• Kevin Hickey

MLB Takeoff Preview 7/18: Aces Galore

Primary Arms

Zack Wheeler: The Phillies' Wheeler comes in as the chalkiest pick of the day. He has made the leap to ace this year, and perhaps nothing illustrates just how dominant Wheeler's been like pointing out that he ranks in the top 5% of all pitchers when it comes to average exit velocity (84.7 mph), xwOBA (.244), xERA (2.47), and HardHit% (29.1). He brings other similarly elite figures, like a .292 xSLG, 4.4 Barrel %, 5.5 BB %, .202 xBA, and, crucially for fantasy purposes, a 30.8% strikeout rate. He also carries one of the more favorable matchups of the day, up against the Marlins -- the same Marlins who score the 4th-fewest runs per game (3.98), carry the league's 3rd-worst team SLG (.374), and strikeout the 3rd-most in baseball (9.75 strikeout/game). Wheeler appears to draw something of a perfect storm here with the exception of weather conditions, which predict to favor offense considerably. Even so, these are the same Marlins who Wheeler tossed 7 IP, 0 ER, 10 K against last time they met, and I would expect more of the same today.

Corbin Burnes: Burnes has been too good to overlook as a primary arm, and pretty much all of his numbers can back up his excellent play. On the season, Burnes ranks near the top in each of the following statistics: xERA (1.85), xwOBA (.210), xSLG (.242), HardHit% (28.9), BB % (4.3), Barrel % (3.6), xBA (.171), and Strikeout % (37.1). He has been phenomenal all year, and according to several of those metrics, including a .320 BABIP, he appears to be in line for some positive regression too somehow. The only downside to Burnes' game is that he doesn't typically pitch as deep as the other "ace" pitchers. He's averaging less than 6 IP per game, which is slightly underwhelming. Nonetheless, when you've struck out 7+ in 13 out of 15 outings this year your floor and ceiling remain considerably high. He doesn't draw the easiest matchup in the Cincinnati Reds -- 4.84 runs/game, .743 team OPS, 8.88 strikeout/game -- but they have dipped in production in July and may still be without Nick Castellanos today.

Secondary Arms

Max Scherzer: It's tempting to default to Mad Max as the day's go-to pitcher, but an unfavorable matchup against the Padres gives him a little extra risk today. Though I'm inclined to believe it's more fluke than anything, we