As long as the weather cooperates, we’ll have 15 games on the MLB docket for the first time this season. That generates a lot of prime betting opportunities on the diamond for the first Saturday of the season. Only three teams - the Baltimore Orioles, the Detroit Tigers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates - are unbeaten on the season. We know that the value in April is generally on the underdogs, as perception bias does a lot to influence the oddsmakers and also the betting market. That can make for some really difficult bets, but ones that are completely necessary.
Given the lead time of today’s article, we’ll take a deep look at the night games around Major League Baseball and see if we can spot some value that will help us get to the window with some winners on Saturday night.
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Tampa Bay (-140) at Baltimore; Total: 8.5
Drew Smyly and the Rays have been bet into a solid road favorite over Mike Wright and the undefeated Orioles on Saturday night. There are some questions as to whether or not they will get this game in, but there are no questions about which team the betting market likes.
Smyly had some major command issues in his first start of the year against Toronto, allowing three home runs in his 6.1 innings of work. What’s concerning about that is that the Orioles have some pretty good power hitters in their lineup, particularly from the right side. Smyly’s held lefties to a .243 wOBA in his career, but righties have a .325 wOBA against him. Righties slugged .448 off of him last year. These are worrisome numbers.
On the other hand, Mike Wright is taking the ball for the first time this season and he was not good last season. Wright made nine starts and three relief appearances and accumulated negative WAR with some ugly rate stats and some very ugly run metrics. This looks like a massive fade of Wright, given the line movement. The Rays rely heavily on platoon advantages and Wright allowed a .319/.386/.533 to left-handed sticks last season.
The value side has shifted to Baltimore, but Mike Wright is not the right pitcher for you to back tonight.
Houston (-130) at Milwaukee; Total: 8.5
Doug Fister’s Houston debut comes at Miller Park against the Milwaukee Brewers. He’ll be opposed by Wily Peralta. Fister should benefit from an Astros defense that is pretty decent, but that will also require some positive regression from him. Coming off of the worst GB% and lowest K-BB% of his career, Fister has a lot to prove from a performance and health standpoint. It would also help if the Astros could get a quality start. They’ve allowed 33 runs already this season in just four games.
Wily Peralta picked up right where he left off last season. Poor command and shaky control kept him from working deep in the opener against the San Francisco Giants. Peralta could draw some comparisons to guys like Nate Eovaldi or Jarred Cosart, in that he throws hard, but his high GB rate is watered down by his lack of command. Guys just make too much solid contact. Lefties also own him with a .285/.348/.458 slash.
Unfortunately, Houston doesn’t have a ton of great left-handed hitters at their disposal. There are some guys with good power from the left side, but one thing Peralta does do a decent job at is limiting the long ball.
This is a no-play because we don’t know what we’ll get from Doug Fister. Industry opinions were that this is a good gamble for Houston, but I need to see it first.
St. Louis (-155) at Atlanta; Total: 7
I love Carlos Martinez. The Cardinals right-hander takes the ball for the first time this season against a weak Atlanta Braves lineup. Moving into the rotation full-time, CMart took steps forward in just about every possible way last season. He’s got great stuff with an explosive fastball and good secondaries. But, I’m looking to go against him here.
Julio Teheran is a bit of a bounce back candidate after a season in which his strikeout rate made a very modest gain, but his HR/FB% skyrocketed. He was okay in his first start, but the big key is that he got that first outing behind him. His feet are under him a little bit more than Martinez, who, at 24, could be a little bit too amped up for this first outing.
The Braves have some decent home value today with a pitching matchup that may slightly favor Atlanta just because Carlos Martinez hasn’t worked in some time and may need a few innings to get that release point down.
Philadelphia at New York (NL) (-175); Total: 7.5
Vincent Velasquez has some excellent raw stuff and he’ll have the chance to refine it in the Phillies rotation throughout the season. The prime piece in the Ken Giles trade with Houston, Velasquez has a plus fastball and a couple of secondaries that flash plus as well. There’s a lot to like here about the upside of Velasquez. There are some concerns about how many innings he’ll work and today should be a five-and-fly outing. That’s the only thing keeping me off of the Phillies.
Bartolo Colon gets the nod for the Mets and he’s been pretty good in the first half of the last two seasons before he starts to wear down a little bit in the second half. This line is too high and Philadelphia is still the value side, but the fact that Velasquez will turn it over to the Phillies bullpen for four innings is a problem.
Minnesota at Kansas City (-140); Total: 8
One of my stronger opinions today comes from this AL Central matchup. I like Ian Kennedy making his first start for the Royals. Kennedy is a guy that ran into some bad luck last season. He started the year and then got hurt, forcing him to miss a few weeks right after Spring Training. Pitchers don’t come out of camp fully ready to go and a setback like that will cause a hurler to play catch up for a while.
