April 15, 2015
Some refer to this date on the calendar as “Tax Day,” but around these parts April 15th stands for celebration, not consternation. Today we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, in recognition of the man whose game-changing ability and competitive tenacity in the face of overwhelming challenges forever altered the baseball landscape. Robinson laid the groundwork for the culturally diverse environment that we enjoy today, and for that I owe a debt of gratitude.
It's a great day to absorb baseball, one which is loaded with left-handed starters and platoon intrigue. There are no fewer than a dozen southpaws slated to start on Wednesday, turning up dials of platoon-related intrigue, and the list of interesting candidates stretches far beyond those listed in this article. This is a Cliff's Notes version to absorb as you're watching ballgames and constructing DFS lineups on Jackie Robinson Day.
Elvis Andrus, SS ($4500)
RHP: .268/.327/.339, 149/188 SB in 2939 PA
From an OPS standpoint, Andrus has fared a bit better with the platoon advantage in his career, but the difference is relatively modest and the Ranger shortstop is not being rostered for his slash line. The key to his value is stolen bases, and Andrus has had a difficult time getting good jumps when staring down a southpaw. He flies at about the same rate regardless of handedness, but he has only been successful on 60.6-percent of attempts against lefties (vs. 79.3-percent success against right-handers). This makes a difference in DFS, as caught stealing is just about the only way for a batter to score a negative on the stat sheet with the Draft Kings scoring system (+5 points for a SB, -2 points for a CS). Andrus is facing left-hander Hector Santiago of the Angels, and Santiago has been stingy on steals as runners were just 10-of-17 last year and 29-of-43 (67 percent) in 357.3 lifetime innings, or one successful steal allowed every 12.3 innings pitched.
Ian Kinsler, 2B ($4200)
vs. LHP: .305/.375/.510, 44/55 SB in 1436 PA
vs. RHP: .263/.334/.429, 144/179 SB in 4115 PA
Contrast the Andrus situation with that of Ian Kinsler. The Tiger second baseman has an identical success rate of 80-percent regardless of the pitcher's handedness, and though his theft frequency is slightly downsized against lefties, Kinsler more than makes up the difference with 42-point improvement in batting average and a 39-point increase in isolated power with lefties on the mound. The steals are a much smaller chunk of Kinsler's contribution when compared to Andrus, and the fact that he can chip in some swipes while hitting like a middle-order masher against lefties signals the start of a doomsday scenario for Francisco Liriano and the Pirates.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF ($4200)
vs. LHP: .278/.319/.461 in 1022 PA
vs. RHP: .301/.366/.550 in 2118 PA
Home: .327/.385/.598 in 1604 PA
Road: .259/.314/.440 in 1536 PA
Gonzalez is vulnerable to all sorts of splits, sacrificing 136 points of OPS when he finds himself on the downside of a platoon and morphing from MVP candidate to second-division starter when removed from Coors Field. Mix in the frequent injuries that compromise his value, and CarGo is on of the toughest players in the game to peg. He's currently on the road as the Rockies travel to San Francisco, going from possibly the game's friendliest ballpark for left-handed power to one of the toughest (AT&T park had a left-handed park factor of just 84 for HR last season), but his matchup with a right-handed starter helps to buffer some of the statistical fall. The price tag is very reasonable, and there is one final slash line that might carry some weight in the decision to roster Gonzalez for your DFS lineup.
Carlos Gonzalez vs. Tim Lincecum: .277/.358/.553 in 53 PA
Sample size caveats abound, but head-to-head matchups are more pertinent to the conversation than any theoretical construct that is based on batter handedness and/or stuff. In this case the sample is rather robust, considering that the 53 plate appearances that Gonzalez has against Lincecum are the most that he has against any pitcher in his career, tied with Matt Cain. Considering that CarGo's slash against Cain is a jaw-dropping .089/.208/.089 in the same 53 PA, and that Cain and Lincecum have been rotation-mates in the NL West for Gonzalez's entire Rockies career, and I think it's fair to say that there's at least some smoke behind the head-to-head numbers.
