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Pitchers with the highest optimal probabilities: Cristian Javier, Aaron Nola
Cristian Javier comes into tonight’s slate against the Kansas City Royals as the top pitcher on our optimal board. It is a well-deserved nod for Javier, who has been tremendous over his last two starts, pitching a combined 14 innings with only one hit and a staggering 27 strikeouts. The strikeout production catches our attention and provides us with incredible upside if that continues. It seems doable given that Javier’s strikeout percentage sits above 34% on the year, but these are the only two outings for Javier where he has reached the seven innings mark. Typically we do not see Javier go too deep into games as he works up high pitch counts rather quickly. We would like to see his continued dominance, which is how we expect the public to respond as we project him to be absurdly owned. Overall, the Royals do not have a horrible offense as they are in the middle-of-the-pack in ISO, wOBA, and wRC+ over the past two weeks. Plus, the Royals have the fifth-lowest strikeout percentage in baseball this season which hurts Javier’s strikeout upside. Ultimately, the uncertainty in Javier’s longevity might bring a strong fade scenario into play.
Unlike Javier, the expectation for Aaron Nola is that he’ll toss a minimum of seven relatively dominant innings every time he steps on the mound, as he threw 43 innings over six starts in June. Nola has an xERA and xFIP below 3.00 with a substantial strikeout upside with his near 30% strikeout rate. The sneaky bonus we get with Nola is that he limits walks exceptionally well, having the second-lowest BB/9 and second-highest strikeout to walk ratio among all qualified pitchers. He’ll be facing the Washington Nationals, who got blanked by the Phillies last night and looked like a Triple-A squad in the process. Luckily for Nola, his best performance of the season was already against the Nationals, where he threw a gem of eight scoreless innings. Nola certainly has the upper hand in this matchup, but everyone knows it, so we’re projecting him to be overly owned. In comparing our two top pitchers, Nola is the safer play given the lower ownership we expect to see on him and the fact that he has already succeeded against his dreadful opponent. The inconsistent longevity is concerning for Javier, but he’ll have the higher ceiling between the two. However, if Javier can continue what he did over his past two starts, then even at 85% ownership, there would still be valuable.