A new set of series begin on Friday night and it’s always fun to dive into something new. Those that read yesterday’s picks and analysis piece know that there are some very interesting situational spots on today’s docket, but there are some other games of interest as well. Unfortunately, some of these games have already moved on the side that I like, but that’s the price you pay with money line sports and overnight/early morning action. Major League Baseball is a handicapping grind, and we’re not even one month through the season yet, but we’re seeing some interesting trends in the market and there are some games tonight with some lines that are out of whack.
Yesterday’s set of games featured a couple of pretty big upsets. Make sure that you’re keeping perception in mind this time of year. We know which teams are good and which teams are not good. Oddsmakers are going to force you to pay a premium in those games, but never hesitate to throw something small on an inflated underdog. Baseball, by its nature, is a series of individual matchups within a larger game. That, inherently, creates a lot of volatility, so things don’t always go as planned.
Our focus, as it always is, will be on the games that provide a lot of line value and those that give us the opportunity to dig deep and find the wagering angles and betting tips that will produce winners.
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Per usual, the games with big lines will be overlooked, unless there is something particularly noteworthy about them or a play on the underdog is a possibility. Also, day games are usually skipped due to the lead time of the article. That will not be the case on Thursdays or Sundays when there are a lot of day games.
Chicago (AL) at Baltimore (-110); Total: 8.5
Phase One of Operation: Fade the White Sox worked out for us as John Danks and the White Sox bullpen got lit up for 10 runs by the Baltimore Orioles. This is a good case study of regression. I talked about how Chicago’s team BABIP against was due for regression at .252. It rose 10 points last night. The team LOB% went from 80.5 percent to 79.1 percent. Regression can come gradually or it can come in a hurry. With team sample sizes, it does tend to be more gradual than it would be with individuals. This was a very big regression in one game.
Carlos Rodon is very good, but he’s still very raw. The stuff is terrific, but the command and the pitchability are occasionally lacking. I’d prefer to fade Rodon against a more patient lineup, because the Orioles are aggressive in the zone, but the thing about it is that Baltimore hitters are 14th in terms of number of first pitches put in play in the American League. Rodon has one of the league’s worst first-pitch strike percentages. The way you beat Rodon is to take his slider away by getting ahead in the count. His slider usage is down eight percent because he’s been working from behind a lot. His velocity is also down a little bit here at the outset. We’ll have to monitor that for signs of injury.
Mike Wright is a replacement-level starter going up against a guy with tremendous raw stuff in Rodon, who is pitching for a first-place team, and Baltimore is just a money line pick ‘em at home. I think that’s pretty telling, although Baltimore’s played very well this season. Wright’s not very good, but he does force the opposition to put the ball in play. He’s got pretty good control. The worry here is that Baltimore’s outfield defense has been absolutely awful. They are -12 defensive runs saved already and it may only get worse.
I’ll lean Baltimore because I’m still on board with fading the White Sox, but I don’t feel as strongly about tonight’s game as I did about last night’s.
Cleveland (-190) at Philadelphia; Total: 7.5
The Phillies still aren’t getting any respect. This number, in my mind, was about 15 cents too high and then some heavy hitters poured in and drove it up even higher. Corey Kluber has had command issues over his last 17 or 18 starts and Citizens Bank Park is not forgiving for those. But, most of the Phillies have never seen him and that’s worth something here. The Indians can stack right-handed bats against Adam Morgan and righties hit .279/.320/.500 off of him in 275 PA last season.
Again, just like yesterday, the value is on the Phillies, but they’re not necessarily a recommendation.
Toronto at Tampa Bay (-115); Total: 7.5
Remember what I said above about regression. Over his first three starts, Aaron Sanchez allowed three earned on 10 hits over 20 innings with 20 strikeouts and seven walks. Last start, the A’s lit him up for six runs on 10 hits in 4.1 innings. Sanchez goes from a 1.35 ERA to a 3.33 ERA in the blink of an eye. Fun with sample sizes!
The A’s lit him up and there’s still regression potential here. Sanchez has a .258 BABIP against with a 76.6 percent strand rate. There’s a lot to like in his profile and his advanced stats aren’t pessimistic on him because he’s got almost a strikeout per inning, a reasonable walk rate, and hasn’t given up a boatload of home runs. For me, though, I’m still not ready to buy in. This is a guy that lacks a third pitch to neutralize some ugly platoon splits. All of the sudden, lefties are batting .250/.344/.464 off of him with 14 of the 20 hits he has allowed and all three home runs.
