MLB DEEP DIVE – 9/11/17
Clayton Kershaw [LHP – LAD] is back… at the start of September… and it doesn’t even matter. The Dodgers are fifty– yes, fifty –games above .500 with less than a month of baseball to play, and there isn’t a team in the NL that can give them chase for first place unless they completely implode over the final three weeks. As a result, there will be no reason to rush Kershaw back to his normal workload, and Dave Roberts already noted that Kershaw will be limited to a loose five-inning, 75-pitch limit in his return. In short, we can’t pay a premium for a pitcher on restrictions, even if it’s Kershaw against the Padres. Could he throw seven scoreless innings with 10 K’s on only 75 pitches? Sure. But will he? Probably not. There are several mid-range pitchers in optimal spots tonight, and those are the guys we should be targeting.
Mike Clevinger [RHP – CLE] should be chalk tonight — especially in high stakes games — but the excitement is well warranted against the Tigers. Detroit just shipped Justin Upton to the Angels, J.D. Martinez left for Arizona in July, Victor Martinez hit the 10-day DL but will probably be done for the season, and Miguel Cabrera could sit the second game of tonight’s doubleheader after playing in the first. This Detroit team is a shell of its opening day lineup, and it should greatly benefit Clevinger on Friday night.
Clevinger is a -160 ML favorite on the road and will likely face an even more watered down Tigers lineup in the nightcap. They’ve fallen to 21st in wOBA vs. RHP on the season (.315), while ranking 26th in ISO (.155) and 10th in K-rate (22.3%). This team has only grown worse over the past month, and their 3.9-run implied total at home evidences their recent demise. Moreover, Detroit currently has only two healthy lefties on the roster, which won’t bode well for them against Clevinger, who’s holding righties to a .278 wOBA with a 3.86 xFIP and 28.8 percent K-rate on the year. He’s a clear top option at a mid-range price point — the only problem is everyone already knows it.
Blake Snell [LHP – TB] has looked like a totally different pitcher of late. Actually, he looks like the pitcher I expected to see when he was called back up in late June. The 24-year-old southpaw registered a 14-plus-percent swinging strike rate in each of his last two starts with a combined 25-percent hard-hit rate and 29-percent K-rate, fanning 15 of the 52 batters he faced. Snell issued five walks over that span, but allowed only six hits and no home runs.
I’d like to think Snell can continue his impressive run against a hapless White Sox team whose only healthy batters with a sub-20-percent K-rate vs. LHP are Tyler Saladino, Kevan Smith and Leury Garcia. Alen Hanson (33.3 K%), Matt Davidson (31.6 K%), Adam Engel (29 K%), Tim Anderson (25%), Yolmer Sanchez (23.7%), Jose Abreu (20.3%) and Avisail Garcia (20.2%) are all striking out at a healthy clip vs. southpaws, and Snell is a -157 ML favorite on the road.
I understand the trepidation that comes with rostering Snell, but he’s in a legitimately good spot on Friday. Temperatures will be hovering around 64 degrees at Guaranteed Rate Field, while winds are blowing in from left field at 11 MPH. It’s a great spot, and one Snell should be able to exploit. Ladies and gentlemen, the Snellevator has been renovated and repaired. It is now IN SERVICE. Enter at your own risk. I’ll meet you at the top.
Kevin Gausman [RHP – BAL] reminds me so much of Matt “M.O.S.” Shoemaker, who midway through the 2016 season redefined his game and starting mowing down his opponents. It’s not just Gausman’s rapid turnaround that shares similarities with Shoemaker, but his steep increase in splitter usage that binds the two of them together. Gausman threw the splitter — easily his best secondary offering — only 13 percent of the time through May, but is now throwing it at a 24-percent clip. He’s garnering 43-percent whiffs/swing and 55-percent ground balls on the pitch, which has a lot to do with his recent success.
