Covering the Bases: Thursday, April 25th
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Thursday, April 25th
Happy Thursday, everybody! I’m covering for Cheese today to give him a little respite on a relatively short slate Thursday. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some analysis to dig into. This is actually a really intriguing five game main slate, so let’s dig in!
As a side note, there is a two game early slate today featuring ARI/PIT and LAD/CHC. However, there are some weather issues in Pittsburgh, and both games feature two quality pitchers facing off against each other. There’s not much of an edge to be had on that early slate. If anything, I’d lean toward Greinke and Taillon as my favorite arms and the Dodgers as my favorite offense, as they are facing off against Jon Lester in a return from the injured list. Again, though, I will stress to NOT use a big chunk of your bankroll on that two game early slate.
I will dive in with a game by game breakdown of the evening slate, since we only have five games on the docket. Here we go!
Marlins (Caleb Smith) at Phillies (Aaron Nola)
Vegas Odds – 7.5 runs, PHI -205
The Marlins are basically rolling out a glorified AAA lineup on a nightly basis. Here are their overall rankings against right-handed pitching so far this season:
BB% = 7.9% (25th)
K% = 29.8% (1st… by a wide margin)
ISO = .119 (30th)
wOBA = .265 (29th, ahead of the Giants by .001)
OBP = .277 (28th)
OPS = .504 (30th)
Yeah, it’s bad. After all, this is a team that’s rolling out a 2-5 lineup combination of Martin Prado, Brian Anderson, Neil Walker, and Starling Castro… in 2019. You could probably stream any pitcher against the Marlins in any fantasy format and get away with it right now. Enter Aaron Nola. He got off to nothing short of an abysmal start this year, as his command simply wasn’t there over his first few outings. The good news is that he struck out nine and walked just one in his last start — and that was in Coors Field against the Rockies. Tonight’s game presents a much better game environment, with Nola checking in as a large home favorite against a bad team. His strikeout stuff is still there with a 25% strikeout rate in the early going (though his swinging strike rate is down), and his ground ball and batted ball profiles are in line with his career averages. This is a great bounce back spot for Nola, and he is a priority play for me in all formats. The Miami offense isn’t even on the radar for me on a five game slate; not even as a contrarian GPP build.
As for the other side of this game, it’s a potentially intriguing matchup between a good young lefty arm in Caleb Smith and an inconsistent but explosive Philadelphia offense. Smith is a solid prospect whose biggest issue coming up has been his command. He has kept that in check so far this year with an impressive 33% strikeout rate and sub-7% walk rate to go along with a 3.10 SIERA and 2.94 xFIP. I don’t love the fact that he is pitching on the road as a huge underdog, but the potential is there — and the leverage is there if you have the stones to fade Nola on a short slate. In addition, Smith did toss six impressive one-hit innings against this team just two weeks ago.
If you want to target some Philadelphia bats, we have some interesting data points. The sample size is still very small with Smith at the MLB level, but lefties are actually hitting over 100 points higher than righties against him so far in his career. I would expect this to even out in the long run, though, as his advanced metrics profile him as a relatively splits-neutral arm. I’d try to stick with the middle of the order if going anywhere here, with Hoskins, Harper, and Realmuto being your obvious choices. Hoskins and Harper both have wOBA marks over .400 in the early going against LHP. However, Smith is very talented, and these bats don’t come at discounts. I won’t have much exposure to the offenses in this game.
Core Play Options From MIA/PHI – Aaron Nola
Tigers (Jordan Zimmermann) at Red Sox (Rick Porcello)
Vegas Odds – 9.5 runs, BOS -200
This game provides the most obvious spot for offense tonight. Boston is in an elite matchup against Jordan Zimmermann, and owning at least two Boston bats in cash games is going to be a priority. Let’s go through the list of them after I post this snapshot of PlateIQ for the Boston hitters against fastballs, which Zimmermann throws over 40% of the time:
There’s. Green. Everywhere.
Mookie Betts – His all around game gives him one of the best floors you will see from an MLB hitter. His wOBA sits at a mark well over .400 against RHP since the beginning of last year. He’s a no brainer play in this spot, especially since he is somehow available at a $1,000+ discount from Mike Trout on both FD and DK right now. I know Trout is great, but that’s just too much of a discount when you consider the respective matchups tonight.
J.D. Martinez – His PlateIQ dashboard lights up even more than Mookie’s does against fastballs from RHP, even though most people consider Martinez as more of a lefty masher. I’ll do a sample size caution on some of that, but it’s clear in digging through all the data that Martinez lines up very well against tonight’s Detroit starter.
Rafael Devers – We need value if we want to fit in some of the elite pitchers tonight, and Devers provides just that with a $2,800 tag on FD and a $3,800 tag on DK. That’s too cheap. Devers hasn’t shown his usual pop so far this year, but he has a .365 on base percentage and a 12% walk rate to go along with a 15% strikeout rate. The batting eye is still there, and his batted ball profile isn’t alarming. In fact, his line drive percentage is 5% higher than last year. It’s only a matter of time before the home runs come, and I am banking on some damage tonight.
