MLB DEEP DIVE – 6/6/17
This is one of the best pitching slates that we have had this season. Therefore, this article will have a lot more words on pitching than hitting, since that feels appropriate and necessary. Since the slate is so deep, I will break the pitchers down into tiers based on price point.
Each pitcher in this category is more than $10,000 on DraftKings and is an elite strikeout pitcher with at least one negative factor going against them tonight as well. If it seems that there are more negatives than positives for these guys, do not take it that way. On a slate this deep, it is important to be aware of the downside to a matchup, since every one of these pitchers has a ton of upside, so more time will probably be spent on the negatives than the positives that are obvious to everyone.
Max Scherzer faces the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Scherzer has been phenomenal this season, striking out 33.6 percent of hitters that he has faced with a 15.7 percent swinging strike percentage
And 34.5 percent O-Swing rate. He has as much upside as any pitcher on any slate that he is on, so he is obviously a top pitching option if you can afford him. The one drawback to his matchup is that the Dodgers feature a lot of left-handed bats in their lineup. Their current projected starting lineup has five lefties, including essentially the entire middle of the lineup. Scherzer has been very good against lefties this season, allowing an expected wOBA of .286 and striking out 23.1 percent of lefties that he has faced. He is allowing 1.43 home runs per nine innings to left-handers, however, and his numbers against lefties pale in comparison to his numbers against righties. He has struck out an incredible 45.1 percent of right-handed hitters this season with an expected wOBA of .198 and just 0.91 home runs per 9 innings. Since his price is derived from his overall numbers, an argument could be made that he is overpriced whenever he faces a good left-handed lineup since his numbers against lefties are merely very good instead of phenomenal. Still, we should expect him to pitch well in this matchup and he is a perfectly fine option. Just temper your expectations a bit compared to his recent outings against a right-handed strikeout-happy Padres lineup and a watered-down Giants lineup.
Robbie Ray has struck out 30.2 percent of opposing hitters this season with a 13.2 percent swinging strike percentage. The Padres are a young team with a lot of strikeout prone hitters up and down the lineup. San Diego has not struck out quite as much against left-handed pitchers as right-handed pitchers, but their 22.5 percent strikeout percentage against lefties is still the 8th most in the league. Like Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray is good against hitters from both sides of the plate but is much better against hitters of his same handedness. Ray has struck out 37.5 percent of lefties this season with a .271 expected wOBA compared to 28.7 percent of righties with a .308 expected wOBA. Ray has also struggled at home in hitter-friendly Chase Field compared to on the road. Since the start of the 2016 season, Ray has struck out 25.1 percent of right-handed hitters at home with an expected wOBA of .357 (.379 this season) and 1.8 home runs per nine innings. On the road, over that same time span, Ray has struck out 29.4 percent of righties with a .307 expected wOBA (.258 this season) and 1.0 home runs per nine innings.
Jacob DeGrom also experiences a negative park shift against a strikeout-prone lineup as he travels to Arlington to face the Rangers. DeGrom has struck out 31.5 percent of hitters he has faced with a 15.2 swinging strike percentage that is even more impressive when his opponents are considered as most of his early season opponents have been teams that do not strike out often. The Rangers have the fifth-highest strikeout percentage against right-handed pitching as a team, with a below average .318 wOBA and 94 wRC+. Going to the American League means that DeGrom will have to contend with a designated hitter instead of an opposing pitcher. The Rangers’ projected lineup features 5 lefties and 4 righties. DeGrom has struck out 27.7 percent of lefties with a .313 xwOBA and 34.6 percent of righties with a .282 xwOBA so far this season. DeGrom has pitched to a 3.34 xFIP away from Citi Field since the start of last season, but his strikeout percentage drops from 30.1 percent at home to 22.3 percent on the road. This is an elite strikeout matchup, however, as Texas has the 3rd-highest O-Swing percentage, 2nd-highest swinging strike percentage, and 3rd-highest strikeout percentage in baseball over the last 14 days.
