MLB DEEP DIVE – 7/8/17 (Early SLATE)

PITCHING

Stephen Strasburg faces off against an Atlanta team that he has already faced three times this season.  Strasburg is having a very nice season, striking out 28.6 percent of hitters faced with a 12.8 percent swinging strike percentage and 33.0 percent o-swing percentage.  He has been able to get it done against righties and lefties alike, limiting lefties to a .273 xwOBA and righties to a .295 xwOBA.

Strasburg has fared well in all three of his previous starts against Atlanta in terms of plate discipline numbers.  Between those three starts, he has an average swinging strike percentage of 16.6 percent and a 41.6 o-swing percentage.  The Braves can be a more dangerous team than people tend to realize, however, especially with Freddie Freeman back in the middle of the order.  Strasburg is a viable option in any format, though I will not be paying all the way up for him personally.

Luis Severino is the top-end pitcher that I prefer, in a matchup at home against the Milwaukee Brewers.  Severino is coming off a tough outing against the Astros in which he allowed 6 earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched.  There are positives to take away from the outing, however, as Severino recorded an 11.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 45.0 percent o-swing percentage against an Astros team that typically does not chase pitches out of the zone and does not swing and miss.  To be able to post those numbers shows just how good Severino’s stuff is.  Today, he will get the polar opposite from the Astros as far as hitting approach.

Heading into Friday’s games, the Brewers had an 11.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 30.8 o-swing percentage for the season.  Over the last 14 days, they lead the majors with a 13.5 percent swinging strike percentage and they have a 32.0 percent o-swing percentage during that span.  Severino has a 28.0 percent strikeout percentage and 12.1 percent swinging strike percentage for the season, so here is clearly upside in this matchup.  In addition, Severino is primarily a fastball and slider pitcher, throwing his slider 37 percent of the time (about 45 percent of the time to righties and 27 percent of the time to lefties).

The Brewers are one of the most susceptible teams in the league against good sliders, as their projected starting lineup has an average xwOBA of .272 (and that is carried by Travis Shaw at .456) and an average whiff percentage of 17.1 percent against the pitch this season.  Travis Shaw grades out as a good play against Severino but, if he can navigate his way past Shaw, he should have the advantage in the rest of his matchups.

Aaron Nola seems to be returning to form as he has put together three good starts in a row and he recorded a swinging strike percentage greater than 10 percent for the first time since his DL stint in his last start against the Pirates.  His matchup today is much more conducive to generating swinging strikes than the matchup with the Pirates was, so there is reason for optimism.

Most of the dangerous bats in the Padres lineup are right-handed and Nola has held righties to a .276 xwOBA this season while striking out 27.8 percent and getting 55.4 percent groundballs.  He has held his own against lefties as well, limiting them to a .312 xwOBA with a 20.7 percent strikeout percentage.

The more righties that are in the lineup, the better for Nola- but it is a strong matchup regardless of lineup against a strikeout-prone Padres team.

Mike Fiers seems to be throwing his cutter again, at least depending on what site we look at.  His resurgence began when he scrapped his cutter, so it is a bit concerning if he has returned to it.  That said, the sites that say he is throwing it again (fangraphs and brooks baseball) say that he has been doing it for three games now and he has been good in all three games so it is possible that he made adjustments and it is no longer the awful pitch that it was early in the season.  Whatever he is doing, however, the numbers speak for themselves.

Since his start on May 30th when he initially scrapped the cutter and started incorporating more two-seam fastballs into his pitch mix, Fiers has struck out 25.6 percent of hitters with a 3.79 xFIP, .270 xwOBA allowed, 0.0 home runs per nine innings, 53.4 percent groundballs, 20.0 percent soft contact and just 26.7 percent hard contact.  Today, he will be facing a right-handed heavy Toronto lineup.

In his previous life, Fiers was very vulnerable to right-handed power.  Going back to that May 30th start, Fiers has struck out 24.7 percent of righties while limiting them to a .254 xwOBA with 25.5 percent soft contact, 17.6 percent hard contact and 66.0 percent groundballs.  Toronto is a dangerous matchup and they do not offer a ton of strikeout upside so there is risk for Fiers.  Still, he makes for a strong tournament option as he should be low-owned once again and has shown in recent matchups against the Yankees and Red Sox that he is capable of having success against anyone.

