It wasn’t a great day for us on the diamond, although my favorite play on the Mets over the Phillies came through easily. Those that had a cancelled bet because Julio Teheran was scratched certainly dodged a bullet in that game. That’s a good reminder that my game breakdowns are contingent on the starting pitcher, so make sure that you only want action if the two scheduled starters are pitching. It’s definitely going to change the game when starters are switched up. It didn’t make much difference here because the worst offense in the league scored eight runs, but the price certainly changed dramatically.
Regardless, we’ll get back on the horse today and see what we can find. There are three getaway day games here on Wednesday and we’ve seen a couple of significant line moves in two of them. Kyle Hendricks dropped about 15 cents against Carlos Martinez and Chris Sale went up about a dime against Garrett Richards. The Hendricks line had some value at the start, but not now. The other two games are not on my radar.
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.
Seattle at Cleveland (-125); Total: 7.5
We’ve seen a significant line move on Taijuan Walker here for Wednesday night’s tilt against Danny Salazar. The reasons for this move are two-fold. We’ll start with Salazar, who has stranded 100 percent of his 12 baserunners this season and has only allowed one run on a solo HR. Bettors that use sabermetrics as a guide see that and automatically assume regression. It’s not a bad stance, truthfully. Salazar does have 16 K in 11.1 innings, which helps with stranding runners, but it’s that walk rate and a low BABIP against that people are looking to fade.
The other is that Taijuan Walker was 2-0 with one run allowed over 14 innings against the Indians last season. He struck out 14 in those two starts. Pitcher vs. team stats carry way too much weight with the average bettor. The sample sizes are not significant enough. Two starts certainly isn’t. Hell, against current Indians, Walker has allowed a .298/.368/.353 slash in just 19 PA, so most of the guys he faced aren’t even there.
With that being said, it doesn’t mean that this is an automatic play on the Indians. At this price, there’s certainly value on a guy like Salazar. He had some command issues with lefties last season, but it’s also important to point out that both his K% and BB% were better against lefties than against righties. With Monday’s off day, the Indians bullpen is fine, even though the key relievers all worked last night.
With the current price, the Indians are the value side. If you want to go against the steam, that’s up to you. The steam is justified, to an extent, but it seems to have gone too far.
Oakland at New York (-140); Total: 8.5
Here’s another game that has been steamed early this morning. There have actually been a lot of line moves so far today, which is very interesting. It seems that more people are getting invested in baseball now that we are more than two weeks into the season. Here, Kendall Graveman and the Athletics got some love against Nate Eovaldi and the Yankees.
Graveman is what he is, as a ground ball specialist. Oakland may not be the best place to be one of those. Eovaldi hasn’t been able to keep the ball down this season, but he does have 15 strikeouts in 11.2 innings of work against the Blue Jays and Astros. This was simply a case of market-moving money taking advantage of a number perceived to have value. I don’t have a take here, but this was a swift line move.
Toronto at Baltimore (-130); Total: 9
Speaking of swift line moves, nobody likes RA Dickey tonight. Dickey opened a slight favorite at some shops and this line has swung dramatically. Dickey has not thrown the ball well this season and Toronto’s defense hasn’t really helped him much either. He’s given up 14 runs in 14.2 innings and he’s also given up 20 hits. The location just hasn’t been good at the outset.
Ready for a bit of a science lesson? RA Dickey is at his most effective when it is cold outside. Cold weather has denser air molecules, which limit two things – velocity and spin. Obviously, with a knuckleball, you want less spin and less velocity so that there’s more movement. This will be Dickey’s second “true” outdoor start, since Rogers Centre is sometimes open, but still very enclosed. Will this help Dickey tonight? With temperatures in the upper 60s, probably not, but it’s something you can remember for future Aprils or September/Octobers with knuckleballers.
Ubaldo Jimenez has actually been decent this season so far, though that can turn on the drop of a hat. The Blue Jays offense has been pretty poor this season. Jimenez, for all of his problems, is a tough guy to hit. He gets into trouble because of his high walk rate. Traditionally, he’s posted some decent batting averages against and home run rates. The line move is not surprising here and it’s still not enough to put value on Dickey as a road dog.
