MLB DEEP DIVE – 9/23/17
Stephen Strasburg headlines this slate in a matchup against a Mets team that has been frustrating to roster pitchers against despite the lack of actual talent in their lineup. There is no reason to expect that to be the case tonight against Strasburg, however. Strasburg has been very good this season, pitching to a 3.28 xFIP while striking out 29.2 percent of hitters with a 12.8 percent swinging strike percentage. He has been even better of late, striking out 32.9 percent of hitters while pitching to a 2.52 xFIP since returning from the disabled list on August 19th. We can roster Strasburg with confidence tonight against the Mets.
Gerrit Cole returns home to face the Cardinals after two relatively disappointing road outings against the Reds and Brewers. While Cole struggled to prevent runs in those starts, his strikeout stuff did not disappear as he recorded 10 strikeouts in 6 innings against the Brewers and 6 strikeouts in 5 innings against the Reds. Both of those teams were dangerous matchups for Cole as they feature plenty of powerful left-handed hitters and plenty of speed and both games were played in hitter-friendly ballparks. None of those are the case tonight against the Cardinals in PNC Park. With the exception of Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, who both make fine plays, the Cardinals’ most dangerous hitters swing from the right side of the plate. Cole has been good against right-handed hitters this season, striking out 23.3 percent while inducing 48.9 percent groundballs, 29.2 percent soft contact and pitching to a respectable 3.75 xFIP. He has been even better over the last 30 days, striking out 34.6 percent of right-handed hitters while inducing 51.7 percent groundballs, 33.3 percent soft contact and pitching to a 2.59 xFIP. This is a great bounceback spot for Cole at a reasonable price tag.
Sean Manaea is a risky option at home against the Texas Rangers. Manaea’s results of late have been mixed and he is clearly not as broken as he was a month or so ago. Still, his xwOBA allowed on his fastball and his change-up over his last few starts are closer to .400 than .300 and his swinging strike percentages have been lower than we would like even in relatively good matchups like his last one against Philadelphia when it was just 9.9 percent. His velocity is still down slightly but it is up from where it was when he was really struggling before. His fastball and change-up location over his last few starts has been better than it was over his really bad stretch, but not as good as it was for the first half of the season. All of this is to say that he is improving but he is not “back”. He is available at a very reasonable price tag against a Texas team that struggles against lefties and struggles on the road. This makes him worthy of consideration in GPPs- just know that is still not safe.
Jeremy Hellickson is a very risky tournament option but he has upside at one of the lowest price tags on the slate for a pitcher. Tampa Bay is a boom or bust offense that is capable of striking out against anyone and making an opposing pitcher look very good (see Gabriel Ynoa) but is also capable of ending a pitcher’s night early (see Ubaldo Jimenez). Hellickson has struggled all season long and that has not changed since coming to the Orioles. He did not perform well in either of his most recent starts, but there is a positive takeaway from those matchups against the Yankees and the Indians. He threw his change-up 39.8 percent of the time against Cleveland and 48.5 percent of the time against New York- both season highs at the time. His change-up is his best pitch as he has allowed just a .308 xwOBA on the pitch this season and he has a 33.7 whiff per swing percentage. He also drastically increased his cutter usage, which is a little bit more of a mystery as he has allowed a .377 xwOBA on the pitch this season with a whiff per swing percentage under 10 percent. Overall in those two games, he had a 10.2 percent swinging strike percentage against Cleveland and a 14.7 percent swinging strike percetnage against the Yankees. His results were not good and there is plenty of reason to avoid Hellickson here but, if you are looking for a dirt cheap pitching option with upside and you are willing to take on a lot of risk, Hellickson is worth considering as we know that he is making adjustments to throw his best pitch more often and he has a better matchup tonight than he did in the first two games that he attempted to throw his change-up more and his fastball less.
Manny Machado faces Jake Odorizzi in Camden Yards. Odorizzi has struggled on the road and with right-handed power throughout his career and this season has been no different as he has allowed 2.73 home runs per nine innings to righties away from Tropicana Field. Machado is 9-22 with 4 home runs and only 2 strikeouts off of Odorizzi and he is a top play on this slate as he is one of the best power-hitting right-handers in baseball.
Mike Moustakas set the Royals’ record for home runs in a season with his 37th home run in Toronto a couple of nights ago. Tonight, he faces right-hander Dylan Covey, who has proven that he is not ready for the majors leagues this season. He has struggled mightily against lefties, allowing 2.45 home runs per nine innings and a .384 wOBA despite a 54.3 percent groundball percentage. Moustakas also gets a ballpark boost playing in Chicago and he will face a terrible White Sox bullpen once Covey is out of the game.
