MLB DEEP DIVE – 9/26/17
We have a surprisingly deep pitching slate today as there are viable options, especially for tournaments, in every price tier. It is important this time of the season to pay attention to the standings because they will dictate how deep we can expect a pitcher to go into a game.
Chris Sale is the best pitcher on the slate, as is always the case whenever he pitches. The Red Sox have clinched a playoff berth but they have not clinched the American League East, so we can expect Sale to get a normal workload tonight against the Blue Jays. Toronto can be a dangerous matchup as they have a lot of right-handed power in their lineup, but Sale is matchup proof and has already dominated this Toronto team this season. Sale has a 37.3 percent strikeout percentage against righties this season and has allowed just 0.87 home runs per nine innings to righties. Toronto, as a team, has been average against left-handed pitching this season. They have a 21.2 percent strikeout percentage and .320 wOBA. In three starts against Toronto, Sale has pitched 22.0 innings with 0 earned runs and 35 strikeouts, going at least 7.0 innings with at least 11 strikeouts in each start. He is expensive and there are plenty of bats to pay up for, but he is the top pitching option on the slate.
Kevin Gausman is an ace that is not priced like one. He get a positive park shift going to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates. Over the last 30 days, Pittsburgh has struck out 22.7 percent of the time with a .282 wOBA and 72 wRC+. Gausman has a 25.8 percent strikeout percentage with Caleb Joseph behind the plate this season, to go along with a 2.71 ERA and .650 OPS allowed. He will be pitching on 6 days of rest. He has made 13 starts this season on at least 5 days of rest and has a 3.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 22.6 percent strikeout percentage (he has actually been even better on 5 days of rest and struggled on 6 but only 3 starts were made on six days of rest so probably just a sample size thing). Gausman is a strong play in any format as long as Caleb Joseph is behind the plate.
Jake Arrieta is just $7,800 on DraftKings in a matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs can clinch the division with a win tonight, so we should not expect Arrieta to be on a strict pitch count. He threw 71 pitches in his last outing, when Maddon said he would be allowed to throw 75-80, so I would guess he should be able to throw at likes 95 tonight against the Cardinals. While it is never a good feeling to take a pitcher who is not completely stretched out, the price tag reflects it. Arrieta has a 22.0 percent strikeout percentage against right-handed hitters this season while allowing 22.3 percent soft contact and just 26.2 percent hard contact with a 49.0 percent groundball percentage. Most of the Cardinals’ lineup will probably be right-handed. It is worth noting that Arrieta managed just a 1.4 percent swinging strike percentage against the Brewers in his first start back from the disabled list, so it is very possible that he still does not have his best stuff and that should obviously be factored into your decision on whether or not to roster him.
James Paxton is another arm that recently returned from the disabled list. He was shelled in his first start back and his velocity was down 2-3 miles per hour on all of his pitches. His velocity bounced back in his second start, however, as his fastball topped out at 98.4 miles per hour and his average fastball velocity was just 0.8 miles per hour slower than his season average. He also said that he felt like he was locating better and he threw 73 pitches so he should be close to fully stretched out. Still, the velocity was down some, and the Mariners have nothing to play for, so rostering Paxton is a risky proposition since he is not at the top of his game and there is no reason for the Mariners to push him to go deep into the game. He is a viable tournament option because he is inexpensive, extremely talented, and facing a team that has a lot of strikeouts in their lineup but he also comes with plenty of uncertainty.
Jordan Montgomery has been the bane of my existence this year so, of course, he is here to tempt me in a matchup against the Tampa Bay Rays in Round 1 of the DraftKings head-to-head bracket challenge. First, the positives. Montgomery has three good secondary pitches to go along with his fastballs, recording whiff per swing percentages of 29.2, 33.3 and 49.0 percent on his change-up, slider and curveball respectively. The Rays have struggled against left-handed pitching all season long with a 25.0 percent strikeout percentage, .309 wOBA and 93 wRC+. Montgomery has managed to strike out 23.6 percent of right-handed hitters while walking just 7.9 percent. Montgomery relies on hitters to chase his pitches out of the strike zone as he throws just over 42 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. Tampa Bay has the 6th-highest o-swing percentage in baseball this season and the 7th-highest over the last 30 days. It is a great matchup on paper for Montgomery. Now, the negatives. Montgomery is a rookie who has thrown a total of 152.0 innings this season (144.0 in the major leagues). His previous career high was 139.1 last season, between AA and AAA, so we are in unchartered territory for him. He has had plenty of rest, last pitching against the Orioles on September 16, so that does help to alleviate concern of fatigue. In a small five start sample size on 6 or more days of rest, Montgomery has walked 15 hitters in 23.0 innings, posting a worse strikeout-to-walk ratio, ERA and WHIP than when he pitches on 4 or 5 days of rest, so it is possible that the extra time off does not benefit him since he relies on good breaking pitches that can be difficult to command if you do not have a good feel for them- which comes from consistently throwing them. The biggest concern for Montgomery, however, is that the Yankees are clinging to life in the race for the American League East. This means that, if Montgomery is pitching well, Girardi should leave him on the mound through at least six innings. It also means, however, that we should expect Montgomery to be on an extremely short leash as he has a dominant Yankees’ bullpen behind him. Chad Green, the Yankees’ ace long reliever, did throw 22 pitches yesterday and 16 pitches on Saturday so maybe the leash will not be quite as short as it otherwise would. Still, Montgomery is a high-upside tournament option because he can crush his price tag if he is on top of his game and I have not yet ruled him out in cash games where I need a second starting pitcher because his strikeout upside does give him some safety at his low price tag.
