MLB DEEP DIVE – 8/10/17
Jacob DeGrom travels to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies. DeGrom has the fifth-highest strikeout percentage on the main slate, striking out 28.8 percent of hitters and recording an elite 13.9 percent swinging strike percentage. Philadelphia has been an improved team offensively over the last month, posting a .340 wOBA and 108 wRC+. They also have just a 19.5 percent strikeout rate over the last 14 days. Still, DeGrom is one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball so he should get the benefit of the doubt in this matchup. The biggest concern with DeGrom is his splits away from Citi Field. Since the start of last season, DeGrom has struck out 22.8 percent of hitters face on the road compared to 29.5 percent of hitters at home. He has also allowed 1.4 home runs per nine innings on the road compared to 0.9 percent at home. While the strikeout numbers are not as drastic this season, 27.7 percent away and 29.9 percent at home, he still has had a home run problem on the road as he has allowed 1.7 home runs per nine innings outside of Citi Field compared to 0.9 at home. That said, DeGrom is still a high upside option against the Phillies- just keep in mind that it is not a perfect spot and there are a lot of other aces pitching on this slate.
James Paxton will take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Safeco Field. Paxton has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, especially if we exclude the bad three starts that he had immediately after returning from the disabled list. Paxton has struck out 28.8 percent of hitters this season with a 13.1 percent swinging strike percentage. If we remove the three starts after the disabled list, those numbers climb to about 30.8 percent strikeouts and 14.1 percent swinging strikes. The Angels will most likely have a right-handed heavy lineup, but Paxton has struck out over 30 percent of right-handed hitters this season while allowing just a .250 xwOBA. The concern whenever we consider a pitcher against the Angels is that the Angels can be a tough team to strike out. Paxton has faced the Angels twice this season and recorded his lowest (13.6 percent) and third-lowest (23.1 percent) strikeout rates of the season (excluding the three starts after the disabled list). He had swinging strike percentages of 12.6 and 9.5 percent in those starts. He is a strong cash game play and, in tournaments, in comes down to whether or not you believe in his talent enough to believe that he has the upside necessary for his price point despite the difficult strikeout matchup.
Danny Salazar has been phenomenal since being reinstated into the starting rotation for the Indians. In three starts against the Blue Jays, White Sox and Yankees, he has averaged a 17.9 percent swinging strike percentage with no game being less than 12.5 percent (Yankees). Salazar has made a noticeable improvement in his ability to throw strikes, as he has recorded first-pitch strike percentages of 66.7, 73.9 and 59.3 percent. His season average, for comparison, is 60 percent. He has also thrown a higher percentage of pitches in the strike zone overall, as his zone percentages of 53.5, 47.4 and 47.3 percent are all higher than his 46.9 percent season average. He has looked very confident in his ability to attack the strike zone and challenge hitters and it has resulted in three excellent starts for Salazar. His price has quickly skyrocketed as a result, but he has a favorable matchup against the Rays in Tampa Bay. The Rays have a 24.9 percent average strikeout percentage over the last 30 days with a .294 wOBA and 83 wRC+. They are also trending in the wrong direction, striking out 27.1 percent of the time with a .283 wOBA and 76 wRC+ over the last 14 days. Lucas Duda was a late scratch yesterday and is listed as questionable for this matchup as well. It is an extra boost to Salazar if Duda sits.
Yu Darvish was excellent in his debut for the Dodgers and it is something that I expect to continue throughout the season as he was traded to the best possible landing spot for him. Tonight, he will face the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. We know that Chase Field is a great place to hit, so there is certainly some risk. Still, this is a pitcher who has spent his entire career in Texas so it is not like his excellent career numbers are in any way a result of pitching in good parks. Darvish’s strikeout numbers this season are down from last season, but he has had a lot of difficult strikeout matchups. His stuff looks just as good or better than it was last season, particularly his slider which has had the most horizontal movement and third most depth of any pitcher who has thrown at least 200 sliders this season. I expect Darvish to pile up strikeouts in his good matchups moving forward, especially with the upgrade from LuCroy and Chirinos to Grandal and Barnes behind the plate. There are plenty of strikeouts in the Arizona lineup as the Diamondbacks have struck out 24.2 percent of the time over the last 30 days and a 23.4 percent strikeout percentage against right-handed pitching this season. The risks for Darvish are obviously the combination of the ballpark and power hitters in the middle of the Diamondbacks lineup, as well as Darvish’s inability to hold runners and Arizona’s willingness to steal.
