MLB DEEP DIVE – 7/15/17
In what is starting to feel like a regular occurrence, I have the Deep Dive article on a slate that is stacked with pitching at different price points. Since I am also on the Deeper Dive show at 5:00, I will give information on all of the pitchers that appear viable to me and do my best to keep my personal takes out of the analysis (especially since I do not know who of the many options I will end up rostering at this point). The pitchers are sorted by price point.
Max Scherzer is facing the Cincinnati Reds in Great American Ballpark tonight. He is sure to be one of the most popular pitching options on the slate. He has struck out 35.5 percent of hitters that he has faced this season, with a 16.0 percent swinging strike percentage and 35.3 o-swing percentage. Clearly, he has as much upside as anyone. On the downside, the Reds are not a bad team offensively and it is a park downgrade for Scherzer. They have struck out 20.4 percent of the time with a .333 wOBA and 101 wRC+ against right-handed pitching this season. Scherzer has struck out a ridiculous 46.0 percent of right-handed hitters this season but has been more human against lefties, striking out 25.6 percent. He is also vulnerable to home runs against lefties, allowing 1.34 home runs per 9 innings with a 51.0 percent flyball percentage this season. The Reds lineup is projected to be balanced in terms of righties and lefties with four each plus the pitcher. Joey Votto and Scott Schebler are each powerful lefties that have a reasonable chance at taking Scherzer deep.
Corey Kluber will pitch in the spacious Oakland Coliseum against an Oakland team that is dangerous offensively but also offers a lot of strikeout upside. Oakland has the fourth highest strikeout percentage in baseball over the last 14 days at 26.8 percent and they have struck out 24.7 percent of the time against right-handed pitching as a team this season. Kluber is right behind Scherzer in strikeout numbers this season, striking out 33.8 percent of hitters with a 15.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 35.1 o-swing percentage. He has struck out 29.9 percent of lefties and 37.0 percent of righties, while allowing less than 1.0 home run per nine innings to hitters from either side of the plate.
Alex Wood has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season even though he does not carry the name value of Scherzer of Kluber. Wood has struck out 30.9 percent of hitters with a 13.6 percent swinging strike percentage and 36.6 percent o-swing percentage while pitching to a 2.57 xFIP that is lower than Scherzer or Kluber. Wood will get to face Miami in Miami, which is a pitcher-friendly park. On the downside for Wood, Miami is a difficult team to strike out. The Marlins have struck out 19.5 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season, posting a .335 wOBA and 106 wRC+. They have struck out 19.3 percent of the time with a .369 wOBA and 128 wRC+ over their last 14 games. It is unlikely that the Marlins are able to do much damage against Wood, but it is worth noting that his upside may be somewhat limited (relative to the other aces on this slate) by the difficult strikeout matchup and the fact that Dave Roberts, and his short leash, is his manager.
Madison Bumgarner makes his return from the disabled list and gets a very nice landing spot against the San Diego Padres. Bumgarner went 6 innings and threw 86 pitches in his most recent rehab start, so it seems likely that he will not be limited in tonight’s start. Bumgarner has thrown just 27 innings this season, but was effective as he struck out 25.0 percent of hitters with an 11.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 38.6 percent o-swing percentage. The Padres lead baseball with a 28.9 percent strikeout percentage over the last 14 days and they have also struck out 28.9 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season. The Padres figure to have a right-handed heavy lineup against Bumgarner but he has allowed just a .288 xwOBA to righties since the start of last season.
Jimmy Nelson is just shy of a $10,000 price tag in a great matchup at home against the Philadelphia Phillies. Nelson has made major strides this season and a big part has been his improvement against left-handed hitters. Nelson has allowed just a .301 xwOBA to left-handed hitters this season while striking out 30.8 percent. This is important, as the Phillies will likely have left-handed hitters throughout their lineup. On the downside, Nelson is still allowing hard contact to lefties, with a 37.3 percent hard contact percentage and just 13.4 percent soft contact. His xwOBA and his home run per flyball rate combined with his home runs allowed per nine innings suggest that he is not just getting lucky against lefties, however. The Phillies have struck out 23.8 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season with a .300 wOBA and 82 wRC+. They have struck out 24.5 percent of the time with a .314 wOBA and 90 wRC+ over the last 14 days.
