MLB DFS Notes for 8/23/2020: Corbin Burnes, Nelson Cruz, Randal Grichuk, and more!

Should have listened to my gut on Dustin May yesterday. He fared pretty well in real life by allowing only two hits and one run, but he only went five innings and mustered one strikeout. I suppose taking the ballin’ nature of the Dodgers bullpen into account would have been prudent–why ask your guy to pitch deep when your bullpen has a league-leading 1.82 ERA. Anyway, good thing it’s called “daily” fantasy sports. Let’s move it along.

J.D. Martinez and Nelson Cruz versus southpaws

J.D. Martinez at LHP Wade LeBlanc
Nelson Cruz at LHP Kris Bubic

This isn’t a question. Just an acknowledgement. Martinez (19 HR, .404 BA) led the majors in dingers versus southpaws last year. Nelson Cruz (16 HR, .322 BA) was tied for third–Cody Bellinger had 18. And for reference, Cruz managed that mark in 140 PA–compared to 170 for Martinez and 228 for Bellinger. It’s not like Cruz is lacking.

Fast forward to 2020, and Cruz’s four homers against lefties is tied for second in MLB, while three guys are tied in first place with five (Tim Anderson, Wilmer Flores, Joey Gallo). Cruz has a whopping .435 BA in the split thus far. Martinez (2 HR, .294 BA) has fared well against lefties, but he isn’t tearing them up like he did last year. It’s been his far superior split in 2020, as against righties he has one homer and a .203/.292/.344 slash. That’s scary for sure, but against southpaws it’s a .294/.385/.559 slash, .265 ISO, .392 wOBA, and 146 wRC+. There’s nothing wrong with J.D. against a lefty.

I didn’t mention earlier, but Cruz has crushed both handedness in 2020 and has been the superior hitter. Against lefties he’s slashing .435/.519/1.000, with a .565 ISO, .603 wOBA, and 293 wRC+. The 40-year-old has been insane with the stick and there’s a reason he costs $600 more than Martinez today.

Who is Josh Fleming?

The Rays lost Yonny Chirinos to Tommy John, and Fleming now gets the call for his big league debut. It might be a curious (or just plain bad) place to start, however. Fleming has been described in Rays circles as “Ryan Yarbrough with a better fastball,” for what it’s worth. However, while he appeared to unlock some potential at Double-A in 2019, he struggled through four starts at the Triple-A level. He’s never posted a K/9 higher than 6.86 in the minors, and he allowed six homers over 21 Triple-A innings last year–or a 2.57 HR/9. Small sample certainly applies, but facing off against a righty-heavy Toronto lineup with lots of power sure looks tricky.

As a unit, the Blue Jays have nine homers against southpaws in 2020. Randal Grichuk (3 HR, .417 BA) and Teoscar Hernandez (3 HR, .280 BA) account for two thirds of those on their own. Bo Bichette (ugh) has one, while Vladito (1 HR, .167 BA) and Danny Jansen (1 HR, .071 BA) have dingers but have been otherwise uninspiring in the split. Grichuk actually has a stupid-awesome 7.7% strikeout rate against lefties thus far, so he’s firmly on my radar today at only $2,900. If you were stacking Blue Jays, arguably the best overall performances aside from Grichuk and Teoscar belong to Cavan Biggio and Rowdy Tellez. Biggio reads sort of like Cesar Hernandez did last night–you aren’t necessarily drafting him for power, but he’s got on-base skills and you like him as a part of a full stack. He also reached three times yesterday, swiped a base, and accounted for the lone Toronto RBI.

What is the upside for Corbin Burnes?

Burnes carried a no-hit bid into the fifth inning against the mighty Minnesota Twins in his last turn. In all, he allowed two hits and one earned run, walking three and striking out five. In those five innings, he scored 27 FDP, for reference. However, whereas the Twins rank 8th in wOBA and 7th in ISO against RHP in 2020, the Pirates rank dead last in wOBA (.254) and ISO (.114) in the split. Pittsburgh has a middling 24.1% strikeout rate against RHP, ranking 17th in the league (meaning 16 teams have lower K-rates). The Pirates also don’t walk, as the 6.1% walk rate also ranks dead last against RHP. One other batted ball piece that stuck out–the Pirates collectively have the second-worst ground ball rate in the league against RHP, at 47.5%. Only the Marlins (49.0%) have been worse. Any way you slice it, this reads like an epic matchup for Burnes.

As for Burnes himself, here are his pitch counts thus far: 75, 64, 77, 69, and 83. He’s absolutely been successful so far in 2020, but his primary blemish has been walks. His 33.3% K-rate is an improvement over last year’s 29.8% rate, but both are awesome marks. It’s the walk rate that has ballooned from 8.5% a year ago to 16.1% in 2020. He’s been pretty equal to both sides too, allowing seven walks to each handedness of hitter in roughly the same number of PA (he’s at 14.9% to LHH and 17.5% to RHH). Anyway, he allows far less hard contact and more soft contact to RHH. It’s lefty bats we’d need to worry about a little, if we worried about anything besides the walks. The Pirates do have a string of lefties and switch-hitters–namely Josh Bell and Colin Moran in the heart of the order. But as stated, the performance thus far has been pretty much garbage. Triston McKenzie is a guy I pretty much ignored yesterday due to pitch count concerns in his MLB debut, but he mowed the punchless Detroit Tigers down in only 80 pitches, managing six innings, 10 strikeouts, the quality start and the win (55 FDP). This is the same sort of plus matchup for Burnes, and he could arguably go 85+ pitches today.

It might be a mistake to always be mining for the cheaper-end sort of pitcher. It’s just tough to ignore Burnes’ matchup today. And yes, I know the Pirates dropped 12 runs on Milwaukee yesterday. They got eight of those runs off of the Brewers bullpen. All the more reason to let your boy Burnes work deep today.

Summary

I like scouting out the last week’s worth of performance for offense to see what lines up. And would you look at that, the Pirates have a 4.8% walk rate over the last seven days of MLB action–or the worst mark in the league. That, and the team’s .131 ISO ranks 25th, and that’s including yesterday’s outburst.

The Blue Jays have top 10 marks in ISO, wOBA, and wRC+ over the last week of action. They’ve bashed 14 homers over that stretch, third-most in the league after only the White Sox (27!) and Padres (18). So it’s safe to say I don’t expect Fleming to have a McKenzie-esque performance today.

Holy dang at the White Sox. Maybe there’s room to not go totally crazy for Yu Darvish today. The Sox have a .438 wOBA over the last week, which is tops in the league by a country mile (the Mets are second at .401). The Sox also have a .384 ISO, almost 100 points better than the second place Mets (.288). In short, they’ve been on a rampage, with multiple guys contributing. Darvish could absolutely play the “stopper” role today and shut them down, but that’s a heck of a draw. Chicago has now won seven in a row, and they hit four more bombs last night.

That’s about it for me this morning. Just wanted to make a first pass through. These aren’t necessarily picks and it may not be how I land. My goal is more to maybe answer a question or two, or to point someone towards their own further research. I’m always circling back around to things before I land on a certain spot. I do like Cruz over J.D. Martinez, and I do think Burnes is in the best spot he’s been in all year. Maybe last night’s box score by the Pirates will scare some people off? Maybe I’m the fish. We’ll see!

I’ll be happy to take any suggestions on the format, or have any conversations about the day’s slate. I love dabbling in and talking about DFS–you can find me on Twitter at @HeathCapps and let’s enjoy a lazy Sunday!

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