Tampa Bay at Boston (-105); Total: 8
Bettors didn’t like Chris Archer as a road favorite, but we’ll have to see what happens to this number throughout the day. Guys like Archer are hard for oddsmakers to price. He’s an elite-level right-hander, capable of dominating on any given day. Right now, however, the command and control just aren’t there and haven’t been there dating back to last September. He’s issued eight walks and has allowed five home runs in just 15.1 innings. He gave up his fifth home run last season on June 2. He issued his eighth walk during his sixth start.
His velocity is down a bit as well. When asked about it, Archer got really defensive with the media. That’s not a good sign. He deflected blame, asking why reporters didn’t mention it to another pitcher on the staff about his velocity drop. That’s not like Archer, a very affable guy that has a future as a spokesman for Major League Baseball or one of its charities. He’s frustrated. That’s a problem. His pitches aren’t registering with any two-seam movement this season per PITCHf/x. Something is going on here. It could change at any time because he’s that good, but this is worrisome.
The Red Sox have a lot invested in Rick Porcello and that investment needs to come through. Quietly, Porcello had a pretty decent second half last year after some of his unsustainable rate stats from the first half regressed. Facing Toronto twice to open the season, struggling or not, is tough, but he does have a 15/2 K/BB ratio and that’s the number of interest to me. The velocity is down and he’s using less CU/CH in his arsenal, but that may just be a thing with facing the Blue Jays.
I want to fire on Porcello here because Archer’s been all over the place, but I’m still unsure about Porcello. He was a definite bounce back candidate this season with a 3.72 xFIP and a 4.92 ERA, but I’m not ready to invest just yet.
Washington at Miami (-110); Total: 8
Another line movement. Just about every game has had some sort of significant line movement. Here, Joe Ross went from a -120 favorite to a money line pick ‘em or a slight dog at several books. We’re starting to see the signs of the betting market playing on expected regression. Ross has allowed one of his 12 baserunners to score this season. He has a 0.61 ERA with a 3.65 xFIP. Wei-Yin Chen has allowed seven of his 14 runners to score, posting a .343 BABIP against and a 55.6 percent strand rate.
When I talk about regression throughout the season, those are the numbers I’m looking at – ERA, xFIP, BABIP, and LOB% (strand rate). There are minor deviations based on a pitcher’s skill set and strengths (pitch to contact, swing-and-miss, control), but most pitchers will eventually post a BABIP between .290 and .310 and a LOB% between 70-72 percent.
In this game, you have a clear case of one pitcher due for negative regression (Ross) and one pitcher due for positive regression (Chen). Hence the line move. Chen is actually a guy I’m high on for this season because he has exquisite control and facing one less hitter per trip through the lineup should elevate his K% a little bit. Plus, this is a much better park for him.
I’m on board with this move. This is the type of game I’ll love as we get deeper into the season with bigger sample sizes. The Marlins are a solid look for tonight.
Detroit at Kansas City (-110); Total: 8
It’s a little bit surprising that the betting market isn’t looking to fade Ian Kennedy just yet. It will happen if he keeps pitching like this. Kennedy has pitched in the AL before, although he wasn’t very good. We’re seeing Jordan Zimmermann struggling to adjust to facing an extra hitter. His walk rate has been spectacular throughout his career, but he’s having some issues in the AL for the first time. Zimmermann walked 29 batters in 199.2 innings in 2014. He’s already walked five in 13 innings this season. That’s not a major red flag or anything, but it speaks to the adjustment period changing leagues. In a general sense, pitchers are expected to be about 10 percent worse going from the NL to the AL.
Listeners of BangTheBook Radio and readers of this column know that we had success with Kennedy last time out. Are we going to that well again? I’d lean towards yes. The Tigers have a solid lineup, but Kennedy struck out 22.6 percent of RHB last season and 24.8 percent in 2014. He’s been a very extreme fly ball pitcher so far and that works to Kansas City’s defensive strengths.
