MLB DEEP DIVE – 9/19/17
Max Scherzer travels to Atlanta to face a Braves team that he has struggled against this season. After striking out 7 in 7 innings with no earned runs in his first start against Atlanta this season, Scherzer has allowed 3 earned runs in 5 innings with 6 strikeouts, 4 earned runs in 7.2 innings with 10 strikeouts and 7 earned runs in 6 innings with 7 strikeouts in his last three starts against Atlanta. While we obviously should not judge a starting pitcher solely based on their previous success against a team, it is worth noting with Scherzer since Atlanta is a team that we often avoid rostering pitchers against because of their ability to put the ball in play and the lack of strikeouts in the lineup. Also of concern is Scherzer’s inability to command the baseball over the last month-plus. Since the start of August (excluding the Miami start where he was forced from the game after one inning), Scherzer has registered a first-pitch strike percentage below his season average in 6 of 6 starts and a zone percentage below his season average in 5 of 6 starts (although one of those was only 0.3 percent below the season average). Probably not coincidentally, Scherzer has a 28.8 percent strikeout percentage and 10.3 percent walk percentage over those 6 starts compared to a 34.2 percent strikeout percentage and 7.3 percent walk percentage for the season. His fastball velocity has also been at least 0.5 miles per hour below average in two of his last three starts. While that could be nothing, it is worth mentioning since a decrease in velocity and lack of control is often an indicator of fatigue. Does Scherzer have a high ceiling and the potential to be the highest scoring pitcher on the slate? Absolutely. That said, I personally do not think that paying all the way up for Scherzer on this slate is necessary given the tough matchup and the question marks surrounding him and I am not planning to do so in any format on tonight’s slate.
Yu Darvish is another expensive arm with plenty of question marks surrounding him, although he does have a friendlier matchup than Scherzer. The Phillies have some talented young hitters now that prospects have been called up from the minors and Aaron Altherr has re-joined the lineup, but there are still plenty of strikeouts available for Darvish. While Darvish’s numbers have been inconsistent with the Dodgers, his 13.6 percent swinging strike percentage in four starts since returning from the disabled list suggests that his stuff is fine. There is reason for concern in his batted ball numbers, however, as he has allowed greater than 40.0 percent hard contact in five of his last six starts. While his matchup is better than Scherzer’s, Dave Roberts is the polar opposite of Dusty Baker. We know that Scherzer will be allowed to go as deep into the game as he possibly can, which increases his floor and ceiling. We also know that Roberts has had a short hook with his pitchers this season and Darvish has thrown more than 100 pitches just once as a Dodger. If I have to roster one, I will take the savings and the better matchup and roster Darvish over Scherzer. That said, it is highly unlikely that I will roster either one tonight.
Zack Godley is finally expensive. While his price tag is certainly off-putting at first, it is justified in this matchup against the Padres. His 26.6 percent strikeout percentage is nearly identical to Darvish’s strikeout percentage for the season and his swinging strike percentage trails only Max Scherzer on the slate. The Padres have a 23.5 percent strikeout percentage, .282 wOBA and 74 wRC+ over the last 30 days. After struggling for a few starts, Godley has righted the ship and done a better job of throwing strikes and getting swings and misses over his last three starts, including one against the Padres where he recorded a 15.8 percent swinging strike percentage and 32.7 percent o-swing percentage en route to 9 strikeouts in 7 innings with 2 earned runs. Like Scherzer and Darvish, it does not feel totally necessary to pay up for Godley in cash games. He is my favorite GPP pitcher of the trio, however, because he has the best matchup and ballpark and his name carries the least value so it is likely that he commands less ownership than the other two despite having similar upside.
Chris Archer could break this slate at his $7,900 price tag on DraftKings and similarly cheap salary on FantasyDraft. He gave up two home runs to start the game against the White Sox three starts ago before leaving the game with an arm injury. He did not miss any starts, but he did struggle in his next two starts against the Red Sox and the Yankees. There are several reasons to be optimistic about Archer despite his struggles in those two starts. First, they were two very tough matchups against divisional opponents. Second, neither game was played in Tropicana Field, where Archer has been better throughout his career. Third, his velocity is fine. He averaged 96.4 miles per hour on his fastball in his most recent start, which is nearly a full mile per hour above his season average, and he was at 96.0 miles per hour in the Boston start. Fourth, his xwOBA allowed in those two starts was just .289 (.277 to lefties and .300 to righties) compared to his actual wOBA of .448. His first-pitch strike percentage was down in both starts, which obviously is not good, but his zone percentage hovered around his season average in both starts. The Cubs are a dangerous offense, recording a .350 wOBA and 114 wRC+ over the last 30 days, but they do offer upside for Archer as they have struck out in 22.8 percent of at-bats over that span. Archer’s price more than makes up for the matchup, assuming that he is healthy. I think that he is fine, so I will be loading up on Archer at his new price point in a game in Tropicana Field.
