It’s the last slate of games before a well-earned All-Star break, and I’d be a bit more excited if it wasn’t for the horrible news out of Atlanta yesterday. Losing a player like Ronald Acuña Jr. should impact you, whether you are a Braves fan or not. Yours truly is a longtime Atlanta backer, so this is a pretty somber morning.
At any rate, we still have one more slate to decipher, and you can bet I’m putting my feelings aside from the jump today.
Best play: Pablo Lopez vs. Atlanta Braves ($7,300)
Lopez (2.94 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 3.39 xFIP) has 102 strikeouts against just 23 walks this year, and his shiny 20.6% K-BB% ranks 22nd in the majors. He’s a soft contact guru, as his 21.8% soft contact rate ranks fourth-best in the league. Only Zack Wheeler, Ryan Yarbrough, and Brandon Woodruff (who faces the Reds today) have better marks among qualified starters.
Lopez has been ELITE at getting hitters to chase. His 37.1% chase rate is bested by only Jacob deGrom and Kyle Hendricks. He’s also the rare pitcher who generates a lot of ground balls (48.0%) and strikes guys out at an above average clip (26.6%). Of all qualified starters, only Zack Wheeler (49.7% GB, 30.8% K-rate) and Clayton Kershaw (48.1% GB, 30.1% K-rate) meet the same thresholds. Put differently, NO other qualified starter has at least a 48.0% ground ball rate and a strikeout rate north of Lopez’s. German Marquez, Yusei Kikuchi, and Ian Anderson all have the ground ball rates to match, but all fall short with regard to strikeout rate.
You get the idea. Lopez is in esteemed company any way you slice it. I have no idea why he’s priced so far down today. Against an Atlanta team that just lost superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., I haven’t seen a reason yet to not play PabLo liberally.
An honorable mention goes to Ian Anderson. If I’m not going down to Lopez, I’m just fine taking a shot on Ian Anderson’s similar skill set in a quality matchup. The Marlins are striking out more than any team in the majors over the last two weeks, at 28.2%. That, and the .130 team ISO ranks 28th, better than only the Cubs and the Astros over the same stretch. Anderson may not see extreme ownership given that Jose Berrios is $300 cheaper, coming off of a 30-point effort, and facing the Detroit Tigers. I’m hoping the same train of thought applies to Lopez, but given that he’s $1,000 cheaper, I don’t think so. This could be a rare case where you can start both pitchers in the same game. I don’t hate it.
Worst play: Aaron Nola @ Boston Red Sox ($9,800)
I wasn’t into Nola’s up-and-down nature this year OR his matchup. When I saw that he was the second-most expensive arm on the slate, I was surprised and well off of him. Dylan Cease and Robbie Ray offer similar upside for cheaper. Chris Bassitt is in a winnable matchup versus Texas, as is Jose Berrios against the Tigers. Heck, even Luis Castillo has shown better form lately, and the Brewers strike out enough to consider him.
Ian Anderson, Pablo Lopez, paying up for Brandon Woodruff...there are tons of way to slice up pitching today, and I can’t see myself being forced to weave in Nola. Nola has a pair of 30-point DK efforts in his last six games, both games where he didn’t allow a run. But he’s also allowed 4+ runs in four of his last six turns, and has a 4.53 ERA on the season. His indicators are better (3.47 FIP, 3.36 xFIP) but the results have been more unreliable than usual.
Lastly, the Red Sox are formidable. They rank third in runs scored, third in batting average, and seventh in homers on the season. Against RHP in particular, Boston is top 10 in runs, batting average, and homers. Additionally, the Red Sox are sixth in baseball over the last two weeks with a .207 ISO. They aren’t striking out over that recent stretch, either. Their team 18.5% strikeout rate is third-best in the league, trailing only the Nationals and Rockies. The deck looks stacked against Nola today. There’s always merit to taking an ace-type pitcher in a tough matchup, but I have a hard time justifying it today with Nola.
Best play: Chicago White Sox @ RHP Spenser Watkins
Over the last 14 days, this is a scalding hot team, ranking second with a .222 ISO and sixth with a 21.0% strikeout rate. The Sox also have a 6.05 IRT, so they’ll be sure to be popular. The big three bats are expensive, but with plenty of affordable arms today I’ve found it pretty tolerable to work them in (Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu). You can maybe differentiate with Andrew Vaughn, who seems a bit like the forgotten man. He’s cheaper than the recently popular Gavin Sheets, but the two have been similarly productive over the last two weeks. Vaughn (2 HR) is slashing .366/.404/.585, while Sheets (3 HR) is slashing .250/.349/.583. The Sox are also getting recent contributions from Brian Goodwin (3 HR, .295 BA), Leury Garcia (2 HR, .364 BA), and Zack Collins (1 HR, .296 BA). Collins does come with a 35.5% strikeout rate, but he’s also a cheap catcher, so you could do a lot worse. Check the lineup when it comes out and see if you can squeeze some value out of one or two of these lesser known White Sox, and have yourself a day.
RHP Spenser Watkins has a pretty cool story about circumnavigating his way to the big leagues, but he’s a 28-year-old unheralded prospect making only his second start in the big leagues. I can’t imagine many worse spots to be in that what he’ll face today.
Worst play: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees
The Astros have been downright anemic recently. They aren’t striking out much over the last 14—only 21.5% of the time—but the team .106 ISO is the stone worst in the league by FAR, with the floundering Cubs offense farther ahead at a .125 ISO. The ‘Stros have taken a lot of hits to their lineup, and add in a cold stretch or two by their lineup regulars and it’s been really slow going for Houston lately. Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, and Carlos Correa are all batting .178 or worse over the last two weeks, and only Jose Altuve (.156 ISO) has shown much power recently from that crew. Add in Jameson Taillon’s recent hot stretch and the fact that he is much better against righty hitters...this looks like a Yordan Alvarez one-off situation, and even a spot I might consider taking a shot on Taillon. You can ALWAYS justify stacking a team with upside like Houston...but I could see today not being the day, and I didn’t want to give you an easy team to avoid, like the Reds.
Who sticks out to you in the early going, ladies and gents?!? Let’s have a better day than yesterday, with no more big injuries to suffer through...