10 Definitely Interesting, Possibly Helpful MLB Notes for Tuesday, May 21st
Welcome to 10 Definitely Interesting, Possibly Helpful Notes! In this column, I’ll work to uncover some interesting bits of information that might shed some light on players from that day’s slate of MLB games. This is not a picks column, nor is it a “fun facts” article – it’s something in between.
I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it helps you think about today’s MLB plays in a new way as you build your DFS lineups. Here are 10 Notes for Tuesday, May 21st.
1. Justin Verlander has 49 starts as a member of the Houston Astros. He’s recorded 20+ DraftKings points in 40 of those games (82 percent) and 30+ DraftKings points in 22 of those games (45 percent). Like any pitcher, Verlander has the odd game where it doesn’t come together. But putting up 20 DK points over 80 percent of the time, and putting up 30 DK points nearly half the time is the definition of consistency. And the crazy thing is that he’s getting better with age: Verlander is one of just five pitchers in MLB history – joining Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Curt Schilling, and Roger Clemens – with at least three seasons of a 25.0 percent strikeout rate at age 34 or beyond. The Chicago White Sox should not be a tough test for Verlander, as they strike out at a 25.7 percent clip (fourth-highest in MLB). Better still, he takes them on at home, where, since joining the Astros, Verlander has posted a 36 percent K rate against just 3.8 percent walks (32.2 K-BB%, best in MLB at home over that stretch). He’s allowed enemy hitters to slash just .181/.219/.348. The numbers are hard to believe, but they’re real, and they’re spectacular. Even on a day crowded with options at pitcher, Verlander is a cash game anchor and an elite tournament play.
2. Caleb Smith is the first Marlins pitcher since A.J. Burnett (2001-2002) to reach eight strikeouts in five straight games. So, the strikeouts have increased, but another equally critical component of Smith’s newfound success is newfound control. He’s cut his walks from a high 10.1 percent down to 7.7 percent, which means that when he gives up the odd home run – something that will happen given Smith’s fly ball tendencies – it’s more likely to be a solo shot. On Tuesday, Smith has a deceptively tough matchup with the Tigers, an offense that has been woeful overall but surprisingly competent against southpaws this year (.327 wOBA, .186 ISO, 105 wRC+). It is worth noting that the Tigers also have a high 26.5 percent K rate, so it’s very possible Smith becomes the first Marlins pitcher ever to punch out 8+ in six straight games. It’s awful tempting to take the discount off Verlander and begin cash games with Smith, but there is some danger lurking in that (mostly right-handed) Tigers lineup.
3. Here’s the complete list of pitchers with a sub-3.00 FIP, a 13.0 percent swinging strike rate, and a 26.0 percent strikeout rate this year: Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Luis Castillo, and … Domingo German. German has seized his chance at becoming a full-time Yankees starter. He’s been aided by some good fortune – his 2.50 ERA far outpaces his 3.87 SIERA, and nobody can sustain a .225 BABIP for an entire season – but German has always been a super talented arm who just needed a chance. The Yankees have been handling him delicately, only allowing him to exceed 90 pitches twice this season. But 85ish pitches should give him plenty of opportunity to slice and dice a weak Orioles offense. Don’t be alarmed by the six earned runs given up by geriatric J.A. Happ on Monday; German is the better pitcher in 2019, and he’s an excellent tournament option on Tuesday.
4. Since 2018, only three pitchers in MLB have a 27.0 percent strikeout rate and a .255 wOBA or below allowed on the road: Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale, and German Marquez. While we’re at it with Marquez, here’s another note: he’s raised his O-Swing% by 5.1 percentage points this year (30.7% in 2018; 35.8% in 2019), which is the largest gain of any pitcher in MLB. And another: he’s increased his slider usage by 9.1 percentage points (18.2% in 2018; 27.3% in 2019), the third-most-sizeable increase in MLB. The slider has been the key to Marquez’s transformation into an elite starter, and though he’s scuffled a bit lately, Marquez finds himself in a winnable matchup away from Coors against the Pirates on Tuesday. Pittsburgh’s low 20.6 percent K rate against righties puts a cap on Marquez’s upside, but the floor is certainly there for cash games, and it’s very unlikely the Pirates do much damage here, as (one final Marquez note) he is the only pitcher in MLB with a 53 percent ground ball and a sub-5.0 percent walk rate.
5. If you eliminate Matt Strahm’s first start of the year (a five-earned-run outing that is looking more like an outlier with each passing start), Matt Strahm is one of only three pitchers – joining Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu – with a 2.90 ERA and a 7.40 K/BB rate since April 7th. He’s rivaling Chris Paddack in his control, rarely issuing any free passes, and it’s serving him well. Strahm is priced moderately across the industry ($8,400 at DK, $8,100 at FD, $34 at Yahoo), and he makes for an interesting salary-saving option in tournaments. “Interesting” and not some other, more obviously positive adjective, because the D-backs have quietly been a nightmarish matchup for lefties, ranking third in MLB in wOBA (.358), fourth in ISO (.223), and third in wRC+ (123). He’s not a cash game play, but Strahm should go somewhat low-owned, and the upside is there for 6-8 strikeouts at a reduced price.