Trevor Williams is an intriguing option at home against the Orioles. Since August 1st, Williams has struck out 20.3 percent of right-handed hitters with a 47.9 percent groundball percentage and a .332 xwOBA allowed. Baltimore has struggled mightily late in the season, striking out 25.6 percent of the time with a .299 wOBA and 83 wRC+ over the last 30 days and they will be getting a negative park shift as they travel to PNC park. Williams has been more effective at home than on the road this season as well. It is always tough to click his name because nothing about him jumps off the page as an exciting play, but he is a solid pitcher in a good matchup against the Orioles at home.
Rafael Montero is another volatile pitcher who is available at a price tag that is too cheap for his ability. He is a volatile pitcher because of his propensity for walking batters and his general inconsistency, but he has a respectable 21.3 percent strikeout percentage for the season that does give him a decent floor at his price. When considering a cheap pitcher for cash games, strikeouts are kind of like rushing yards for a cheap QB in football. We do not really know how he is going to perform because he is young and it fluctuates, but the ability to strike people out makes it so his floor is not totally reliant on a good start- just like a rushing QB’s floor is not totally reliant on his ability to complete passes and throw for touchdowns. At $5,700 on DraftKings, Montero has a decent floor because of his ability to get strikeouts. Even a mediocre stat line like 5.0 innings, 3 earned runs, 8 baserunners and 5 strikeouts gives you 10.45 DraftKings points- which is not the end of the world when you factor in the bats that he allows you to fit in your lineup. While the Braves are a team that we do not like to take pitchers against, there is some reason for optimism here for Montero. Montero’s biggest issue is walks and, while the Braves have only struck out about 19 percent of the time over the last 30 days, they have the 5th-highest o-swing percentage in baseball over that span. They also have the 7th-highest swing percentage. The reason that they do not strike out, despite their aggressive tendencies, is that they have the 3rd-highest o-contact percentage. They profile very similarly to the Royals because both teams have a lot of aggressive hitters that will chase pitches out of the zone but that are very good at making contact with pitches regardless of if they are strikes. Teams like this can offer sneaky strikeout upside when they face a pitcher who is able to generate an above average amount of whiffs on pitches outside the strike zone. Unfortunately, this is not really the case for Montero who, despite having good stuff, is in the bottom-third of pitchers on this slate in o-contact percentage. Montero managed to generate a swinging strike percentage over 15 percent with a 38.1 percent o-swing percentage in his last start against the Braves, but he still threw 108 pitches in just 4.2 innings and allowed 3 earned runs, 7 hits and 2 walks to go with his 6 strikeouts. Ultimately, the decision whether or not to roster Montero should come down to roster construction and what value opens up at hitter. His price tag makes him a viable option in any format if there is not good hitter value because there are a lot of good expensive bats on this slate that we would like to fit with Sale, and that makes a 10 or 11 point outing acceptable from Montero. If, on the other hand, there is good hitter value for cheap (something like Robles hitting at the top of the lineup and a couple players resting again in Arizona) then it is advised to take that value and roster a more dependable SP2.
Charlie Blackmon is obviously a top option whenever he faces a righty in Coors Field and that is the case tonight against Jose Urena. Urena is not a gas can, allowing a .312 wOBA and 1.40 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season. He has struggled more with left-handed power on the road, which makes sense given the size of Miami’s home park, allowing 1.73 home runs per nine innings to lefties on the road. Blackmon has a .417 wOBA and .286 ISO against right-handed pitching over the last 12 months and benefits from the expansive gaps at Coors Field.
Mike Trout is the fifth-most expensive outfield on DraftKings, albeit a $300 difference between his price and the most expensive outfielder, in a matchup in Chicago against Chris Volstad. Volstad has been a non-descript mediocre pitcher throughout his career in the major leagues, totaling a 15.3 percent strikeout percentage, 4.16 xFIP, .333 wOBA and 0.81 home runs per nine innings with a 51.0 percent groundball percentage in 365.0 innings against right-handed hitters. While he is not a true gas-can, Trout still clearly has the advantage here in a positive park shift against Volstad and a bad Chicago bullpen.
J.D. Martinez will presumably be back in the lineup for the Diamondbacks tonight after sitting last night because the Diamondbacks locked up the number one wildcard spot on Sunday. Matt Moore goes from the friendly confines of AT&T Parl to hitter-friendly Chase Field. Martinez has a .530 wOBA and .500 ISO, truly insane numbers, against left-handed pitching over the last 12 months. Moore has been better against righties than lefties this season, but he is just not a good enough pitcher to favor him over Martinez here. Martinez is one of the top hitting options on the slate as long as he returns to the lineup.
