MLB DEEP DIVE – 7/6/17
Chris Sale faces the Tampa Bay Rays tonight in Tampa Bay. It is a ballpark boost for Sale, on top of being an excellent matchup overall. Tampa Bay has struck out 24.4 percent of the time with a .316 wOBA and 98 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season. Most of the Tampa Bay lineup will be right-handed, but their best hitters are Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison who both hit from the left side of the plate. Sale has been excellent against hitters from both sides of the plate, striking out 32.3 percent of lefties and 35.9 percent of righties this season. He has allowed a .311 xwOBA to lefties, while limiting righties to just a .240 xwOBA. Sale is an elite option tonight against the Rays, as he is most nights.
Lance McCullers is facing a right-handed heavy Toronto team. He has been outstanding this season, particularly against right-handed hitters who he has struck out 30.7 percent of the time with a 67.0 percent groundball percentage. McCullers relies heavily on his knuckle-curve and the Jays, as a team, generally struggle to hit good breaking pitches. On the downside for McCullers is the fact that this game will be played at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. McCullers has fared better at home throughout his career, though that is very likely just due to sample size as Houston is not a great place to pitch. McCullers is always a risky play when he is expensive because he has a tendency to run up his pitch count early in games which prevents him from going deep. Still, he has plenty of tournament upside and should come at an ownership discount compared to Sale.
Robbie Ray has struggled in his last three outings but he gets a nice park shift tonight as he faces the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The Dodgers have plenty of dangerous right-handed bats, but Ray is capable of piling up the strikeouts against righties as well as lefties. Ray has struck out 29.7 percent of right-handed hitters this season while allowing just a .303 xwOBA. Away from Chase Field, Ray has struck out 30.4 percent of righties while allowing a .262 xwOBA. Ray has struck out 37.1 percent of lefties this season (46.2 percent on the road) and has allowed a .295 xwOBA (.258 on the road), so he should be able to neutralize two of the Dodgers’ best hitters in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. Ray may go a bit overlooked on this slate since there are so many other great options, but he is a very strong play on the road against the Dodgers.
Rich Hill threw a gem against the Padres in his last start. Tonight, he will face the Arizona Diamondbacks at home. On most slates, Hill would be a great option in this spot. Tonight, however, it is tough to justify rostering him because of the other options on the slate and his price, especially on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. While he has good strikeout numbers, striking out 26.3 percent of hitters with a 10.1 percent swinging strike percentage this season, it does not compare favorably to other names on the slate like Sale, McCullers or Ray. When you factor in that Dave Roberts is his manager, it makes it difficult to justify passing up those other options at a similar price point.
Jose Berrios is a very interesting tournament pitching option as he faces off against the Baltimore Orioles. He has shown good strikeout stuff this season, striking out 24.6 percent of hitters that he has faced with a 10.7 percent swinging strike percentage and 32.4 o-swing percentage. Against righties, Berrios has struck out 29.4 percent of hitters with a 14.8 swinging strike percentage and .229 xwOBA allowed. The Orioles will most likely have seven or eight righties in their lineup, which plays to Berrios’s advantage. The question with Berrios is always whether he will have his command and be able to get ahead in counts but, if he does, he should be able to carve up this Orioles lineup and post a nice score at low ownership.
Dinelson Lamet has been fantastic so far this season, striking out 32.1 percent of hitters with a 13.9 percent swinging strike percentage and 32.9 o-swing percentage. He has an awfully tough matchup tonight, however, as he faces the Cleveland Indians. Lamet was much better against righties than lefties in the minor leagues and that has carried over to the majors. The Indians are banged up, but they still figure to feature mostly left-handed bats in their lineup. Lamet has struck out 25.3 percent of lefties this season compared to 39.0 percent of righties. While those strikeout numbers are still impressive, Lamet has also allowed 3.06 home runs per nine innings on 39.6 percent hard contact with just 11.3 percent soft contact against lefties while allowing a .346 xwOBA. The Indians have struck out just 19.8 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season with a .335 wOBA and 107 wRC+. The primary argument in favor of Lamet is on two-pitcher sites because his price factors in the risk of the matchup and he does have upside if he is on. My approach will be to try and figure out how the rest of the industry feels about him throughout the day. If he is going to be popular, I will have no interest. If everyone is avoiding him because of the matchup, then he becomes an interesting (but still incredibly risky) play.
