Four teams will try Opening Day again thanks to some postponements and other teams will play their second games of the season. Mother Nature will continue to wreak havoc around the country because it’s early April and that’s how things go. We saw some delayed games on Monday as well, so it was a big of a difficult day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great day with a loser on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a big way and Seattle moved back into range by the time BangTheBook Radio was recorded. Those that hopped on the over in the San Francisco/Milwaukee game had a nice, easy winner there. Toronto was a winner, so it was a mixed bag of action on Monday.
We shift gears to Tuesday. Be sure to catch the recorded version of BangTheBook Radio today because Adam Burke talked about his approach to breaking down games and how he handicaps Major League Baseball. Find out what works for you, but also consider how Adam goes about his MLB business. A lot of those concepts that were mentioned on air are mentioned here in these write-ups throughout the season.
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Let’s take a look at Tuesday’s action, beginning with a couple of reposts on those postponed games:
Houston (-130) at New York (AL); Total: 7
The reigning AL Wild Card winners battle the team that they knocked out of the postseason to kick things off for 2016. Dallas Keuchel takes the ball for the Astros against Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees. It was a Cy Young-winning season for Keuchel last year and that big leap from 2013 to 2014 to 2015 is sustainable. It may not be sustainable to the same degree as last season, but Keuchel’s arsenal changes to go from a marginal curveball to a plus slider led to more ground balls and more whiffs.
The beauty of a guy like Keuchel is that it’s really hard to do damage against him. Ground balls rarely go for extra-base hits and his heavy ground ball split keeps the ball in the park. His strikeout bump is what really transformed him into an elite-level starter. We’ll see if those strikeout gains stick around because most of his plate discipline metrics were about the same from 2014 to 2015. He actually threw fewer first-pitch strikes last season. I’m skeptical of the strikeout numbers.
Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have a great spring, as skipper Joe Girardi called out his effort and focus. His elbow is a ticking time bomb, so those looking for Tanaka to do something would be wise to focus on April and May before that thing starts giving him trouble again. He’s got extremely good stuff and this is an Astros lineup prone to swinging and missing. You don’t see large sample sizes of guys like Masahiro Tanaka during Spring Training. I’d be worried about that here for the Astros, particularly because Tanaka doesn’t issue many free passes.
As a plus-money home dog on Opening Day, the Yankees would be the lean in this one. They have some bullpen issues, but Andrew Miller intends to pitch through a fracture to his non-throwing arm and Dellin Betances is elite. New York has improved its defense in some ways for this season, a strength that Houston held over many teams last season. The Yankees might be a play-on team early in the season before their old roster runs out of gas.
Boston at Cleveland (-108); Total: 6
With the coldest Opening Day since 2003 forecasted for Cleveland, it’s going to be a bad day to be a hitter. David Price and Corey Kluber both possess elite stuff and getting jammed in the mid-90s is going to be awful. Windy conditions are in the forecast here and the forecasted north wind would be blowing in from left field, likely knocking balls down. Now, these teams do have a lot of speed to create first-to-third and first-to-home run opportunities and the Indians have a brutal outfield defense.
The slight lean in this game is Boston. Corey Kluber’s sinker can be hittable at times and the high exit velocities make it hard to play defense when hitters square it up. On the other hand, the Indians loaded up on right-handed bats this offseason, so Price will face his fair share of guys with a platoon split. The Indians bullpen is in better shape because of injuries, but that will all depend on who gets to use the pen to protect a lead and who is playing catch up.
New York (NL) (-120) at Kansas City; Total: 8
Noah Syndergaard is an elite-level starter with some of the best raw stuff in baseball. Chris Young has really pedestrian stuff, and yet he’s only an even money underdog here in this spot. We went against the Mets with some success on Tuesday night and there’s a chance that the same thing can happen here. It’s important to realize that Syndergaard’s best weapon is that he strikes out opposing hitters. Kansas City strikes out less than any team in the big leagues.
Young induces a lot of fly balls and nobody has a better outfield defense than Kansas City. So, while Syndergaard is the vastly-superior pitcher, Young is the guy better suited for success in this start. That’s kind of crazy to think about, but that’s the way that it shakes out here. With no bullpen issues due to the Monday off day, the Royals don’t have much to worry about in that respect. It’s hard to go against Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard in back-to-back games, but that may be the way to look at it. This isn’t a strong play, since Syndergaard is spectacular, but the Royals have a bullpen and a defense advantage and Syndergaard’s strength is mitigated a bit by what Kansas City’s offense does well.
St. Louis (-110) at Pittsburgh; Total: 7
Michael Wacha takes the ball for the Cardinals against Jon Niese, who will be making his Pirates debut. The Cardinals struggled against Francisco Liriano, but Niese is a much easier left-hander to handle. I wonder what Niese will do to adjust to the Pirates and their defensive ideology. He’s a pretty extreme ground ball guy, so there may be a period of time in which Niese has some issues.