Rick Porcello is very inexpensive in a matchup against the Rays in Tropicana Field.  We can expect him to be popular at his price point and he certainly has upside against a Tampa Bay team that has strikeouts up and down the lineup.  There are some red flags for Porcello, however.  First, he has allowed over 47 percent hard contact to left-handed hitters this season and the Rays have a couple of good ones in Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison.  Second, Porcello has not been generating swinging strikes or chases on pitches out of the zone in recent starts.

In his first 13 starts of the season, he averaged a 10.8 percent swinging strike percentage and 31.7 percent o-swing percentage.  In his last five starts, he has averaged just 5.9 percent swinging strikes and 27.7 percent chases on pitches out of the zone.  Some of this can be blamed on matchups against the Astros, Twins and Angels, but he struggled to generate swings and misses against the Rangers and Phillies as well, and his o-swing percentage against the Rangers was just 25.4 percent (it was 42.4 percent against the Phillies- by far his highest during the five-game stretch).

Porcello is a viable option simply as a price play because he should be able to post a decent score for his price even if he gets touched up for a few runs because of the strikeouts in the Tampa lineup.  The issue with Porcello is that he will probably be popular in tournaments, which obviously limits his value as a price play.  He may be popular in cash games as well, but it appears there is enough value at hitter that we can probably roster two more expensive pitchers fairly easily.

Zack Wheeler has been underwhelming this season but he is an interesting tournament pivot away from Porcello if you need a cheap pitching option.  He is just $6,400 on DraftKings and faces the St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium.  First, the bad.  Wheeler has struck out just 17.2 percent of right-handed hitters this season with an 8.1 percent swinging strike percentage.  His overall swinging strike percentage of 8.6 percent with a 24.6 percent o-swing percentage leaves a lot to be desired as well.  Now, the good.

The Cardinals are projected to have six righties plus a pitcher in their lineup against Wheeler.  While he has not been getting strikeouts against righties, he has been able to limit the damage against him.  Right-handed hitters have a .310 xwOBA against Wheeler this season with just 0.7 home runs per nine innings on a 10.7 home run per flyball rate that does not suggest he is getting lucky.  He has induced 24.6 percent soft contact while allowing just 28.7 percent hard contact and he has a 51.3 percent groundball percentage and 17.9 percent infield flyball percentage (which is just as good as a groundball) against righties.

Furthermore, the ability to limit damage against righties is something he had shown before his injury as well (though he struck out a lot more hitters back then).  There is a good chance that Matt Carpenter and/or Dexter Fowler do damage against Wheeler but, if he can limit them to solo home runs or hard lineouts, he has a chance to have success against the rest of this Cardinals lineup.

It is a risky play with a lot of downside and should only be reserved for tournaments, but it does have merit as a direct pivot off a much more popular Rick Porcello if there are bats that you want to pay up for in tournaments.  The gap between Porcello and Wheeler in terms of expected production is almost certainly not as large as the ownership gap will be.

 

Hitting

High-Priced

Aaron Judge faces a lefty that does not have great swing-and-miss stuff in Yankees Stadium. I feel like I can just stop writing now but, in case you need it spelled out for you, Judge has a .504 xwOBA and .446 ISO against left-handed pitching this season and Suter has a 9.8 percent swinging strike percentage in his time in the majors so far (and has not demonstrated the ability to get strikeouts throughout most of his minor league career).

Miguel Sano faces Wade Miley of the Orioles.  The downside to rostering one-offs against Miley is that he often struggles with control and we do not really want walks out of our high-upside plays.  The upside is that Miley often finds himself behind in the count and he has allowed 1.53 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters this season.  Sano has a .360 xwOBA and .274 ISO against lefties this season.

Bryce Harper faces Julio Teheran, who has struggled with lefties throughout his career.  This season is no different, as Teheran has allowed a .367 xwOBA to lefties with 2.05 home runs per nine innings while generating 6.4 percent swings and misses.  Harper has a .426 xwOBA and .318 ISO against right-handed pitching this season.  He also is 15-33 against Teheran in his career with more home runs (7) than strikeouts (5) and an average exit velocity of 94.9 miles per hour on 14 batted balls over the last two seasons.

