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September 1st, playoff races begin to solidify, wins are objectively worth more than they are in April (it’s true, just ask every stupid MVP winner who won it on the basis of a strong September instead of the better player). The Dodgers are chasing the ghost of the 1998 New York Yankees. The waiver trade deadline passed and Justin Verlander got traded to the loaded Astros, Brandon Phillips got traded to the Angels (the same quality of player, obviously). Albert Pujols is continuing his quest to be the single worst player ever to have 100 RBI, and also, Albert Pujols is extremely bad (-1.8 WAR) and is signed through 2021. At what point do the Angels just say enough is enough and waive him? If the Angels miss the playoffs by 1 game (or 2, considering that he’s likely to finish with at least a -2 WAR), do they then blame a “lack of execution” or would they blame the decision to play Albert Pujols for 150 games – again, he has a -1.8 WAR, a career worst strikeout rate (15.2%), a career worst swing & miss rate (8.8%), a career worst swing rate (47.7%), a career low walk rate (5.9%) and .237 BABIP. Further, one can’t really say that the BABIP seems low and is likely to rebound because one has to keep in mind that he’s Albert Pujols with foot, leg and knee problems and has run a low BABIP for 5 years now – the .237 is low but not that low for current Albert Pujols. All of this has been a long way of saying that Albert Pujols should not be on the field for the Angels the rest of the year, and perhaps not on the field again, period. I can even make that long-winded rant DFS relevant, as the Angels have one of the best matchups (as will be discussed later), but despite this, do not play Albert Pujols, at least until his salary drops to something like $2,200, because there isn’t a planet where a -1.8 WAR, 74 wRC+, 1B is worth $3,100 .

On to the picks once Albert Pujols drops to $2,000

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PITCHERS

Jimmy Nelson, SP: $8,500 – Jimmy Nelson this year has been an elite pitcher, ranking 5th in fWAR. August saw the K% and BB% both drop a bit from his May-July peak, but he still struck out 25% and walked 7.7% with a 50.5% ground ball rate. In other words, he’s still been elite, just not quite as elite. The Nationals full season stats are a little above average but obviously missing Harper is a pretty big loss and in August they had an 86 wRC+.

Luis Castillo, SP: $8,100 – Castillo’s skills this year have been very solid, 26.4 K%, 9.9 BB% and a 57% ground ball rate. While the Pirates don’t strike out all that much (18.8%), they also have very little power and have been a pretty awful offense all year (86 wRC+), which should play right into the ground ballers hands, and it’s a good pitchers park, making Castillo a fairly “safe” option relative to the other pitchers on this slate (as frankly, the pitching on this slate is about as bad as I’ve seen).

HITTERS

Miami MarlinsNick Pivetta gets some strikeouts (23.9%) but also walks guys (10.1%) and gives up bombs (40.2% ground ball rate). These things are great for a Marlins team who have a few guys who hit bombs and some other guys who when they get on base, steal bags to get you those extra points. When facing a right-hander (which Nick Pivetta happens to be), Giancarlo Stanton (.408 wOBA) and Marcell Ozuna (.399 wOBA) are the main attractions with Christian Yelich (.358 wOBA) also a good play. Dee Gordon is fine for cash if you want to go that way, and everyone else is good on stacks.

Rhys Hoskins, OF: $4,500 – What’s second most impressive about Hoskins MLB debut is his control of the strike zone. He showed up and immediately had control of the strike zone, with 13% walk rate and 15.2% strikeout rate to go with the .466 wOBA. All of this is with a .241 BABIP. Now, I’m not saying that he is going to get better and he’s going to hit like peak Barry Bonds, but I am saying that Rhys facing a lefty is a good matchup even at $4,500.

Tommy Joseph, 1B: $2,400 – Lol.

Mike Trout, OF: $4,800 – Cole Hamels is striking out 15% and walking 8.1% – he just simply isn’t good anymore. He’s pitching in Texas and the best player on the planet is hitting vs him. I like Mike Trout in that matchup.

Justin Upton, OF: $3,300 – With Justin Upton now on the Angels, the offense takes a pretty big jump up, which gives a boost to the guy above (like he needs it). Upton’s a great play in his own right, as has a .477 wOBA vs lefties this year with his contact ability taking a big jump forward (18.8 K% vs 31% vs righties) and is too cheap for this matchup in this park.

Tampa Bay RaysReynaldo Lopez in his short career has an impressive 26.1 K% but with an awful 15.2 BB%. He also has an inexplicable 22.2% ground ball rate. The entire Rays team is in play because it’s a team that’s built on power and thus can feast on a pitcher with a 22.2% ground ball rate, but the lefties at the top of the order, Lucas Duda (.376 wOBA, .302 ISO), Logan Morrison (.371 wOBA, .295 ISO) and Kevin Kiermaier (.366, .220 ISO)  are at the top of the cash game list with Corey Dickerson (.346 wOBA, .231 ISO) a good GPP play. This is a very stackable spot due to the walks and home runs being plentiful.

Seattle MarinersSean Manaea’s velocity has dropped by around a MPH from earlier in the year and he has consequently lost the ability to strike guys out (his rate is now just 7.5%), while continuing to give up lots of fly balls (35% GB-rate). Those sorts of numbers mean that teams with a lot of right handed power can do a lot of damage against him. The Mariners have a lot of right handed power. Nelson Cruz is the big fish, while Danny Valencia, Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura provide upside and salary relief. If Manaea can’t regain the velocity or the strikeouts, the entire team should be stackable and score some runs.