While I like Kennedy, the rationale behind this play is more of a fade of Zimmermann. He’s going to have to work against a Royals lineup that puts a lot of balls in play with authority. Zimmermann is more of a pitch-to-contact guy without the pitcher to work against, so he’s used to that type of gameplan, but he started showing some signs of decline last season, particularly from a command standpoint. He’s still working on building up velocity and has thrown an inordinately high number of sliders as he tries to adjust to the AL. That’s why the walk rate has gone up. He’s uncomfortable. It will take time to develop a rapport with his catcher and to learn the AL hitters.
The Royals are definitely worth a look tonight.
Houston at Texas (-130); Total: 9
I will readily admit that I didn’t like this move at all at the outset. Doug Fister is a guy I’m looking to fade whenever the opportunity arises and the free-swinging Astros have to face Cole Hamels and the best changeup in baseball. Hamels hasn’t been overly impressive so far, so maybe the betting masses are just grabbing what appears to be value on Houston.
Then I saw what Jeff Zimmerman wrote. This is why doing research is so important. He’s selling Cole Hamels. Why? Quote: “To put it simply, I think the time to sell Hamels is now while he still has a reasonable 2.95 ERA (with a FIP at 4.96 and 3.91 xFIP). Hamels velocity is down 1.7 mph and his Zone% has dropped from 47%, to less than 40% of his pitches going in the strike zone. Both of these factors have help shrink his K%-BB% from 17.4% to 10.7% with his strikeouts down and walks up. Hamels has been helped with an unsustainable 91% LOB% which is needed with the 1.5 HR/9 he is currently posting.”
That’s not good and it’s not good for the future. I don’t think that those firing on Hamels overnight and early this morning really dug that deep. They probably just saw Houston catching +135 or +140 and, against anybody, that has value.
We’ll be watching Hamels moving forward.
Minnesota at Milwaukee (-120); Total: 8.5
Jimmy Nelson is a guy I’ve been watching in the betting market. I thought he was overpriced twice and now he’s underpriced thanks to betting market activity here. Nelson opened -130 and we’ve seen an adjustment in that number. I don’t see why. Outside of the Red Sox and Big Papi, there’s not a single team that has been more dependent on the DH this season than the Twins. Do you take Byung-ho Park, who has four home runs out of the DH spot, or Joe Mauer, with a .452 OBP as a DH, out of the lineup? That’s the disadvantage facing teams when they go to an NL park.
That also makes Jimmy Nelson’s job easier by removing one good hitter from the lineup. I actually like Milwaukee against left-handed pitching this season as well. They have some right-handed power sticks with Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Chris Carter, and Jonathan Lucroy that can do some damage against southpaws. They haven’t hit for a lot of power yet, but they do have the second-best BB% against lefties in 167 PA and the best among teams with at least 100 PA against lefties.
Laying chalk on Milwaukee on a regular basis won’t be smart. Tonight, it should work.
Pittsburgh at San Diego (-110); Total: 7.5
How bad is Jeff Locke? Bad enough to be a pick ‘em against Drew Pomeranz and the San Diego Padres. Pittsburgh hasn’t seen many lefties, but oddsmakers seem to be giving you some clues here. Pomeranz has bounced around through four different organizations after being a top-five pick in 2010. The Pirates have made the playoffs in three straight years. I think the signs are there.
Arizona at San Francisco (-135); Total: 6.5
How fun is it going to be to see Zack Greinke go up against Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner several times this season? I’m not going to do it, but it’s not a bad idea to go against San Francisco tonight. Madison Bumgarner is not right. His velocity is way down and his stuff doesn’t have the same kind of tilt. Through two starts, hitters are only chasing at 21.1 percent of the pitches he’s thrown outside of the zone. His career chase rate is 32.6 percent and it was 35.4 percent last year.
I’m not going to steal Eno Sarris’s thunder by regurgitating the piece that he wrote after Bumgarner’s first start. You should read it. Just know that Bumgarner was good in the next start, but he gave up seven runs on eight hits in five innings to the Dodgers his last time out.