MLB DEEP DIVE – 7/28/17  

PITCHING

Danny Salazar [RHP – CLE] @ CWS Danny Salazar returned to the Indians rotation with a bang last week, tossing seven scoreless innings while allowing only one baserunner and striking out eight Blue Jays on the night. Salazar didn’t issue a single walk and faced the minimum 21 batters in his return. Moreover, the usually erratic right-hander owned a 66.7-percent F-Strike rate while inducing 40-percent swings out of the zone.

It’s hard to say if this version of Salazar is here to stay, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he could continue dominating. As Merritt Rohlfing of LetsgoTribe.com explained, Salazar “doesn’t pitch, he just throws the ball hard.” That’s what amazing about Cleveland’s flame-throwing righty; he throws hard enough to blow pitches by hitters without having to be deceptive. Against the Blue Jays, nine of Salazar’s 14 swinging strikes came on pitches inside the zone, while all but one of them was right around the zone. Most pitchers would be hammered by this ‘just throw strikes and throw them hard’ approach, but not Salazar — Salazar’s 97-MPH heat allows him to excel.

I’m willing to roll the dice on Salazar again tonight, as he’ll square off against a White Sox team that struggles mightily against right-handed pitching. Chicago ranks 28th in wOBA (.304) and 10th in K-rate (22.3%) vs. RHP this season. They’ve also dropped 12 of their last 13 games with a paltry average of 2.69 runs scored per contest in that span. On a night where the White Sox own the second lowest implied run total on the slate (3.8), Salazar should be considered a very strong option across the industry — he’s especially appealing on FanDuel at only $8,200. I’ll be deploying Salazar in the majority of my lineups tonight.

 

Alex Wood [LHP – LAD] vs. SFG Dallas Keuchel is back on the mound tonight, but why bother paying for him when his better half is also set to take the bump. Alex Wood has been a more polished version of Keuchel this season. He’s also been a more impressive, albeit left-handed version, of Lance McCullers.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anything about Wood that counts against him, like his 13.2-percent swinging strike rate, his 36.1-percent O-Swing rate, a 29-percent K-rate or his 61.9-percent groundball rate. It also doesn’t hurt to know that Wood’s velocity is up nearly three ticks from seasons past. He’s coming off his worst start of the year in a surprising home drubbing by the Braves, but there’s no reason to believe this was anything more than a blip on an otherwise dead silent radar.

San Francisco still ranks bottom-five in wOBA (.294) and 29th in ISO (.127) vs. left-handed pitching, but they do strike out at the fifth lowest clip (18.8%) this season. I’m all for betting on talent, though, and Alex Wood surely fits the bill. Look at James Paxton’s recent starts against Houston and Boston, or Aaron Nola’s scoreless 10-strikeout gem against the Astros; these teams generally don’t strike out and make for terrible fantasy matchups as a whole, but the dominating skill of a pitcher can neutralize those concerns. The Giants’ 3-run implied total is the lowest mark on Friday’s slate by a wide margin, making Wood a top option at the position once again.

 

Jose Quintana [LHP – CWS] @ MIL Quintana has been brilliant in three starts since moving to the National League, racking up 29 strikeouts across 18.1 innings pitched. Sure, he’s surrendered three runs in two of those outings, but Quintana’s eye-popping 42-percent K-rate and 12.3-percent swinging strike rate with the Cubs is pure fantasy gold. I don’t anticipate the 28-year-old southpaw to continue fanning batters at such a high rate, but I do expect his fantasy value to remain high now that he’s out of the American League.

Unsurprisingly, the Brewers lead the league in strikeout rate vs. left-handed pitching (26.4%) this season. There’s no shortage of power in Milwaukee, and Miller Park isn’t exactly a pitcher’s haven, but that’s even more reason to love Quintana as a tournament play on Friday night.

