MLB DEEP DIVE – 9/5/17

 

PITCHING

Jacob DeGrom is likely to be the most popular pitcher on the slate as he faces the Philadelphia Phillies at home in Citi Field.  DeGrom is coming off a tough start against the Reds in Great American Ballpark, but this matchup is exponentially better for DeGrom.  DeGrom has struck out 29.7 percent of hitters at home this season- 25.7 percent of lefties and 33.1 percent of righties.  The Phillies are projected to have a balanced lineup with 4 lefties, 4 righties and a pitcher.  Philadelphia’s 23.7 percent strikeout percentage is the 8th-highest in baseball over the last 30 days.  DeGrom is a strong play in tournaments and cash games alike.

Stephen Strasburg has a more difficult matchup than DeGrom, as he travels to Miami to face the Marlins, but it is still a great spot. Strasburg has the lowest xwOBA in all of baseball among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 250 pitches in the last 30 days.  He dominated this Miami team in his last start, striking out 8 in a complete game shutout.  Expect another big performance from Strasburg tonight.  He is an excellent tournament pivot away from DeGrom if it appears that DeGrom will, in fact, be the higher owned of the two.

Zack Greinke faces the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles.  Greinke faced the Dodgers twice in the month of August, going 6.2 innings with 8 strikeouts and 3 earned runs in the first outing and 6.0 innings with 6 strikeouts and 1 earned run in the second.  His swinging strike percentage in both starts was between 9 and 10 percent, compared to his season average of 12.7 percent.  Obviously, there is risk in rostering a pitching against the best team in baseball regardless of how good that pitching is.  The tough matchup puts Greinke behind DeGrom and Strasburg in cash games, but does not prohibit him from being an appealing GPP option.

Greinke’s 27.5 percent strikeout percentage for the season ranks just behind Strasburg and DeGrom, though it drops to 25.4 percent over the last 30 days.  He has also fared better at home than on the road this season, striking out 30.6 percent of hitters with a 3.04 xFIP at home compared to 23.2 percent of hitters with a 3.58 xFIP on the road.  Basically, this is a long way of saying that Greinke does not project to be as strong a play as DeGrom or Strasburg but, in tournaments where you are shooting for a .01 percent outcome and looking to fit as much upside as possible, he makes sense as a pivot away from the more popular expensive options- especially because he does offer a discount in price and he is capable of being the highest scoring pitcher on the slate any given day.

 

Michael Wacha will probably be popular in his matchup against the San Diego Padres, especially after the phenomenal performance that Carlos Martinez turned in against them yesterday.  Wacha is a good pitcher.  His 22.0 percent strikeout percentage, 9.5 percent swinging strike percentage and 29.4 percent o-swing percentage for the season are all relatively close to average, as is his 3.89 xFIP.  He has been better against righties than lefties this season, striking out 24.4 percent of righties while allowing just a .286 xwOBA.  The Padres will most likely have a right-handed heavy lineup against Wacha tonight.  He is a strong cash game option on two pitcher sites where is inexpensive.  While he is a fine option in GPPs, there is certainly merit to fading him at, what is likely to be, high ownership as he is far from a sure thing and has struggled to the tune of a .384 xwOBA allowed over the last 30 days.  It is also worth noting that he has struck out just 15.3 percent of righties over that span.  The matchups included are starts against Royals, Braves, Pirates, Rays and Giants- not easy strikeout matchups, but also not teams that should be hitting him well.

 

Robert Stephenson is similarly priced to Wacha and makes for an excellent tournament pivot from Wacha in a risky spot that provides just as much upside as Wacha’s at, probably, lower ownership.  Stephenson is a young, hard-throwing righty for the Reds who has managed to put things together over his last few starts.  He has swinging strike percentages of 8.0 (Braves), 20.6 (Pirates) and 16.1 (Mets) percent over his last three starts.  Not surprisingly, Stephenson’s slider usage in those last two starts were 35.5 and 38.7 percent.  His season average slider usage is 17.1 percent.  In the month of August, including a relief appearance against the Brewers, it was 30.3 percent.  Stephenson has the third-highest wSL/C (a ranking where 0 represents average and positive numbers indicate how much better than average the pitch is) among all pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings as starters this season, just behind Max Scherzer.  He has the highest whiff/swing percentage on his slider of any starting pitcher in baseball this season who has thrown at least 100 sliders at 53.16 percent.  The full list of pitchers who have a whiff/swing percentage equal to or greater than 50.00 percent on their slider this season is: Stephenson, Jeff Hoffman, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Max Scherzer, Trevor Cahill and Mike Clevinger.  That is elite company for Stephenson and he is now throwing the pitch nearly 40 percent of the time.  He does not throw it quite as often to lefties, throwing it about 24 percent of the time to lefties and 54 percent of the time to righties in his most recent start.  He has an effective change-up that he throws to lefties, however, that has held them to a .213 xwOBA with a 20.5 percent whiff percentage this season.  Stephenson has a .313 xwOBA allowed and a 16.2 percent whiff percentage over the last 30 days to go along with a 28.6 percent strikeout percentage.  It is worth noting that he does still have splits over that span, striking out just 21.1 percent of lefties compared to 34.8 percent of righties.

