By Kyle Soppe
Statistics are a funny thing. They are sentences from a mystery; put all the right ones together and you still may not come up with the correct conclusion. That being said, pay close enough attention and unearth the important ones, then you’ve got something … you’ve got a chance.
In this age of advanced metrics, I could probably dig deep and tell you the type of cereal that most winning pitchers start their day with, but that is what we call a red herring. True? You bet. Misleading or unrelated? Most likely. By the same token, simply identifying which players are hot probably isn’t going to get it down for you over a 162 game season either.
That’s where I come in. Every Wednesday, I’ll role out a handful of SWIM (Statistics Worth Increased Media) that you were likely unaware of. They will either break down the upcoming week, giving you a fish, or evaluate the past week, teaching you to fish. Either way, most of them will be new to you, giving you one more piece to the puzzle, one more clue to the mystery. Interpret the numbers how you like (I’ll lead you in a direction), but the knowledge gained will put you in a better position to be successful.
Looking to celebrate the first Friday night of the regular season with a pitcher’s duel? You might want to look elsewhere than the matchup of elite prospects in Pittsburgh. The Fantasy community (and I’m no exception) is very high on Gerrit Cole and Shelby Miller, and what’s not to like? They are both potential 200-strikeout 23-year-olds that have already had a taste of the big leagues, but this matchup doesn’t project as an instant classic, and therefore, you should feel fine starting the hitters in this one. Cole recorded a 3.75 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and a .274 batting average against at home last year (2.38/0.95/.217 on the road) while struggling to retire the 3-4-5 hitters in opposing lineups (.318 cumulative batting average). That flaw could be highlighted in this matchup, as the Cardinals 3-4-5 hitters combined to hit .297, score 285 runs, and knock in 333 runs. On the flip side, Miller’s road numbers (4.57/1.48/.271) were that of a middling starter more so than the ace quality of his home numbers (1.75/0.97/.199). The Cardinals righty also failed to figure out the Bucco’s last season (0-4 with a 5.32 ERA), and the names are essentially the same as last year.
Instead, take an extra long look at another Cardinal: Lance Lynn. The 26-year-old righty will face the Cincinnati Reds twice over the next seven days, an offense that figures to function considerably different with Fast Billy Hamilton (Willy Parker is no longer a professional athlete, so I have no problem reassigning his nickname) atop the lineup card instead of Shin-Soo Choo (.333 batting average and .455 on-base percentage in games started by Lynn last year). Even with the on-base machine leading off, Lynn had a very reputable 3.38 ERA against the Reds, striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings in those five starts. Not only does Lynn get a Fantasy upgrade with Hamilton batting first, it should also be noted that Todd Frazier (.234 batting average) stumbled into two homers off of Lynn in a single game, something that is statistically unlikely to ever happen, let alone happen again.
If I just ruined your pick for pitching showdown of the week, let me help find you a game that baseball purists will love. Saturday will feature two teams that combined to hit .246 last season and both will be sending aces to the mound that are under the age of 28. That being said, the numbers give the edge to the less heralded starter:
Sonny Gray (at home in 2013): 1.99 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and a .200 batting average against.
Felix Hernandez (on the road in 2013): 2.63 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and a .232 batting average against.
Max Scherzer’s lone start this week (the week starting today and ending Tuesday) is slated to come on Tuesday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. The Tigers “ace” won 21 games last year, driving his Fantasy value in standard scoring leagues as it gave his owners a decided edge (16 wins), over Cliff Lee (14 wins), and Hisashi Iwakuma (14 wins) among others, but is he worth a look this week? The numbers say that there are better options (assuming wins is a category in your league), as Scherzer has won just one road start over the last two years and four in his entire career.
Numerically speaking, Ivan Nova is very underrated this week. The Yankees righty is penciled in to take on Houston on Thursday (no big league pitcher is a statistically poor option against the DisAstros), but it is his projected Tuesday start against at home against the Orioles that the numbers love. His ERA was nearly two full runs lower at Yankee Stadium last year, a nice trend when combined with Nova’s 2.43 ERA and a .176 batting average against in 29.2 innings against the O’s last year. Baltimore ranked 28th in walks drawn last year, an aggressive approach that Nova exploited (recorded a complete game in two of his three starts against the Orioles).
The Tampa Bay Rays play five consecutive road games to open this week, a scheduling quirk that could result in some low scoring affairs. Evan Longoria (.258 batting average at home), Wil Myers (slugging percentage dropped by 109 points at home), and Matt Joyce (lower SLG at home than on the road in four of his five seasons as a regular) have proven to be less than reliable at St. Pete. If these numbers hold true, Toronto and Texas starters (not one of whom I expect to be Fantasy relevant this year) could be strong streaming options.
The Pirates are a team of significant splits, and with five of their six games at home this week, there are a handful of hitters to target/avoid. I’m awfully worried about Pedro Alvarez this week, as the slugger hit under .200 at PNC ballpark. Sure, 30.2 percent of his hits cleared the fence, but given that the Pirates home park ranked 29th in home rate, that’s a dangerous limb to go out on. Russell Martin is another hitter I’d avoid: it isn’t difficult to find a hitter with a better home batting line than 211/.304/.336. On the other hand, Andrew McCutchen (.337/.425/.537 at home and .298/.381/.478), Jose Tabata (a 73 point bump in slugging percentage), and Neil Walker (23 more hits in only four more at-bats at home than on the road last year) are all players that have increased value this week.
Matt Adams’ batting line last season against the Reds: .276/.323/.862. The Cardinals play four of their seven games this week against the Red Legs and Adams is penciled in as the team’s fifth hitter.