRC+ against right-handed pitching this season. While Anthony Rizzo and Ian Happ are two lefties who could homer off Scherzer, the lineup is expected to be predominantly right-handed. Against righties this season, Scherzer has struck out 45.6 percent of hitters with just 23.5 percent hard contact and a .177 xwOBA. Scherzer is my favorite expensive pitcher on the slate.
Carlos Martinez faces the Diamondbacks in Chase Field. There are pros and cons to this matchup. On the positive side, Martinez has been very good this season, trailing only Scherzer in strikeout percentage among pitchers on this slate at 27.8 percent with a respectable 3.48 xFIP. The Diamondbacks do have strikeouts in their lineup as they have struck out 22 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season. On the negative side, the Diamondbacks will most likely have 4-5 left-handed hitters in their lineup and Martinez has been worse against lefties than righties throughout his career. This season, Martinez has a .327 xwOBA allowed to lefties compared to a .221 xwOBA allowed to righties and he has struck out 23.4 percent of lefties compared to 31.6 percent of righties. The game is also being played in Arizona, which is a park downgrade for Martinez. Martinez does not have extreme home/road splits since the start of last season, which is nice, but it is still a scary park to pitch in. There is a case for rostering Martinez in tournaments as a low-owned pivot but I personally will not be rostering him. If the Diamondbacks, for some reason, load their lineup with righties then it may be worth re-visiting.
Luis Severino faces the Chicago White Sox in Chicago. While it is not Yankees Stadium, Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago is still a hitter-friendly park and the White Sox bats have turned things around after starting off the year terribly. Severino has struggled in his last two starts, against the Angels and the Athletics, and it shows in his plate discipline stats as well as his results. The good news is that his velocity is normal so it is unlikely that the bad starts should be chalked up to anything more than a couple of tough matchups against an Oakland team that, despite striking out a lot, does not chase a lot of pitches out of the zone (and Severino had a 43.1 percent zone percentage that game, well below his 48.2 percent season average) and an Angels team that does not swing and miss much against anyone. The White Sox are a better matchup for Severino as the middle of the order is stacked with righties and the White Sox have a 34.9 percent o-swing percentage with an 11.5 percent swinging strike percentage over the last 14 days. Severino has struck out 29.4 percent of right-handed hitters with a 59.2 percent groundball rate this season, so he matches up well with the White Sox. I personally prefer Severino to Martinez, but would rather pay all the way up to Scherzer if possible.
James Paxton has an excellent matchup against the Phillies at home in Seattle. There were some concerns about Paxton after his return from the disabled list as his velocity was down and he struggled in his first three starts in terms of results and plate discipline numbers. Paxton felt that there was a mechanical adjustment that he needed to correct in his bullpen sessions and it appears that he fixed the problem. In his last start, against the Tigers, Paxton’s average fastball velocity was 95.7 miles per hour (in line with his season average and up from 94.2 miles per hour in his previous start). In addition, his swinging strike percentage was excellent at 14.9 percent and his o-swing percentage was also very good at 34.6 percent. Paxton’s curveball also had more depth than in any of his starts since his return. His horizonal release point on his fastball and his curveball was also lower than it had been in previous starts and more in line with his release point earlier in the season when he was dominating. There were a lot of good signs for Paxton despite mediocre results against the Tigers. Tonight, he will face a Phillies team that has struck out 20.6 percent of the time with a .306 wOBA and 86 wRC+ against lefties this season. While there will likely be a lot of right-handed bats in the Phillies’ lineup, that is fine for Paxton. He has struck out 28.4 percent of righties that he has faced this season while allowing a .258 xwOBA. I absolutely love James Paxton tonight.
Justin Verlander had a very nice outing in his last start against the Mariners and it should serve as a reminder that he does still have upside. The concern that I see in looking at his numbers from his last start is that he had his highest zone percentage of the season and threw a higher percentage of first pitch strikes than normal. His command issues this season have been a big reason for his inconsistency and struggles, so his last start could just be an outlier. Still, the Royals are a nice matchup for Verlander as they have swung at 34.9 percent of pitches out of the zone over the last 14 days with an 11.9 percent swinging strike percentage. There is certainly upside for Verlander, but I prefer Paxton where he is the same price point.
