MLB DEEP DIVE – 7/4/17
Jimmy Nelson faces the Baltimore Orioles at home in Milwaukee. Nelson has turned a corner this season and been very good, striking out 25.7 percent of hitters with an 11.4 percent swinging strike percentage and 32.3 o-swing percentage. He really put things together about a month into the season. Since the start of May, Nelson has struck out 29.1 percent of hitters with a 2.75 xFIP, 0.8 home runs per nine innings allowed, a 52.6 percent groundball percentage and 25.8 percent soft contact. Surprisingly, Nelson has not struck right-handed hitters out at as high of a rate as left-handed hitters despite being much better against righties than lefties throughout his career. Still, he has allowed just a .273 xwOBA against righties and his 11.1 percent swinging strike percentage indicates that his 19.8 percent strikeout percentage has some room to improve. Nelson has also gotten 58.6 percent groundballs with 27.5 percent soft contact and just 26.9 percent hard contact. The Orioles’ lineup will be primarily right-handed and there is not much speed that can take advantage of Nelson’s inability to hold runners. He is an elite option in any format.
Jon Lester is getting the start instead of John Lackey and he is too cheap on DraftKings and FantasyDraft for his matchup against the Rays. Lester has shown good strikeout stuff this season, striking out 24.8 percent of hitters with an 11.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.8 o-swing percentage. Tampa Bay has strikeouts up and down the lineup and two of the most dangerous hitters, Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson, are left-handed so Lester will have the advantage. The rest of the lineup is likely to be right-handed but they are, for the most part, weak hitters and Lester has been good against righties, allowing a .297 xwOBA with a 22.4 percent strikeout percentage. Lester ranks right alongside Nelson as one of the strongest pitching options on the slate.
Chris Archer appears to be getting the start for the Rays after some confusion over night whether it would be him or Blake Snell. Archer is firmly in play, as he is an excellent pitcher and the Cubs have been an underperforming offense this season. The downside for Archer is that he has always been better at home than on the road and it manifests itself in his strikeout numbers. Since the start of last season, Archer has struck out 30.9 percent of hitters at home compared to 24.7 percent of hitters on the road. The Cubs are healthier than they have been in a while and, assuming they use their normal lineup, there are not a ton of strikeouts in it for Archer. Pricing is pretty soft across the industry so it is not very difficult to fit Archer. He is in play in any format, though I prefer both of the previously mentioned pitchers.
J.A. Happ is a risky tournament option that has some upside and should be available at low ownership. The Yankees’ projected lineup has struck out over 21 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season and Happ has been very good against right-handed hitters, striking out 24.7 percent with a .303 xwOBA allowed since the start of this season. Happ has been up-and-down in terms of his plate discipline numbers from start to start this season, but overall he has been good with a 23.6 percent strikeout percentage, 10 percent swinging strikes and a very impressive 36.1 o-swing percentage. There is not much pitching to trust outside of the top three (or four if you hate upside and count Fulmer) so rostering Happ in some tournament lineups makes sense.
Alex Avila is on the edge of being “high-priced” or “value”, but I will include him here. He is facing Matt Cain in Detroit and, as we know, Cain is not very good outside of San Francisco. Comerica Park (is it even still called that?) is a nice park for pitcher’s, however, so Detroit may disappoint people overall today. Alex Avila probably will not though. Avila has been one of the best hitters in baseball against right-handed pitching this season regardless of position. His .473 xwOBA is the second highest, behind Freddie Freeman, among hitters with at least 100 at-bats against righties and his .282 ISO ranks 25th among those hitters. Cain has struck out just 12.6 percent of left-handed hitters this season and has allowed a .373 xwOBA to them. Avila is the top catching option on the slate and is even in play on FantasyDraft, where it is usually an incredibly bad play to roster a catcher.
Max Kepler is in a nice matchup against J.C. Ramirez tonight in Minnesota. Ramirez has been good against righties this season but has really struggled against lefties, allowing 2.79 home runs per nine innings on 45.5 percent hard contact with a .388 xwOBA allowed. Kepler has a .335 xwOBA and .231 ISO against right-handed pitching this season and he matches up well with Ramirez, who will primarily throw sinkers and curveballs to left-handed hitters. Kepler has hit sinkers very well and, while he has been less consistent against curveballs, his spray chart shows a lot of curveballs hooked into the right-field corner that will be home runs at Target Field.
Justin Bour is not in the best form right now, with just 29 percent hard contact and 29 percent soft contact over the last 14 days. He still warrants consideration, however, because he has a phenomenal matchup with Lance Lynn and gets a ballpark boost going from Miami to a warm afternoon at Busch Stadium. Lynn has allowed a .345 xwOBA with 2.23 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season. Bour has been very dangerous against right-handed pitching this season, posting a .379 xwOBA and .233 ISO. He is one of the top first base options on the slate.
Andrew McCutchen is a nice tournament option as he is likely to go overlooked as one of the most expensive outfielders on the slate. He has been an excellent hitter since his early season slump, however, posting a .409 xwOBA and .250 ISO against right-handed pitching since the start of June- shortly after he discussed a flaw that he had found in his swing and needed to correct. He should enjoy a massive ballpark boost going from PNC to Citizens’ Bank Park in Philadelphia. He will face right-hander Mark Leiter, Jr., who has just a 6.0 percent swinging strike percentage in 30 major league innings this season. McCutchen has nice upside for tournaments.