Aaron Judge makes for an excellent GPP option in his matchup against Blake Snell in Yankees Stadium. Snell is a competent pitcher who may actually carry some ownership as an SP2 because people love to roster him and he is cheap. Judge matches up very well against Snell, however. Snell throws his change-up about 25 percent of the time to right-handed hitters and, while it is a quality pitch, Judge has feasted on left-handed change-ups since coming to the major leagues, recording a .581 xwOBA and .529 ISO against the pitch. While it is difficult for people to overlook Judge, it will also be difficult for people to click his name against Blake Snell over Stanton and Blackmon in Coors, Martinez in Chase or Trout against Volstad. This gives Judge a lot of tournament appeal as he has as much upside as anyone and should come in at the lowest ownership of the group.
Kole Calhoun and Luis Valbuena are both underpriced against Chris Volstad and, later, the Chicago White Sox bullpen. Volstad has been worse against lefties than righties throughout his career, allowing a .352 wOBA and 1.47 home runs per nine innings with just a 13.4 percent strikeout rate. We know that Valbuena is at his best against pitchers who do not have good strikeout stuff and that is the case with Volstad. Calhoun is better at making contact than Valbuena and should be hitting near the top of the order. The move to Guaranteed Rate Field increases Calhoun’s ceiling since he has some pop but is not a true power hitter, he is likely to benefit from the better hitting conditions.
Mark Reynolds faces Jose Urena, who is pretty good against righties. He has allowed a .300 wOBA with a 20.4 percent strikeout percentage and 1.20 home runs per nine innings to righties this season. On the road, he has allowed 1.32 home runs per nine innings but his strikeout percentage jumps to 24.3 percent. Still, Mark Reynolds is less than $4,000 on DraftKings in Coors Field. Reynolds has a .409 wOBA and .286 ISO against right-handed pitching in Coors Field this season. Urena is primarily a two-pitch pitcher, featuring a hard fastball and a slider. Reynolds has a .420 xwOBA and .380 ISO on 93-97 mile per hour right-handed fastballs this season. He does struggle against sliders, however, with a .187 xwOBA and .149 ISO. His price tag makes up for the risk, however, and he is worth considering because he has huge upside if he can get ahead of Urena and force him into fastball counts.
Arizona Diamondbacks- Arizona is in a very nice spot tonight at home against Matt Moore and a weak Giants bullpen. In the middle of the season there would be nothing not to like about this spot with all of the right-handed power in the middle of this lineup and the fact that the Diamondbacks offense is much more productive in Chase Field. That is all the case again tonight and it makes them a strong play. The downside is that they are a team that is playing for literally nothing, as they have already clinched the number one wildcard spot and they cannot do any better than that. Therefore, if the stack does start to go off and pull away from the Giants we will likely see the starters pulled relatively early. There is upside but it is capped by whatever they can get done in 6 or 7 innings probably.
Cleveland Indians- The Indians have clinched the Central but they have not yet locked up home field advantage in the American League so they have reason to play still. They have a very nice matchup against Bartolo Colon who has struggled mightily with left-handed power this season. Colon has allowed a .387 wOBA to lefties with 1.80 home runs per nine innings. Most of the Cleveland lineup is switch-hitters and lefties so this is a very bad spot for Bartolo and a good spot for the Indians.
Milwaukee Brewers- Milwaukee is playing for their playoff lives as they trail the Cubs by 6 games for the NL Central and the Rockies by 1.5 games for the final wildcard spot. They face Reds’ rookie Deck McGuire tonight. Mcguire primarily throws a 94 mile per hour fastball and a slider to righties and he mixes in a change-up to lefties as well. He has not thrown more than 24 pitches in any of his four September outings, so it is unlikely that we see him in this game for very long. Since September call-ups, the Reds bullpen has a bottom-10 xwOBA against lefties and righties alike. Since the trade deadline, the Reds have a top-10 xwOBA against righties but bottom-10 against lefties. We should not shy away from stacking against this bullpen, especially with left-handed hitters which the Brewers are likely to have plenty of.
Los Angeles Angels- As mentioned, Chris Volstad is a mediocre pitcher against righties and a bad pitcher against lefties. The Angels’ are too cheap for the matchup, however, as a $5,300 price tag for Mike Trout on DraftKings is toward the bottom of his price range and Kole Calhoun and Luis Valbuena are steals at their price points. Add in Justin Upton and it is a high-upside grouping of Angels in a positive park shift against a mediocre-at-best pitcher and a terrible bullpen.
Kansas City Royals- While I do not hate Anibal Sanchez as a pitcher, and think that he is a pitcher who could have success against this team if he is on, there is a ton of upside for the Royals. Sanchez is atrocious at holding baserunners and there is plenty of speed on this Kansas City team. On top of that, there is a terrible bullpen behind Sanchez so there will be upside throughout the game. There are enough hitting spots that the Royals probably go overlooked on this slate, but they should not be ignored.