Caleb Joseph has also contributed to Gausman’s turnaround, as he has been an entirely different pitcher with his preferred backstop behind the dish. Gausman’s value is also contingent upon who is catching, but for now we can do nothing but wait for lineups to be released. Nevertheless, the Blue Jays are a team that rank at or below average in almost every fantasy-relevant statistical category this season (wOBA: 24th, ISO: 16th, K%: 17th, BB%: 15th), while Josh Donaldson, Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, Ezequiel Carrera, Jose Bautista and Miguel Montero all strike out at a 20-plus-percent clip vs. right-handed arms.
Not only should Gausman get a pile of run support with Joe Biagini pitching for Toronto, but he should also be able to limit runs while racking up 6-8 strikeouts in the process. He’s one of four mid-range pitchers I’ll have serious interest in tonight, but his value will suffer a precipitous decline if Welington Castillo is catching.
Jimmy Nelson [RHP – MIL] has allowed three or fewer runs with six-plus strikeouts in 10 of his last 12 starts. That’s pretty impressive. He’s also registered a double-digit swinging strike rate in all but five of the 22 starts he’s made since the start of May. Among all qualified pitchers, Nelson ranks sixth in soft-hit rate (22.5%), seventh in flyball rate (27.5%) and eighth in GB/FB rate (1.82) this season. He also ranks 12th in K-rate (25.8%), which has been his most impressive feat in 2017.
Amazingly, Nelson has accomplished all of this despite owning the fourth highest BABIP (.342) in baseball, some of which is due to a low amount of fly balls, but still a shockingly high number for someone who has been so dominant on the mound. He’ll face a Washington team on Friday that remains without Bryce Harper and Brian Goodwin, but recently activated Trea Turner and Jayson Werth.
Right-handed hitters are sporting a lousy .300 wOBA and .101 ISO vs. Nelson this season, while recording a mere 0.63 HR/9 in the process. Sure, they are striking out at a lower clip than lefties (23.8% vs. 29.6%), but that hasn’t translated into success at the plate, as Nelson is inducing 54-percent ground balls and 26-percent hard contact thus far. Nelson could lose a strikeout or two against this righty-heavy Nationals lineup, but he should have little trouble limiting runs overall. He can be had at a discounted price point across the industry, and offers legitimate 30-DKPT upside on Friday night.
Jack Flaherty [RHP – STL] is an interesting punt on two-pitcher sites if you’re looking to leave the reservation in terms of ownership. I don’t see him as a necessary play, though, as we already have four mid-range options with high floors and relatively consistent production outside of Snell. Flaherty was dominant in Triple-A and seems to have solid command for his age, but the strikeouts could be hard to come by against a Giants team that fans only 19.3 percent of the time (28th) against right-handed pitching. He’s there if you need the savings, but I’ll have a tough time passing up on the lower-$8K options in favor of a rookie making his major-league debut.
NOTE: I’ll be writing up more high-end hitters than usual for tonight, since we won’t be paying a premium for pitching. With the plethora of top-shelf bats at our disposal, it’s only appropriate that we highlight a few extra for good measure.
Giancarlo Stanton [OF – R] let a lot of people down last night, and although I managed to dodge that grenade, I’m no stranger to the occasional 0-5 outing from the 2017 home run champion. I’ll be on board tonight, though, as Stanton squares off against a righty in Nick Pivetta who’s serving up a behemoth 2.98 HR/9 to same-handed hitters this season. Seriously, Pivetta is allowing a home run to righties every three innings, while ceding an extra base hit every 1.6 innings in 2017. Righties own a massive .423 wOBA, .331 ISO and 45-percent hard-hit rate against Pivetta this season.
Pivetta should see some positive regression going forward, but I don’t see it coming tonight. Stanton feasts against these type of pitchers who throw predominantly fastballs to righties, and Pivetta is utilizing his four-seamer at a 66-percent clip. Moreover, righties are hitting his fastball to the tune of a .338 ISO and 34-percent line drive rate. I’m expecting Stanton to add to his already ridiculous home run total on Friday, with Pivetta facilitating the game plan every step of the way.
Charlie Blackmon [OF – L] is facing a league-average righty at Coors tonight. Nothing more needs to be said. Taijuan Walker has actually been lucky against lefties this season, as they are hitting 1.49 HR/9 but own a mere .249 BABIP across 249 PA. The Rockies boast a slate-high 6.1-run implied total inside the most hitter-friendly park around, and Blackmon should once again be considered a top option across the board.
