MLB DEEP DIVE – 8/8/17
Pitching is really interesting today, with a couple of the best pitchers in baseball headlining the position and a handful of value options that have upside. The mid-range is relatively weak outside of a couple of arms, but those pitchers have a very high ceiling. It is a slate where it looks like we can get creative at pitcher and should not have trouble fitting in pitchers with upside regardless of what hitters we like.
Chris Sale is the most expensive pitcher on the slate in a very friendly matchup against the Tampa Bay Rays. Sale had his worst start of the season in his last start against Cleveland, but this is a great spot for him to bounce back. He has faced the Rays three times already this season, going 7.0 innings with 12 strikeouts in each start. He allowed 1 earned run in the first one, 3 in the second one and 4 in the third one. Tampa Bay is weaker against left-handed pitching now than it has been for most of the season, however, as the only hitters in the lineup who have been above average against left-handed pitching since last are Wilson Ramos and Logan Morrison. Sale has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season and there is no reason to shy away from him against Tampa tonight.
Corey Kluber is just behind Sale in terms of price, in a favorable matchup against the Rockies in Cleveland. Kluber’s 35.8 percent strikeout percentage this season is just behind Sale’s 36.1 percent and his 16.2 percent swinging strike percentage leads all qualified starters. The Rockies have been atrocious outside of Coors Field this season, averaging a 24.5 percent strikeout percentage with a .300 wOBA and 81 wRC+. They are gaining a designated hitter and the projected lineup has more lefties than righties but Kluber has been excellent against hitters from both sides of the plate this season, striking out 33.3 percent of lefties and 38.0 percent of righties. Kluber has struck out at least 10 hitters in 9 of his last 10 games and there is no reason to expect him not to meet that mark tonight.
Zack Godley leads the mid-tier as he sits at just $7,600 on DraftKings and $15,200 on Fantasy Draft. Godley has a tough matchup against the Dodgers, but he has been effective against lefties this season. Godley has allowed just a .287 xwOBA to left-handed hitters while striking out 25 percent. He has allowed just 0.89 home runs per nine innings, inducing 25.7 percent soft contact and allowing only 26.6 percent hard contact with a groundball percentage over 62 percent. In his last start against the Dodgers, Godley recorded a 16.3 percent swinging strike percentage and a 34.3 percent o-swing percentage while striking out 7 in 6 innings. While the Dodgers have been well above average offensively this season, they have an average strikeout percentage of 22 percent against right-handed pitching so the upside is there for Godley.
Kenta Maeda will oppose Godley in Arizona and he also has a lot of upside in a risky spot at Chase Field. Maeda is unlikely to reach 100 pitches, which caps his ceiling somewhat, but he is capable of piling up strikeouts quickly which allows him to exceed his $7,300 DraftKings price tag in less than 100 pitches. His appeal will ultimately depend on the Diamondbacks lineup. While left-handed hitters have not hit him hard, they have also struck out just 17.9 percent of the time compared to 28.8 percent of the time for right-handed hitters. According to Baseball Savant, he has a 16.6 percent whiff percentage against righties compared to 9.6 percent against lefties. If Arizona has a lineup dominated by righties, Maeda will become a top tournament option. If they work four or five lefties in to the lineup, his appeal will drop but he will still be viable at his price tag.
Chad Kuhl is coming off his best start of the season and he gets a nice matchup against the Detroit Tigers at home. Detroit has a predominantly right-handed lineup and will be missing Victor Martinez as the game is in a National League park. Kuhl’s 16.0 percent strikeout percentage against right-handed hitters seems likely to be misleading, as his 10.4 percent whiff percentage is not much lower than the 10.9 percent whiff percentage he has recorded against lefties. In addition, Kuhl struck out 21.0 percent of right-handed hitters last season. He is in play, although there are pitchers with upside that are available for less.
Ariel Miranda was bit by the long ball in his last start against the Rangers in Arlington. Tonight, he will face the Athletics in Oakland. There is plenty of power potential in the A’s lineup, but there are also a lot of strikeouts to be had as Oakland has a 24.2 percent strikeout rate against left-handed pitching this season. In five starts since the start of July, Miranda has struck out 29.6 percent of right-handed hitters. He has allowed 2.1 home runs per nine innings, which is always going to be an issue as long as he has a 65 percent flyball rate, but the Oakland Coliseum should help with those concerns. He is a high upside tournament option as he can afford to give up a home run or two at his price point, as long as they are solo shots.
