Do you want a weird little September MLB slate? Because that’s exactly what we have on our hands this evening. Five games. No weather concerns. Two rookie starters as the most expensive pitchers. Coors Field. For a collection of contests that seemed pretty innocuous on the surface, there’s actually a lot going on here.
Let’s go position-by-position and break it all down.
Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Guardians at Kansas City Royals, $9,300 - While McKenzie was just activated off of the IL on Wednesday, I’m thinking his stay was more gamesmanship than actual injury. Not that “Shoulder fatigue” isn’t a real thing, but I’m willing to bet this was mainly a team out of the playoff hunt looking to regulate a young pitcher’s workload. Anyway, health notwithstanding, McKenzie’s looked incredible the last three times he’s taken the mound, pitching to a 1.29 ERA and holding opponents to a .146 wOBA. Most importantly, the 24-year-old has complimented his 33.3% strikeout rate with a 12.0 K/BB ratio during this span, as control was McKenzie’s biggest issue early in 2021. As long as he’s finding the plate, he’s nasty.
Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs, $6,200 - Let me say right away that the rational “cheap” value play is Carlos Carrasco ($8,000). If you don’t feel comfortable dipping your toe beneath ‘Cookie’ in the pricing list, I really don’t blame you. Still, allow me to make the case for Keller. The RHP’s FIP is nearly two-full runs lower than his inflated ERA thanks to hilariously unlucky marks in both strand rate (66.9%) and BABIP (.372). For his career, Keller’s also racked up 149 strikeouts in 141.2 innings of work. He’s a former top prospect with some talent and pedigree, the results have simply been pretty inconsistent; but there is some upside here. Considering the Cubs led baseball with a 30.6% strikeout rate since the beginning of August, I’ll have a few shares of Keller in GPPs.
Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox, $4,400 - No one in the history of baseball has ever praised Zunino for his contact skills, yet the backstop is slashing an insane .341/.429/.868 with a .524 wOBA in his 105 plate appearances against left-handed pitching so far in 2021. Eduardo Rodriguez ($9,000) is a good pitcher, but those splits speak for themselves.
Editor’s Note: Red Sox C Kevin Plawecki is not in the lineup for tonight’s game vs. the Rays.
Kevin Plawecki, Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays, $2,700 - I assume Plawecki gets the start behind the plate this evening after Christian Vazquez ($3,000; knee) was forced to leave Wednesday’s win over the Rays. Honestly, Plawecki should probably be starting this game regardless of Vazquez’s health, as he’s crushed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .319 average and a 123 wRC+ since the beginning of May. Shane McClanahan ($10,100) isn’t your average LHP, but you have to live with some non-ideal matchups on a slate this small.
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Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves at Colorado Rockies, $5,900 - I have to admit, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen an implied team total of more than seven runs, but that’s exactly the scenario we find the Braves in on Thursday evening. Sure, Coors Field plays a major factor, but if I’m being completely honest, you can stack against Chi Chi Gonzalez ($5,100) anywhere, as Gonzalez comes into tonight’s start with a 6.64 xERA and a robust 89.0% zone contact rate. Freeman, who’s slashing .331/.398/.524 since the All-Star break, should be able to do some serious damage.
Frank Schwindel, Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, $3,300 - I understand that most of you won’t be using the aforementioned Keller, which does open up Schwindel as an extremely enticing value asset. The journeyman has looked impressive in his opportunity with the Cubs, hitting .306 with a .289 ISO and a 149 wRC+ across 129 plate appearances. He’s also primarily batting second in David Ross’ lineup. Ideally, the wind would be blowing out of Wrigley on Thursday, but it’s hard to ask for more from a player priced slightly above $3K.
Brendan Rodgers, Colorado Rockies vs. Atlanta Braves, $4,600 - It took a little longer than some expected, but Rodgers, the former third-overall pick, is starting to really heat up at the MLB level. Going back to July 25, Rodgers is slashing .311/.349/.533 with a .211 ISO and a .375 wOBA in 129 plate appearances. The infielder has also managed at least one hit in 24 of the 29 games in than span, making him a very high-ceiling asset, even before we start factoring in the altitude.
Wilmer Difo, Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs, $2,100 - Just like there’s always money in the banana stand, there’s always value at the top of the Pirates’ lineup. With Ke’Bryan Hayes ($3,600; hand) banged up, it was Difo who hit second for Pittsburgh the last time it faced an RHP on Tuesday. For the season, the 29-year-old has actually been pretty good against righties, with a 111 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances. If he’s up in the top-third again this evening versus Keegan Thompson ($5,600), he’s worth a look at this price.
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Guardians at Kansas City Royals, $5,900 - It was a little lost in the shuffle, but Ramirez is coming off an incredible month of August. Not only did the All-Star mash nine home runs and produce a 157 wRC+, the Ramirez also stole eight bases, once again cementing himself as one of the best duel-threats in all of baseball. With Mike Minor ($7,200) coming into tonight’s contest struggling to keep the ball in the park — he’s allowed 2.5 opponent home runs per nine over his last five outings — I like Ramirez to keep the good times rolling.
Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins at New York Mets, $3,000 - I don’t truly believe that Carrasco was as bad as his first five starts off of the IL indicate, but at the end of the day, the 53 RHBs he’s faced so far this season have combined to produce a staggering .418 wOBA. Meanwhile, Anderson has posted an .804 OPS and a 126 wRC+ versus RHPs in 2021. He’s too good a hitter to be priced at $3K.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bays Rays vs. Boston Red Sox, $5,100 - It’s difficult to overstate just how impressive what Franco is doing as a 20-year-old rookie is. It would be good enough that Franco has registered a 123 wRC+ across his first 242 plate appearances, but the fact he’s doing it with a microscopic 14.0% strikeout rate is insane. He’s also crushed left-handed pitching in the big leagues, slashing .329/.395/.592 with a 171 wRC+. How is it possible that he’s already one of the best hitters in the American League?
Amed Rosario, Cleveland Guardians at Kansas City Royals, $4,300 - I’ve gone in-depth a few different times this season when talking about Rosario’s ability to hit left-handed pitching — he’s batting .331 with a 141 wRC+ within the split — but his viability on this slate is about more than Mike Minor’s presence. Rosario has been unstoppable at the dish regardless of who has been on the mound since the beginning of August. In fact, within that span, Rosario is hitting .364 with a .403 wOBA. He’s red-hot right now.
Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox, $4,500 - The rookie outfielder has been on fire since the calendar flipped to August, and that alone makes him one of the best dollar-for-dollar assets on this compressed slate. However, the real magic is in the splits. Arozarena has 102 plate appearances against LHPs at the Trop in 2021. In those PAs, Arozarena is slashing .375/.461/.682 with a .307 ISO and a 214 wRC+. Doesn’t exactly sound like the type of hitter Rodriguez is going to have success with, does it?
Joc Pederson, Atlanta Braves at Colorado Rockies, $3,900 - It’s rare you can say that Pederson is in the perfect matchup, but Gonzalez’s inability to induce strikeouts makes the free-swinger a really nice play on Thursday. To wit, Colorado’s RHP has struck out just 13.0% of the left-handed batters he’s faced so far in 2021. Meanwhile, Pederson finds himself in the 79th percentile of the league in hard hit rate (47.0%). Add in the Coors factor, and it’s a hard opportunity to pass up.
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