Jeff Hoffman has been very impressive for the Rockies this season, especially on the road where he has struck out 32.9 percent of hitters with a 3.02 xFIP compared to 18.7 percent of hitters and a 5.03 xFIP in Coors Field. He gets a great park boost tonight pitching in AT&T Park in San Francisco. The downside is his opponent. While the Giants have been a dreadful offense overall this season, they are finally healthy and they have been better of late. San Francisco has a .332 wOBA and 107 wRC+ with just an 18.2 percent strikeout percentage over the last 14 days. While it is likely that Hoffman has a nice start, it is tough for me to justify paying a price tag in the same ballpark as Paxton, or even Verlander, for a pitcher against the Giants.
Mike Fiers is a very interesting pitcher who started off the year horribly. He has allowed 2.08 home runs per nine innings this season, but he has not allowed a single home run in his last five starts. Over those five starts, Fiers has struck out 22.8 percent of hitters with a 3.67 xFIP, 0.0 home runs per nine innings and a 62.2 percent groundball percentage. For comparison, from the start of the season until his May 30th start, Fiers struck out 18.4 percent of hitters with a 4.91 xFIP, 3.5 home runs per nine innings and a 43.9 percent groundball percentage. Fiers essentially scrapped his cut fastball (although he did throw it about 24 percent of the time in his last start against Oakland) and replaced it with his curveball and change-up, two much better pitches, as well as throwing more two-seam fastballs and less four-seam fastballs. The changes seem to be real for Fiers and it makes him a strong option on most nights, especially while most people still have not caught on. The downside for Fiers tonight is that he is facing the same Oakland team that he faced in his last start, which always scares me a little bit, and he is pitching in Houston instead of pitcher-friendly Oakland like he did in his last start. It is worth noting, however, that Fiers has pitched better at home than on the road over the last season and a half. If multi-entering tonight, it is recommended to be overweight on Fiers. If single-entering, Fiers is a strong play but there are enough good options on this slate that he is not a must-play by any means.
Jake Arrieta is site dependent tonight against the Nationals. Washington, as we know, has a very good offense. It is not so good, however, that Arrieta should be just $7,500 on DraftKings and $14,800 on FantasyDraft. Arrieta’s peripherals are much better than his record and ERA indicate this season as he has struck out 24.7 percent of hitters with a 3.78 xFIP that is about a half-run lower than his ERA. One big concern for Arrieta tonight is his struggles controlling the running game. If Trea Turner and Brian Goodwin are at the top of the Nationals lineup, Arrieta could be in a lot of trouble if they are able to get on base against him. I prefer Fiers in a better matchup, but Arrieta is certainly a viable option at his reduced price point.
Taijuan Walker has looked excellent in his first two starts back from the disabled list. The 24-year old right-hander’s fastball velocity was a tick above his season average in both of his starts since his return and he posted a 13.4 percent swinging strike percentage against the Tigers and an 11.1 percent swinging strike percentage against the Rockies in Coors Field. He returns home to Chase Field tonight to face a Cardinals team that is stacked with right-handed hitters and has underperformed expectations this season. St. Louis has struck out 21.5 percent of the time with a .320 wOBA and 95 wRC+ against righties this season and Walker has struck out 22.1 percent of righties that he has faced this season while allowing just a .299 xwOBA. It is tough to recommend him in cash games on a deep slate in Chase Field, but he makes for a strong tournament play.
Sean Newcomb- Newcomb has flashed some ability in his three starts so far and he gets the best matchup of his young career tonight against the Padres in Petco Park. Newcomb was impressive at AAA this season, posting a 12.3 percent swinging strike percentage and striking out 29.7 percent of hitters that he faced. He was also very good against right-handed hitters, striking out 52 in 41.0 innings while allowing just 1 home run. So far in the majors, he has a 10.3 percent swinging strike percentage and 35.9 percent o-swing percentage that suggest his 17.8 percent strikeout percentage should be increasing in the near future. The Padres lead the major leagues with a 27.4 percent strikeout percentage against left-handed pitching this season and they have just a .281 wOBA and 73 wRC+ to go along with it. In Newcomb’s brief stint in the majors, he has allowed just a .261 xwOBA to right-handed hitters, which is what the Padres’ lineup will primarily consist of most likely. Newcomb’s minor league numbers suggest that his control is a concern, but so far in the majors he has a 63.0 percent first-strike percentage and 49.7 percent zone percentage. He is a tournament-only play, but he has plenty of upside in his best matchup to date.