6. Christian Yelich is too good to be contained by a single note in this column, so let’s give him three quick notes:
— He currently has an ISO of .734 at home this season, the best mark in MLB by an insane 241 points. The 241-point gap between Yelich and second-place Joc Pederson (.493) is roughly the same as the difference between Pederson and Jose Altuve, who ranks 42nd with a .250 ISO.
— He has 15 home runs in Miller Park already this year, in just 19 games; for context, he never hit more than 8 home runs in a full season. In 643 games in that venue, he totaled 17 home runs, just two more than he’s hit in a under two months in Milwaukee.
— Yelich has 50 homers and 28 steals over the past calendar year. Of the 45 players who have hit 50 home runs in a season in MLB history, none has ever swiped 28 bags to go with it (Willie Mays and 1955 and Alex Rodriguez in 2007 came closest, with 24 steals each).
On Tuesday, Yelich faces Sonny Gray at home. Quietly, Gray has been excellent against lefties this year with a 30.8 percent strikeout rate and a .214 wOBA allowed. If anyone’s going to use that as a reason to fade Yelich in tournaments, he becomes an elite one-off (okay, who am I kidding? He’s an elite one-off no matter what).
7. Surprisingly, the MLB leader in multi-hit games this year is not Yelich, nor is it Cody Bellinger, nor is it Mike Trout; it’s Michael Brantley, who has 23 games of 2+ hits. Brantley’s trademark low-strikeout, high-contact approach has been a boon to the top of Houston’s potent lineup, and he’s even mixed in a bit of pop this year; his current .235 ISO represents a career high, as does his 43.1 percent hard-hit rate. He’s always an underrated cash game play because he puts the ball in play all the time; his 92.8 percent contact rate is second-best in the majors against qualified hitters. He should have zero issue putting bat to ball on Tuesday, as he has the platoon advantage against eminently hittable White Sox right-hander Dylan Covey. Even with George Springer likely out, the Astros’ 6.26 implied run total is nearly a full run higher than any other team on the slate. You’ll want to find a way to fit some Astros bats into your cash games if possible, and Brantley is one of the highest-floor options in daily fantasy.
8. wOBA leaders against right-handed pitching since 2018:
Mike Trout (.456)
Christian Yelich (.443)
Mookie Betts (.435)
Shohei Ohtani (.420)
Daniel Vogelbach (.410)
Vogelbach has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, and on Tuesday, he finds himself in what should be great hitting conditions in a hitter-friendly venue in the Texas heat. He’ll match up against Lance Lynn, a pitcher who has historically struggled against lefties (career .345 wOBA). Vogelbach’s power is real, and he’s homered in five of his past six games, including a 112.2 mph moonshot off Rangers reliever Chris Martin last night. There’s no Vegas total for tonight’s game at time of writing, but the Mariners should be a team to target, and it starts with Vogelbach.
9. Rafael Devers has 32 hard-hit balls in the month of May; that’s second-most in MLB behind only Josh Bell (36). Check out how his quality of contact has steadily risen throughout the course of the season:
Even against the heavy ground balls of Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman, the Red Sox have a healthy 4.75 implied run total. While paying up for the more expensive bats may not be necessary, Devers is underpriced at just $4,300 at DraftKings.
10. In 39 plate appearances against the Orioles this season, Gleyber Torres has 8 home runs; in 145 plate appearances against the rest of Major League Baseball this season, Torres has 2 home runs. Yeah, it’s a silly stat, but that doesn’t make Torres and the rest of the Yankees any less appealing against the Orioles. The Orioles bullpen has allowed 1.84 HR/9, and if the season ended today, that would be the worst mark by a relief corps in MLB history. On Tuesday, Torres faces Orioles starter David Hess, who is the proud owner of a .390 wOBA against right-handed hitters this year. But here’s the crazy thing: that wOBA looks low when you consider that Hess has allowed 11 home runs to the 105 right-handed hitters he’s faced. That’s a HR/9 of 4.01 against righties (and yeah, small sample, but…he’s really not a good pitcher). The Yankees may go a bit underowned as a stack with everyone trying to fit in Astros, Rangers, and Mariners. If that’s the case, fire up Torres and any other Yankees you can in GPPs and watch the fireworks against Hess and a historically bad Orioles bullpen.
Thanks for reading! Stats from this article were pulled from RotoGrinders’ PlateIQ tool, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Reference.
Check back for more “10 Notes” MLB articles every Tuesday and Friday throughout the year, and feel free to leave a question or comment down below!