Welcome to the Friday edition of MLB Top Plays! It’s my first column of the season and I couldn’t be happier to have baseball back in the fold, especially as the weather starts to warm up. Tonight’s main FanDuel slate features ten games, and while we don’t have much in the way of high-end pitching on the schedule, that will only make things more interesting from a tournament perspective.
Starting Pitcher – Francisco Liriano ($8,000)
Liriano isn’t the ace we want, but he’s the ace we get. While I’m not one to put much (if any) credence into spring numbers, the often erratic Liriano had an impressive start to the spring and if he’s able to corral his control in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field, he should be in good shape against an offense that doesn’t boast much in the way of RH power bats. 2016 was very much an up and down season for the lefty, but outside of the last few months of the year while he was with the Jays, Liriano’s best month in 2016 came in April. With all that said, the biggest thing working in his favor is that the Rays finished 2016 with the highest K% in baseball against LHP (25.4%), and given that Liriano’s strength has always been missing bats, he carries a massive ceiling in this spot.
Catcher – Gary Sanchez ($3,100)
There isn’t a “high end” catcher in terms of pricing, so given the type of ceiling Sanchez provides due to his power potential, it’s going to be tough not to want to heavily target him against an inconsistent right-hander. Sanchez isn’t going to duplicate his 2016 numbers this season – he finished the year with a .451 wOBA, .351 ISO and 188 wRC+, insane numbers to keep up over the course of a year – but he still profiles as a legitimate power bat and a trip to Camden Yards doesn’t do much to dampen his outlook. He’s racked up just one hit in 14 ABs in the early going, but hopefully that only helps to keep his ownership percentage in check. Given that we don’t have to pay premiums for Coors bats on this slate, it’s likely that I end up paying up at this spot for someone in the $2.8-$3.1K range as opposed to paying down towards the minimum, which is a strategy I employ fairly often.
With the Indians heading to an NL park, it’s very likely that one of these two ends up sitting out on Friday night. Regardless, whichever player ends up in the lineup is going to be the first basemen I have the most exposure to. Shelby Miller has been absolutely dreadful in Chase Field – he allowed a .395 wOBA, a 1.72 HR/9 rate and a 38.9 hard% at home last season. There hasn’t been much to suggest that a turnaround is in order for Miller, who not too long ago was a highly regarded prospect. The Indians should absolutely feast in this matchup, and hitters from both sides are squarely in play. Miller was friendlier to LH bats last year (.467 wOBA allowed, 6.09 xFIP vs. LHs at home), so Santana’s presence in the lineup is probably the best case scenario here, but Encarnacion’s HR potential will make him extremely appealing as well.
Second Base - Rougned Odor ($3,300)
The Rangers are one of my favorite team stacks of the day, and Odor will be featured across the board in those lineups. He’s one of the few potent LHBs in the Rangers lineup, which leans fairly right-handed, and the fact that he also hits lefties well is a plus considering Raul Alcantara isn’t likely to go deep into this game. Alcantara has allowed a .440 wOBA in 22.1 career MLB innings with a total of nine HRs allowed, good for an insanely high 3.63 HR/9 rate. Odor blasted 26 HRs against RHP last season, 14 of which came in Arlington, and his .274 ISO at home against RHP last season entrenches him as one of the top overall plays at the second base spot. He’s also available at a lower price tag than the other elite options, which only makes it easier to fit some of the other Texas bats in your MLB lineups.
Third Base – Jake Lamb ($3,100)
When you look at Lamb’s home numbers against RHP, the fact that he’s priced at $3,100 is a joke. Ignoring the fact that he blasted a HR in Chase Field against a RHP less than 24 hours ago, Lamb finished 2016 with a .390 wOBA, .310 ISO and 47.7 hard% against RHP at home, and based on those totals alone, Lamb should find himself priced in at least the mid $3K range. Josh Tomlin had some success against LHBs last season, holding them to a .287 wOBA and issuing just seven walks in 76.2 IP, but some underlying numbers suggest he isn’t going to be able to maintain those numbers. Tomlin owned a .227 BABIP vs. LHs which didn’t seem to mesh with his batted ball totals (37.1 hard%, 19.0 soft%) especially considering he’s decent at keeping the ball on the ground. Nonetheless, the heart of the D’Backs order are all strong targets, with Lamb being the best of the bunch.
Shortstop – Jhonny Peralta ($2,700)
I want to pay up for Francisco Lindor, but the fact that he’s now priced at $3,700 and coming off of what will likely be his best game of the season, I’m fine going heavier on some of the other Cleveland bats. That leaves me with Peralta, who is available at a $1K discount to Lindor, yet has an even better matchup. Amir Garrett has never pitched at the big league level, and a trip to face the Cardinals on the road isn’t exactly a warm welcome. Peralta didn’t have much success against southpaws in his limited 2016 season, but he’s been a productive bat against them over the course of his career and if he’s able to find himself in the clean-up spot tonight, he should have plenty of run producing opportunities. Aledmys Diaz is a perfectly suitable pivot if you have the extra $300 in cap space.
Kyle Schwarber ($3,400) – Over 188 career ABs against RHP, Schwarber owns a .400 wOBA, .266 ISO and 41.4 hard%, numbers that should play extremely well against the very hittable Jimmy Nelson. With Schwarber priced a good deal below guys like Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo and Nelson Cruz – all of whom are in tougher matchups – Schwarber makes sense as an across the board play in all formats out of the leadoff spot. I don’t expect Nelson to have much success against the Cubs offense and even if he gets knocked around early, Schwarber should absolutely see five plate appearances against one of the league’s weaker pitching staffs.
Nomar Mazara ($3,100) and Shin-Soo Choo ($2,700) - I’ve already harped on my love for the Rangers, so I’ll keep this short. Both Mazara and Choo have the platoon advantage in their favor and with Alcantara having some major HR issues in his limited big league sample size, the power upside for the Rangers bats in Arlington is sky high. Neither Mazara nor Choo warrant a high price tag either, so being able to cheaply stack the Rangers while also rostering any arm you want is certainly appealing. Carlos Gomez, who is also priced below $3K, is also a fine option in any format.