Pitching in a National League stadium is already an upgrade in itself, but Justin Verlander will relish the opportunity to face a bad offense in a pitcher’s park on Tuesday. Check out daily fantasy expert Ricky Sanders’ recommended plays to help you fill out your roster for today’s MLB contests.
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, $9,300 – Only five guys with at least 200 at-bats (ABs) versus LHP have produced greater career wOBAs than Miguel Cabrera: Ryan Braun, Paul Goldschmidt, David Wright, Andrew McCutchen and Albert Pujols. The Tigers will head to Miami to square off against Wei-Yen Chen and the Marlins on Tuesday in the second most difficult park in the majors to hit the ball out of. Still, Chen isn’t exactly lights out considering his career 3.72 ERA and Cabrera is one of the best gap hitters in the game. To depict just how dominant of a hitter Cabrera is, he leads the entire MLB in AVG over the past two seasons (2013-2015) by 19 percentage points (min. 120 plate appearances). While he may not be able to take one out of Marlins Park, he is an excellent bet for multiple hits, possibly of the extra base variety, in a matchup against a middling lefty.
Ben Zobrist, Cubs, $7,600 – A major reason the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist was due to their lack of potency against LHP last season. The Cubs ranked in the bottom 10 of wOBA against lefties and struck out more than any team against the handedness by 2.6 percentage points (26.2-percent to St. Louis’ 23.6) in 2015. In fact, only Dexter Fowler sports a higher career wOBA (.367) than Zobrist’s .357 tally on the team. On Monday, Zobrist hit third against his less favorable side of the platoon split (against a RHP). Therefore, this leads me to believe Coach Joe Maddon, who has a history with Zobrist during his tenure with the Rays, will continue to bat him third against left-handers as well…especially with super utility man Javier Baez on the disabled list. Zobrist, a switch-hitter, is simply much more effective as a right-handed hitter and will square off against a young lefty in Andrew Heaney. 87.5-percent of the HRs Heaney allowed last season were to right-handers so he was clearly susceptible to the handedness. Hitting amongst a powerful, dangerous lineup, Zobrist does not only possess the possibility of an extra base hit or two, but he could also drive in a few runs in the process.
Mike Trout, Angels, $9,600 – Many will look at Jon Lester and choose to avoid using hitters against him as he is the highest-priced starter on the slate. Not me…I am still going to be rolling out one of the best players in baseball against him: Mike Trout. Not only does Trout crush LHP (career .399 wOBA) but the matchup against Lester presents an excellent opportunity for him to swipe a base. Only three pitchers allowed runners to steal more than 30 bases (SBs) against them last season: A.J. Burnett (33), Tyson Ross (37) and Jon Lester (44). There is a wide gap between Lester and the second worst pitcher at holding runners let alone the league average. Essentially when a speedy runner gets on, they are going to look to steal and likely be successful considering Lester’s lack of ability to throw to first base. In such a favorable situation in so many ways, Trout is my favorite hitter on the entire slate despite a matchup that on the surface could be perceived as mediocre. The best of the best can get it done against anyone and I expect Trout will on Tuesday.
Nelson Cruz, Mariners, $9,600 – Last season, only Enrique Hernandez, Giancarlo Stanton, Travis d’Arnaud and Darin Ruf produced a greater wOBAs against LHP than Nelson Cruz (min. 40 ABs). Although opposing starter Martin Perez returned from Tommy John surgery in the middle of last season and clearly wasn’t healthy, he still allowed a .300 AVG to right-handed hitters. In fact, Perez allowed a wOBA nearly 90 percentage points higher (.336) to righties than he did to lefties (.247). So, in a nutshell, we have a battle between a pitcher who has recently struggled against righties versus one of the best lefty mashers in the game (also a righty). Lop-sided duels such as those do not typically turn out well for the pitcher and I think Cruz is the top candidate on the slate for a bomb.
Justin Verlander, Tigers, $16,800 – As mentioned in the Cabrera tidbit, Marlins Park is a tough place to hit the ball out of which should help Justin Verlander‘s process of putting together a quality start. During his career, Verlander has allowed 18-plus home runs over the course of a single season eight times including 24 during his 2011 Cy Young campaign. Strangely enough, after two straight down years by Verlander’s standards, he righted the ship last year part despite a nine year high in HR/9 rate. Considering the long ball was/is his weakness, this park is an excellent fit for him especially without the designated hitter in play. Sure Giancarlo Stanton was hurt for a solid portion of the year but the Marlins finished dead last in wOBA and second to last in ISO versus RHP. According to FanGraphs, if this current roster were in place last season the Marlins still would have ranked 27th in wOBA versus RHP so it’s not exactly like the addition of Dee Gordon suddenly transforms them to an offensive juggernaut. If Verlander can avoid the knockout blow from Stanton, the rest of the lineup is pretty much smooth sailing. Although he is priced at a typical Verlander-esque price, the favorable matchup in terms of league switch, ballpark and opponent suggest he should be more expensive. He is my dollar-for-dollar favorite pitching play on the slate and can be safely deployed in all formats.
Scott Kazmir, Dodgers, $16,000 – After struggling against LHP last season (23rd in wOBA), the Padres lost their best lefty masher to the Tigers (Justin Upton) this offseason. Judging their prospects moving forward solely by yesterday’s game against Clayton Kershaw is a bit unfair as he is the best pitcher in the game by a wide margin…but he certainly made them look helpless. This game will be played in the friendly confines of Petco Park which has played as the fourth worst hitters’ park over the past two seasons…which isn’t surprising due to the massive the dimensions. Furthermore, only three teams struck out at a higher rate than the Padres against lefties last season which correlates nicely with Kazmir’s career 8.54 K/9. In a game where the park should limit his mistakes and his K potential couldn’t get much higher, Kazmir rates closely behind Verlander as option 1B.
Jonathon Niese, Pirates, $12,600 – Usually I’ll throw in a third pitching option and just deem him GPP-worthy only but this is an exception. The Cardinals struggle mightily against LHP mostly because two of their best hitters are left-handed…and they thoroughly enjoy the platoon advantage versus RHP. All Francisco Liriano did in the opener was strike out 10 Cardinals in six shutout innings. Similarly to Kazmir, Jonathon Niese is not quite as talented as the ace, but he is no scrub either. Best of all, Niese only costs $200 more than the cheapest priced pitcher (Martin Perez) on the slate despite the plus matchup. If looking to stack monster bats and the cap space is needed, Niese is a smart way to make your roster work.
*Stats are accurate as of Monday, Apr. 4