Chris Archer will be pitching at home against the Chicago White Sox. Chicago, as a team, has struck out 21.6 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season with a .307 wOBA and 90 wRC+. They have been hitting better lately, however, posted a .340 wOBA and 113 wRC+ over the last 14 days and making life difficult for some very talented pitchers. Archer usually pitches better at home than on the road, with a 31.1 percent strikeout percentage and 3.00 xFIP at home compared to a 24.7 percent strikeout percentage and 3.80 xFIP on the road. In addition, the White Sox are likely to feature a mostly right-handed lineup, as their most dangerous hitters are all right-handed. Archer has struck out 29.1 percent of righties that he has faced this season, while allowing an expected wOBA of .274. While the White Sox are probably the “hottest” team that any of the elite pitchers are facing, all of the other factors are working in Archer’s favor as he gets to pitch at home against a right-handed heavy lineup.
Marco Estrada has been very impressive this season as he is getting more vertical movement on his fastball than any pitcher in baseball, by a wide margin, and it has resulted in a 23.76 whiff-per-swing percentage on his fastball, which is up from 19.24 percent last season. Overall this season, he has a 27.2 strikeout percentage that is backed up by a 12.5 percent swinging strike percentage. He will be pitching in a spacious ballpark tonight, which is good for his flyball tendencies, and he will be facing an Oakland team that has strike outs up and down their lineup as they have struck out 27.4 percent of the time over the last 14 days. It appears that the home plate umpire in this game is one of the more hitter-friendly umpires in the league, which is obviously not great for Estrada, but overall this is a very nice matchup.
James Paxton threw 74 pitches in his first start back from the disabled list and was very efficient, as he struck out 6 hitters in 5 1/3 innings and allowed just three hits while walking nobody. His underlying numbers looked very good in that start as well, with an 18.9 percent swinging strike rate and 42.4 O-Swing percentage. His average fastball velocity of 96.5 miles per hour was about a half-tick higher than his season average of 95.9 miles per hour. I have not seen a report on his pitch count but, since he threw 74 in his last start, it seems reasonable to expect at least 85-90 tonight if not more. Paxton has looked like a Cy Young candidate so far this season, striking out 30.2 percent of hitters with a 14.3 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.5 percent O-Swing percentage. He has been very good against right-handed hitters, striking out 31.5 percent with an expected wOBA of .217 this season. Most of the dangerous hitters in the Minnesota lineup are right-handed, and Minnesota’s projected lineup features seven righties. The Twins are a patient team, but Paxton’s 68.1 percent first-pitch strike rate bodes very well for his chances of getting ahead in counts. Minnesota has struck out just 19.6 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season, but Paxton is not your average lefty and he will also benefit from the friendly confines of Safeco Field.
Jose Quintana has been up-and-down this season but his batted ball data suggests that he has been getting a bit unlucky and we should probably see his numbers end up similar to last season’s. He has been getting more strikeouts than he should, with a 23 percent strikeout rate despite just 7.8 percent swinging strikes. He had a similar swinging strike percentage last season and finished with a 21.6 strikeout percentage. Where he seems to be getting unlucky, however, are on balls in play against him. While his .315 BABIP is only slightly elevated, his expected wOBA against righties is .322 compared to an actual wOBA of .362. His expected wOBA and actual wOBA against lefties are within .001 points of each other at .288 and .287, respectively. Tampa Bay has struck out 27.7 percent of the time against left-handed pitching with a .301 wOBA and 89 wRC+ this season and Quintana will also benefit from a positive park shift going from Chicago to Tampa Bay. Quintana does not have close to the upside of a similarly priced James Paxton, but this is a friendly matchup and he merits consideration as an SP2 on two-pitcher sites.
Dinelson Lamet has performed admirably in his first two major league starts after striking out 50 hitters in 39 innings at AAA this season. Both of his first two matchups were against left-handed heavy lineups in the Mets and the Cubs and he still managed to strike out 8 hitters in 5 innings in each start. He gets a different problem in this start, as he has to pitch in Chase Field. It is difficult to predict the Diamondbacks lineup, but their current projected lineup has 5 right-handed hitters plus the pitcher. Lamet posted a 15.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 34.1 percent O-Swing percentage through his first two starts and has shown the ability to get swinging strikes with his change-up and his slider. It is a risky spot because of the ballpark, but he remains cheap enough that the upside warrants consideration in tournaments.
