Fifteen games are on the MLB card for Friday night and all of them are nighttime first pitches. We’re starting to see some more lopsided lines here as the bad teams are starting to show their true colors and the good teams are starting to stand out. You want to be constantly evaluating how pitchers and teams are being priced so that you can find some of those situations where inflated lines create value. They happen on a daily basis. Usually the betting market gets to them overnight or early in the morning, but that doesn’t mean that all value is lost.
Handicappers preach about getting the best number, and that is a great strategy, when possible. Get the best number that you can get. For most, this is a supplement and not a living. For a lot of you, this is a fun hobby and a challenge. No matter what you use sports betting for, try to get the most value you can out of every bet you make.
It was another mixed bag yesterday, with a late winner on the Pirates and some early leans on the Twins and Mariners. Unfortunately, Toronto and New York chopped into those profits with poor performances.
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.
Tampa Bay (-115) at New York (AL); Total: 8
Matt Moore and CC Sabathia meet in a battle of southpaws at Yankee Stadium tonight. Moore has been one of the most impressive pitchers to date this season. The swing-and-miss stuff is back. The mechanics look free and easy. The fastball has good late life and has been running up there in the 93-94 range. It would be a great story to see Moore come back and also improve his control while being pain-free.
There are a handful of red flags for Moore. He’s allowing some very hard contact and his first-pitch strike percentage is just 51.4 percent. Hitters are swinging and missing a ton in the zone and a 76.7 percent zone-contact percentage is sustainable for maybe three pitchers – Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer. So, regression will be coming for Moore. What will make all the difference is how hard that regression hits.
It may hit today, but it shouldn’t be any worse than what CC Sabathia will contribute. It’s sad what Sabathia has become, as a knee injury and battles with his weight have zapped his velocity. The knee problems have ruined his command and he has been giving up a ton of home runs over the last three seasons. There’s not much to like about Sabathia, especially against a Rays lineup that did a ton of damage against left-handed pitching last season. They’ve been a little slow at the outset here, but they should come around and start hitting southpaws.
Perhaps a better angle here is the over, but I’m going to trust Matt Moore for at least one more start and look at the Rays in this one. New York’s bullpen is excellent, but Tampa Bay’s has been strong with Erasmo Ramirez and Alex Colome. Hopefully Tampa Bay has a lead going in to the late innings.
Oakland at Toronto (-140); Total: 8
Sometimes you run into a game and ask yourself, “What am I missing?”. That’s this game. Sonny Gray and the A’s are a huge underdog against the Toronto Blue Jays and Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez has been tremendous this season, but this isn’t going to last. Through three starts, Sanchez has a .170 BABIP against, a 91.6 percent strand rate, and his platoon split problems against lefties have magically vanished. Hitters aren’t chasing, but they’re swinging and missing more in the zone. His strikeout-per-inning rate isn’t going to continue with an 8.5 percent swinging strike rate.
Sonny Gray has already settled into his normal rate of performance. The K% is up and the BB% is down, but everything else is right in line with all the same things that Sonny Gray does. He induces a lot of weak contact. His ERA is lower than his FIP and xFIP and he’s one of the rare guys that can do that with regularity. The ground ball rate is actually up a bit this season. He’s using more of a fastball/changeup arsenal than he has in the past, which probably explains the K rate bump.
Until the Blue Jays offense gets going, this is a hard team to back. The starting rotation isn’t built to win 3-2 or 4-3 types of games all of the time. It appears to me that the oddsmakers are overvaluing Aaron Sanchez’s start to the season. This is yet another matchup in which the opponent has some platoon advantages on paper and it’s hard to see Sanchez repeatedly overcoming his weaknesses.
Oakland is the value side here. It’s up to you if you want to play it, but there are a lot of compelling reasons to do so.