Bryce Harper will face Mike Foltynewicz tonight, weather permitting. Foltynewicz is coming off of two good starts, but he has allowed 1.62 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season while inducing just 8.4 percent soft contact. Harper, of course, is one of the best hitters in baseball and has posted a .429 xwOBA and .324 ISO against right-handed pitching this season. If this game plays, Harper is one of the top hitting options on the slate.
Robinson Cano has been swinging the bat very well lately and tonight he will face rookie right-hander Paul Blackburn. Blackburn is not a strikeout pitcher, relying instead on locating his pitches where he wants to. Cano is a disciplined hitter who should have success against Blackburn. Cano has a .401 xwOBA against righties this season. Cano is also 8th in baseball over the last 14 days with a 48.8 percent hard contact percentage. He offers a ton of upside at a weak position.
Yonder Alonso faces Sam Gaviglio. Gaviglio pitches to contact and generally does a good job of inducing soft contact against righties. Against lefties, however, he has induced just 9.4 percent soft contact while allowing 1.99 home runs per nine innings. Alonso has been excellent against righties this season, posting a .399 xwOBA and .287 ISO against them. Gaviglio will likely allow Alonso to put the ball in play which bodes well for Alonso.
Hunter Renfroe is a flawed hitter, but he is cheap and has upside against Josh Tomlin. Tomlin has allowed 2.14 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters this season and, while he has just a .270 xwOBA, Renfroe has a .190 ISO against righties this season. Tomlin has struck out just 17.2 percent of righties this season, so Renfroe’s strikeout issues are not as big of a deal. He has plenty of upside for a low price on a slate where we will need to find high-upside value.
Seth Smith is one of the few lefties who will be facing Jose Berrios and he is cheap. Smith is nothing special, with a .335 xwOBA and .167 ISO against right-handed pitching this season, but he does have home-run upside at the top of the order for a low price. Berrios has not been as good against lefties as he has against righties, allowing 1.48 home runs per nine innings while striking out just 19.5 percent.
Yulieski Gurriel is relatively expensive on FanDuel but is just $3,600 on DraftKings and $7,200 on FantasyDraft. Gurriel is finally starting to come around against left-handed pitching, after having success against righties all season long. Since the start of June, Gurriel has a .360 xwOBA and .263 ISO against lefties. He has a very low strikeout percentage and also has a low walk rate, meaning he is likely to put the ball in play- even against Francisco Liriano. Liriano has allowed 1.26 home runs per nine innings to righties this season, with 35.5 percent hard contact and just 12.3 percent soft contact. The Astros are in a position to score a lot of runs tonight and Gurriel is an inexpensive, low-owned way to get a piece of it. Oh, he also has the second-highest hard contact percentage in baseball over the last 14 days at 53.9 percent.
Houston Astros- The Astros are on the road in Toronto against Francisco Liriano. Houston has been one of the most difficult teams to strike out this season, striking out just 16.8 percent of the time against lefties. Liriano generally relies on strikeouts to get himself out of jams that are created by his walks and hard contact allowed to righties. The Astros are in a great spot to have multiple big innings against Liriano. Yuli Gurriel is my favorite individual Astros play since he is unlikely to walk and will put the ball in play, but the Astros make for a great stack up and down the lineup as they should have baserunners on all game.
Cleveland Indians- The Indians have burned me more than any other team this season but I will be going back to the well tonight. As mentioned earlier, Lamet is vulnerable to left-handed power and the Indians have a lot of it. In addition, two of the three lefties in the Padres’ bullpen have pitched in two consecutive games so it may be more difficult than usual for the Padres to match up with the Indians once Lamet is out of the game. Lamet is certainly capable of having a good game, but there is too much upside to ignore in the Indians lineup tonight.
Seattle Mariners- Paul Blackburn is a rookie right-hander who does not get many strikeouts. The Mariners have a lot of power in their lineup and should be able to take advantage of a young pitcher who pitches to contact. In addition, Sean Doolittle has thrown 11 pitches and 25 pitches in the last two days, so the Athletics are likely to have just one lefty out of the bullpen. This means that Ben Gamel, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager are more likely to be in favorable matchups late in the game. On a slate where value is at a premium, the Mariners offer very reasonable prices for a lot of upside.