Francisco Liriano, PIT vs. DET ($8700)
Liriano is one of the more volatile pitchers in the game. When he's on, the left-hander has the upside for double-digit strikeouts and zeroes on the scoreboard, but the volcano of runs can erupt suddenly and without notice. The Tigers present a particularly daunting task for Liriano, beyond the raw ferocity imposed by the Detroit lineup, as his platoon sensitivity is likely to be exposed by a roster that is saturated with right-handed sock.
Liriano has held left-handed hitters to a .220/.292/.291 line his career, but righties have enjoyed an extra 133 points of OPS with a .245/.329/.387 slash. We already discussed Kinsler's splits,while the recently uncaged monster of J.D. Martinez had a video-game ISO of 333 against lefties last season, and Miguel Cabrera destroy all pitchers with equal ease but ups the ante of walks for a career OBP that is 41 points higher against lefties. Switch-hitter V-Mart is essentially neutral, but even he enjoys an extra 25 points of OPS with a southpaw on the hill. The Tigers are intimidating enough to impose fear when using any opposing pitcher in DFS, but the lefty-loving lineup combined with Liriano's inconsistency will cause me to look the other way when forming today's roster.
Collin McHugh, HOU @ OAK ($7700)
McHugh came from outta nowhere last season and dominated, with a final line that included a 2.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and more than a strikeout per inning for the Astros. Despite the late start, I'm a believer in the 27-year old's skill-set in terms of both stuff and mechanics (I gave his delivery a B in the 2015 Starting Pitcher Guide), and McHugh's solid performance in his first start of the year indicated that he has been able to carry over his improvements from last season. He was very consistent last season, having surrendered more than 3 runs in just four of his 25 starts, and he will look to shut down an Oakland offense that spent the entire off-season purging power and yet leads all of baseball with 55 runs scored (entering Wednesday).
Jon Niese, NYM vs. PHI ($7600)
On the other end of the scale lie the Phillies, whose 18 runs scored are tied with the Brewers for the lowest total in the National League this season. Unlike the Brewers, however, the Phillies can expect to stay close to the cellar in terms of scoring runs, and the already-weak lineup could be further deflated by a left-handed pitcher. One could argue that the lineup garners some addition-by-subtraction by getting Ryan Howard out of there, but the platoon cost to Chase Utley dulls the brightest spot in the lineup by 44 points of career slugging. Niese is a somewhat boring left-hander, throwing his 88-91 mph fastball three-quarters of the time with all sorts of cut, sink, and run. He'll pitch to contact (a.k.a. low K rate), but his limited ceiling of performance is joined by a raised floor built on the backs of Niese's weak opponent.
Nathan Eovaldi, NYY @ BAL ($6200)
Cap'n Eo has been in the perpetual sleeper chamber for a couple of years now, thanks to some of the best velocity in the game that mixes with a short-breaking slider that he uses as a finishing move to get punchouts (yet which invokes whiffs at a below-average rate). And therein lies the problem, as the high-speed velocity has not been supported by much of a K rate, nor has there been any progress on that front over the last few years. Eovaldi deserves credit as he cut his walk rate in half, an incredible improvement that was likely rooted in a more consistent arm slot (he had previously altered his angle of shoulder abduction based on pitch type, but streamlined things in 2014).
The big knock against him has long been the lack of an off-speed pitch, leaving him vulnerable to platoons, and previous experiments with learning a changeup have been ineffective and eventually scrapped. He began integrating a couple of splitters into his repertoire at the tail end of the 2014 season, and he showed up to spring training with the intent to make the split a major part of his arsenal. Things went according to the usage plan in his first start, including 12 splitters among the 94 pitches that he threw against the Red Sox, but the results were less than inspiring. Eovaldi's execution of the pitch was lacking, including several splitters that were hung up in the middle third of the strike zone rather than buried beneath the lower shelf, and when he did get the pitch down under batters were not enticed to swing. The split is clearly a work in progress, and perhaps there is potential for Eovaldi to play his splitter and fastball off of each other in the future, but right now he has to be concerned that he averaged 97.5 mph on the 44 heaters that he threw, generating 19 swings on those pitches, and only two of those swings came up empty.
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