Chris Flexen has been bad in his first two big league starts, but there is still reason for optimism. While he had a great matchup against the Padres in his debut, it was still his big league debut and anyone can struggle. Then he went to Coors Field where he left with a blister after struggling early. Now, he gets to come back home to Citi Field and face a Rangers team that has the lowest wOBA on the road of any team this season. Away from Arlington, the Rangers have an average strikeout percentage of 26.2 percent with a .294 wOBA and 81 wRC+. Flexen is a talented young pitcher, so he has to be considered on two-pitcher sites at a $4,500 (DraftKings) or $8,800 (FantasyDraft) price tag. He has never pitched at the AAA level but, in 48.2 innings, at AA this season he had a 27.9 percent strikeout percentage with an 11.8 percent swinging strike percentage. He did not have noticeable splits in the minors either, so the balanced Texas lineup is not overly concerning. There is certainly a ton of risk in rostering a kid who has never pitched in AAA and has had two bad starts to begin his Major League career, but at a price point less than some hitters it is worth considering on a slate with plenty of bats and stud pitching to pay up for.
Giancarlo Stanton has been hitting home runs off anyone and everyone lately and last night was no different as he took Max Scherzer deep. He gets a much easier matchup tonight against A.J. Cole. Cole has not been bad against righties in his career, limiting them to a .296 wOBA with 1.24 home runs per nine innings, but Stanton is obviously one of the premier power hitters in baseball. Stanton has a .392 xwOBA and .324 ISO against right-handed pitching this season and is a top tournament option once again tonight.
Bryce Harper faces Vance Worley in Miami. Worley generally is decent at limiting damage despite not getting many strikeouts, but he has allowed 46.5 percent hard contact to left-handed hitters this season while inducing just 11.3 percent soft contact. Harper has an otherworldly .438 xwOBA and .356 ISO against righties this season. It also works to Harper’s advantage that the Miami bullpen had to pitch the majority of the game last night. The bullpen has two lefties but one of them, Jarlin Garcia, has pitched two games in a row so it is likely that Hunter Cervenka is the only lefty available. Harper facing Vance Worley and right-handed bullpen arms is a recipe for success.
Aaron Judge is going through a bit of a slump, but he still has prodigious power. He is not as consistent as he was early in the season, but most people did not expect that to continue. His price has dropped on DraftKings, however, as he now sits at just $4,600. He has as much upside as anyone on the slate and is available at a discount. Opposing starter J.A. Happ had a good start against the White Sox his last time out, but he had struggled in several starts before that. Overall this season, Happ has allowed 1.54 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters. Judge has destroyed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .471 xwOBA and .333 ISO this season.
Freddie Freeman is at home against the Phillies. It appears that Zach Eflin will be the starting pitcher for the Phillies, as he was recalled from AAA this morning. Eflin has allowed 2.49 home runs per nine innings to opposing lefties so far this season, while only striking out 15.5 percent. He has also allowed 40.0 percent hard contact with just 8.2 percent soft contact to lefties this season. Freeman has been one of the best hitters in baseball, producing a .448 xwOBA and .345 ISO against right-handed pitching.
George Springer is expected to rejoin the Astros in time to face Derek Holland and the White Sox bullpen. Springer has a .443 xwOBA and .330 ISO against left-handed pitching this season and Holland has been atrocious against right-handed hitters, allowing over 40 percent hard contact with 2.36 home runs per nine innings. The White Sox bullpen traded most of their competent pieces away at the deadline and they have a 6.17 xFIP with a 17.1 percent strikeout percentage over the last 14 days. Any concerns over Springer’s health are baked into his price as he sits at least $500 less than most of the other elite hitters on DraftKings.
Ryan Braun has not been great at the plate lately, but a $3,900 price tag against left-handed starter Adalberto Mejia is just too cheap. Braun has a .454 xwOBA and .245 ISO against left-handed pitching this season. Mejia is a decent pitcher and has allowed just 1.05 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters this season, but at the reduced price Braun is worthy of consideration in any format.