Jose Ramirez [2B/3B – L/R] and Francisco Lindor [SS – L/R] should pummel Buck Farmer, who’s ceding a .410 wOBA, .257 ISO and 2.11 HR/9 to lefties for his career. Farmer was looking solid in Triple-A before his most recent call up, but he wasn’t facing an Indians squad that ranks seventh in both wOBA and ISO vs. RHP while striking out at the seventh lowest clip. Ramirez is hammering right-handed pitching this season (.383/.252 wOBA/ISO), and although Lindor hasn’t been as impressive (.317/.202 wOBA/ISO), both of them are striking out at a miniscule clip with 11-percent and 14-percent K-rates, respectively. I’ll happily deploy the of them at weak positions, assuming they’re in the lineup for the second game of a back-to-back.
Paul Goldschmidt [1B – R] is obviously in play tonight against a southpaw at Coors, but I’m not as high on him as I’d normally be against a league-average lefty. Freeland has actually been pretty decent at home, holding righties to a .312 wOBA with only five home runs across 258 PA, but he’s been even better at inducing ground balls (59%) and a lot of soft contact. Having said that, I’m still willing to target Goldy in this matchup, as he demolishes any southpaw that’s brave enough to face him, and has been historically excellent at Coors Field. Moreover, Freeman is striking righties out at a dismal 12.9-percent clip, and owns a near 5.0 xFIP against opposite-handed bats this season.
Nelson Cruz [OF – R] is one of the premier lefty-mashing hitters in baseball history, and he’ll get another opportunity to showcase his power tonight against Sean Manaea. Oakland’s young southpaw has unraveled over the last month, and is now coughing up a .342 wOBA to RHH on the year. His soft-hit rate went from 16.8 percent through July to a putrid 7.5 percent in August, while his K-rate and swinging strike rate have amazingly plummeted from 23.4 percent and 12.7 percent to 7.5 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively. Needless to say, Cruz will find himself in a favorable position tonight, and he should be on all of our radars at a respectable price point.
HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Trout [OF – R] @ Hamels [LHP]; J.D. Martinez [OF – R] @ Freeland [LHP]; Nolan Arenado [3B – R] vs. Walker [RHP]; A.J. Pollock [OF – R] @ Freeland [LHP]; Gary Sanchez [C – R] vs. Fister [RHP]; Marcell Ozuna [OF – R] vs. Pivetta [RHP]
Andrelton Simmons [SS – R] has been a bit underwhelming with the platoon advantage this year, but his base-stealing efforts have made up for much of that disappointment. The 27-year-old shortstop has already swiped a career-high 19 bags, and will earn an opportunity to add to that tally against Cole Hamels. Sure, Hamels has seemingly improved at holding runners in his 11th major-league season, but I don’t buy it. If Simmons gets on base he’s going to run, and Hamels is walking righties at a near double-digit clip. Furthermore, the Angels boast a 5.3-run implied total in Arlington, which becomes one of the most hitter-friendly venues in baseball once summer rolls around. If I’m not playing Lindor at the position, Simmons will be the first bat I turn to in the mid-range. Trevor Story [SS – R] becomes a whole lot more appealing if he isn’t batting 8th, and he’ll also be someone to consider at the position.
For what it’s worth, I’m usually not high on targeting Hamels, but some of these Angel bats are egregiously cheap. Justin Upton [OF – R] is $4,100 on DraftKings and $3,300 on FanDuel, while C.J. Cron [1B – R], who’s sporting a .317 ISO vs. LHP, is a very respectable $3,600 on DraftKings.
Billy Hamilton [OF – L/R] has faced Gerrit Cole 23 times in his career — he has 13 stolen bases on only six hits! Hamilton has also walked three times against Cole, but the point simple: he will run at will, no matter how he reaches base. Cole ranks almost dead last in SRAA this year (5.53%), and has caught only one of 15 base stealers thus far. If you aren’t considering Hamilton at $3,700 on DraftKings and $2,900 on FanDuel you are doing it all wrong. He will almost certainly be in each and every one of my lineups tonight.