Logan Morrison is a great leverage play against Porcello.  Porcello has allowed a slate-leading 47.2 percent hard contact to lefties this season with 1.58 home runs per nine innings.  Morrison has had a breakout season, posting a .411 xwOBA and .346 ISO against right-handed pitching so far.  He is in a nice spot to do damage against Porcello and should help you pass plenty of Porcello teams in tournaments if he goes deep.

 

Value

Manny Machado homered twice last night and is in a nice spot again tonight against Adalberto Mejia.  There are plenty of signs that point to Machado turning things around over the rest of the season as a lot of his struggles this season can be attributed to bad luck.  He has been very good against lefties, however, recording a .400 xwOBA and .235 ISO.  Mejia has allowed 1.31 home runs per nine innings to opposing righties this season.

Freddie Freeman has been the best hitter in baseball against right-handed pitching this season and did not miss a beat while he was on the disabled list.  The power-hitting lefty got to Max Scherzer for a home run last night and he has a matchup tonight against Stephen Strasburg that he has fared well in in the past.  Freeman has a .471 xwOBA and .408 ISO against right-handed pitching this season and he is 14-38 with 4 home runs off Strasburg in his career.  He does have 11 strikeouts and an average exit velocity over the last two seasons of just 88.7 miles per hour, so it is not quite Harper-level BvP, but he still makes for an excellent leverage play at a reduced price tag in tournaments.

Jay Bruce has a .381 xwOBA and .304 ISO against right-handed pitching this season and is available at a very friendly price tag against Adam Wainwright tonight.  It looks like it will be warm and humid in St. Louis today, so the ball should carry.  Wainwright has allowed a .344 xwOBA with just a 6.3 percent swinging strike percentage to lefties this season and Bruce is in a good position to take advantage.

Matt Carpenter is an elite option in cash games and tournaments against Zack Wheeler.  Interestingly, Wheeler’s strikeout numbers are better against lefties than righties this season.  He has been much easier for lefties to hit, however.  He has allowed a .345 xwOBA to lefties along with 2.27 home runs per nine innings.  Carpenter makes for a top value option on sites where he is cheap and he is a fine play even where he is more expensive.

 

Stacks

New York Yankees- New York will probably be a popular stack as they have one of the highest implied run totals on the slate.  There is certainly plenty of upside in stacking the Yankees, although it is worth noting that Brent Suter has done a good job of limiting hard contact and getting groundballs so far in the major leagues.  My preferred approach will be to have exposure to Sanchez and Judge individually, but they are worth mentioning as a stack since the upside is clearly there.

Houston Astros- The Astros should be low-owned against today in a relatively tough matchup against Marcus Stroman.  Anytime we can get the Astros at reduced ownership in tournaments, it is something we should consider.  In addition, Stroman is a hard-throwing sinkerballer as is Aaron Sanchez.  The Astros have a lot of hitters in their lineup- Springer, Gattis, Gonzalez and McCann especially- that have had a lot of success against Stroman’s pitch types.  The Astros are not a high percentage play but there is a lot of upside.

Baltimore Orioles- The Orioles face Adalberto Mejia, who has been a decent but not great lefty this season.  The Orioles tend to struggle more with lefties than rigties, but they are available at very reasonable prices up and down the lineup.  Add in that the Twins had to use five relievers yesterday and this is a spot where it would not be surprising to see a big game out of the Orioles.

 

Minnesota Twins- The Twins are a patient offense, ranking in the bottom 10 in swing percentage for the season, and they will be facing Wade Miley who has thrown just 53.4 percent first-pitch strikes and 36.6 percent of pitches in the zone this season.  The Twins are not ideal one-offs because of the chance that they walk a lot in this game but they make for a high-upside stack as there is a very good chance that they have guys on base all game long.

 

Philadelphia Phillies- We are waiting on a Phillies lineup but, if they use a lot of lefties, they are a very sneaky stack against Jhoulys Chacin.  Chacin has been dominant against righties but has allowed a .367 xwOBA with 1.98 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season.  The park shift from Petco to Citizens Bank will not do Chacin any favors and he could be in for a rough start if the Phillies find a way to get all of their lefties into the lineup.