 

If you are interested in how Milwaukee has fared against Stephenson’s assortment of offspeed pitches, the righties have a .277 xwOBA and 20.7 percent whiff percentage against right-handed sliders since the trade deadline.  The lefties lead the league with a .329 xwOBA and just an 11.0 percent whiff percentage against sliders, but they have a .267 xwOBA with a 14.0 percent whiff percentage against change-ups over that span.  Ultimately, there is risk in rostering Stephenson in a great hitter’s park against a powerful offense- especially because he walks too many hitters and is prone to hard contact.  There is also massive, tournament-winning, upside, however, as he has shown excellent strikeout stuff since increasing the usage of his best pitch and the Brewers have the highest strikeout percentage in baseball over the last month.

 

Hitting

 

High-Priced

 

Nolan Arenado- Lefty in Coors. Next.  But, seriously, Ty Blach is trash outside of AT&T Park.  He has no redeeming qualities.  His mom probably thinks he sucks at pitching once he leaves San Francisco.  He has struck out 9.9 percent of righties on the road this season with a good but not great 47.7 percent groundball percentage, 33.1 percent hard contact and 17.3 percent soft contact.  He has allowed 2.08 home runs per nine innings to righties on the road with an elevated (but not absurd) 21.2 percent home run per flyball percentage.  Arenado has a .358 ISO against lefties in Coors throughout his career, and it is up to .475 this season.  He will be popular and there are plenty of high-upside pivots around him, but he is a clear top play on this slate.

Jose Ramirez- Ramirez has three home runs in his last two games (Thanks Mikie!) and he will be facing a bullpen game from the White Sox tonight.  The starter will be David Holmberg, who has struck out just 14.3 percent of righties this season while allowing 1.3 home runs per nine innings.  After that, it will be an assortment of pitchers that Ramirez has the advantage against.  He is a switch-hitter, so there is no risk of a long reliever matching up with him, and he has power from both sides of the plate in addition to the ability to steal bases.  He is expensive, but he is a top option at second base (or third base where eligible).

Mike Trout- Another no brainer, but Trout is swinging the bat well now after dealing with some sort of minor injury that caused him to miss a couple of games.  His flyball and line drive percentages are both up over the last 15 days.  Kendall Graveman is a groundball pitcher who has done a good job of limiting home runs this season, but he does not have overpowering stuff and the advantage always goes to Trout- especially when the opposing pitcher will let him make contact.

Value

Corey Dickerson- Dickerson has been struggling some at the plate recently, but not enough to warrant a $3,300 price tag against Bartolo Colon on DraftKings.  Despite his lack of production, his flyball percentage, hard hit percentage, average exit velocity and average distance are all up over the last 15 days compared to his season average.  He has a .246 ISO against right-handed pitching over the last 12 months and Colon has allowed just shy of 2.0 home runs per nine innings to lefties this season.  Lucas Duda is too cheap as well at just $3,700 on DraftKings.

Nick Castellanos is just $3,800 on DraftKings and he is facing a lefty in Jason Vargas.  As I have mentioned numerous times over the last month or so, Vargas’s change-up has improved and he is not the dumpster fire that he was for a month-long stretch this season.  He is still getting hit hard, however, and Castellanos is excellent against left-handed pitching with a .395 wOBA and .347 ISO against southpaws over the last 12 months.  If you are not paying up to the top at third base, you need massive upside from your value play and Castellanos offers that.

Nick Williams obviously has a tough matchup against Jacob DeGrom, but he is a talented young hitter and is just $2,200 on DraftKings.  He offers massive savings so that you can pay up at pitcher and still roster hitters like Arenado and Trout along with them and he is a good enough hitter that you are not totally punting upside despite the poor matchup.

Luis Valbuena has plenty of power from the left side and Graveman has just a 38.5 percent groundball percentage against lefties this season compared to 55 percent against righties.  He has allowed more homers to lefties as a result.  Valbuena is at his best against pitchers who pitch to contact and that is the case with Graveman, who also works down in the zone and could easily leave a sinker right in the middle of Valbuena’s looping swing path.  Valbuena is another high upside tournament option if for some reason you want to save money at third base.

Stacks

 

Cleveland Indians- Part of the reason that we stack against the White Sox every day is that their bullpen is very bad.  Now, we get the bullpen for the entire game.  It helps that most of the Indians’ hitters are switch-hitters, or are at least adequate against pitchers of the same handedness, so it is difficult for relievers to match up with them.  Add in that early indications are that the wind will be blowing out in Chicago again and it is an excellent spot for the Tribe.

 

Colorado Rockies-  That thing about Ty Blach sucking outside of San Francisco makes a full Rockies stack very appealing, as does a weak San Francisco bullpen.  We saw what the Giants’ bullpen is capable of the other night when they allowed 6 runs in the top of the 9th to the Cardinals in AT&T.  Now, move them to Coors Field and add them to a weak starting pitcher.  There is massive upside for the Rockies here and it is a 15 game slate with plenty of good hitting spots and pitching to pay for, so we should not worry about ownership too much.

 

St. Louis Cardinals- It remains to be seen what the Cardinals’ lineup looks like, but there is a reasonable chance that it offers a lot of powerful, right-handed hitters at cheap price tags.  The Cardinals are dealing with some injuries and that increases the likelihood that Martinez, Piscotty and Bader all crack the lineup.  All three hitters are $3,500 or less on DraftKings and have plenty of power against a mediocre lefty in Travis Wood.  Add in a criminally underpriced Paul DeJong and Molina behind the plate and you have the makings of a very cheap stack that has plenty of upside.