Check out these individual K-rates vs. LHP in 2017: Eric Thames (37.5%), Keon Broxton (36.7%), Jonathan Villar (33%), Jesus Aguilar (32.4%), Lewis Brinson (28.6%), Travis Shaw (26.1%), Domingo Santana (21.9%), Manny Pina (20%). We can expect at least six of those hitters to be in the Brewers’ lineup tonight, while Brent Suter, a left-handed hitting pitcher, will also get a few hacks at the bottom of the order. Surely you can see why Quintana warrants some attention, especially in GPPs where 30-plus DKPT is a legitimate possibility.

 

Robbie Ray [LHP – ARI] @ STL The Cardinals’ offense is pedestrian in every sense, while Robbie Ray has been virtually unhittable away from Chase Field. That’s what you need to know about this matchup; St. Louis owns average to below-average marks vs. left-handed pitching, and Ray is holding hitters to a .245 wOBA with a 32.9-percent K-rate on the road. Temperatures won’t be too high at Busch Stadium, which is more good news for Ray, who has allowed only five home runs outside of Arizona (0.75 HR/9). He isn’t my top pitching option on Friday, but Ray should definitely be up there with the likes of Salazar and Quintana at his affordable price point.

 

Michael Wacha [RHP – STL] vs. ARI Michael Wacha has been inexplicably elite over his last five starts, and if I’m being honest, I’m not entirely sure why he’s been so good. Even St. Louis sports writers, whose full-time jobs are to cover the Cardinals, can’t put their finger on Wacha’s recent surge. Here’s what we do know: Wacha’s xFIP has never been startlingly high. He’s dealt with some bad luck since the beginning of last season (career-high BABIP and career-low Strand rate), and may finally be enjoying some positive regression. That doesn’t explain his 29.4-percent K-rate and 11.2-percent swinging strike rate over the past month, though, or his practically nonexistent four-percent walk rate.

Here’s what I think: Wacha was never as bad as his early 2017 results would’ve suggested. He’s also not as good as this current stretch of outings entails. Wacha is better than average and worse than elite, but that’s not a bad place to be on Friday in a plus matchup with Arizona. The Diamondbacks own a bottom-six wOBA (.300) and ISO (.156) away from Chase Field this season, all while sporting the sixth highest K-rate (24.3%) in the process. There are enough quality pitchers on this 15-game slate to bypass using Wacha, but Arizona’s 3.8-run implied total and well-documented struggles on the road should at least put him on the radar. Wacha’s .89 WHIP over his last five starts is perfect for a site like DraftKings.

 

Masahiro Tanaka [RHP – NYY] vs. TB “Mr. Enigma” should be Tanaka’s nickname. Not only do we never know what we’re going to get from the Japanese right-hander, but we never know why he struggles so mightily, either. We do know, however, that Tanaka owns the fourth best swinging strike rate (14.6%) among all qualified pitchers, and leads all pitchers in swings out of the zone (38% O-Swing). Tanaka’s 71.3-percent contact rate ranks sixth, his 54-percent O-Contact rate ranks eighth and is tied with Clayton Kershaw, yet his 23.6-percent K-rate ranks 23rd on the year. Nevertheless, I expect Tanaka’s overall numbers to improve over the second half of the season, and that could start on Friday when he faces the K-heavy Rays.

Tampa Bay owns the fourth highest K-rate (24.6%) vs. right-handed arms this season, and while there’s no shortage of power scattered throughout this lineup, they’re more than capable of issuing big games to opposing pitchers. Here’s what I like most about tonight’s matchup: Tampa has really struggled to hit the splitter, as evidenced by some miserable displays of baseball against Kevin Gausman and Ricky Nolasco over the past month. Tanaka’s splitter is not only inducing 70-percent ground balls this season, but it’s also getting 37.4-percent whiff/swing and is being utilized at 23.3-percent frequency in 2017.