Kevin Gausman would be the most absurdly (I do not know if that is a word but spell check says it is so it stays) priced pitcher on this slate if it were not for Archer. Gausman has been nothing short of excellent over the last couple of months- as long as Caleb Joseph is behind the plate. Since the start of July, Gausman has a 26.8 percent strikeout percentage, 7.9 percent walk percentage and 3.74 xFIP (and that factors in the bad starts that he had with Castillo over that stretch and the poor start against the Yankees where he left with a blister issue). The Red Sox are a difficult matchup for anyone but a $6,800 price tag on a pitcher who should be priced close to $10,000 based on talent makes him an appealing play regardless of matchup. For context, the 26.8 percent strikeout percentage would be tied with Yu Darvish for the 5th-highest strikeout percentage on the slate (4th-highest if we exclude Gohara and his two major league starts) and the 3.74 xFIP would be 7th-best behind Godley, Scherzer, Archer, Nola, Stroman and Darvish. Yet he is the 16th most expensive pitcher on the slate because of the Red Sox. I believe in Gausman and I want as much exposure to him as I can get at a price tag this low regardless of who he is facing. In case you were wondering, Gausman has faced the Red Sox three* times this season. In the first start, in April, Castillo was behind the plate and Gausman went 5.1 innings and allowed 5 earned runs while striking out 4. In the second start, in May, Joseph was behind the plate and Gausman was ejected before recording an out in the second inning. In the third start, last month, Joseph was behind the plate and Gausman lasted 7.2 innings while allowing 0 earned runs and striking out 5. Finally, here are the current numbers for Gausman with Joseph and with Castillo, courtesy of Baseball Reference:
Josh Donaldson has five home runs in his last three games and will face off against home run prone right-hander Ian Kennedy in Toronto. Kennedy has allowed 1.61 home runs per nine innings to righties this season and Donaldson has a .278 ISO against righties this season. He is in a great spot for another big night tonight.
J.D. Martinez has been on a tear since joining the Diamondbacks and he faces mediocre-at-best left-handed Travis Wood tonight in San Diego. Petco Park is not the pitcher’s park that it once was and Martinez has more than enough power to hit home runs in any stadium. Martinez has a .335 ISO against lefties since the start of last season, despite playing his home games in spacious Comerica Park. Roster him with confidence tonight against Wood.
Nelson Cruz is simply too cheap in his matchup against Martin Perez. Perez has been better lately at getting groundballs against righties, something he struggled with for much of the season, but Cruz is a very tough matchup for the lefty. Not only does Cruz have massive power and Perez’s inability to generate strikeouts mitigates Cruz’s biggest weakness, but Cruz has shown the ability to do damage against Perez in the past with a 103.0 mile per hour average exit velocity on 12 batted balls over the last 2 seasons and 3 home runs in 14 at-bats against the lefty.
Freddie Freeman is a left-handed power bat against Max Scherzer and he is priced down for the matchup. Scherzer has struggled with left-handed power even when he is at the top of his game, so there is even more reason to like Freeman now that Scherzer is struggling a bit. He is not a cash game play but, in tournaments, he makes a lot of sense as a leverage option against Scherzer.
Nick Williams has a tough matchup against Yu Darvish but he has shown the ability to do well against anyone this season. At a very low price tag he remains in play despite the tough matchup. In addition, Darvish has struggled with left-handed hitters this season, allowing a .347 wOBA and 1.76 home runs per nine innings to lefties. Williams, like Freeman, works as a leverage play as well since Darvish is likely to command some ownership tonight.
Ryon Healy has a .232 ISO and .374 wOBA against lefties since the start of last season. He will face Tigers’ reliever turned spot-starter Chad Bell tonight in Comerica Park. While Healy should be able to have success against Bell, it is also a high upside matchup because the Detroit bullpen has been among the league’s worst all season long so Healy should be in advantageous spots all night long.
Oakland Athletics- As mentioned when discussing Ryon Healy, the Tigers bullpen is terrible and this is a bullpen game for the Tigers. We have stacked against Detroit all season long because of the upside that their bullpen provides if the starter is knocked out early and now we do not even have to worry about an actual starter. Most of the A’s hitters are available at cheap prices and they have plenty of power throughout their lineup to give them upside in this spot.
Houston Astros- Like the Tigers, the White Sox have been one of the worst bullpens in baseball since the Trade Deadline. They will start Lucas Giolito, a promising pitching prospect that they received in the Adam Eaton trade. Giolito is very capable of pitching well, but he is also a young, unfinished product facing a patient and dangerous Astros’ offense. Houston could easily hang a crooked number on Giolito and work their way into the bullpen early. Also working in their favor is Kevan Smith getting the start behind the plate. While Smith is a better pitch framer than Omar Narvaez, he is terrible at controlling the running game so we could see some stolen bases from the Astros to go along with whatever they produce at the plate.
Arizona Diamondbacks- The Padres’ bullpen has been good recently so there is reason for concern in the latter stages of the game, but the Diamondbacks are in a great spot against Travis Wood to start the night. While Arizona has struggled away from Chase Field this season, they have plenty of right-handed hitters, especially with the addition of J.D. Martinez, who hit lefties very well. A five-man stack of Iannetta, Pollock, Goldschmidt, Martinez, Drury has plenty of upside tonight assuming they make up the top and middle of the order.