MLB DEEP DIVE – 6/8/17
Lance McCullers has the highest strikeout percentage on the slate at 28.2 percent with an impressive 12.2 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.0 percent o-swing percentage. McCullers has been better at home than on the road throughout his career, but Kaufmann Field is a much more pitcher-friendly park than Houston’s home field. The downside to McCullers is that he has a tendency to drive up his pitch count and not last deep in games as a result of a below average 56.1 percent first-pitch strike percentage and 44.9 zone percentage. The good news is that the Royals have the 2nd-highest o-swing percentage (35.3 percent), the highest swing percentage (54.6 percent) and the 8th-highest swinging strike percentage (12.4 percent) over the last 14 days. They also rank in the bottom half of the league in contact percentage on pitches outside of the zone over that span and have been one of the most free-swinging teams in baseball over the course of the season as well. On a slate that is void of much top tier pitching, McCullers ranks as the top option despite his tendency to be a frustrating pitcher to roster due to elevated pitch counts.
Jon Lester is a pitcher that I almost never recommend, but he is in a nice spot at home against the Rockies. He has struck out 23.8 percent of hitters this season with a 10.8 percent swinging strike percentage and a 30 percent o-swing percentage. The Rockies, as a team, have struck out 22 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season with a 103 wRC+ that suggests their .355 wOBA is inflated by games in Coors Field. Lester has been very good against hitters from both sides of the plate this season, allowing a .267 xwOBA to lefties and a .300 xwOBA to righties. As long as the wind in Wrigley cooperates, Lester is a viable pitching option if you are looking to save a little money from McCullers.
David Price has looked excellent in his first two starts of the season, although the results were only there in one of them. He posted swinging strike percentages of 11.4 and 13.0 percent and o-swing percentages of 41.5 and 37.1 percent in his starts against the White Sox and the Orioles, two right-handed heavy lineups, and his fastball velocity is up from last season and back in line with his career averages. The Yankees have a dangerous offense but there is also upside for Price as New York has struck out 23.8 percent of the time against left-handed pitching so far this season. While it is a small sample size, Price has also had more arm-side run on his change-up and two-seam fastball this season than last season and he is throwing a higher percentage of four-seam fastballs and lower percentage of two-seam fastballs than he did last season. This could be a positive change in his pitch mix, as he allowed a .300 xwOBA on his four-seam fastball last season compared to a .332 xwOBA on the two-seam fastball. Price threw 94 pitches in his start against Baltimore and appears to be fully stretched out. He has as much upside as any pitcher on the slate despite a dangerous matchup in a good hitter’s park.
Derek Holland is a not-very-good pitcher coming off a beating handed down by the Detroit Tigers. That being said, he has had some quality games this season and, on a slate where mid-tier and value pitching is lacking, Holland deserves some tournament consideration against a Tampa Bay team that leads the majors in strikeout percentage against left-handed pitching (27.9 percent) and has been below average overall with a .296 wOBA and 86 wRC+ against southpaws. Holland has slightly below average strikeout numbers, with a 19.9 percent strikeout percentage and 8.6 percent swinging strike percentage but the Rays make it much easier than average to pick up strikeouts. Also playing into Holland’s favor is the fact that the most dangerous hitters on Tampa Bay are left-handed and, while he has struggled with righties this season, Holland has struck out 25 percent of lefties while allowing an xwOBA of just .258 this season. His xwOBA against lefties since the start of the 2016 season is just .262. While there is not a reason to actually have confidence in Holland, he does stand out as the best tournament option amongst the value pitching options.
Ryan Zimmerman faces Alec Asher of the Orioles tonight. Asher has developed reverse splits this season, possibly due to a change in his pitch mix. He is throwing a cut-fastball more than 30 percent of the time this season, after not throwing a cutter at all last season. Normally, cutters are more difficult for hitters of the opposite hand to hit since a good one will run in on their hands and be very difficult to barrel, whereas the pitch moves toward the barrel of the bat against a hitter of the same handedness and does not typically have enough depth to get underneath the barrel. Asher has allowed 1.86 home runs per nine innings to righties this season compared to just 1 per nine innings against lefties and he has allowed a .346 xwOBA to righties this season compared to .299 against lefties. Zimmerman made adjustments to his swing in the offseason and has produced a .301 ISO against righties this season with 1 .403 xwOBA. He is a top option against Asher tonight.