Yonder Alonso faces James Shields in Oakland. The ballpark is not ideal, but the matchup is very nice. Shields has struggled with home runs allowed for years and this season is no different. Shields has allowed 2.7 home runs per nine innings to lefties on a 57.4 percent flyball rate. Alonso is one of the most improved hitters in baseball thanks to adjustments in his swing intended to hit more home runs. He has a .398 xwOBA and .263 ISO against righties this season and will have a great opportunity to go deep against Shields.
Travis Shaw is one of the best plays on the slate regardless of position assuming he is in the starting lineup. Shaw missed a few games with a hand injury, but said that he should be good to go for today’s game. If he plays, he will face Ubaldo Jimenez of the Orioles at home in Miller Park. Jimenez can be good against right-handed hitters at times, but he really struggles against lefties. Jimenez has allowed a .346 xwOBA to lefties this season with an astounding 3.23 home runs per nine innings. In addition to being home run prone, Jimenez is awful at holding runners and Shaw has already set a career high in stolen bases this season with 7. Jonathan Villar and Eric Thames are elite plays for the same reasons.
Russell Martin is in play as a value option at catcher if you cannot afford to pay up for Alex Avila. C.C. Sabathia was very good before going on the disabled list as he had found the ability to locate his pitches after a terrible start to the season. If he is able to recapture that form, it will be a tough day for all of the Toronto bats. But, if he is rusty after a disabled list stint in which he did not make a minor league rehab appearance, opting only to throw simulated games and bullpen sessions, then Martin is in a nice spot hitting at the top of the Jays order in Yankees Stadium.
Joe Mauer is one of the best value plays on the slate against J.C. Ramirez. The only real downside for Mauer is that he is a first-baseman. Ramirez has struggled mightily against lefties this season and Mauer has posted a .397 xwOBA against righties, though his .143 ISO leaves something to be desired at his position. Still, he is in a nice spot against Ramirez and is especially valuable on FantasyDraft where he does not carry the same opportunity cost that he does on DraftKings or FanDuel.
Gregory Polanco has had a rough season but he does have a nice ballpark boost playing in Philadelphia tonight. Mark Leiter does not miss many bats so Polanco should have the opportunity to put the ball in play. Polanco still is not showing signs of really turning things around as he has just a 27.5 percent hard contact rate and 27.5 percent soft contact rate over the last 14 days, but he is at least hitting the ball in the air and pulling it often. Leiter has also allowed 3 stolen bases in his 30 innings this season, so there is stolen base potential for Polanco.
Milwaukee Brewers- The Brewers are my top stack today and it is not particularly close, assuming they use their best lineup or something close to it. Ubaldo Jimenez is vulnerable against lefties and against speed. The Brewers do not have a lot of lefties, but Eric Thames and Travis Shaw are two very dangerous hitters for Jimenez to deal with. What the Brewers lack in lefties, they make up for in speed. Just about every hitter in the Brewers lineup with exception of the catcher is capable of stealing bases. Jonathan Villar and Keon Broxton lead the team with 15 and 14 stolen bases, respectively, but Thames, Braun, Santana, Arcia and Perez are all capable of running against Jimenez as well. The Brewers have massive upside against Jimenez and a relatively weak Baltimore bullpen today.
Minnesota Twins- J.C. Ramirez has really struggled against left-handed hitters this season and the Twins have a lot of them. The ballpark is not ideal and most of the Twins’ hitters do not have huge home run power, but stacked together they offer a lot of upside because it would not be surprising to see them mount big innings against Ramirez. In addition, the Angels have no left-handed relievers in their bullpen so there will not be anyone available to match up with Mauer or Kepler late in the game.
Pittsburgh Pirates- The Pirates are similar to the Twins in that there are only a couple of players that are appealing as one-off plays, but they make for a strong stack on the road in Philadelphia against Mark Leiter and his 6.0 percent swinging strike percentage. There is upside any time a team will put the ball in play consistently in Citizen Bank Park and that is the case this afternoon as the Pirates offer a lineup full of hitters who do not strike out against a pitcher who does not get strikeouts.
Oakland Athletics- The Athletics struggle offensively at times but there is also upside there with the likes of Lowrie, Davis and Alonso in the middle of the lineup. Ryon Healy is questionable to play, but Matt Chapman has plenty of power upside if he fills in for him. James Shields is always capable of a good outing, but is extremely home run prone and inconsistent. Add in that the White Sox bullpen has the worst xFIP in baseball over the last 14 days and there is a nice ceiling for the Athletics.
Detroit Tigers- I am probably a bit lower on the Tigers today than most people, but there is no denying the upside that they possess. Matt Cain pitches to contact against a team that has a ton of power and, while Detroit is a pitcher-friendly park, it does not suppress power like AT&T Park does for Matt Cain. If Cain is not locating his pitches well it will be a big day for Avila, Cabrera, Martinez and company. It also helps Detroit that Justin Upton has returned to the lineup.