Aaron Nola has not been pitching well, but he is at a very attractive price on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. The whiff percentage on Nola’s curveball is down nearly ten percentage points from last season, which is obviously concerning, and he has not had a swinging strike percentage over 10 percent in any of the three games since he returned from the disabled list- which is at least partly attributable to matchup. Still, he has a 21.2 strkeout percentage and 10.5 swinging strike percentage for the season and is facing an Atlanta team that has the 4th-highest strikeout percentage in baseball over the last 14 days. Nola’s batted ball numbers look good for the season as well, as he has allowed a .314 expected wOBA to lefties and a .278 expected wOBA to righties. It is certainly a risky spot since he has not looked particularly good since returning from the disabled list, but it would not be surprising to see Nola end up as one of the top SP2 options when you factor in his $6,000 price tag.
David Paulino is making a second straight start and will face the Kansas City Royals. While Kansas City has not been striking out as much recently, they still have an 11.7 percent swinging strike percentage and 35.8 percent O-Swing percentage over the last 14 days. Paulino has shown very good strikeout stuff in the minor leagues, with a 29.3 percent strikeout percentage in 64 innings at AA last season and a 21 percent strikeout percentage in his 14 AAA innings this season. In his first big league start of the season, he struck out 8 Twins in 4 innings pitched. He had just an 8.4 percent swinging strike percentage at AAA so far this season, but it was 13.8 percent at AAA last season and 17.2 percent at AA. Paulino threw 89 pitches in his last start, so should be fully stretched out for this one. He is obviously an unproven commodity in the big leagues, but is firmly on the list of cheap arms with massive upside on this slate.
Tim Adleman has been very good against right-handed hitters this season, striking out 25.2 percent and allowing a .301 expected wOBA to them this season. He struggled against righties last season, but he has been able to have much more success against them with his change-up so far this year. The Cardinals projected lineup has 6 righties plus the pitcher and there is definite upside for Adleman despite a tough ballpark and a lineup that has some big names in it.
Mike Clevinger may be the most interesting tournament pitcher on the slate, as he sits at just $5,100 on DraftKings and $6,700 on FanDuel. Clevinger has looked very good this season, showing three excellent secondary pitches in his change-up (28.1 whiff percentage), his slider (18.5 whiff percentage), and his curveball (24.2 whiff percentage). He has struck out 27.8 percent of hitters with a 13 percent swinging strike percentage and 32.2 O-Swing percentage in his 29 major league innings this season after fanning 27.1 percent of the hitters he faced in his 30 innings at AAA. In addition, he has been good against hitters from both sides of the plate as he has struck out 28.6 percent of lefties with a .317 expected wOBA and 27.3 percent of righties with a .303 expected wOBA. His control is his main nemesis, as he has walked 12.2 percent of hitters this season. Colorado has the 9th-highest O-Swing percentage so far this season and the 7th-highest over the last 14 days. Clevinger’s price more than makes up for the risks of pitching in Coors Field, especially when a lot of the top pitching options on this slate are in bad ballparks, and he is a very high-upside tournament option that will likely also serve as a leverage play assuming the Rockies garner significant ownership now that they are back home.
J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera have a great matchup against Angels’ righty Jesse Chavez. Chavez has struggled with right-handed hitters, allowing a .353 expected wOBA so far this season and a .336 expected wOBA since the start of last season. Martinez has been destroying baseballs since his return from the disabled list and Cabrera has been one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball this season in terms of expected wOBA based on launch angles and exit velocities compared to his actual wOBA. Both hitters have hit the ball very well against righties, with Martinez posting a .453 expected wOBA since his return and Cabrera delivering a .426 xwOBA since the start of the season.
