Throughout this blog, I want to identify some scenarios that may, at least initially, be mis-priced by DFS algorithms that are relying on historical data without taking into account granular or situational changes, with the goal of exploiting them before they become common knowledge.
Cold Nats Bats
Last time in this space we discussed the Reds, Cubs and Indians as teams that have not performed well offensively, and while the Reds might have been expected, the Cubs and Indians were surprising. The Reds are still bad, the Cubs can blame some injury issues, and the Indians have mainly figured it out with some big offensive outbursts this week. The Nats, however, are something to behold. On April 2nd, they scored 8 runs to clobber the Braves. Since then, they have put up the following totals amount of runs:
6, 1, 2, 2, 5, 2, 4, 3, 1, 1, 6
That is absolutely terrible. It’s not like they’ve faced dynamo pitching staffs either, matching up against the Mets, Braves and Rockies in that span. They also will never face two of the better pitchers in the NL- Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, as they both happen to play for the Nats. So what’s going on? Why are Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Anthony Rendon not getting it together? For one thing, Adam Eaton, who is so important as a table setter, is out with an injury again. For another, here are the triple slash lines for the prominent Nats:
Obviously Harper’s OPS is still in line with what you would expect, but man, the other guys are not doing much around him. Zimmerman is the most obvious culprit, and has even begun ceding starts against quality RHPs to Matt Adams, which is probably not what the Nats were hoping for from a guy that has a 6 year, $100 Million deal. Even Harper is being forced to swing at worse pitches than he’d like, and is taking more pitches too, as evidenced by his 25% walk rate thus far. Look for that Nats to turn things around, and for that to generally coincide with Eaton rejoining the lineup and Zimmerman picking it up a bit. This team is too talented to continue to underperform by this much. It’s worth noting that they also have the league’s second lowest BABIP number at .267, a full 33 points below the baseline for “average”.
The Baltimore Strikeout Kings
I don’t mean Dylan Bundy and Brad Brach here. I mean the Orioles hitters. Baltimore is generally thought of as a boom or bust offense, but so far this year they have taken that approach to a new level. Last year’s K% leaders, the Milwaukee Brewers, struck out 25.6% of the time. So far this year, the Orioles have outpaced that number, striking out 27.5% of the time. It will probably surprise very few that the team with the lowest K rate thus far is the Angels, who have been playing out of their minds and have struck out only 15.9% of the time (while also maintaining a .185 ISO, good for 3rd in the league).
But back to the Orioles for a minute, this is a team to exploit! They are very right-handed, they swing for the fences, and they just lost one of their better hitters Jonathan Schoop. This is definitely a team to use aces against, and also take a cursory look at secondary pitchers with high K rates. This is no longer the offense to fear that it once was, and the DFS algorithms are slow in coming to this realization, as the Orioles are often higher priced than one would expect given their output so far this season.
Wait, Are the Pirates Good?
Well no, of course not. But I’d forgive you for thinking that. The Pirates have the league’s highest ISO (.196) while being near the bottom in K% (16.9%), and are not outperforming their skill according to BABIP, where their .298 puts them almost exactly at the benchmark of .300. So why the great numbers?
Well, they’ve faced some of the worst pitching staff in MLB in the Tigers, Twins, Reds, Cubs and Marlins. It would stand to reason that they would come back to earth soon, and as of this writing, they are being one hit by the Marlins’ Trevor Richards. The takeaway here is that one Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Francisco Cervelli, and company are still an offense you should target with aces, despite their early success. Perhaps you can save this to the memory bank for the Pirates series against the Nationals beginning April 30th, where they will likely get at least one of Scherzer, Strasburg, and Gonzalez. In the meantime, feel free to ride some cheap Pirates bats as low-owned sources of power and production.
Remember how the Nationals cold bats were due at least in part to their .267 BABIP? The Cleveland Indians have a BABIP of .234. .234! For context, the league-worst BABIP in 2017 was the Blue Jays, who ended up with a BABIP of .276. The Indians finished at .295 last year, right around league average. Speaking of averages, if you believe in the law of averages, you should very much be a believer in the Cleveland Indians in the weeks to come. Their K% and BB% numbers are league average, as are their ISO numbers, but their BABIP and WRC+ numbers are league worst. This can’t continue, but when will it change?
Perhaps, with a home stand against a team with bad pitching. The Indians won’t get one for a little while facing the Twins in Puerto Rico and then playing a series at Camden, but when the Indians host the Cubs in a series starting April 24th, look for them to start turning things around and piling up the runs, hopefully, while low-owned and underpriced!