Aaron Nola appears to have finally found his stuff after struggling for several starts following a stint on the disabled list. Nola had an 11.1 percent swinging strike percentage two starts ago against the Pirates and a 13.5 percent swinging strike percentage in his last start against the Padres. Overall this season, Nola has struck out 24.6 percent of hitters with a 9.9 percent swinging strike percentage and 27.1 percent o-swing percentage. The Brewers are a dangerous offense, but they also offer a lot of strikeout upside. Nola has struck out 27.2 percent of right-handed hitters this season with 28.7 percent soft contact and a 52.5 percent groundball percentage. The Brewers figure to have plenty of right-handed bats in their lineup tonight. There is certainly risk in rostering Nola on the road in a hitter-friendly park against a dangerous offense but there is a lot of potential reward as well.
Danny Duffy faces a Texas offense that has struggled against left-handed pitching this season and he will be facing them at home in Kansas City. Duffy has had a weird season, striking out just 19.8 percent of hitters despite posting an above average 11.9 percent swinging strike percentage. Duffy has looked very good in his first two starts back from the disabled list, recording a 12.8 percent swinging strike percentage and 38.1 percent o-swing percentage against the Mariners and then a 12.8 percent swinging strike percentage and 45.7 percent o-swing percentage against the Dodgers. The Rangers have struck out 26.1 percent of the time with a .298 wOBA and 79 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season. It is worth noting that a lot of those numbers are from when Adrian Beltre was injured, but one player is not enough to correct all of those issues.
Jake Arrieta figures to be one of the more popular pitchers on the slate as his price tag is obviously too low. He faces a dangerous Orioles team that has plenty of power but also is full of right-handed bats. Arrieta has struck out 23.2 percent of righties with a 3.85 xFIP, 0.96 home runs per nine innings and a .291 xwOBA this season. Arrieta’s underlying numbers this season are better than his win-loss record and his ERA suggest, and his price tag on DraftKings and FantasyDraft seems to reflect his counting stats more than the more important underlying numbers.
Luis Castillo has a dangerous matchup against the Nationals but he deserves a mention because of how good he has been. Castillo has a 30.6 percent strikeout percentage and 13.2 percent swinging strike percentage so far this season along with a 56.9 percent groundball percentage. The Nationals are difficult team to strike out and they obviously have plenty of dangerous power hitters in their lineup. Castillo’s groundball percentage is also likely to drop as it is higher than it ever was in the minors and he his 6.9 percent line drive percentage is unsustainable. That said, he will be low-owned and has upside so he is worth considering as a low-probability/high-upside play in low-dollar massive-field tournaments.
Joe Musgrove is at home against the Minnesota Twins. Musgrove has struck out 19.5 percent of hitters this season with a 10.9 percent swinging strike percentage and 33.2 o-swing percentage. Minnesota figures to have a mostly left-handed lineup with the exception of Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano. Musgrove has struck out 25.0 percent of lefties while allowing a .312 xwOBA this season. The downside for Musgrove is that he is home run prone. He has allowed 1.56 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season and 2.11 home runs per nine innings to righties. It has been suggested on Astros’ broadcasts that Musgrove refuses to pitch out of the zone and that contributes to his home run problems. While that is a negative, it does not deter me from rostering him in GPPs because it is an adjustment that should be easy enough to make eventually and I want to be ahead of the curve on a pitcher with as much strikeout potential as Musgrove. His propensity for pitching in the zone could also work to his benefit against this Minnesota team. The Twins are in the bottom 10 teams in the league in overall swing percentage and they have the 4th-lowest o-swing percentage. The Twins are also in the bottom 10 in zone-contact percentage, however. They profile as a patient team that will benefit from good hitter’s counts against pitchers that do not throw strikes. Musgrove’s 63.2 first-pitch strike percentage and 48.9 percent zone percentage suggest that he may be able to take advantage of the Twins’ approach.
Jake Lamb faces Mike Foltynewicz in Suntrust Field. While Lamb benefits from the hitting environment in Arizona, Suntrust Field has shown itself to be conducive to left-handed power. Foltynewicz has struck out just 17.8 percent of left-handed hitters this season while allowing 1.71 home runs per nine innings and a .344 xwOBA. Anytime that Lamb is in a matchup that should allow him to make contact it offers plenty of upside.