Sean Manaea is site dependent, as he is listed at just $6,200 on DraftKings and $12,400 on FantasyDraft. He has a very tough matchup against the Astros, but he has electric stuff and his price is too cheap regardless of who he is playing. He would be a viable tournament option at $6,200 against the Yankees on the moon. He has a 26.6 percent strikeout percentage with a 14.7 percent swinging strike percentage and 33.1 percent o-swing percentage this season and he has struck out 29.1 percent of right-handed hitters- although he has allowed 41.5 percent hard contact with just 11.6 percent soft contact. Manaea had an 11.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 29.3 percent o-swing percentage in his last start against the Astros. Like Newcomb, he is only a tournament option in this matchup but he does have plenty of upside despite the opponent.
Mike Clevinger is the reason that the single lineup that I make is unlikely to have Sean Manaea or Sean Newcomb. Clevinger has much better stuff than a lot of people realize, as evidenced by a Twitter debate I had in his last start with a DFS twitter personality. Clevinger has three quality secondary pitches to complement his fastball. His curveball and his slider both have a lot of movement and he has a whiff percentage between 24 and 25 percent on his change-up, his curveball and his slider this season. Overall, he has struck out 26.7 percent of hitters this season with a 13.4 percent swinging strike percentage. The concern with Clevinger is his ability to throw strikes and work ahead in the count. He has thrown 59.3 percent first-pitch strikes this season, which is about average, but his zone percentage is just 41.4 percent. Since we know that he has electric stuff but has a tendency to live outside of the strike zone, we should expect his best chances for success to be against teams that swing often and, more specifically, swing at pitches out of the zone often and swing and miss often. This season, the Rangers have the 18th highest swing percentage at 46.3 percent, but they have the 7th-highest o-swing percentage (31.6 percent) and the 5th-highest swinging strike percentage (11.7 percent). They rank in the middle of the pack with a 60.4 percent first-pitch strike percentage. Over the last 14 days, Texas’s swing percentage is about the same at 46.8 percent and their o-swing percentage is also about the same at 31.2 percent. Their swinging strike percentage, however, leads all of baseball at 12.7 percent and their first-pitch strike percentage has climbed to 63.4 percent. The Rangers have been a dangerous offensive team lately, with a .345 wOBA and 110 wRC+ over the last two weeks, but they have also struck out at a 25.7 percent clip over that span. Clevinger offers a ton of upside at a $5,900 price tag on DraftKings, as well as $11,700 on FantasyDraft. He is one of my favorite tournament options on the slate and, as of right now, I expect that he will be the SP2 in my single-entry lineups on DraftKings and FantasyDraft.
Tim Adleman rounds out the value options in a matchup at home against the Brewers. Adleman has been good this season, in large part because he has found a way to have success against right-handed hitters despite being reliant on a change-up. We saw him struggle with righties last season, but this season he has a 26.0 percent strikeout percentage and .299 xwOBA allowed against them. We know what the Brewers are at this point. They are a team that has a lot of power and a lot of strikeouts up and down their lineup. Adleman is a pitcher that can pile up strikeouts but is also prone to the long ball, allowing 1.7 home runs per 9 innings this season. Pitchers in spots like this are volatile and they make for nice tournament options because they come at low ownership and are capable of posting big games. If max-entering, I would have exposure to Adleman but the combination of ballpark and opposing power hitters will keep him out of my single-entry lineup.
Trea Turner should be able to run against Jake Arrieta, as long as he can get on base. Whether it is a good matchup or a great matchup will depend on who is catching for the Cubs. Arrieta has allowed just 8 stolen bases this season, in part because Willson Contreras is excellent at throwing out would-be base stealers. If Joe Maddon elects to get an extra lefty in the lineup against Scherzer, however, it is all systems go for Turner as Montero has thrown out just 1 opposing base runner this season while 24 have successfully stolen.
Steven Souza is likely to go under the radar tonight and he makes for an excellent one-off in tournaments. Trevor Williams relies on his change-up which makes him vulnerable to right-handed hitters. Williams has allowed a .365 xwOBA to righties this season with 1.55 home runs per nine innings. Souza has posted a .340 xwOBA against righties and has been hitting the ball hard lately, ranking 7th with 51.7 percent hard contact over the last 14 days.