Carlos Correa is extremely expensive but he has been the best hitter on the Astros against right-handed pitching this season with an elite xwOBA of .391 and he will be facing Jason Hammel who has struggled for the majority of this season. Hammel’s .390 xwOBA allowed to righties this season is the third-highest on the slate and he has allowed 1.96 home runs per nine innings to righties. Do not let the price scare you off Correa as he is in a great matchup.
Robinson Cano faces off with Kyle Gibson, who seems to have improved some things since his demotion to the minor leagues. Gibson’s strikeout stuff has been better since returning to the majors, but he has been better against righties than lefties which is a trend that has been true throughout his career- even at times when he was pitching relatively well. Cano has continued to dominate right-handed pitching this season to the tune of a .246 ISO and .404 xwOBA and Gibson is allowing a .361 xwOBA to lefties since the start of the season.
Miguel Sano has a great matchup with Christian Bergman of the Mariners. Bergman has demonstrated reverse splits throughout his career and that has continued this season as he has allowed a .363 xwOBA and 2.55 home runs per nine innings to right-handers. Sano has been one of the best power hitters in baseball, ranking near the top of most hard hit and barrel leaderboards and posting a .308 ISO against right-handed pitching.
Jose Abreu is inexplicably $3,300 on DraftKings tonight in a matchup with Jake Odorizzi that is much better than it probably seems at first glance. Odorizzi has been much better against lefties than righties for his career and the same has been the case in 2017. Odorizzi has allowed the most hard contact on the slate to right-handed hitters at 44.0 percent (just 12.0 percent soft contact) and he has allowed 2.6 home runs per nine innings to righties. Since the start of 2016, Odorizzi has allowed a .347 xwOBA to righties and Abreu has a respectable .173 ISO and .337 xwOBA against righties this season.
Matt Adams and Nick Markakis both have great matchups against Ben Lively in a hitter’s park in Atlanta. Lively was worse against lefties than righties throughout his minor league career and is not a pitcher that we should expect to generate many strikeouts. Adams and Markakis have both been above average against righties this season, with .356 and .347 xwOBA’s respectively (Adams’ number since joining the Braves), and they should be able to do damage against a pitcher who pitches to contact and struggles with lefties.
Atlanta Braves- While Adams and Markakis were written up separately, the Braves as a whole make for a very appealing stack as they face a pitcher in Ben Lively who managed zero strikeouts in 7 innings in his first start of the season after recording just an 8.7 percent swinging strike percentage at AAA-Lehigh Valley. Atlanta is now a great place to hit and the combination of Lively and a very bad Philadelphia bullpen could lead to multiple big innings for the Braves. Adding in Phillies to make it a game stack is a great idea, as R.A. Dickey is also very bad and there should be a ton of runs scored in this game.
Baltimore Orioles- This is a tough spot because Joe Ross has been extremely good against righties in his career and the Orioles are a right-handed heavy lineup. Ross has struggled this season, however, and there are reasons to be concerned about him. While his velocity is fine, he is getting less depth on his slider which is resulting in fewer whiffs and he is giving up more home runs on his fastballs. In addition, his below average o-swing percentage suggests that his pitches are not as deceptive or do not have the movement that we have seen from him in the past. If he is not able to utilize his slider to keep the Orioles off balance and pick up strikeouts, then the Orioles will be able to do a lot of damage as they have good fastball hitters with a lot of power up. Seth Smith and Chris Davis are very good plays as one-offs, but the Orioles make sense as a stack as well because they will have a big game if Ross is not at his best and they get to the weak Washington bullpen early.
Houston Astros- As mentioned earlier, Jason Hammel is allowing a .390 xwOBA to right-handed hitters this season and Houston is full of good ones. He has not been great against lefties either, with a .333 xwOBA allowed, so using Josh Reddick or Brian McCann as part of a stack is perfectly fine. The Kansas City bullpen is good enough that it may be difficult to score additional runs for Houston, but they did have to use 5 relievers last night so at least they are not at full strength. The Astros are also an appealing stack since two of their best hitters, Altuve and Correa, play weak positions.