MLB DEEP DIVE – 8/5/17
Gerrit Cole is the most expensive pitcher on the slate in a matchup against the San Diego Padres at home. While Cole is a pitcher that I rarely roster, it is worth noting that his strikeout numbers have improved recently. After going nine consecutive starts with a swinging strike percentage of less than 10 percent, Cole has eclipsed the 10.5 percent in three of his last five starts, including 12.5 percent in his last start against San Diego. Cole has a .255 xwOBA over that span to go along with his increase in strikeouts. Cole’s biggest weakness is left-handed power, but the Padres’ projected lineup has only three lefties and none of them are power hitters. The biggest risk for Cole in this matchup is the speed that San Diego’s lineup possesses. Manuel Margot has 11 stolen bases this season and Wil Myers has 10. Jose Pirela has 11 combined between AAA and the Majors this season and Cory Spangenberg has 6 despite being injured for much of the season. Cole is awful at holding runners so, if the Padres are able to find their way on base, they could make life difficult. Still, it is a good spot for Cole and he is a viable option if you can find the money.
Danny Salazar is available for a discount compared to Cole in a matchup against the Yankees. While there is plenty of power in the Yankees’ lineup, there are also plenty of strikeouts. Salazar has done an excellent job of throwing strikes early in the count since coming back from the disabled list, recording first-pitch strike percentages of 66.7 and 73.9 percent in his first two starts. There are six right-handed hitters in the Yankees’ projected lineup and almost all of the power comes from the right side of the plate. Salazar has struck out 38.4 percent of right-handed hitters this season, while allowing just 25.3 percent soft contact and a .271 xwOBA. Salazar’s 31.7 percent strikeout percentage leads the slate and his 16.6 percent swinging strike percentage would lead the entire league if he had pitched enough innings to qualify this season. The Yankees have struck out 23.5 percent of the time over the last month and 22.6 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season. There is always some risk when rostering Salazar, but he has as much upside as any pitcher on the slate tonight and is not priced high enough for his ceiling.
Drew Pomeranz is another pitcher that I personally almost never roster, but he is worth a mention as he faces the Chicago White Sox. Pomeranz has struck out just over 24 percent of batters faced this season, but he tends to underperform for fantasy purposes- particularly on WHIP sites- because of the amount of runners that he lets on base. If we were ever going to roster Pomeranz, it should be against a team that chases a high percentage of pitches out of the strike zone as walks are one of his biggest weaknesses and he throws just 43.3 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. The White Sox have the fifth-highest o-swing percentage in baseball this season at 31.8 percent and they have struck out over 24 percent of the time over the last 30 days. It is certainly a good matchup for Pomeranz, but keep in mind that his price has been adjusted accordingly across the industry.
Dinelson Lamet has been absolutely phenomenal against right-handed pitching this season and that remained the case in his last start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, when he struck out 7 in 6 innings with a 10.6 percent swinging strike percentage and 35.0 percent o-swing rate. While the swinging strike rate is lower than his season average, it is important to keep in mind that the Pirates are one of the most difficult teams to strike out. The Pirates’ projected lineup has just two left-handed hitters in it and Lamet has a 35.5 percent strikeout percentage against righties. He allows too many flyballs and too much hard contact when he does allow the ball to be put in play, but the pitcher-friendly park in Pittsburgh combined with an overall lack of power in the Pirates lineup makes this a nice spot for Lamet.
Luis Castillo was very good in his last outing as he limited the Marlins to 1 run in 8 innings of work. His strikeout numbers were lower than usual for him, but that is expected to happen against a Marlins lineup that does not have many strikeouts in it. The Cardinals are a different story. Only three hitters in the Cardinals’ projected lineup have struck out less than 21 percent of the time against right-handed pitching since the start of last season, with Paul DeJong and Randal Grichuk both eclipsing the 30-percent mark. Castillo has excellent stuff and has struck out 26.2 percent of hitters with an 11.7 percent swinging strike percentage so far this season. Against right-handed hitters, of which there will most likely be a lot in the Cardinals lineup, Castillo has a 29.0 percent strikeout percentage with a 58.9 percent groundball percentage, 14.0 percent infield flyball percentage and just 28.1 percent hard contact with 22.8 percent soft contact. The groundball rate and infield flyball rate are important, as even when the ball is put in play it is a good result for Castillo nearly 75 percent of the time.
Justin Upton has been hitting extremely well lately and has a phenomenal matchup tonight against Wade Miley in Camden Yards. Miley has allowed 1.62 home runs per nine innings to righties this season and Upton has crushed left-handed pitching this season to the tune of a .375 xwOBA and .291 ISO. In addition, Upton has a 51.6 percent hard contact percentage with just 6.1 percent soft contact over the last 14 days. Upton is the most expensive outfielder on some sites, but he still stands out as an elite play in any format.
Josh Donaldson seems to finally returning to form as he has a 44.4 percent hard contact percentage with just 11.1 percent soft contact over the last 14 days. He has also chased just 18.8 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone while hitting flyballs at a 51.9 percent clip. He will face Charlie Morton who has struggled with right-handed power this season, allowing 1.43 home runs per nine innings. In addition, Donaldson profiles very well against Morton’s hard sinker and curveball mix, as he has shown that he is capable of getting these pitches in the air and driving them. Nolan Arenado and Rafael Devers are better options in cash games, but Donaldson stands out as an elite GPP pivot at third base.
