Bryce Harper and the Nationals offense absolutely cannot be overlooked against a pitcher who just does not look ready to compete at the big league level (Jake Thompson). Check out daily fantasy expert Ricky Sanders’ recommended plays to help you fill out your roster for today’s MLB.
Daniel Murphy, Nationals, $10,400 – Although there are 13 games scheduled to be played on Monday, one offense is almost assuredly going to be the chalk in all formats: the Nationals. Why? Opposing starter Jake Thompson was drafted with a second round pick in 2012 but it’s clear he is not ready to pitch at the big league level. Among all active pitchers who have thrown at least 10 innings in the last month, Thompson’s 40.9-percent hard hit percentage allowed ranks 25th worst (behind mostly relievers). In fact, the only starters on the list ahead of him are Vince Velasquez, Braden Shipley, James Shields, Ariel Miranda, Jason Hammel and Sean Manaea. Of that whole grouping of pitchers, Thompson’s 9.78 ERA for the season ranks dead last as does his 6.05 BB/9 and 2.33 HR/9. Thompson is just an absolute mess and left-handers have hit him harder (.426 wOBA) than right-handers (.389). Therefore, the National League’s second-leading hitter is an absolute must-play against the gas can of all gas cans. If you choose not to roster Murphy, 80-plus percent of your opponents probably will, and it could single-handedly end your day before it even starts.
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, $10,500 – So remember how James Shields was one of the starters on the list above who has allowed a higher hard hit percentage than Jake Thompson over the last 30 days? That’ll come in handy when taking into consideration he’ll pitch in Comerica Park against a Tigers are listed as -195 favorites despite Matt Boyd toeing the mound. In other words, Vegas absolutely loves the Tigers offense. First, let’s look at Shields’ ugly numbers: 5.98 ERA, 5.97 FIP, 5.27 xFIP, 40.5-percent GB rate, 1.61 WHIP, 34.7-percent hard hit rate, 1.95 HR/9, 3.78 BB/9, 6.10 K/9 and a .404/.458/.888 slash line (.549 wOBA) allowed in the month of August so far. Honestly, Thompson and Shields are like a pair of pitching machines so you almost cannot roster too many hitters against either. Considering Shields’ reverse splits this season (.391 wOBA allowed to RHHs versus .371 to LHHs), rostering Miguel Cabrera makes all the sense in the world. Not only does he lead the team in wOBA against RHP this season (.397) but he’s slashing .316/.376/.573 against the handedness with an impressive 40.1-percent hard hit rate. As icing on the cake, Cabrera is a career 24-63 (.381) off Shields with three HRs and 10 RBIs (.683 SLG). He’s an elite play in any and all formats.
Bryce Harper, Nationals, $10,200 – One Nationals hitter simply is not enough on Monday evening. Hell, Jake Thompson woke up the White Sox offense last week (Aug. 23) when he allowed seven ERs in five innings against them…and this Nationals offense is much more talented. So far, Thompson has yet to make it through any Major League start without allowing at least three ERs nor has he finished any game with a BB/9 rate below 4.15. To expand on statistics mentioned in the Murphy tidbit, Thompson has allowed three HRs (out of five total) to LHHs to go along with a .289/.429/.578 slash line. Heading into Sunday, Bryce Harper had produced double-digit fantasy points in three consecutive games and was slashing .348/.439/.565 in August. Basically, he has been feeling it as of late and now faces one of the worst pitchers in baseball. The whole team is in play, including red hot Trea Turner, but Murphy and Harper should at least be the staples in cash games. UPDATE: Harper homered yet again on Sunday. The guy is officially on fire.
Rajai Davis, Indians, $9,300 – Since joining the Twins, probable starter Hector Santiago has been sent into a tailspin as he currently sports a 10.89 ERA and 1.84 WHIP with his current team. According to Santiago, a thumb issue has been bothering him for months so that’s why he has been struggling. I suspect the real reason for the struggles has been he no longer enjoys the privilege of pitching half his games in pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium. Now, he’ll square off against an Indians team that ranks 9th in wOBA against LHP that is loaded from top to bottom with adequate bats against the handedness. After allowing 17 SBs last year, opponents have stolen eight bases off of him this season in 139.2 IP this year. While those aren’t quite Noah Syndergaard numbers, they suggest stolen bases aren’t exactly off the table against him. This completes an already favorable matchup for Rajai Davis who will likely be hitting in the leadoff spot. Davis has stolen a team-high 12 bases versus southpaws this season and no one else on the team has stolen more than seven bases against the handedness (Jose Ramirez). Additionally, Davis owns a career .344 wOBA and .291/.347/.440 slash line against lefties and can get it done in multiple ways in this matchup. If looking for a non-National, non-Tiger bat to play in cash games, Davis connects all the dots.
Jake Arrieta, Cubs, $24,000 – On a slate full of hitters in fantastic spots, there are two ways to attack hitting: roster Jake Arrieta and a scrub or deploy two mid-tier starters. Coming off eight innings of shutout ball in San Diego, Arrieta continues to show his subpar numbers in July (4.88 ERA) were nothing but an anomaly. In 27.1 IP this month, Arrieta has held opponents to a measly .133/.250/.289 slash line, .245 wOBA and 1.98 ERA. Meanwhile, his opponent, the Pirates, rank 25th in wOBA among all teams in the month of August. As a whole, they are slashing .241/.308/.406 this month. Their season numbers against right-handers aren’t exactly impressive either as they rank in the bottom 10 of wOBA, wRC+, ISO and hard hit percentage versus the handedness. If spending up on one pitcher, my preference is Arrieta over the likes of Yu Darvish and Jose Fernandez (at least in 50/50s, head-to-heads and double ups).
Tanner Roark, Nationals, $16,800 – Any pitcher facing the Phillies always has a strong case to be made for them but especially when they are virtually guaranteed to win because Jake Thompson will oppose them. Tanner Roark is amidst an ultra-productive season where he has limited hard contact to both lefties and righties and is striking out hitters at a career-best rate (7.16 K/9). On the other hand, the Phillies rank in the bottom 10 of wOBA, wRC+, BB rate, AVG, OBP, hard hit rate and line drive percentage while striking out at 22.5-percent. Even on the road, Roark appears to be the safest of all mid-tier pitchers on the slate.
Matt Shoemaker, Angels, $14,400 – Of all the narratives you could possibly believe in the game of baseball, the one that holds most weight for me is “Matt Shoemaker at home.” In a trend that has held true in all three of his seasons at the big leagues, Shoemaker just always pitches better at home as evident by his 2.77 career home ERA and 4.77 road ERA. Interviews and even studies have shown the rocks in the background tend to distract visiting hitters and it takes a split second longer to pick up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. Even if you don’t buy all of that, Angels Stadium has played as a bottom five hitters’ park over the past few seasons, per ESPN Park Factors. Pitching at home is a clear advantage and Shoemaker is simply comfortable in that setting. On Monday evening, the Reds will come to town ranking in the bottom five of nearly every major sabermetric category other than strike out percentage (although they still sit at around league average). Between the opponent and the environment, all the signs are there for Shoemaker to go out and throw one of his patented, dominant home outings.
*Stats are accurate as of Sunday, August 28