Marcel Ozuna is in another matchup against a right-hander that will allow home runs to opposing righties. Robert Gsellman has allowed 1.31 home runs per nine innings to opposing righties this season along with a .346 xwOBA. Ozuna has an impressive .388 xwOBA against righties this season and has a 48.6 percent hard contact percentage over the last 14 days.
Jose Ramirez gets to face the corpse of Tyson Ross. Ross has struggled mightily in his first two starts, even though he had good results in his first one. Ramirez has been excellent this season, with a .366 xwOBA against right-handed pitching. He also has 8 stolen bases this season and Ross has not been good at holding runners in his career. Ramirez is a top option, especially on sites where he can be used at second base.
Cody Bellinger is really good at baseball. He also apparently is not a Seinfeld fan, so he may be the perfect human being. There really is not much to say about Bellinger. The guy has double-dong upside whenever he takes the field and tonight is no different against Jesse Chavez. Chavez has allowed a .347 xwOBA and 1.12 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season and Bellinger obviously has the power to take advantage.
Anthony Rizzo is worth considering as a tournament leverage play if you are not rostering Max Scherzer. Scherzer is relatively human against lefties, striking out “just” 25.9 percent and allowing 1.38 home runs per nine innings. Rizzo, of course, is one of the better hitters in baseball and has plenty of power from the left side. Ian Happ is in play as a leverage play as well and has the added benefit of playing second base instead of first base.
Miguel Cabrera is just $3,600 on DraftKings and is a very nice value play. He is also a perfectly fine play on FanDuel, but his DraftKings price deserved special attention. Matt Strahm has looked pretty good in his time as a major league starter, but Cabrera has been hitting the ball hard all season long and there is no reason not to consider him in this matchup against a rookie left-hander. Cabrera has the 15th-highest hard contact percentage over the last 14 days, so it does not appear that any nagging injuries are hurting his performance too much.
Jason Kipnis has been coming around with the bat after a slow start when he returned from the disabled list. He is one of the only players on the Indians that has not been significantly priced up over the last couple of weeks and he has a nice matchup against Tyson Ross. As previously mentioned, Ross does not miss bats and he struggles to hold runners. The Indians as a team do not do much running anymore, but Kipnis does have jack and a bag upside in this spot.
Brian Goodwin is a top value play if Miguel Montero catches. Goodwin has shown power at AAA and now in the majors and he also has the ability to steal bases. He has a tough matchup against Jake Arrieta, so we do not want to roster him just for his hitting ability. If Montero is catching, however, Goodwin will be able to steal bases as long as he gets on which makes him a very appealing play, particularly on FanDuel where he is just $2,700.
Boston Red Sox- The Red Sox will probably be popular tonight with a 6.3 implied run total from Vegas at home against Hector Santiago. Santiago is home run prone against righties and the Red Sox have them up and down their lineup. Hitting in Fenway Park benefits the Red Sox as well, particularly Mookie Betts who hits a lot of home runs in Fenway that would not be home runs in any other park. In a small sample size, Santiago has struggled mightily against left-handed hitters this season allowing 7.71 home runs per 9 innings in 7 innings. Mitch Moreland has held his own against left-handed pitching this season and is hitting the ball well lately, so do not skip him (if he plays) in your Red Sox stack despite the lefty-lefty matchup.
Milwaukee Brewers- I mentioned earlier that Tim Adleman has upside in this matchup, but he also has very real downside. The Brewers have power from both sides of the plate and Adleman has allowed 1.7 home runs per 9 innings so far this season (1.99 against lefties and 1.45 against righties). The Reds bullpen has struggled lately, as well, posting the 4th-highest xFIP in the league over the last 14 days. It is a boost to Milwaukee if Mesoraco catches for the Reds as he is not as good at throwing out runners as Tucker Barnhart.
Cleveland Indians- It has already been mentioned a couple of times, but Tyson Ross sucks. He has just a 5.3 percent swinging strike percentage in his two big league starts this season and he has induced just 3.6 percent soft contact. He has allowed a .389 xwOBA to lefties and the Indians’ lineup will feature a lot of them. It is disappointing that Cleveland does not offer as much stolen base upside this season, but there is still a lot to like here against Ross and a Texas bullpen that is down to one lefty at most as Alex Claudio has pitched three consecutive days. The other lefty in the ‘pen, Dario Alvarez, threw 16 pitches yesterday but had not pitched the previous two days. A bad starter and a bullpen full of almost exclusively righties is a great spot for Cleveland. It also helps that they are at home where they have hit much better for years.