Mitch Moreland – He’s been hot to start the year, hits in the middle of this potent lineup, and has the BvP angle if you are into that. He is 5-for-9 with three extra base hits against Zimmermann in his career (again, small sample size alert).
You get the picture. From top to bottom, you can’t go wrong here. These four are my favorite plays, and any sort of stack is in play for tournaments.
I will caution that, because Boston will be MEGA chalk tonight, you can certainly play the GPP fade and pray for a mediocre night. That’s definitely in play on a five game slate from a game theory perspective, but it’s risky.
On the other side of this game, Detroit does draw a fine matchup against a scuffling arm in Rick Porcello. Porcello has never been a flashy fantasy option, but he always got by thanks to strong command and one of the league’s lowest walk rates. However, that has reversed course in the early going this year, as Porcello has an alarming 14% walk rate to go with ugly numbers across the board. He’s going to get cash game consideration as a SP #2 choice today, but he is really difficult to trust. The problem lies in the fact that the Detroit offense is only marginally better than the woeful Miami offense I just discussed above. It’s nearly impossible to peg a core play out of that group of bats, and I might just leave this situation untouched from a DFS perspective. You can try a speculative Detroit stack in a GPP, as this is one of the bigger wild card spots on the slate. Porcello seems cheap… but he’s been really bad in the early going. Tread carefully.
Indians (Trevor Bauer) at Astros (Gerrit Cole)
Vegas Odds – 7.5 runs, HOU -160
Hello, pitching! This is going to be a really fun game with two of the most talented pitchers in the league facing off against two dangerous offenses. Here are the two year numbers for Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole next to each other:
Bauer (2018) – 2.21 ERA, 3.21 SIERA, 3.14 xFIP, 31% K rate, 8% BB rate, 36% hard contact
Bauer (2019) – 2.20 ERA, 3.54 SIERA, 3.43 xFIP, 33% K rate, 10% BB rate, 35% hard contact
Cole (2018) – 2.88 ERA, 2.91 SIERA, 3.04 xFIP, 35% K rate, 8% BB rate, 31% hard contact
Cole (2019) – 5.22 ERA, 2.91 SIERA, 2.65 xFIP, 36% K rate, 7% BB rate, 40% hard contact
There is a lot to unpack in those numbers. Bauer has the glitzier 2019 profile by far, but Cole has the better underlying metrics with higher strikeouts, a lower walk rate, and a better SIERA/xFIP. Both have immense strikeout upside, and I will give my lean to Cole between the two. He’s pitching at home against the less dangerous of the two offenses, and I like his metrics a little more. That’s not to say that Bauer isn’t a fine choice, as Bauer is clearly growing into a potential Cy Young candidate this year.
All told, I’m simply looking forward to this matchup. Bauer is on the GPP list for me tonight, but Cole makes sense as the core target given the fact that Houston sits as a -160 favorite at home.
I am not looking toward taking hitters against either of these two pitchers tonight. Both of them rarely get blown up, and both are relatively splits-neutral. If you’re looking for a low owned GPP stack, go for it, but there are better spots out there despite the fact that this is only a five game slate.
Core Play Options From CLE/HOU – Gerrit Cole
Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) at Angels (Trevor Cahill)
Vegas Odds – 7.5 runs, basically a pick’em
This is one of the wild card games on this slate that could really flip a five game slate on a dime. Masahiro Tanaka is a quality pitcher, but he could very easily get lost on a slate that also includes Cole, Bauer, and Nola. Where were some of these pitching options earlier in the week? There were some full slates where we had far fewer options than what we have tonight.
As for Tanaka, I’m generally a believer that he tends to be overrated in the fantasy community. He has problems with the home run ball at times, and his strikeout rate — while solid — doesn’t rise to the level of the other aces on tonight’s slate. Don’t interpret this as me trying to talk you out of Tanaka tonight. I definitely think he is a viable option in a good pitching environment against an Angels offense that doesn’t possess a whole lot of thump outside of Mike Trout. Tanaka still owns a SIERA and xFIP in the mid-threes, and he’s a perfectly fine #2 starter for a playoff contending team. I just think that some people treat him like an elite ace, which he is not. That said, he is capable of pitching like one at times, and he has only given up more than one run once in his first five starts.
Keep an eye on projected ownership here. If Tanaka is going to be under-owned tonight, give him a look in GPP formats. I still prefer Nola (because of matchup) and Cole (because of ability) in cash game formats. If you want to target any hitters from the Angels, stick to the power bats against Tanaka. His batted ball profile is relatively neutral, but he does allow more fly balls to right-handed bats. Mike Trout is the obvious choice, while someone like Andrelton Simmons could be used to provide some salary relief at a thin shortstop position given the difficult matchups for Lindor and Correa this evening.