Cleveland at Detroit (-130); Total: 8
Josh Tomlin had his first start cut short by a hamstring cramp, but he was outstanding. Now healthy, Tomlin has plus-plus control and a plus breaking ball to go along with an average fastball and an above average cutter. We saw the market-movers get in early on the Indians here to drop this number between 10 and 15 cents. We’ll likely see the public bring the number back up by fading Tomlin, since nobody realizes how different of a pitcher he is. The concern here is the Indians offense, which has been awful with RISP yet again this season and has been wildly inconsistent. The bullpen has also been pretty bad.
The Tigers are a good offensive team once again, at the shock of nobody. The concerning part here is Tomlin’s HR rate against an offense that hits a lot of home runs. Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera aren’t even hitting yet and the Tigers are producing well above league average. They are sixth in wOBA. That’s pretty scary for the rest of the league.
Justin Verlander isn’t what he used to be, but he has struck out 15 in 16.1 innings. His problem has been command. Remember that early in the season, one bad start can skew a lot of numbers. Verlander, technically, has thrown two quality starts, although the bare bones definition of a quality start. The Indians obviously have an extensive book on Verlander, having seen him 3-4 times per season since he made his MLB debut against them in 2005. Does that really mean anything? Probably not.
There’s no value on either side here in this game. The over might have some value because these are two subpar bullpens.
Philadelphia at Milwaukee (-120); Total: 8.5
Sometimes you run into a game and ask yourself, “What am I missing?”. That’s this game. Aaron Nola takes the mound for the Phillies against Zach Davies of the Brewers. Nola rolled through his first two starts against bad offenses and then got knocked around a little bit by the Washington Nationals. That happens and it’s not particularly indicative of anything. Now, Nola draws a Brewers lineup that is a good matchup for him. The young right-hander out of LSU has a 65/12 K/BB ratio against right-handed batters in 236 PA and has done a good job of inducing weak contact, outside of the mistakes that have been hit out of the park. Last season, righties only batted .210/.260/.358 against him.
Zach Davies is a somewhat promising prospect, but nothing in his minor league profile suggests that he should be celebrated. He has pretty good command and keeps the ball on the ground, but his minor league strikeout numbers were pretty average and he was able to work around a mediocre walk rate by inducing double play ground balls. We don’t have a big MLB sample size, but he has a standard four-pitch mix and profiles as the type to struggle the second or third time through a lineup.
The Phillies are not good offensively, so they’re not getting any respect here. They have a clear pitching matchup advantage, and yet they are a clear underdog. My counterpoint would be that the Phillies have a huge problem with strikeouts and Davies is not a guy that can exploit that.
Usually the line tells a story, and maybe I’m misreading the moral of that story, but I like the Phillies here. But, I’m higher on Nola than most.
Boston at Houston (-140); Total: 9
The Astros get their hacks against a knuckleballer here today as Steven Wright takes the mound for the Red Sox. Houston will counter with Collin McHugh, who has had his share of issues this season. This is a hard game to handicap because it’s nearly impossible to know how a high-strikeout team like Houston will do against a knuckleball pitcher. In general, I try to avoid knuckleball guys because there’s a ton of volatility there.
What I do know is that McHugh’s command has been pretty terrible this season. He hasn’t been hurt by the long ball, but a .417 BABIP against with fly ball tendencies is really worrisome. His first start against New York has obviously skewed his ERA, but he’s given up four runs on 18 hits outside of that. The 11/1 K/BB ratio is good. The problematic thing about a high BABIP with a fly ball guy is that these balls aren’t simply grounders finding holes. There’s a lot more to it.
On that basis alone, I lean Boston, but, again, who knows how the knuckler will be dancing?
Baltimore at Kansas City (-115); Total: 8.5
If you like defense, this will be the game for you. The combined over/under on strikeouts for Yovani Gallardo and Chris Young might be something like 4.5. Chris Young can’t afford to walk guys. He’s walked seven in 13.2 innings this season. Walks are only okay if you can strike guys out to nullify them. Putting free baserunners on as a pitch-to-contact guy is a problem. All three of Young’s HR allowed this season have come with a runner on. Solo home runs are okay. Multiple-run homers are not. It was the three-run HR to Josh Reddick that really hurt him last start.