Rafael Devers will likely be batting fifth for the Red Sox as they take on James Shields. Shields, of course, is a shell of his former self and has really struggled against left-handed hitters this season. Lefties have a .396 xwOBA and have hit a whopping 3.65 home runs per nine innings against Shields this season. Devers has not missed a beat since joining the Red Sox, posting a .482 wOBA, .306 ISO and 204 wRC+ in his first 9 games after recording a .408 wOBA, .275 ISO and 153 wRC+ in 77 games at AA this season. Obviously we do not expect him to perform at this level over the long term, but he has shown that he is not easily overmatched by big league pitching and he should thrive in this exceptional matchup against James Shields.
Nolan Arenado faces Nick Pivetta of the Phillies. Pivetta has shown flashes of promise this season, but he also has allowed 3.07 home runs per nine innings with 44.7 percent hard contact to right-handed hitters this season. He has a respectable 22.7 percent strikeout percentage against righties, but Arenado is tough to strike out so the advantage in this matchup clearly goes to Arenado. Arenado has a .387 wOBA and .276 ISO against right-handed pitching at home this season.
Brian Dozier won everyone except me a bunch of money last night and he is in a great spot again tonight at an even cheaper price tag across the industry. Cole Hamels’ name carries more weight than his actual abilities at this point in his career, as he is an average pitcher at best who does not miss many bats. Dozier has a .384 xwOBA and .273 ISO against left-handed pitching this season and he also is capable of running against Hamels.
Nick Castellanos gets a great matchup against Wade Miley and his price is reduced as a result of hitting into bad luck for much of the season. Castellanos has dominated left-handed pitching this year, with a .408 xwOBA and .375 ISO against southpaws. As mentioned earlier, Miley has had trouble limiting home runs to righties despite being a groundball pitcher. The only downside to Castellanos is that third base is stacked on this slate, so he is limited to a GPP option.
Ryder Jones is not worth considering on DraftKings or FanDuel where he is a third baseman because the opportunity cost is too high. On FantasyDraft, however, he is a great way to save salary since there is virtually no opportunity cost. The 23-year-old former second round pick dominated AAA this season, posting a .412 wOBA, .262 ISO and 146 wRC+. Obviously hitting in AT&T Park does not afford the same hitting opportunities as the PCL and while RHP Taijuan Walker is a good pitcher, Jones is a budding talent who has enough upside to warrant being used as a punt option on FantasyDraft as he will allow you to fit in several of the pieces previously discussed.
Khris Davis has “struggled” against left-handed pitching this season with just a .145 ISO. His .398 xwOBA and 94.6 mile per hour average exit velocity against lefties this season, and his .232 ISO against lefties since the start of last season, suggest that the power numbers should return sooner rather than later. He will be facing Tyler Skaggs in Skaggs’ return from the disabled list. Skaggs has plenty of talent, but has been inconsistent throughout his Major League career and there is obviously a chance that he is not on top of his game in his first start back. Davis’s $3,500 price tag on DraftKings is absurd and he is one of the top outfield plays on the slate.
Boston Red Sox- The Red Sox were very popular last night and will likely be popular again tonight as everyone looks to Vegas to make their lineup decisions. James Shields has been bad this season, but he has been much worse against lefties than righties. He is decent at holding runners but Kevan Smith is terrible at throwing them out if he gets the start behind the plate. There is certainly plenty of upside here for the Red Sox, with the lefties being the best targets.
Baltimore Orioles- This time of year there is a lot of merit to stacking against teams with weak bullpens and the Orioles face one such team tonight in the Tigers. Drew VerHagen is a lefty who pitches to contact and, at most stops in his career, has done a good job of getting groundballs. Crafty lefties have been the Orioles’ nemesis for years and nothing is different this season. Still, anytime a power-hitting team is facing a pitcher who pitches to contact, they are a viable stack because they will be able to do a lot of damage if the opposing pitcher does not have his best command. Factor in the weak bullpen and it is a nice spot to stack the Orioles despite there not being many great individual plays in their lineup.
Detroit Tigers- The Tigers are in the opposite situation of the Orioles. They have plenty of hitters who match up well with opposing starter Wade Miley, especially Upton, Castellanos and James McCann, but the Orioles bullpen is strong and there is a good chance that the Tigers’ scoring opportunities are limited once Miley is removed from the game, much like they were in game one against Chris Tillman. Still, stacking against Miley is always a viable option as he is wild and tends to lose his command and the Tigers can do a lot of damage against him early and then we will just have to take our chances against the bullpen.
Houston Astros- Marco Estrada looked much better in his last start than he did for about a month and a half previously. It remains to be seen, however, if those improvements were a result of adjustments that he has made or a result of facing the Chicago White Sox. The Astros are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Sox, despite missing Springer and Correa, as they rarely strike out and have a ton of power up and down the lineup. In addition, the Blue Jays’ bullpen was overworked last night so things could get really ugly if Estrada gets in trouble early. Altuve, Fisher and McCann profile best against Estrada, but just about everyone is in play in a stack.