I’m all aboard the Drew Smyly Express. This kid is legit. It’s fair to wonder if the Tigers did him a favor by shoving him to the bullpen to refine some of his pitches in bullpen sessions. I like to think they f’d up by trading him. Smyly, over his career as a starter, now owns a 3.37 ERA with a .233/.288/.406 slash against. He’s struck out 324 in 336.1 innings of work. The thing I like about Smyly is that unlike other big K lefties, he still gets righties at a 21.9 percent clip.
We’ve talked about this before, but the Blue Jays are still lined with the impression that they’re going to maul left-handers every time they face them. Oddsmakers have shifted now, as this line would have looked 10 to 15 cents different a couple weeks ago, but there’s still value on the Rays here. The market is coming in on Toronto, but I don’t understand why.
New York (AL) (-110) at Boston; Total: 8.5
It’s been a struggle for the players in pinstripes this season. The Yankees are 8-12 and Joe Girardi is taking his frustration out on infield shifts. I’ll give Girardi the benefit of the doubt because he’s proven to be an excellent manager for the Yankees, but that’s not the problem, dude. The problem is that your team can’t field, you have three starters with bad command in your rotation, and half of your starting lineup participated in the Trojan War.
Anyway, the Yankees and Red Sox will play another set of 16-hour games here this weekend. The ticking time bomb called a UCL in Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow still hasn’t shown up and he continues to be an effective starter. He’s probably not what the Yankees though he would be, but it’s hard to argue with a 3.14/3.51/2.97 over his first 315 career innings. The stuff seems very sharp with weak pull-side contact and a great swinging strike rate at 13.8 percent.
Truthfully, I don’t get this line at all. The Yankees aren’t hitting, but they have a clear starting pitching edge. I like Henry Owens long-term, but the feel for pitching doesn’t exist at the big league level yet. The Yankess are only 23rd in wOBA against LHP, so that’s probably the root cause, but they have had some bad luck in there. The BABIP is fine, but they haven’t been able to capitalize on a 9.8 percent walk rate. They have a respectable K% against LHP. It’s simply a matter of sequencing. I can’t go deep enough to find RISP splits against LHP, but I’m guessing they’re not good.
In a general sense they’re not good. The Yankees are 28th in wOBA with RISP and have a .221 BABIP. That will turn around. If we’re looking at the White Sox for negative regression, it’s time to look at the Yankees for some positive regression. I’ll take the value on them tonight.
Los Angeles (AL) (-115) at Texas; Total: 9
If I could, I’d probably force this game to be played in a quarantined environment so it doesn’t infect anything else. Hector Santiago’s personal quest to make me look like a jackass every time he takes the mound has gone well this season. He’s given up two runs on six hits over his last 13 innings with 17 strikeouts against five walks. There’s going to come a point where I just have to accept the fact that he’s actually a pretty good pitcher, regardless of what the sabermetrics say. Once I admit that, however, he’ll turn back into a pumpkin.
When something doesn’t make sense to me, my natural inclination is to dig deeper. Santiago’s ground ball rate is 47.1 percent this season through four starts. It was a career-low 29.9 percent last season. The Angels do have a new pitching coach and Santiago seems to have made some tweaks. His sinker usage is up and his velocity is up. He’s working in the zone a lot more now and he’s thrown a first-pitch strike to 65 percent of the batters he has faced. There are some modest release point changes. One thing about Santiago is that his vertical release point dropped throughout last season. He had a 2.33 ERA in the first half and a 5.47 ERA in the second half. It was part regression, part bad mechanics/minor injury. Perhaps he’s actually a guy to buy stock in during the first half.
Colby Lewis throws innings and doesn’t issue many walks. There’s nothing exciting otherwise. The strikeout rate is pedestrian, the fly ball rate shouldn’t fly in Texas. He allows a lot of hard contact and balls usually fly out of the park against him.
The Angels have some bullpen issues right now with Huston Street out, but I’m reluctantly backing Santiago here. I’ll throw things and yell angrily when he gives up seven runs on 10 hits in 3.1, but maybe I’ve built up some good karma.
