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MLB DFS Data: Pitchers to Target

Heath clusters starters based on fly balls, pull rate, hard contact, and strikeout rate.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

You’ve heard of the 40/40 club, right? 40 homers, 40 steals? Yeah, it might be a long while before we ever see that sort of season again. For now we can settle with the lesser-known 40/40/40 club. As in, pitchers who are 40% or above with regard to fly ball rate, pull rate, and hard contact rate. Why? Because we know home runs come on fly balls. If you hit a ball hard in the air, chances are good things will happen. Or bad things, if you’re relying on one of the following pitchers.

The disclaimer is that we are still dealing with small samples this year, especially when you start dividing up small amounts of innings by handedness. I mean, there are some awesome names on the following lists. So don’t freak out. I’m just telling you what’s happened so far. Let’s see where the dust settles for now, and know that this is a topic we can revisit with regularity in the future.

Starting pitchers vs LHH (sorted by hard contact)

Jeff Samardzija: 41.9%, 51.6%, 54.8%
Brad Peacock: 45.5%, 52.3%, 50.0%
Trevor Cahill: 40.9%, 45.5%, 47.7%
Nathan Eovaldi: 46.7%, 40.0%, 46.7%
Jhoulys Chacin: 46.3%, 48.8%, 46.3%
Jacob deGrom: 44.0%, 40.7%, 44.4%
Walker Buehler: 46.7%, 40.0%, 43.3%
David Hess: 45.2%, 41.9%, 41.9%

All of the above are right-handed pitchers, by the way. So it’s lefty bats that do more damage (at least according to our criteria) against righty pitchers.

Here are these guys ranked by strikeout rate to lefties:

Jacob deGrom - 35.2% (7th)
Jeff Samardzija - 28.0% (21st)
David Hess - 19.1% (65th)
Brad Peacock - 18.6% (66th)
Trevor Cahill - 11.9% (91st)
Nathan Eovaldi - 10.8% (93rd)
Jhoulys Chacin - 10.7% (94th)
Walker Buehler - 7.7% (102nd)

This wasn’t an issue for Buehler in 2018, as he had a 29.0% K-rate to lefties and didn’t even hit the 37.0% threshold in fly balls, pull rate, or hard contact. I think it’s safe to acknowledge that Buehler has only tossed 24 innings in 2019, and only nine of those were to lefty bats. So it’s still extremely small samples we are dealing with. Some of the above make sense, though. Peacock was a bit of a surprise to me, but he’s continuing a trend from last year, when eight of the 11 homers against him were from lefties. A guy like Chacin is no surprise, or at least he shouldn’t be if you’ve played DFS for any stretch of time.

Starting pitchers vs. RHH (sorted by hard contact)

Drew Smyly: 39.0%, 61.0%, 63.4% (I cheated on the fly ball rate but HOLY SMOKES, Smyly)
Trevor Richards: 57.4%, 46.0%, 54.0%
Michael Pineda: 41.9%, 39.5%, 53.5% (cheated again, but half a percent, okay?!?)
Shane Bieber: 41.7%, 45.8%, 52.1%
Jacob deGrom: 41.9%, 43.8%, 50.0%
Chris Paddack: 46.7%, 46.7%, 50.0%
Derek Holland: 51.7%, 47.5%, 49.2%
Robbie Ray: 43.3%, 49.2%, 46.0%
Matt Strahm: 46.8%, 39.7%, 44.4% (he’s closer than Pineda, had to include him)
David Price: 42.6%, 39.3%, 44.3% (another asterisk, but inside a percent on pull rate)
Eric Lauer: 39.7%, 41.3%, 44.0% (so close on fly ball rate!)
Justin Verlander: 40.8%, 46.9%, 42.9%
Mike Fiers: 49.1%, 41.1%, 41.1%
Julio Teheran: 48.8%, 42.9%, 40.5%
Adrian Sampson: 42.6%, 49.1%, 40.0%
Jhoulys Chacin: 42.5%, 43.9%, 39.0% (so close to being on both lists!)

Jacob deGrom on both lists? But it doesn’t matter when you have a 40.0% strikeout rate to right-handers (1st in MLB) and rank seventh in strikeout rate to left-handers. What a beast. David Price’s 33.7% rate (8th) is shiny, too.

Derek Holland (31.5%) also dispatches right-handed bats by punchout with regularity (12th-best rate in MLB). He’s sandwiched between Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw, for reference. And just ahead of Shane Bieber (30.8%) and Chris Paddack (30.6%). Bieber and Paddack rank 14th and 15th, respectively.

Jhoulys Chacin has a 28.8% strikeout rate against RHH, ranking 22nd in the MLB against that handedness. This is what Chacin does well, by the way. He can still be stung by right-handed bats (obviously, given his inclusion on both lists). But he does strike out right-handers far more than lefties. Just something to note if you’re stacking against him.

Trevor Richards ranks 30th with a 27.4% strikeout rate to this handedness, so in his cavernous home park he’s still viable. I don’t know much about Richards, honestly—except that the changeup was his money pitch a year ago. Righty bats hit 12 of the 15 home runs that he allowed, just for your information. So he strikes them out, but they’re the side you want to attack him with. A bit sneaky perhaps since it’s a RvR split.

Robbie Ray checks in at 27.0% (34th), Julio Teheran at 25.8% (40th), and Drew Smyly at 25.4% (45th). That’s the last bunch that is above-average in any respect (meaning, tolerable K-rates). Everyone I’m about to name has a below-average strikeout rate, allows a lot of pulled fly balls, AND gives up a lot of hard contact to right-handed hitters. Remember, this whole exercise is “noisy” given the small samples. But I still want to see who pops up:

Michael Pineda - 21.7% K-rate (70th)
Eric Lauer - 21.5% (73rd)
Justin Verlander - 21.4% (74th)
Matt Strahm - 21.2% (77th)
Mike Fiers - 20.3% (80th)
Adrian Sampson - 14.1% (104th)

One of those things is not like the other. Odd to see Verlander pop up, but we’ve known for a long time that he allows plenty of fly balls. At least in the early going, all the other factors haven’t been good.

In the DFS world, we so often search for that RvL split. But you can differentiate and be sneaky with the RvR split. Right now, the best guys to do that against are Pineda, Verlander, Fiers, and Sampson.

Lauer and Strahm represent the best lefties to attack in baseball with righty bats—at least according to our criteria of fly balls, pull rate, hard contact, and strikeout rate. I would not have guessed these two names.

What sticks out to you guys? Were there any omissions that surprised you? If you were paying attention, you noticed that Julio Teheran didn’t pop up on the lefties list. Not yet, anyway...