Joey Votto faces the resurgent Adam Wainwright in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. Wainwright has done a very good job against righties this season, but the same can not be said of his performance against lefties. While he has allowed just 0.91 home runs per nine innings to lefties, he is allowing over 34 percent hard contact and has an expected wOBA allowed of .350. Votto has a .245 ISO and .432 xwOBA against right-handed pitching this season and has had success against Wainwright in the past with a 96.5 mile per hour average exit velocity on his last 12 batted balls against the Cardinals’ right-hander.
Jay Bruce gets the ballpark boost traveling to the Ballpark in Arlington, or whatever it is called now, and he will face right-handed Dillon Gee, who has struck out just 14.8 percent of left-handed hitters that he has faced in his career while allowing 1.33 home runs per nine innings. Bruce has a 45 percent hard contact rate against right-handed pitching this season with just 9.2 percent soft contact.
Nelson Cruz faces home-run prone left-handed Hector Santiago tonight. It seems that luck has been on Santiago’s side against righties this season, as his 3.36 ERA is nearly two runs lower than his 5.26 xFIP and his .267 wOBA allowed is much lower than his .338 expected wOBA. Cruz has been dominant against lefties for as long as I can remember, and this season is no different as Cruz has a .225 ISO and .409 expected wOBA against southpaws. He also has an average exit velocity of 98 miles per hour on 12 batted balls against Santiago over the last 2 seasons.
Nick Castellanos continues to occupy a spot as a recommend value option as he remains underpriced around the industry and has a nice matchup against Jesse Chavez who, as previously mentioned, struggles with right-handed hitters. Castellanos has a .369 expected wOBA against righties this season and, along with teammate Miguel Cabrera, has been one of the two unluckiest players in the league in terms of xwOBA-wOBA. Some of that can be attributed to playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park, but he should still have much better results than he does this season.
Eric Thames makes the list as a value option because of his price on FanDuel, where he is just $3,200. Matt Cain has allowed an expected wOBA of .348 since the start of last season and benefits greatly from pitching in AT&T Park. Tonight’s game will be in Miller Park, however, and Cain’s 13.3 percent strikeout percentage and 32.6 percent hard contact to lefties do not bode well for him in his matchup against Thames, who has destroyed major league pitching since returning from Korea.
Like Thames, Lucas Duda is a top play on any site but is significantly underpriced on FanDuel at just $2,900. Duda has a .369 xwOBA against right-handed pitching this season and a 58.1 percent hard contact rate with just 7 percent soft contact over the last 14 days. Add in the park upgrade and he is one of the top hitting options on the slate against Dillon Gee.
Kendrys Morales is a nice value play against right-handed Jesse Hahn. Hahn has struck out just 17 percent of lefties this season while allowing 34.3 percent hard contact. Morales has hit well from both sides of the plate this season and has posted a .400 xwOBA from the left side. Hahn has been lucky against left-handers so far, allowing home runs on just 3.7 percent of the flyballs that he has allowed. Along with the depressed homerun-per-flyball rate, Hahn’s .346 xwOBA to lefties suggests he has been getting lucky when compared to his .312 actual wOBA allowed.
Detroit Tigers- The Tigers face Jesse Chavez, who has struggled against right-handed bats. Along with the expected wOBA that was mentioned earlier when discussing individual hitters from Detroit, Chavez has also allowed 2.65 home runs per nine innings to righties this season while striking out just 18.4 percent. There is right-handed power up and down this lineup and there is a good chance that a Tigers stack produced multiple home runs.
Cleveland Indians- No Cleveland hitters were listed specifically in this article because it is Coors Field and that is too easy, but they are in a very nice spot against the Rockies. Senzatela has been impressive this season, but he pitches to contact and that is always dangerous in Coors Field. Senzatela is good at holding runners, allowing just 3 steals this season, which limits the Indians upside somewhat. Still, they are facing a contact pitcher in Coors Field so there is plenty of upside to go around.
New York Mets- The Mets get a huge ballpark boost going from Citi Field to Texas and they will face a right-hander who pitches to contact and has been home run prone against lefties in his career. There is left-handed power throughout this lineup and they are also an appealing stack because Cabrera and Walker allow you to take care of the weak second base and shortstop positions while leaving open more attractive positions for one-off hitters.