Detroit at Minnesota (-115); Total: 9
The Major League debut for Michael Fulmer is something I would stay away from, but I do like to give you background on these new starters. Fulmer has a Major League-ready fastball that sits in the 93-94 mph range with good life. The slider should play. The lack of a third pitch is something that plagues almost every young starter and arsenal depth is a work in progress for Fulmer. This is the kid that got Dave Dombrowski fired in Detroit. Well, maybe it was the David Price deal, but selling at the deadline pissed off Mike Ilitch and he reacted as any 86-year-old man would. He told Dombrowski to get off his lawn.
Phil Hughes isn’t good, so the Tigers are probably a value pick here, but starters in their debuts have a wide range of possibilities.
Miami (-115) at Milwaukee; Total: 9
The betting market has already picked up on what we’re putting down with this game, but the value is still there on the Milwaukee Brewers and it should be there again on Saturday. Not only did the Marlins complete the sweep in Los Angeles, but they also found out late last night that spark plug and key contributor Dee Gordon is out 80 games with a PED suspension.
It’s really unfortunate because we probably lost a nickel or a dime of value on this game because of the perception that the Marlins will be pouting. I simply wanted to play against the spot. Miami is coming back after seven games in California and they’re riding a five-game winning streak. They got into Milwaukee very early in the morning and then have to play this 7:10 p.m. CT first pitch, with maybe 12 hours of sitting around since they got into town.
The Gordon thing may almost rally them for a game, which is really unfortunate for us. I’d still go with Milwaukee, but I’ve got tomorrow’s game circled in red Sharpie. If anybody other than Wily Peralta was pitching Sunday, I’d look at Milwaukee again, but he’s awful.
Washington (-135) at St. Louis; Total: 7.5
These oddsmakers are good, man. We get absolutely no value here with Stephen Strasburg and the relatively rested Nats looking to bounce back from a sweep against the Phillies. The Cardinals wrapped up a long seven-game swing through San Diego and Arizona and then got in very late to take on the Nationals.
The better spot to fade the Cardinals is tomorrow afternoon when Jaime Garcia faces Joe Ross in a 2:15 p.m. ET first pitch. Hard to see the Cardinals getting up for that one, especially getting back to the park at 8 or 9 a.m. after reconnecting a bit with their families.
As far as tonight goes, oddsmakers priced us out. There’s probably still some value in taking Washington, but I’m not all that excited about it.
Houston at Oakland (-110); Total: 7.5
I’ve got a pretty strong opinion on this AL West battle, but it may not be pretty. Mike Fiers and the Astros take on debutant (not to be confused with the far different meaning of debutante) Sean Manaea. I’d like to take a second and pour one out for the Fringe Average Podcast, which was a beautiful set of recordings from Mike Ferrin and former Baseball Prospectus writer Jason Parks. I think they’re still available somewhere and if you can find them, they were glorious works of art. Parks is now a scout with the Chicago Cubs and Ferrin is still doing Sirius XM MLB Network Radio work along with being on the Arizona Diamondbacks pre/postgame show.
Parks was ridiculously high on Sean Manaea and, at that time, there was some dissention in the scouting community about the lefty. He’ll make his MLB debut tonight and the big lefty, 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, draws an ideal assignment. The Astros swing and miss more than an ugly guy with no money and no sense of humor in a bar full of Playboy centerfolds. Manaea struck out 257 in 214 minor league innings, though he’s only worked 18 innings at the Triple-A level. That doesn’t worry me all that much, since I believe there’s more talent in Double-A. What separates Double-A and Triple-A for me is that the latter has more veterans. There are more guys that challenge you mentally. Skill sets are very different. Double-A is raw talent. Triple-A is polished talent with a lower ceiling. But, those veteran hitters and pitchers make you work. That may be a trait missing for Manaea.
The side I actually like here, however, is the Astros. Mike Fiers is a guy that you know I don’t like. I’ve badmouthed him a few times already, but this is a different animal. O.co Coliseum is the ideal landing spot for him. He has a 5.73 ERA with a 3.42 xFIP because his HR/FB% is 28.6 percent. Consider this about Fiers. His two home parks have been Miller Park and Minute Maid Park. Both are widely regarded as excellent hitting environments. In 236.2 innings at home, Fiers has a 15.2 percent HR/FB%. In 189.1 innings on the road, it drops to 7.8 percent. He’s given up 21 more home runs at home in 47.1 more innings. His slugging percentage on the road is only higher because he’s given up a lot of triples and some of those home runs became doubles, so those still add up.
I’ll also take the Astros here with the A’s coming home off of a really long road trip. The first game back after a long trip is tricky. Houston has already been on the west coast for a bit. This might be my favorite play of the night.