Brad Peacock was terrible in his last start, but he gets a much friendlier matchup tonight against the Chicago White Sox. Chicago is essentially a minor league team at this point in time. Peacock has had excellent results this season, striking out 31.2 percent of hitters with a 12.4 percent swinging strike rate. Peacock has a below average o-swing percentage, but he is very good at getting swings and misses in the strike zone. The White Sox have the second highest o-swing percentage in baseball over the last 14 days at 33.9 percent, but they also have the lowest zone contact percentage at 79.5 percent. Not only will they swing and miss at pitches in the zone, which is important for Peacock, but they are also likely to chase an above average amount of pitches outside the zone as well. While Peacock’s results in his start against Toronto were awful, it is worth noting that he had a 14.1 percent swinging strike rate and his velocity was normal. The risks for Peacock are the ones that are inherent with his pitching style- he is always at risk of working from behind in counts and going deep in counts that drive his pitch count up as a result of his tendency to work outside of the strike zone. If he is on, however, he has huge upside against this White Sox team at a discounted price point from the other top tier options.
Carlos Rodon has looked phenomenal lately, recording strikeout totals of 11, 9 and 11 in his last three starts- in matchups against the Cubs, Indians and Red Sox that normally do not afford opposing pitchers much strikeout upside. Rodon has not thrown enough innings to qualify for leaderboards, but his 35.7 percent strikeout percentage over the last 30 days would place him 4th in all of baseball after Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Chris Sale. While Rodon’s 11.3 percent swinging strike percentage over that span may suggest that his strikeout percentage should not be that high, he has been one of the best pitchers at getting called strike threes. He ranks 6th amongst starting pitchers who have thrown at least 200 pitches in the last month in called strike three percentage, trailing only Sale, Salazar, DeGrom, Cole and Ryu. If we combine his called strike threes with his swinging strike threes, he has the 9th highest percentage of pitches that have resulted in a strikeout over the last month. This puts him behind Salazar, Darvish, Kluber, Scherzer, DeGrom, Tomlin (what??), Nelson and Archer and just ahead of Fiers and Sale. Finally, he ranks 20th out of 227 starting pitchers who have thrown at least 200 pitches this season in whiffs per swing percentage- and that is including the first couple of starts off the disabled list when he was not at the same form that he is now. This tells us that when hitters swing, they are missing a high percentage of his pitches. His swinging strike percentage appears to be artificially low because hitters are taking so many strikes without even attempting to swing. Now, the downside is obviously that he is facing the Astros. The Astros have struck out just 17.9 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season and have a .348 wOBA and 121 wRC+. They also just got back George Springer from the disabled list to get their lineup closer to full strength. This is another very difficult matchup for Rodon and it makes it so he is only worthy of consideration in tournaments, but he has shown that he can strike out anyone and he has tournament winning upside at a cheap price tag on two pitcher sites.
Marco Estrada has put together three decent-to-good starts in a row, although one was against the Chicago White Sox so it only gets partial credit. His second start was against much stiffer competition, however, in the Houston Astros. After struggling for a long stretch, Estrada has allowed just a .262 xwOBA with an 11.5 percent whiff percentage over the last month. Tonight, he will face a dangerous Yankees lineup that does offer strikeout upside. Estrada has already faced the Yankees three times this season. He was destroyed in his two most recent outings, allowing 7 earned runs and then 6 earned runs. Both of these starts were during a 9 start stretch where Estrada allowed at least 4 earned runs in 7 starts, however. In his first start against the Yankees, early in the season when he was on top of his game, Estrada went 7.0 innings and struck out 5 while allowing just 1 earned run. His swinging strike percentage in the good start was actually the lowest of the three starts at just 9.8 percent. At a cheap price tag on DraftKings and FantasyDraft he is an appealing SP2 tournament option given his ability to pick up strikeouts and the upside offered by the Yankees, but he is still a high-risk option as the Yankees have already seen him three times this season and done well against him twice.
Michael Conforto gets a nice matchup against Vincent Velasquez in Philadelphia. Velasquez has 1.34 home runs per nine innings to left-handed hitters this season and Conforto gets a big ballpark boost playing in Philly. Conforto is capable of handling the hard fastballs that Velasquez relies on and has feasted on right-handed pitching this season to the tune of a .390 xwOBA and .285 ISO. Curtis Granderson is a strong play as well, especially on FanDuel where he is just $2,600. He is also capable of hitting hard fastballs for power and has a .240 ISO against right-handed pitching overall this season.
Ryan Braun is facing a rookie lefty in Miller Park. While Dietrich Enns did a good job of limiting home runs in the minor leagues, he did not face Ryan Braun in the minor leagues. Braun has been one of the best hitters against left-handed pitching of his entire generation and it has been no different this season as he has a .449 xwOBA and .269 ISO against southpaws. Enns was not a high strikeout pitcher in the minors either, so the chances are good that Braun is able to put the ball in play and do damage.
Nelson Cruz is always a strong play against left-handed pitchers and tonight is no different against Tyler Skaggs. Skaggs is a talented pitcher but he does not appear to be fully healthy yet, or at least has not shaken off all of the rust accrued while on the 60-day disabled list. Cruz has a .470 xwOBA and .220 ISO against lefties this season and Skaggs has allowed a .342 xwOBA to righties since the start of last season.