My money’s on Tanaka to silence these Rays bats despite two miserable outings against them this season. Both starts came early in the year when he was an utter disaster on the mound, but Tanaka has looked much more competent since the beginning of June. The Rays own one of the lowest implied run totals (3.9) on Friday’s slate, which makes an underpriced Tanaka (DraftKings) far more enticing at what I expect to be very low ownership on a stacked night of pitching.

 

HITTING

HIGH-PRICED

Mike Trout [OF – R] @ Happ [LHP] I’m not buying what J.A. Happ is selling. He’s far from the worst southpaw in baseball, but Happ simply isn’t as good as last year’s numbers may have suggested. For starters, the veteran lefty just doesn’t have any reliable swing-and-miss pitches; the 22-percent whiffs/swing he gets on the changeup is the highest mark of all of his offerings this season. Happ has never finished a season with a double-digit swinging strike rate, and is sitting on a near 82-percent contact rate in 2017.

Second, Happ doesn’t induce enough ground balls to mitigate the lack of punchouts. His 43.5-percent GB rate vs. right-handed hitters is league average at best, and it’s not going to do him any favors against Mike Trout. Finally, the Rogers Centre is classified as the sixth most friendly righty power park in baseball, and Happ is surrendering 2.10 HR/9 there this season.

Trout has produced better numbers against same-handed pitchers than he has against southpaws for his career, but I doubt anyone is willing to turn their nose at a .402 wOBA and .238 ISO with the platoon advantage. Happ has struggled in three consecutive starts now, ceding six home runs across only 15 innings pitched. Life won’t get much easier for him on Friday when he squares off against Trout and the contact-prone Angels in Toronto.

Bryce Harper [OF – L] and Aaron Judge [OF – R] are both logical alternatives to Trout, facing German Marquez and Austin Pruitt, respectively. Harper will likely carry some higher ownership, though, especially after the Nationals blasted eight home runs against Michael Blazek and Co. last night. Pruitt is a pitch-to-contact righty who will have to make his second major-league start inside the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. Gary Sanchez [C – R], along with Brett Gardner [OF – L] make for top plays at their respective positions, but I’d feel more comfortable deploying them in stacks.

Didi Gregorius [SS – L] is the wildcard here. Despite some awful contact rates and an overall middling skill set, the 27-year-old shortstop is piecing together a rather noteworthy season. Hitting at Yankee Stadium has certainly been an advantage, as Gregorius is sporting a near .200 ISO at home despite carrying a 22-percent hard-hit rate and an average exit velocity of 84.5 MPH. It sounds crazy, but I’m not opposed to paying for him on Friday, as he’s going to see ample opportunity to knock in runs, and is aided by the short porch against a rookie right-hander. Batting fifth in the Yankees order behind Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez is another benefit that most below-average hitters don’t receive.

 

Kris Bryant [3B – R] makes for a top third base play against Brent Suter, as he’s demolishing southpaws to the tune of a .431/.289 wOBA/ISO this season, but the position isn’t as simple as locking Bryant in and moving onto shortstop. Adrian Beltre [3B – R] faces Chris Tillman in Arlington where game-time temperatures will be touching triple digits, and Freddie Freeman [3B – L] draws a plus matchup with Jeremy Hellickson inside the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

There’s no easy way to differentiate here; Beltre’s Rangers own the highest implied run total (6.2) of any team on Friday’s slate, and he’s been dominant at home across 101 PA (.465 wOBA, .293 ISO, 45.6% HH), but Bryant draws the platoon advantage in a top righty power park and Freeman literally hits right-handers better than anyone in baseball. I don’t think you can go wrong here, but for now I’m going to rank Beltre first ahead of Bryant and then Freeman, but I don’t feel especially confident in those rankings.

 

Edwin Encarnacion [1B – R] @ Holland [LHP] I can’t tell you how many times Encarnacion has disappointed this season, but I’m having a tough time ignoring him again on Friday. The Indians have been underwhelming against left-handers from a fantasy perspective this season, and Derek Holland surprisingly threw two excellent outings against them earlier in the year, but overlooking the upside in this matchup would be ill-advised.