Matt Olson has joined the ranks of Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge as a rookie who is putting up massive power numbers in his first season. The former supplemental first-round pick has a .404 ISO in 210 major league at-bats. While that is not sustainable, he does get another very nice matchup tonight against Miguel Gonzalez. While Gonzalez can be difficult to hit at times, he tends to struggle more with lefties than righties as he has allowed 1.43 home runs per nine innings to opposing lefties while striking out just 14.0 percent this season. This plays to Olson’s strengths as there is a very good chance the ball is leaving the ballpark if he is allowed to make contact.
Odubel Herrera faces Julio Teheran in hitter-friendly SunTrust Park. I am sure you were expecting to see Nick Williams’ name here- and I do like him also- but I like Herrera a bit more. Teheran’s main weaknesses throughout his career have been his inability to limit left-handed power and his inability to hold runners. Herrera is not a prototypical power hitter, but he does have enough power that he can do damage against Teheran in this park. Furthermore, he has 8 stolen bases this season after swiping 25 bags last season so there is some stolen base upside against Teheran. It is worth noting that Teheran has been better against lefties lately, striking out 25.0 percent while allowing just 0.7 home runs per nine innings but it is too small of a sample size to conclude that he has suddenly solved his issues against lefties after struggling against them for years.
Christian Yelich is one of my favorite players to roster in hitter-friendly parks because he is a very good hitter who’s power numbers suffer as a result of playing his home game in Miami. He is just $3,700 on DraftKings tonight in a decent matchup against Taijuan Walker in Chase Field. While Walker is not a gas can like some of the other pitchers that we have talked about, he does struggle more with lefties than righties and he is a massive park shift for Yelich. Walker has allowed 1.38 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season on 33.3 percent hard contact. Yelich has a .391 wOBA and 144 wRC+ outside of Miami this season.
Chris Taylor has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season and he has hit lefties very well with a .366 wOBA, 129 wRC+ and .192 ISO against southpaws this season. Madison Bumgarner has been hittable this season, especially against righties outside of AT&T Park. Bumgarner has allowed 1.64 home runs per nine innings to righties away from home this season and, while he also is by no stretch a gas can, there is significant upside for Taylor at a price tag that is reduced because of Bumgarner’s name and pedigree more than his actual performance this season.
Kansas City Royals- I was talking with people in Slack yesterday about how infrequently I actually stack the Royals because they usually do not have enough upside to win a slate. I said that I usually only stack them on less than full slates and that we really need to make sure they are facing a bad pitcher, on a team with a bad bullpen, in a good hitter’s park and that there is stolen base upside. Today’s slate is a medium-sized nine-gamer so that checks off the first box. Dylan Covey has been atrocious for the White Sox this season and is only in the major leagues because he was a Rule V pick and he has to be if the White Sox want to keep him. That checks the second box. The White Sox bullpen has rivaled the Detroit Tigers for the worst in the league since the trade deadline so we can also check box number three. Guaranteed Rate Field is a substantial park boost for the Kansas City hitters, which gives them more home run upside than they normally have. Finally, Covey has allowed 9 stolen bases in less than 60 innings this season and Kevan Smith is likely to be behind the plate against the lefty Danny Duffy. Smith has been one of the worst catchers in all of baseball at throwing out runners this season, allowing 54 of 62 attempted base stealers to be successful. All of the boxes are checked and the Royals are, believe it or not, one of the highest upside stacks on this slate.
Oakland Athletics- I mentioned it being a high-upside spot for Matt Olson because Miguel Gonzalez does not strike out many hitters and Olson has a ton of power when he connects. That is the case for most of this Oakland team that strikes out a ton but also can hit the ball really far. The ballpark in Oakland is not ideal, but they still have the power to do damage against Gonzalez and an inconsistent Texas bullpen.
Arizona Diamondbacks- Arizona will likely be the most popular stack on the slate again tonight after scoring double-digit runs at 30+ percent ownership last night. They face another lefty tonight, although Dillon Peters is better than Adam Conley. Despite not pitching above AA before being called up to the majors, Peters has done well striking out over 25 percent of right-handed hitters with a 3.83 xFIP and 59.6 percent groundball percentage. That being said, the Diamondbacks are still a high-upside stack at home against an inexperienced lefty. They are certainly a top stack on tonight’s slate but, if I were only making one lineup, I would probably look elsewhere since Peters is at least capable of being good and the ownership here is likely to be disproportionately high.