Edwin Encarnacion faces Blake Snell in Tampa Bay. Encarnacion’s ISO against lefties is down to .182 this season, but is .228 since the beginning of last season. That, combined with his .384 xwOBA, suggests that he is probably getting a bit unlucky with his power numbers. Snell is a young pitcher who tends to struggle with his command. If Encarnacion is able to get ahead in counts against Snell, he will have a good chance to do damage against him. Snell has allowed 1.63 home runs per nine innings to righties so far this season on a 14.9 percent home run per flyball rate that does not exactly scream that he is getting unlucky.
Cody Bellinger is one of my favorite tournament plays on the slate in a lefty-lefty matchup with Anthony Banda in Arizona. Not only is Bellinger hitting in the best hitter’s park on the slate, but he has shown that he can hold his own against left-handed pitching. He has a .357 xwOBA and .256 ISO against lefties this season. In two starts since coming up from AAA, Banda has actually had more success against righties than lefties. Banda has struck out just 15.0 percent of lefties and allowed a .365 xwOBA. While it is not necessarily likely that Banda continues to struggle against lefties, it is at least worth noting that he has not been lights out against them so far. Bellinger seems locked in at the plate after a slump around the All-Star break and he should come with low ownership in the lefty-lefty matchup that people usually tend to avoid.
Eric Hosmer remains cheap in a matchup against Lance Lynn. While Lynn has improved against left-handed hitters lately, he is still not great against them and Hosmer has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last couple of months as a result of hitting a much lower percentage of groundballs. He has a .197 ISO against right-handed pitching this season and that number has climbed to .239 since the start of July. He always goes overlooked in tournaments and has a ton of upside for a cheap price.
Chris Davis is in a prime matchup against Chris Smith. Smith is a career minor leaguer who does not possess much in the way of strikeout stuff. He has struck out just 10.9 percent of left-handed hitters in the Majors so far and Davis becomes a much more dangerous hitter when he is likely to put the ball in play. In addition, Smith has allowed a 42.6 percent flyball rate to lefties so far with just 5.0 percent being infield popups. Davis has a .254 ISO against right-handed pitching and is capable of a multi-homer game against Smith and the Oakland bullpen.
Ryon Healy is always a strong value play against mediocre lefties and that is what he will face tonight in Wade Miley. Miley is capable of decent performances at times but is certainly not a pitcher that we should fear taking hitters against. Healy has been excellent against lefties this season, producing a .371 xwOBA and massive .317 ISO. Miley has allowed 1.64 home runs per nine innings to righties while striking out less than 20 percent.
Tournament Stacks- There are not a lot of great spots on this slate as there are a lot of quality pitchers even if they are not necessarily DFS playable. My approach on slates like this is to either lean more toward taking my favorite one-offs and foregoing stacks, or stacking the highest upside teams regardless of matchup (Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, etc.)
Houston Astros- The Astros have a brutal matchup against Carlos Rodon who, as mentioned at length earlier, has been phenomenal over his last few starts and is really starting to look like the guy the White Sox thought they were getting when they drafted him third overall. Still, this Astros team is good at putting the ball in play and the White Sox have an atrocious bullpen behind Rodon should the Astros be able to string some hits and runs together early and knock him out of the game. There is added upside for the Astros as well because Rodon is not good at holding runners and Kevan Smith is awful at throwing them out. Three of the Astros’ most patient hitters against left-handed pitching are Springer, Altuve and Bregman and they are all more than capable of swiping a bag (or two) if they find their way on.
New York Yankees- As mentioned earlier, the Yankees did a lot of damage against Estrada in his last two starts against them. This is the fourth time that the Yankees are seeing Estrada and I tend to give the advantage to the offense in these situations. Estrada has been better lately and it seems he made an adjustment so he is no longer a total gas can. That said, he still gave up two home runs in his last start against the Astros and the Yankees could very easily match or exceed that number.
Milwaukee Brewers- Milwaukee gets to face a left-handed rookie at home in Miller Park. There are right-handed power bats up and down this lineup for the Brewers. While Dietrich Enns did not allow much power in the minors, he also did not strike a lot of hitters out. Whenever the Brewers are facing a pitcher who pitches to contact, they become one of the highest upside spots on the slate because it eliminates their biggest weakness as a strikeout heavy lineup.
Los Angeles Dodgers- Banda is a top pitching prospect for the Diamondbacks and has looked relatively good in his first couple of starts with the team. Still, he is pitching in Chase Field and was home run prone in the PCL this season. The Dodgers have all kinds of power from both sides of the plate and it is a huge park upgrade for them. If you stack the Dodgers, remember not to skip Seager and/or Bellinger as Banda has not looked good against lefties since getting his promotion and they both have an ISO of at least .200 against left-handed pitching this season.
Baltimore Orioles- The Orioles are a team that is fully capable of disappearing in any matchup, but they have a good one tonight against the Athletics. Oakland starter Chris Smith is a journeyman minor leaguer who does not have the ability to strike hitters out. Behind him is an Oakland pen that is depleted from late-July trades. If the Orioles can hang runs on Smith early, it could be a situation where they have multiple big innings throughout the game.