We saw that with Kennedy. Kennedy gave up 20 home runs in 84.1 first half innings and 11 in 84 second half innings. His unsustainably high HR/FB% of around 17 percent should come down a bit this season. We also have to remember that Kennedy goes from one of the worst defensive teams in baseball to the best defensive team in baseball. Kennedy gave up 31 home runs and still had a BABIP against of .301. He’s going to see some improvements in that area. The strikeout and walk rates may come down a little bit with an extra hitter in the lineup, but this defense will save him runs.
I’ve never been a big Tommy Milone fan. In certain parks, he’s worth streaming. Kauffman is a decent yard for him, but one of Kansas City’s best assets last season was how well their lefties hit southpaws. They used the entire field and drove balls to the opposite field. Only the Nationals with Bryce Harper and the Reds with Joey Votto had higher wOBAs in lefty/lefty matchups than the Royals.
This is my favorite play of the day. Take the Royals.
San Diego at Colorado (-125); Total: 11
A couple of lefties take the hill in the Rocky Mountains with the matchup between the Padres and the Rockies. Drew Pomeranz goes up against the team that acquired him in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal with the Indians back in 2011. Pomeranz wasn’t happy with how the Rockies treated him and they also played around with a four-man rotation when he was there. Even though the returns weren’t great, this is a guy that has experience working in these conditions.
Jorge de la Rosa has carved out a pretty good career for working half of his games at Coors Field. The Padres will throw a decent collection of right-handed bats at him and righties have a career .346 wOBA against him. We’ve seen a massive line move in this one, as the Rockies went from a -160 favorite to a -125 favorite. Obviously that takes all of the value out of this game, but this is a case where some recency bias, with the Padres going a long time without scoring a run, played into the opening number.
Chicago (NL) at Arizona (-110); Total: 8
How about this line? Kyle Hendricks, making his first start of the season, is virtually a money line pick ‘em against Zack Greinke. Hendricks is a guy that I am extremely high on this season. On Tuesday’s BangTheBook Radio, I talked about how ERA/xFIP discrepancies are something that bettors are looking for. Hendricks had a 3.95 ERA with a 3.25 xFIP last season. Some shaky defense early in the year and some unfortunate home run luck hurt his bottom line. With the pressure off working behind several experienced arms, Hendricks is a great, somewhat under-the-radar guy.
Greinke had a bit of a flu bug on Monday when he gave up seven runs in four innings to Colorado. He’s expected to be better today, so it’s interesting to see this line where it is. The Cubs are a popular team and certainly the World Series favorite, even with the Kyle Schwarber injury. I think it’s a big of an overreaction to price Greinke, one of the game’s elites, like this. He still has immense strikeout upside against a Cubs team that will swing and miss a ton.
The under is where I’d look for this game. I do have some worries about how late into the game Hendricks will work and there’s also a concern that Greinke’s strikeout totals will run up his pitch count. Regardless, these are two very good starters and they should show it here.
Texas at Los Angeles (AL) (-115); Total: 7
The Rangers battle the Angels here in this one and this is one of the more interesting pitching matchups of the day. Cole Hamels takes the pill for the road Rangers and Garrett Richards looks to bounce back for Anaheim. Hamels was terrific in his first outing against a Seattle team that will struggle against above average lefties on the season. As far as I’m concerned, the Angels will struggle against just about every pitcher this year. They have scored eight runs in four games and there is not much to like about this offense.
On the flip side, I like the Texas offense against Garrett Richards. Richards doesn’t have pronounced platoon splits, but he does have more control issues against them than he does against righties. The Rangers have seen a lot of Richards over the last few seasons and he strikes me as a guy that needs to get into a groove and rhythm to have a lot of success. His career walk rate in March/April is approaching 11 percent.
In what projects to be a low-scoring affair, I’d look to Texas to scratch out more offense than the Angels.
Oakland at Seattle (-140); Total: 8
Lather, rinse, repeat. The A’s are a big dog with a lefty on the mound against Seattle once again on Saturday. This was the case yesterday and Seattle couldn’t hit journeyman southpaw Eric Surkamp. Taijuan Walker was good, but not good enough with only two runs of support. Today, it’s Rich Hill against Nate Karns. Hill parlayed four good starts to end 2015 into a pretty lucrative one-year deal. It seemed like a bit of a reach for the A’s, but those are the gambles that they take.
Hill wasn’t great in the opener, but he was forced into action because of Sonny Gray’s food poisoning. It’s early, but the Mariners aren’t making a lot of great contact against lefties, ranking 19th in wOBA due only to their high BB rate. Karns is a guy that I like, especially at Safeco Field, but there are some control concerns here in the first start of the season.
Also, Oakland’s offense is a little bit underpriced. They’ve only scored 13 runs in five games, but three of those games came against really good left-handed starters in Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon. The A’s had awful platoon splits last season against lefties. Karns is a righty that they can handle.
A very small lean to Oakland here in this one.