Usually when I’m writing up an MLB Showdown slate on DraftKings I present it as a fun alternative to playing Classic Mode. I’ll suggest it’s a form of DFS where you don’t have to break down every single matchup that a particular night has scheduled and that it’s an interesting change of pace.
Well, if you’re someone who wants to play some daily fantasy baseball this evening, I’ve got bad news for all the non-conformists in the group: Astros-Rangers is the only game in town. I mean, I guess you could get a 24-hour head start on making your lineups for Friday’s slate; but, if you’re anything like me, the All-Star break already has been long enough.
Let’s get back into some non-exhibition DFS this Thursday night. Let’s dive into Houston-Texas.
Note: All salaries will be Flex prices unless noted as Captain’s Pick prices.
FIVE BETTING TRENDS
— The Astros have won each of their past seven Thursday road games against AL West opponents.
— The ‘Inning 1 UNDER 0.5 runs’ market has hit in each of the Astros’ past seven night games against AL opponents.
— The Rangers have led after three innings in each of their past six Thursday games.
— Each of the Astros’ past six road games following an extra-innings win have gone UNDER the total runs line.
— Games at Globe Life Park average a total of 10.7 runs.
Stats provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
It’s really hard to overstate how well Lance Lynn ($10,600) has pitched since a horrendous start to begin the season against the Cubs. I mean, even including that seven-run outing, Lynn and Charlie Morton are the lone qualified American League pitchers with a FIP below 3.00 as we exit the All-Star break. Try explaining that sentence to a baseball fan back in 2016, right? Still, Morton’s the perfect pitcher for Lynn to be paired with, as the two seemingly share a similar path to a late career renaissance. Though much of Morton’s recent success can be attributed to a wicked knuckle-curve, it’s also the result of a massive shift in his fastball usage and velocity. When Morton joined the Astros, he moved away from featuring his sinker and instead decided to blow batters away with a suddenly 96.0 mph four-seamer. It was a good plan. Lynn, mirroring that philosophy, has gone from throwing his sinker in 42.1% of counts as recently as 2017, to featuring the pitch on just 18.9% of offerings this season. Additionally, his four-seam velocity is sitting at a career-high 94.7 mph in his age-32 campaign.
Still, his most important pitch might be his cutter. Lynn’s most surprising transformation in 2019 is his ability to now limit the production of left-handed opponents. Consider that of the 61 pitchers to throw the equivalent of 120 innings versus LHBs from 2017 to 2018, Lynn’s .357 wOBA within the split was the fourth-highest mark in baseball. This year? Lefties are managing only 0.30 home runs per nine off of the veteran. So what changed? Well, aside from ditching the previously mentioned sinker — which left-handers posted an eye-popping .581 slugging percentage off last season — Lynn’s amped up his cutter usage within the split from 6.0% to 15.6% in his first 18 outings. Essentially, you can’t hold his previous limitations against him. He’s a new pitcher entirely. He’s also a pitcher that owns a 2.06 FIP and a 30.7% strikeout rate dating back to May 21. Even going up against a Houston squad that’s nearly back to full strength, you’d have to think of Lynn as viable this evening.
As for finding value with Texas’ positional players, simply understand Framber Valdez ($8,400) is a pretty conventional left-hander pitcher when it comes to his deficiencies. While he’s held the 54 LHBs he’s faced this season without a home run and to a paltry .247 wOBA, his success against right-handed hitters as a starter has been slightly more fleeting. In fact, almost any mistake Valdez has made to a RHB ends up leaving the ball park. Despite possessing an impressive 66.7% ground ball rate within the split in his four starts in 2019, righties own a 57.1% HR/FB ratio off of the 25-year-old. Valdez just can’t survive pitching up in the strike zone.
However, at the same time, the Rangers have struggled to hit LHPs all year long. In fact, they have just two hitters sporting a wRC+ above 100 versus southpaws: Joey Gallo ($10,200) and the injured Hunter Pence. That likely leaves Elvis Andrus ($8,800) as your main target to attack Valdez. Andrus is coming off a month of June where he slashed .345/.355/.483 against lefties, with a well above average 45.8% hard contact rate helping lead the way. With Valdez’s history of short starts, switch-hitters Danny Santana ($9,600) and Asdrubal Cabrera ($6,400) could be equally crucial in lineup construction; especially with the latter’s expected wOBA sitting 55 points higher than his actual output batting as a right-hander this season.
For as much as you’d be expected to immediately dismiss Framber Valdez ($8,400) as unplayable on this slate, the intricacies of Texas’ lineup make the young left-hander a little interesting. Put bluntly: The Rangers are just the most left-handed roster in baseball. They lead the American League in left-on-left plate appearances with 443, and their inability to use proper platoons shows up instantly when breaking down their numbers as a team versus LHPs. Texas’ .232 average within the split is the lowest in all of baseball. Its 80 wRC+ is the second-lowest mark in the AL, and not a single team strikes out more often when opposed by a southpaw (28.2%). Really, without the services of the injured Pence to balance the lineup, the Rangers are highly susceptible to anyone using their left hand to throw a baseball. Valdez might have surrendered 11 earned runs across his past two starts, but he’s held LHBs in check all year long, and he always has shown the ability to suppress launch angle. The floor is understandably shaky with someone of Valdez’s pedigree, yet, with a price point below $8.5K, he must be considered viable Thursday.
A few of Houston’s bats are equally alluring on this slate; however, it’s important to double back to Lynn’s recent dominance before we pick out a few names. As mentioned above, Lynn’s been one of the better pitchers in baseball over his past nine outings, allowing just two earned runs or fewer in six of those trips to the mound. His new-found success against LHBs is part of that equation to be sure, yet there’s no denying it’s his complete annihilation of righties that’s paved the way. Within that nine-game span, Lynn’s held RHBs to a microscopic .215 wOBA as he’s posted a 1.50 FIP inside the split. While those numbers would be impressive enough on their own, Lynn’s 47.0% strikeout rate and 23.5 K/BB ratio really make you have to sit down and reconsider the priorities of your life and the path that got Lynn to this place. Like, what right-handed person hurt him that made him want to treat RHBs in such a demeaning fashion?
So, even knowing what we know about Lynn’s cutter usage and its impact on his interactions with lefties, those are the archetypes you’re left to target from the Astros’ lineup. Fortunately, in Yordan Alvarez ($8,600), Michael Brantley ($7,200) and Josh Reddick ($5,600), you’ve got a nice mix of high-end power and affordability. Alvarez has punished almost every right-handed pitcher he’s faced to begin his MLB career, with the 22-year-old owning a huge .396 ISO off of RHPs through his first 59 plate appearances. These are the types of things that can happen when you possess a 48.6% fly ball rate and a 62.9% hard contact rate within the split. Those are basically the vinegar and baking soda of hitting home runs, if you will. Brantley’s followed up an underwhelming month of June by collecting base hits in nine of his first 17 at-bats in July, so you know he’s seeing the ball well. Reddick sports a 123 wRC+ on the road so far in 2019 — the place where a majority of his power numbers have been produced.
As odd as this might be to say about a game featuring two teams with implied run totals above five, I think there’s a case to be made lineups utilizing both starting pitchers are the way to go. Lance Lynn ($15,900 CP) has been untouchable dating back to mid-May, and Framber Valdez ($12,600 CP) has arguably the best matchup he’s likely to see from a handedness perspective all season. Either makes for a fine Captain’s Pick, though, if you wanted to take a more cost-effective route by placing that distinction on Michael Brantley ($10,800 CP), that makes perfect sense, too.
Final Score: Houston 4, Texas 3
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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.