Joey Votto is a great leverage play if you do not have Max Scherzer. As mentioned before, Scherzer is vulnerable to left-handed power and Votto has plenty of it. Votto has a .436 xwOBA and .297 ISO against right-handed pitching this season and has struck out just 13.9 percent of the time. In 9 plate appearances against Scherzer, Votto is 4-8 with two extra base hits (one home run), 2 strikeouts and an average exit velocity of 100.1 miles per hour on 4 batted ball events that occurred in the last two seasons.
Miguel Sano is in a nice spot against Joe Musgrove. While Musgrove is in a high-upside spot tonight, Sano poses a huge home run threat as Musgrove is home run prone and Sano has a .368 xwOBA and .247 ISO against right-handed pitching. Sano will also benefit from a park shift as tonight’s game will be played in Houston.
Robinson Cano paid everyone off as chalk last night and is in another good spot tonight against Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey struggles against left-handed hitters, allowing a .395 xwOBA to them so far this season. Cano has a .402 xwOBA and .249 ISO against righties and will be hitting in a more favorable ballpark tonight in Chicago. Jean Segura is also a strong play as, although Pelfrey is good against righties, Pelfrey struggles to hold runners. If Segura is able to get on base, he should be able to run against Pelfrey.
Logan Morrison faces JC Ramirez tonight in Los Angeles. Ramirez has been very home run prone to left-handed hitters this season, allowing 2.37 home runs per nine innings. Morrison has had a resurgence at the plate, posting a .402 xwOBA and .333 ISO against right-handed pitching this season despite playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park. He is a very strong first base option tonight.
Matt Kemp is priced down across the industry and he will face left-hander Patrick Corbin. Corbin has allowed 35.5 percent hard contact and 1.51 home runs per nine innings to right-handed bats this season while striking out just 18.5 percent. Kemp has a .414 xwOBA against lefties and his .163 ISO should get a boost since this game is in the friendly confines of Suntrust Field.
Scott Schebler is another nice leverage option against Scherzer that does not cost as much as Votto. Schebler has a .374 xwOBA and .271 ISO against righties this season. His 22.1 percent strikeout percentage is not ideal, but he still allows you to save money and does not have the same opportunity cost as Votto.
Whit Merrifield is relatively expensive on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, but he is just $2,800 on FanDuel. Merrifield is not a great hitter, but he does have speed. Opposing pitcher Cole Hamels has not allowed a stolen base yet this season, but he has not been good at holding runners over the course of his career so I am still leaning toward rostering base stealers against him- especially when they play second base and are available at a cheap price. Lorenzo Cain is similar with a little more power upside.
Chicago Cubs- The Cubs are in a high upside spot again tonight against Wade Miley in Camden Yards. It is a great place to hit in the summer and Miley can have difficult throwing strikes. Stacking against Miley is always a strong play because he is capable of allowing a ton of baserunners. In addition, Kevin Gausman did not last long in last night’s game so the Orioles bullpen is not at full strength despite being just one game removed from the All-Star break.
Baltimore Orioles- This is a great slate to have exposure to the Orioles, particularly on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. Arrieta is so cheap on those sites that he is almost guaranteed to be one of the most popular pitchers on the slate. As we talk about often, the Orioles are a team that you can stack against anyone because they have so much power up and down their lineup. Against a pitcher who does not have elite strikeout stuff and who will be massive chalk, it is worth having exposure to the Orioles’ upside as a leverage stack.
Cleveland Indians- Cleveland is facing right-hander Paul Blackburn in Oakland. Oakland is not a great place to hit, but the Indians are not a team that relies on home runs. Blackburn pitches to contact and the Indians have plenty of hitters that can take advantage of the spacious gaps at the Coliseum.
Seattle Mariners- The Mariners will probably be a popular stack tonight against Pelfrey but we should be cautious about how we approach them. Pelfrey has a .292 xwOBA allowed to righties this season. He struggles with lefties and he struggles with speed. That means that, if stacking the Mariners, we should be can be creative by targeting lefties and speed (hello, Jarrod Dyson) over some of the more popular right-handed bats.