Yovani Gallardo has had problems keeping the ball down and his velocity is way down from last year. He’s also throwing just 46.5 percent of his first pitches for strikes. We’ll see if these are just bumps in the road or developing trends. It certainly doesn’t look good right now, especially for the Orioles, who panicked to find warm bodies for the starting rotation.
This is a brutal game to pick. Obviously the first implication is to play the over with so many balls in play, but both of these teams are pretty solid defensively. Just stay far, far away from betting it, but pay attention to how it plays out to see if you can play against these guys in the future.
Los Angeles (NL) (-130) at Colorado; Total: 11
Jon Gray makes his first start of the season for the Rockies and I’m a bit surprised that the Dodgers aren’t a bigger favorite here. Colorado always gets respect at home, as we know, but the Dodgers bring a pretty good, albeit scuffling, lineup to town. Kazmir made his lone career start at Coors Field in 2007, so this is a very different environment for him. After a good first start against a bad Padres team, Kazmir struggled in back-to-back outings against the Giants. The Giants should make a lot of pitchers struggle this season. Traditionally, Colorado has been better at home against right-handed starters with their platoon bats, but they’re pretty evenly split now with guys like Ryan Raburn and Mark Reynolds that have hung around by hitting lefties. Kazmir does, however, know both of them from his days with Cleveland.
The problem for Gray and the Rockies is that he’ll be on a pitch count. The Rockies bullpen owns a 6.26 ERA and a 4.43 FIP and they’re going to have to work quite a bit here in this game. That’s why the lean in this one goes to the Dodgers. Both teams should have some measure of offensive success, but the Dodgers bullpen is vastly superior to Colorado’s.
Pittsburgh at Arizona (-125); Total: 9
Jon Niese and Patrick Corbin meet in the third and final battle of lefty starters today. The magic touch of Ray Searage hasn’t fully impacted Niese yet, although his strike rate has gone back up to the 2010-12 levels that he enjoyed with the Mets. We’ll see if that sticks around. His velocity is up a tick, but what you want to look at with pitchers on new teams is their usage. Niese is throwing fewer breaking balls and offspeed pitches and is concentrating on pounding the zone with a four-seam/two-seam/cutter combo. For the most part, the results have been encouraging.
An interesting note about Patrick Corbin is that he threw over 100 pitches in a start for the first time since September 11, 2013. Corbin, of course, missed all of 2014 and the first half of 2015 with Tommy John surgery. Early in the season, we probably won’t worry too much about that, but it will be quite interesting to see how he does here in this start. Corbin has pitched well in his last two starts.
I really like the under here. The bullpen for Arizona is hit or miss, but these are two good defensive teams and two lineups facing some rather unfamiliar lefties. I’d expect a low-scoring battle between two guys with decent peripherals and some optimism at the start of the season.
St. Louis (-130) at San Diego; Total: 7.5
This is the ultimate close your eyes and hit submit bet, but the Padres are a good look against the Cardinals tonight. A good buddy of mine is a diehard Cardinals fan and views the game in a similar way that I do. He’s had eyes on Adam Wainwright and there’s clearly something not right with him. The stats back it up. Wainwright’s sinker command has been deplorable, as that pitch already rates 5.4 runs below average. He’s also walked more batters than he has struck out in 16.1 innings. That’s a terrifying development, since Wainwright’s BB% is regularly among the best in baseball.
The saving grace here might be the Cardinals lineup. Andrew Cashner is still parlaying his good, heavy stuff into some strikeouts, but, like most hard-throwing sinkerball guys, high exit velocities create some high BABIPs against. Sometimes ground balls are scalded and there’s not much you can do about that. That’s the case for Cashner. But, he keeps the ball in the park and forces the opposition to manufacture innings. If San Diego’s defense was serviceable, he’d be a pretty solid pitcher overall.
I’m looking to fade Adam Wainwright. Oddsmakers seem a little bit hip to it, since this line is about 10 cents lower than I was hoping for, but he’s in bad shape right now and he’s worth going against until he figures it out.