Am I ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball? Because I feel like I’m writing about the Dodgers a lot within this space. Oh, and the Cubs are here, too? Fantastic. Big market griping aside, we’ve got ourselves quite the matchup this evening for DraftKings’ featured MLB Showdown slate. Are you someone who enjoys left-handed pitchers in their mid-30s who have lost significant fastball velocity across the past few seasons? Well, if you answered “yes” to any part of that question, goodness, do tonight’s probable pitchers speak to you.
We’ve got Clayton Kershaw ($11,000). We’ve got Jon Lester ($8,800). Let’s break it all down.
Note: All salaries will be Flex prices unless noted as Captain’s Pick prices.
— The Dodgers have won each of their last seven home games against NL Central opponents
— Nine of the last 10 games for the Dodgers have gone UNDER the total runs line
Stats provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
Los Angeles DodgersIt’s difficult to put into words what Kershaw’s 2019 campaign has felt like through 10 outings. Honestly, the best approximation I could give would be the shrugging emoji. I mean, he’s been good, don’t get me wrong; yet, a 3.39 FIP and 22.9% strikeout rate aren’t exactly the level of domination we’re used to seeing when it comes to the future Hall of Fame starter. Plus, as his average fastball velocity continues to fall – it was 91.3mph in 2018, it’s now 90.5 mph – we’re starting to see a less aggressive Kershaw take the hill. He’s by no means reached the level of, say, Felix Hernandez, but the left-hander’s zone rate of 44.1% is by far the lowest of his lengthy career. He simply doesn’t have the raw stuff to live in the strike zone anymore. However, to his credit, he’s also induced a career-best 40.0% chase rate, which has kept his walk rate at a pristine 3.9%. Additionally, Kershaw’s currently one of 11 pitchers to have thrown in excess of 60 innings this season with a ground ball rate above 52.0%. The man knows how to survive, it’s just weird seeing that he has to survive at all.
Surviving doesn’t necessarily translate to DFS prominence, either. Kershaw’s only once bested 25.0 DKFP in his past six starts, with a relatively mundane 19.9% strikeout rate within that span serving as the justification of that fact. In fact, the lone time Kershaw struck out more than six opponents since May 8 was his outing in Tampa Bay against a Rays squad that sports the highest strikeout rate against left-handed pitching in all of baseball (28.5%). To be fair, the Cubs are 12th on that list at 25.1%, yet they also own the league’s ninth-highest wOBA within the split (.330). I guess the point here is context is everything. Is Kershaw still an effective MLB arm? Of course. However, should I be excited about him being the highest-priced option on any slate? Definitely not.
As for the Dodgers’ positional players, we kind of know the drill at this point. Los Angeles utilizes platoons more aggressively than any club in baseball, so its likely we’ll see both David Freese ($8,000) and Chris Taylor ($5,000) step into the lineup this evening. Taylor’s role could be especially interesting. With Kike Hernandez ($6,400) slashing an underwhelming .179/.228/.299 going back to May 1, it was Taylor most recently called upon to bat in Hernandez’s usual leadoff spot when the Dodgers last faced a LHP. If that’s the case once again, he’d obviously be a great value at his salary. Justin Turner ($7,400) is another player who could return immense profit. In the exact opposite vein of Hernandez, Turner’s seen his season turn around for the better since the beginning of May, hitting .349 with a .409 wOBA since his past 126 plate appearances. Plus, considering Lester’s yet to surrender a home run to a left-handed bat in 2019, Turner seems like a better option than lefty power bats Cody Bellinger ($10,600) and Max Muncy ($9,400). In the case of Bellinger specifically, despite fantastic season-long numbers in left-on-left situations, the 23-year-old is only 4-for-22 (.182) in his last 28 PAs within the split. I’d be hesitant to say Bellinger’s regressing; however, this is someone who posted a below-average .297 wOBA in his 210 chances against left-handed pitching just a year ago.
Chicago CubsWell, stop me if you’ve heard this before, but we’ve got a ground ball oriented left-handed pitcher with a FIP in the mid-threes that doesn’t walk many opposing batters. Here in lies the intrigue to this evening’s slate. Are the differences in Lester and Kershaw significant enough to justify the price gap between the two LHPs? I don’t really think so, personally. However, with that being said, it’s not hard to see why the Cubs have Thursday’s lowest implied team total and the Dodgers are projected to score around five runs. Lester has been roughed up in his last five outings, pitching to a robust 7.00 ERA to go along with an opponent wOBA of .386. Los Angeles also sports the National League’s top wRC+ at 114; though it must be noted that the lineup has been far more productive hitting against right-handed pitchers so far this season. Still, if we want to play with recency bias, Lester’s first four starts after a small IL stint produced 24.2 innings of one-run baseball with a 25.3% strikeout rate. Do we just discount that success within an almost identical sample? I’m not suggesting you have to use Lester tonight, but with his salary sitting at 80% of Kershaw’s I’m not sure I can rationalize the discrepancy.
Thankfully, finding a high-end bat wearing a Chicago uniform is a much easier process. Javier Baez ($9,000) is by far the top player in this slate. It’s not only about his overall numbers against left-handed pitching, either. Though, those are breathtaking. In 44 plate appearances this year against southpaws, Baez has posted a .538 ISO and pairs that jaw-dropping figure with a 55.6% hard contact rate. Essentially, he’s been a left-hander’s worst nightmare. Now, when focused specifically on how that success might translate versus Kershaw, we need to understand the former Cy Young Award winner’s repertoire. Kershaw has three offerings: his fastball, his slider and his curveball. When facing an RHB, Kershaw’s primary pitch is the slider, which he throws 44.3% of the time. Baez, to his credit, is hitting .429 off of left-handed sliders in 2019 with an absurd 1.143 slugging percentage. He’s also collected home runs the two times he’s managed a hit off of a lefty’s curve this season. To put it mildly, there are few batter’s less dangerous to LHPs with the propensity to throw breaking pitches.
Aside from Baez, Kris Bryant ($7,800) is a solid play, as he owns a .405 ISO within the split in 2019. Additionally, the former All-Star possesses a 243 wRC+ against lefties going back to the start of May – the point of the season where Bryant truly began looking like himself again. Willson Contreras ($7,200) also sports an above-average ISO when it comes to LHPs (.243); however, while the backstop appeared to be in the midst of a breakout campaign based upon altering his launch angle tendencies, those patterns have regressed into June where Contreras now has a GB/FB ratio of 2.50. Finally, Albert Almora Jr. ($5,800) can claim a career batting average of .296 against left-handers and will occasionally hit from atop Joe Maddon’s lineup when the team draws a lefty opponent.
THE OUTCOMEI can see this as a low scoring affair, but not one that necessarily translates into huge DFS performances for either starting pitcher. Clayton Kershaw ($16,500 CP) doesn’t seem to have the ability to rack up the strikeouts anymore, while the Dodgers own the National League’s lowest chase rate (28.1%). Still, for the purposes of building a balanced lineup, I remain far more interested in Jon Lester ($13,200 CP) when speaking only of the two starting pitchers. Plus, his salary being $3,200 less expensive than Kershaw’s helps a lot when I want as much Captain’s Pick exposure to Javier Baez ($13,500 CP) as humanly possible.
Final Score: Chicago 3, Los Angeles 2
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.