Here are the facts: Holland has ceded more home runs to right-handed hitters (21) than any pitcher in baseball this season. His .393 wOBA allowed also ranks dead last among all qualified pitchers, and with a .306 BABIP against we can be quite certain that bad luck hasn’t been a factor. Furthermore, only three pitchers (Jake Odorizzi, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd) are allowing more hard contact to righties than Holland (40.9% HH), who’s been hammered on a regular basis.

As you can see, there’s plenty of reason to love Encarnacion on Friday, including his 43-percent FB rate and 38-percent hard-hit rate vs. left-handed arms. The power numbers haven’t been impressive, but I’m willing to roll the dice on a night where the Indians boast a 5.9-run implied total inside the hitter-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field.

 

Willson Contreras [C – R] @ Suter [LHP] Not many hitters are as dialed in as Contreras right now, as Chicago’s second-year backstop has racked up five home runs and 15 RBI over his last 11 games. Contreras has been stellar with the platoon advantage this season, too, sporting a .388 wOBA and .247 ISO across 104 PA. I’d like to see more fly balls from the young righty, but his 35.3-percent HR/FB rate shows that when he hits fly balls they are going for home runs. Contreras won’t come cheap, but he’s definitely an enticing option against Suter, who will likely come back down to earth on Friday night.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Elvis Andrus [SS – R] vs. Tillman [RHP]; Daniel Murphy [2B – L] vs. Marquez [RHP]; Jose Ramirez [2B/3B – L/R]/Francisco Lindor [SS – L/R] @ Holland [LHP]; Yoenis Cespedes [OF – R] @ Miranda [LHP] [GPP]; Jonathan Schoop [2B – R] @ Cashner [RHP]; Manny Machado [3B – R] @ Cashner [RHP]

 

MID-RANGE

Rougned Odor [2B – L] vs. Tillman [RHP] Nobody enjoys rostering Rougned Odor, but with temperatures reaching 100 degrees in Arlington on Friday, we might not have much of a choice. Chris Tillman would get shelled in the Arctic, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t implode tonight at Globe Life Park. On the season, Tillman is allowing a .411 wOBA to lefties with an 11-percent K-rate and 6.65 xFIP. The Rangers boast a slate-high 6.2-run implied total at home, and should have no trouble torching Tillman from both sides of the dish. Shin-soo Choo [OF – L] and Nomar Mazara [OF – L] are both very much in play, while Joey Gallo [1B/3B – L] remains an upside tournament option at the bottom of the order.

 

Logan Morrison [1B – L] @ Tanaka [RHP] Tanaka offers plenty of upside on Friday, but even in his better starts he’s susceptible to coughing up home runs. Only six pitchers have allowed more home runs to left-handed hitters than Tanaka (13) this season, as he’s ceding a whopping 2.24 HR/9 to opposite-handed bats. Pitching inside the lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium won’t do him any favors against Morrison, whose 48-percent flyball rate and 43-percent hard-hit rate profiles perfectly for this matchup.

If you don’t feel comfortable risking Tanaka as your pitcher, loading up on Tampa Bay lefties would be a fantastic alternative. Morrison’s .315 ISO vs. RHP is more than enticing at $3,700 on DraftKings and $3,300 on FanDuel. I’d expect low ownership here, too, as LoMo hasn’t exactly been crushing the ball of late.

 

Christian Yelich [OF – L] vs. Romano [RHP] Yelich won’t get a park boost on Friday, but this matchup with Sal Romano is surely enticing. Cincinnati’s rookie right-hander is allowing a behemoth 52.2-percent flyball rate to left-handed hitters with a 41.7-percent hard-hit rate in a small sample of 42 batters faces. Flyball rate and hard contact rates normalize quickly, though, and this is not a good sign for Romano. Romano’s 14-percent walk rate vs. LHH is equally disturbing, and considering Yelich has swiped a respectable nine bags this season, there’s certainly some stolen base upside here as well.