Rhys Hoskins [1B/OF – R] has faded a bit since he broke the record for quickest rookie to reach 10 and 11 home runs, but he’s still recorded a hit in 13 straight games and 16 of his last 17 starts. Hoskins has seen 28 plate appearances and 20 at bats vs. left-handed pitching this season, of which he’s racked up five home runs, 11 RBI, seven walks and only three strikeouts. That’s incredible — any time a guy with this type of power is limiting strikeouts and replacing them with fly balls (59% FB vs. LHP), you have to love his upside.
Dillon Peters will make his MLB debut tonight, and while he was sharp in Double-A, he’s never pitched above that level. Peters also owns a pedestrian 20.7-percent K-rate for his minor-league career, so he’ll need to induce a ton of ground balls and weak contact to survive at the major-league level. I’m not saying Peters isn’t capable of doing so, as he’s done a stellar job of limiting power in the past, but I also see a path to success for Hoskins, who has been downright dominant against lefties to start his career.
HONORABLE MENTION: Gerardo Parra [OF – L] vs. Walker [RHP]; Jay Bruce [OF – L] @ Farmer [RHP]; Lucas Duda/Logan Morrison [1B – L] @ Lopez [RHP]; Jonathan Schoop [2B – R] vs. Biagini [RHP]; Chris Davis [1B – L] vs Biagini [RHP]; Elvis Andrus [SS – R] vs. Skaggs [LHP]
Chris Iannetta [C – R] and Brandon Drury [2B – R] are inexplicably priced on DraftKings ($3,500, $3,400) and FantasyDraft ($6,900/$6,800), which becomes even more evident when seeing their salaries on FanDuel ($3,500/$4,500). As earlier noted, I’m not a huge fan of targeting Freeland, but we’re talking about right-handed Coors bats with the platoon advantage batting in favorable lineup spots. Iannetta could hit second and Drury will likely hit sixth on a night where the D-Backs own the second highest implied run total (6.0) of any team. Both the catcher and second base position are relatively weak, too, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t be exploiting these mispricings on each of the aforementioned sites.
Salvador Perez [C – R] and Robinson Chirinos [C – R] are also affordable tonight, and both of them draw solid respective matchups. Perez is most enticing on FanDuel where he’s $2,400, and although he’s been dreadful since returning from injury (4-26), a matchup with Dillon Gee could remedy those troubles. Chirinos boasts a .414/.241 wOBA/ISO vs. LHP this year, with a 46-percent FB rate across 66 PA. He’s unlikely to see a favorable spot in the Rangers’ order, but still offers plenty of upside at his price point. Both of these backstops make for nice pivots away from Iannetta, who will almost certainly be chalk at the position on DraftKings.
Carlos Gonzalez [OF – L] stinks. We’re all well aware. But he’s also dirt cheap across the industry in a plus matchup with Taijuan Walker. Sometimes you have to embrace the matchup and the conditions in order to overlook the blatant lack of skill, and that’s what we get with CarGo on Friday. If he’s batting sixth against a righty at Coors, there’s no reason to ignore him entirely if you need value at the outfield position. It feels pretty gross, but you could do a whole lot worse at this tier.
Joey Gallo [1B/3B – L] isn’t your prototypical value play, but his $3,700 price point on DraftKings and $7,200 salary on FantasyDraft put him in play despite not drawing the platoon advantage. Believe it or not, Gallo is sporting a ridiculous .308 ISO vs. LHP this season, while also producing a very respectable .376 wOBA in the process. He’s hitting 50-percent fly balls with 49-percent hard contact vs. southpaws, too, so it’s not like the super slugger can’t take them deep (6 HR in 78 AB). I expect him to be very low owned against Skaggs, which is even more reason to take advantage of such a discounted price point in the event that he’s still batting fifth or sixth. Skaggs hasn’t allowed much power to lefties for his career, but Gallo can change things around pretty quickly. To be clear, he’s a tournament play only, and has no business being in cash lineups tonight.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jose Peraza [2B/SS – R] @ Cole [RHP]; Adrian Gonzalez [1B – L] @ Lamet [RHP]