Stephen Vogt, C: $2,200 – For $2,200, you get an above average catcher vs righties (.326 wOBA, 107 wRC+), who is projected to bat 6th and facing a pitcher (Tanner Roark) who really struggles vs lefties with a 7.8 K-BB% and a 41.8% ground ball rate.

Charlie Blackmon, OF: $5,000 – I feel like every other week I write the same paragraph. When the Rockies are home facing a right-handed pitcher who is not particularly good, Charlie Blackmon will be the best hitter on the slate. But salary does matter, so the question, like every other slate where the Rockies are home facing a right-handed pitcher who is not particularly good is whether or not it is worth paying for Blackmon. On this slate, there are two main factors that stick out when making the decision. First, I’m taking my talents to South Beach. Oh, sorry, wrong decision. First, there are no expensive pitchers worth playing today (assuming that the Dodgers don’t pull a fast one and announce that they were just kidding about the 75-pitch count for Kershaw). This makes Blackmon more appealing because you won’t need the money for an expensive pitcher. Second, Mike Trout is in such a good matchup today (this may be one of the rare times when Blackmon is not the best matchup despite the Rockies-at-home-facing-a-right-handed-pitcher-who-is-not-particularly-good) that it’s hard to pay that extra $200 for Blackmon if you can only roster one – so if that’s the path you end up taking, I lean to Trout unless you have a lineup with $200 to spare, in which case I go Blackmon (but it’s very, very close). That said, the debate between Trout and Blackmon could end up irrelevant, as it’s entirely possible, given the lack of expensive pitching, that enough value opens elsewhere (coughJosephcough) (coughVogtcough) that it makes sense to play both.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Boy is this a fun one to break down. And by fun, I mean really, really annoying. See, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a solid lineup (albeit incredibly lopsided), particularly against lefties. Loyal readers of mine will know that I often trash the bottom of Arizona Diamondbacks lineup, because it really is that bad, but their top 2 or 3 hitters are as good as the bottom guys are bad. J.D. Martinez is batting a mind-boggling .403/.500/.940 versus lefties this season, good for a .565 wOBA and a 259 wRC+. As an aside – how absurd is that line against lefties? Only two players since 2002 (which is as far back as FanGraphs has handedness wOBA splits) have had a full-season wOBA against lefties higher than .565 – Ryan Braun in 2007 (.450/.516/.964, good for a .600 wOBA) and Barry Bonds in 2002 (.384/.556/.976, good for a .595 wOBA). And yes, the 2nd best wOBA against lefties for a full season was done by Barry Bonds – in case you needed another entry into the encyclopedia of “Barry Bonds Facts That Still Blow Your Mind”. Anyway, back to the DiamondbacksChris Iannetta is doing .345/.415/.586 against lefties, good for a .423 wOBA and a 157 wRC+ and Paul Goldschmidt is doing .333/.445/.604 against lefties, good for a .420 wOBA and a 155 wRC+ and unlike Iannetta, he’s been doing that for his whole career. A.J. Pollock has been decent, and steals bases too. But that’s as far as the right handed hitters go (the only other two guys in the lineup who are respectable are left-handed hitters with incredibly wide splits and thus should be avoided in DFS against left-handed pitching). But, there’s one glaring problem with playing Diamondbacks today – Kyle Freeland has shown a well above average ability to get ground-balls so far in his major league career, as his ground ball rate sits at 54% (and vs righties, it’s 59.1%). Lest you think it’s a small sample size fluke (he’s only 139.1 innings into his major league career), he showed plenty of ground ball ability in the minors as well. Further, he actually is better at inducing ground balls at home – his ground ball rate at Coors is 58.8% – while that high a number is likely not sustainable, it does reflect that he can get ground-balls at extremely good rates in the unfriendly confines of Coors Field. So while there is a good chance the Diamondbacks will score some runs, as their good hitters are still very good, Coors Field is still Coors Field, and Freeland’s pretty underwhelming at the other two aspects of pitching that a Major League Pitcher is responsible for (15.6% K-Rate and 8.6% BB-rate), they’re going to do it with singles and walks only. In other words – those extra-base hits and dongs that you want to see when you’re spending $3,500 or more on a player won’t be there. Should you play them? There’s no right answer here. It’s a tough spot. I’d stay away from Pollock as for just $400 more you can get J.D. Martinez (and that same price range also includes the previously mentioned Trout and Blackmon), but if you can work in Martinez, Goldschmidt, or Iannetta (who, at $3,500, is relatively cheap for a player likely batting 2nd in Coors) without compromising the rest of your lineup, go ahead. However, if the money is just too tight, pass on these guys and just hope Freeland holds them to a boatload of singles.

I’m Only Happy When It Rains

Totally clear, which is good since it’s finally getting colder and we can get those awesome crisp nights of baseball that mean playoffs!

Doing Lines In Vegas

I don’t really like the Rangers lineup vs lefties, seeing as how they have a 90 wRC+ all year vs lefties and this lineup likely doesn’t have Adrian Beltre in it. The Angels just upgraded at 2 spots and one of them, Justin Upton, is quite good and a decent upgrade. The Angels also have the better pitcher, so I’ll take the Angels at whatever they are favored by…wait, what? The Rangers are favored at -107? The Angels are the underdog? Yeah, take the Angels and Mike Trout, even if Albert Pujols is -1.8 WAR.