Nick Williams will face Julio Teheran in Atlanta. Teheran has struggled with left-handed hitters for years and this season has been no different as he has allowed a .360 xwOBA with 1.88 home runs per nine innings. He has allowed 2.90 home runs per nine innings to lefties at home this season. Williams has been impressive at the plate since joining the Phillies, posting a .341 xwOBA and .217 ISO against right-handed pitching after producing a .367 wOBA and .230 ISO at AAA this season.
Eric Hosmer has possibly the most egregious price on the slate of any player at any position on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. He sits at $3,200 on DraftKings and $6,300 on FantasyDraft as apparently the pricing algorithm thought a healthy Clayton Kershaw and had been traded to the Cardinals in time for tonight’s game. Michael Wacha is the actual starter for the Cardinals and he is a good pitcher, but he is a little better against righties than lefties. The appeal of Hosmer is much more about him as a hitter than it is his matchup with Wacha. Hosmer has made adjustments at the plate to hit the ball in the air more and it has worked. His groundball percentage has increased every month since the season started and it has caused an increase in his power production. Since the start of July, Hosmer has a .385 xwOBA and .256 ISO against right-handed pitching. Wacha is average to slightly above average against lefties, but that is still too much potential production to pass up at a dirt-cheap price tag.
Ryon Healy faces home run prone left-handed Ariel Miranda in Oakland. As mentioned earlier, Miranda has shown very good strikeout stuff lately but has also allowed over 2 home runs per game to right-handed hitters since the start of July, and 1.93 since the start of the season. Healy strikes out a lot but he has a ton of power against lefties, posting a .358 xwOBA and .291 ISO against southpaws this season. On a slate that has plenty to pay up for, he is an appealing value option as he is capable of a multi home run game at a low price point.
Houston Astros- The Astros are in the best spot on the slate as they travel to Chicago to take on Derek Holland and the White Sox. George Springer is expected to return to the lineup, which makes them even more dangerous than they had been over the last couple of weeks. Holland has been awful against right-handed hitters this season and the Astros have them up and down the lineup. In addition, the White Sox bullpen has the worst xFIP by far over the last couple of weeks after trading virtually every useful piece of their bullpen before the trade deadline. The Astros will not go overlooked but, on a 15-game slate with plenty of good spots, their ownership is unlikely to be high enough that we should be overly concerned.
Washington Nationals- The Nationals let a lot of people down last night against Chris O’Grady/the Miami bullpen. They have another potential blowup spot tonight, however. Vance Worley will be making the start for the Marlins and, while he is not the total gas can that a lot of people seem to think that he is, he is still not a pitcher that we should be concerned about as he does not strike out many hitters. The real appeal for the Nationals, however, is that Miami’s bullpen is overworked after last night and has been the second worst bullpen in baseball over the last two weeks, trailing only the White Sox. If the Nationals can get to Worley early, they will be in a position to pile on runs throughout the game.
New York Yankees- It feels like a slate where the Yankees may go overlooked as they face J.A. Happ, but they should not. Happ was excellent in his last start against the White Sox but he has not had a swinging strike percentage greater than 10 percent in any game since May 30th, except for the two times he faced the White Sox. He was effective in his last start against the Yankees, allowing 1 run in 6 innings with 6 strikeouts, but there is too much upside here to ignore. Their prices are also too low on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, as Aaron Judge is the most expensive hitter in the lineup at $4,600 on DraftKings and $8,800 on FantasyDraft. Happ will allow home runs to lefties, so do not necessarily shy away from Gardner or Gregorius if you are full-stacking New York.
Texas Rangers- I mentioned earlier that I have some interest in Chris Flexen against the Rangers tonight. The Rangers’ priced make them an appealing stack, too, particularly if Drew Robinson and his near minimum price tag crack the lineup. The bottom of the Texas lineup has plenty of power with Robinson Chirinos, Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor and Carlos Gomez or Drew Robinson. They are priced cheap enough that it is feasible to stack them and pair them with Kluber and Sale. That offers a ton of upside that could win a slate if Flexen is not on his game and the Mets bullpen has to come in early.
Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies– This game is the most appealing game from both sides on the slate to me. Both pitchers struggle with left-handed power and they are pitching in a park that benefits left-handed power hitters. Both teams have left-handed heavy lineups, as each projected lineup features 6 left-handed hitters. Both teams have more than one left-handed reliever, which takes the shine off of stacks a little bit, but there is still a ton of upside here for both of these teams.