Dee Gordon [2B – L] comes into play for the same reason, and if he gets on base he’s definitely going to run. As a low-owned tournament option, though, Yelich warrants plenty of attention at a deep outfield position. Oh, and it’s also worth noting that the 25-year-old outfielder is 8-13 at the plate over his last three starts, with two home runs, five doubles, five RBI and a stolen base over that span. Hopefully this recent surge doesn’t spike his ownership on Friday night.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Brian Goodwin [OF – L] vs. Marquez [RHP]; Corey Dickerson [OF – L] @ Tanaka [RHP]; Brian McCann [C – L] @ Zimmermann [RHP]; Wilmer Flores [1B/3B – R] @ Miranda [LHP] [GPP]; Khris Davis [OF – R] vs. Garcia [LHP] [GPP]; Justin Turner [3B – R] vs. Moore [LHP]

 

VALUE

Drew Robinson [2B/OF – L] vs. Tillman [RHP] Drew Robinson will likely bat ninth again on Friday, but that shouldn’t matter much against Chris Tillman. Actually, a bottom of the order Rangers stack (Gallo/Robinson) plus Choo, Andrus, Mazara or Beltre actually makes quite a bit of sense in GPPs. Robinson has seen 24 plate appearances against righties this season, of which he’s already racked up three home runs and a double. He and Gallo are both volatile options with power from the left side of the plate, but each of them offers ample upside against arguably the worst right-handed starter in all of major-league baseball.

 

Nick Williams [OF – L] vs. Teheran [RHP] I’ll continue writing Nick Williams up until he cools down. Philadelphia’s rookie outfielder has already recorded four home runs, three triples,four doubles and 19 RBI across 89 plate appearances, literally registering an extra-base hit per every 7.3 at bats. He remains dirt cheap on DraftKings at $3,200, and draws a plus matchup with Teheran inside Citizens Bank park.

Teheran has been surprisingly good against left-handed hitters outside of Suntrust Park, but his struggles vs. LHH for his career are well-documented. Teheran is allowing a career .343 wOBA and 1.47 HR/9 to lefties with a mere 16 percent K-rate. If I can roster Williams at $3,200 I’m going to do it, especially with this torrid pace he’s been enjoying since being called up on the last day of June.

 

Yan Gomes [C – R] @ Holland [LHP] Yan Gomes went from being able to hit lefties really well from 2013 to 2014, to being absolute garbage over the last two years, to hitting them really well again in 2017. In 80 plate appearances against LHP this season, Gomes is sporting a .375 wOBA, .275 ISO and 40.7-percent hard-hit rate. Sure, he bats towards the bottom of Cleveland’s order, but he should see four trips to the dish tonight with Derek Holland starting and the White Sox trading away some of their best bullpen arms. Assuming Gomes gets the nod, he’ll make for a nice value catcher for those of you looking to save at the catcher position.

 

Derek Fisher [OF – L] @ Zimmermann [RHP] There’s talk of George Springer returning to the lineup tonight against Detroit, which if this is in fact the case, Fisher will be useless. If Springer remains sidelined, however, Fisher becomes a top value option across the board and especially on FanDuel at $2,200. Fisher hasn’t hit for average in his short stint as the Astros starting center fielder, but he’s displayed more than enough pop to warrant consideration against Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann has shown some flicker of life at times over the past one-plus months, but he’s also finished with negative fantasy points in two of his last three starts. If Springer remains out and Fisher draws another start, don’t hesitate to deploy him in such a favorable matchup.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Francisco Cervelli [C – R] @ Wood [LHP]; Yoan Moncada [2B/3B – L/R] vs. Salazar [RHP] [GPP]; Brad Miller [2B – L] @ Tanaka [RHP] [GPP]