It seems like we should rank the top three guys before we do anything else today. Here are the matchups:
Robbie Ray: Boom or Bust?
Yep, Buehler and Ray face each other. Anyway, if you want pure stuff, Ray has the best swing-and-miss offerings with an above-average (and stable) 12.7% swinging strike rate. The issue is Ray’s bust potential, which definitely exceeds Buehler’s and probably exceeds Nola’s. Ray is only in the zone 37.9% of the time, and his first strike percentage is 55.7% (well below the other two potential aces). Put differently: Ray has an elite 30.0% strikeout rate, but his 12.8% walk rate is a major hindrance. In fact, only two qualified starters have higher walk rates than Ray this year—Yu Darvish and Brad Keller. On a small slate I might be wrong, but I think Ray will be too widely owned for my liking given the risk.
Walker Buehler: The “Safe” Option
Is there such a thing as a safe pitcher in 2019? Well, from these three Buehler is it. Whereas Nola has a 9.9% walk rate (not good) and a 4.31 FIP, Buehler has an elite 4.9% walk rate, tied for the 11th-lowest mark in the MLB. He’s also striking hitters out at a 23% rate, which isn’t slouchy.
Aaron Nola: Somewhere in between?
I’m unsure on Nola, who is allowing a .270 batting average to opposing hitters (Buehler .234 and Ray .232). However, Nola’s .345 BABIP and 20.4% HR/FB rate are both on the high side, meaning better luck could be coming. Nola made it a season-high seven innings in his last turn against the Cardinals, allowing only one run (a homer) and striking out eight against three walks. It was arguably his best start of 2019. Nola also has the best matchup of the day against the Padres, who strike out at the highest rate in the MLB against righties (27.1%). Nola is the costliest option, but he’ll probably also be the highest-owned.
While Nola’s matchup is obviously friendlier, here’s a little on Arizona and Los Angeles...
Arizona vs. Buehler (RHP): Against right-handed pitching, the D’Backs have a .177 ISO (14th), 23.2% K-rate (16th), and a 8.1% walk rate (23rd). The D’Backs do have 29 swipes against RHP so far, tied for sixth in the MLB. When you take Christian Walker’s tailspin and David Peralta’s AC joint injury into account, this Arizona team isn’t as good as the aforementioned numbers in this split. Eduardo Escobar, Adam Jones, and Ketel Marte are the most dangerous bats. Note: Peralta may return today, but he also may return later in the week. Stay tuned. Even if he’s back, I like this matchup for Buehler more than I like Ray’s matchup against the Dodgers...
Dodgers vs. Ray (LHP): Against lefties the Dodgers have a .177 ISO (17th), 21.0% K-rate (10th), and 11.5% walk rate (1st). Yikes at that for a bad omen. The Dodgers have the best walk rate against southpaws??? That’s a match made in hell for Ray. I like how David Freese is projected to hit third and has a 21.3% walk rate in this split. Sure, put one more runner on the bases for Cody Bellinger and his .333 ISO versus lefties. If not Bellinger, give me Kike Hernandez leading off with his 17.1% strikeout rate and .200 ISO. And the last time I tried to play Justin Turner against a lefty, he was banged up. Check out his batted ball profile in this split: 22% LD, 20% GB, 58% FB...6% soft, 38% med, 56% hard! That’s just awesome.
In summation...seems like Nola garners the highest ownership today. I wonder if Buehler will go overlooked on the road in Arizona, especially if people check his game log and see five earned runs in his last game. Sure, he allowed a pair of homers, but they were to Pete flipping Alonso. Before that, Buehler had 20+ DK points in four straight games. He’s also the cheapest of the three. I lean towards starting with him today, and hoping one of Kike/Bellinger/Turner knocks Ray around a little bit.
Who are you guys leaning towards today if you pay up for a pitcher?