On the other side of this game, Trevor Cahill takes the mound for the Angels against a depleted Yankees lineup. The Bronx Bombers did receive some good news yesterday with Gary Sanchez coming off the disabled list, and it’s remarkable that they have been able to go on a recent winning streak despite all their injuries, as they came from behind last night to pull out their sixth straight victory. I am fully of the belief that hot streaks and confidence are a “thing” – and while many analytics-focused people will disagree, there’s definitely a subjective element at play here. As for the data, Trevor Cahill has shown flashes of dominance at times throughout his career, but he nibbles too much and rarely goes deep into games. His SIERA and xFIP have settled into the low-fours over a fairly large sample size, and that’s basically who he is at this point. Is he capable of throwing a solid game against a depleted Yankee lineup? Sure. Could the Yankees score seven runs tonight? Sure. Anything in between is also possible.
Over the last few seasons, Cahill’s splits have widened a bit. Last year, he allowed a 41% hard contact rate and 24% line drive rate to lefty bats, while he held righties to 38% hard contact and a 15% line drive late. Left-handed bats would be the priority targets against him, but the Yankees don’t offer many of those. Brett Gardner has some appeal but doesn’t have a cheap price tag, while the likes of Mike Ford and Mike Tauchman are your other left-handed options, but they are nothing more than league average bats.
It’s hard to get really excited about any one aspect of this game, but that’s what makes it an intriguing GPP breakdown on a shorter slate. There’s no definitive angle, but there’s also potential leverage on all fronts if any key player goes under-owned.
Core Play Options From NYY/LAA – None
Rangers (Taylor Hearn) at Mariners (Marco Gonzales)
Vegas Odds – 8.5 runs, SEA -150
We have arrived at the late night… hammer? Texas and Seattle are facing off in a game that will definitely have lower owned offensive options. These will likely be the last lineups to be released given the late start, and those bats almost always carry low ownership. After all, why wait for Texas and Seattle lineups when you can just stack Boston? I really like this game from a GPP perspective, as the overall total sits at a sneaky high 8 1/2 runs in Vegas.
Let’s start with the Texas side. They are facing off against a lefty in Marco Gonzales, and it’s often difficult to trust Texas against left-handed pitchers. After all, they have a lot of lefties near the top of their order with Choo, Gallo, and Mazara in the mix. That’s part of what adds to Texas being so sneaky tonight. Let’s consider the following factors that could add to that:
1) Marco Gonzales has fine surface numbers, but his strikeout rate sits well below league average at just 15.7% this year and 19.7% for his MLB career.
2) His SIERA and xFIP are near five so far this season, almost a full two runs higher than his ERA. Regression is coming.
3) Gonzales’ pitch mix sets him up to occasionally be more of a reverse splits arm (though his profile to date does reflect a slight lean toward traditional splits)
4) Texas’ numbers are middle of the pack offensively against LHP so far this year, but they do have a double digit team walk percentage against lefties.
While this isn’t the most compelling case you will ever see, we do have to lower standards a bit on a five game slate. In addition, Gonzales is not a strikeout pitcher, which eliminates fear about taking Joey Gallo in a L/L matchup. This is also a slate where we are starved for some great value options, and we can get Logan Forsythe as a potential value on all DFS sites today. He had a great game yesterday and will likely hit second in the Texas lineup today against a lefty. He’s nothing special, but his career .340 wOBA and .170 ISO against LHP are better than what you will normally find in a punt value. If you want to fit elite pitching and Boston bats into your cash game lineups this evening, you will find that Forsythe helps out an awful lot in that endeavor. Just make sure he is in the lineup, though I do expect him to be against a lefty (and he is guaranteed to be if Andrus is still out).
Despite the L/L matchup, both Gallo and Mazara have ridiculous ISO marks against LHP so far this season, though the sample size is far too small to reach any definitive conclusions. I love the low owned full stack here of anyone who might be hitting in the top six in the lineup.
Seattle will certainly garner a little more offensive attention from DFS players, as they face off against rookie left-hander Taylor Hearn, who will be making his major league debut. Hearn has a big arm and a healthy fastball, which has led to him posting well above average strikeout numbers in the minor leagues. However, he has also had major issues with control, and that usually doesn’t bode well for pitchers who are making their major league debut. The risk is immense, especially against a Seattle lineup that has been very formidable in the early going. Hearn has only made four starts above the Double-A level, posting an ERA and xFIP over four in those outings. He doesn’t appear to be quite ready yet.
The Mariners currently lead the league in ISO and wOBA against LHP this year, and they have the second highest walk rate. it’s just a bad matchup for a rookie left-hander with control problems. Mitch Haniger seems more expensive than he should be, but that will help keep ownership down. He’s my favorite play from this team along with Edwin Encarnacion, who nearly achieved core play status. Seattle stacks (and full game stacks) are definitely viable in GPP formats, especially for those of you who are looking to pivot away from Boston. Domingo Santana, Tim Beckham, and even Ryan Healy can provide some upside along with the other Seattle bats. All aboard the late night hammer!
Core Play Options From TEX/SEA – Logan Forsythe (for value), Viable GPP Stacks of both teams
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