Michael Wacha was a really interesting guy to watch last season. For one thing, he posted a career high in innings pitched by a pretty large margin. He also had strikeout issues early in the season and fixed them as the season went on. Wacha struck out 15 percent of batters in April, 17 percent in May, and then 25 percent in both June and July. It’s possible that Wacha is simply a slow starter. He also finished the season with some disastrous results as he got fatigued. It’s a small sample, but Wacha looks like a guy to stay away from early in the season and late in the season.
As such, this game is a stay away here today.
Toronto at Tampa Bay (-120); Total: 8
The Blue Jays send Aaron Sanchez to the bump in hopes of completing the sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. Toronto’s key offensive pieces have been swinging good bats already, but they draw a tough opponent in Jake Odorizzi in this one. Unfortunately for the Rays, Odorizzi showed some really significant reverse platoon splits last season. His split-change was a dynamite pitch against lefties, but righties managed a .435 SLG against him. It was the second straight season in which Odorizzi showed the reverse splits. As we know, the Blue Jays are right-handed heavy, particularly from a power standpoint.
Then there’s Aaron Sanchez, who has platoon split issues of his own, although his are more traditional. Sanchez was banished to the bullpen from a lack of a third pitch last season and managed to win a rotation spot this season. For me, those big splits are way too big to ignore. In 202 PA against lefties, Sanchez allowed a .279/.390/.488 slash. There are other worries about Sanchez besides arsenal depth. His mechanics can get long and inconsistent. In a short burst, that’s okay. Over the course of five or six innings, that’s not. That’s why he had a 42/37 K/BB ratio as a starter last season.
We know that Tampa Bay relies heavily on platoons, so the lineup will be loaded with as many left-handed sticks as possible. In this spot, the over would be my favorite play, with Tampa Bay coming in as a pretty strong lean. Odorizzi has the reverse splits, but he’s been very good at Tropicana Field, a place where the ball doesn’t carry all that well. This is more of a fade of Sanchez than anything else and I think that could be a profitable play until he proves otherwise.
Detroit (-125) at Miami; Total: 7.5
Justin Verlander and Wei-Yin Chen kick things off for the 2016 season for these two teams. Verlander’s velocity reports were somewhat encouraging during Spring Training, but he reinvented himself without the velocity last season. He started focusing more on changing eye levels to make that low-90s look a little bit more explosive up in the zone when complemented with his plus curveball. That’s a big reason why Verlander became a fly ball pitcher last season. Sabermetric stats don’t look favorably on league average strikeout rates on fly ball pitchers, but it’s hard to find a better ballpark than Marlins Park for a pitcher like that.
Wei-Yin Chen is strikingly similar to Verlander, but from the left side. Chen and Verlander share a lot of similarities in K/BB rates, though Chen does induce a few more ground balls than Verlander. This is Chen’s first start with the Marlins and I believe he will be an excellent fit in the National League, where his strikeout rate can increase by facing the pitcher. The fences were moved in at Marlins Park, so we’ll have to see how that affects home run rates.
For now, however, I like both of these pitchers in this park. I also think the Miami offense is really underrated. They’ve got a pretty strong position player group and should be a very good defensive team. With Detroit losing a hitter due to the DH, or having to downgrade defensively, that could be an issue. However, Chen will face a lot of right-handed hitters, which is a concern and he will have to develop a rapport with JT Realmuto. Neither bullpen inspires me. This is a stay away game, but I’m going to follow it closely because it is probably the most interesting overall game in my mind for Tuesday.
Seattle at Texas (-110); Total: 8.5
King Felix lost it for an inning on Monday and it cost the Mariners a win. Granted, they also scored just two runs. Runs are in the forecast for Tuesday, at least according to the oddsmakers. I’m not sure what to think about either of these pitchers. Hisashi Iwakuma went back to Seattle after failing his physical with the Dodgers. Martin Perez worked 78.2 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery. They weren’t great innings, although he worked a lot of ground balls into the mix.
Overall, I like Iwakuma. He’s a guy that has had some occasional command issues, mostly injury-related, during his time with Seattle. You would think that a guy like that would have severe home/road splits, but he has a 3.12 ERA at home and a 3.23 ERA on the road with marginal AVG and SLG differences. The one big thing is that his control seems to suffer on the road, with 17 more walks in about 70 fewer innings.
One thing that means a lot to me is when players get to train for a season as opposed to rehab for a season. That’s the boat Martin Perez was in. Perez spent the 2014 offseason rehabbing from Tommy John. He spent the 2015 offseason getting stronger. We’ll see if it pays off. No strong opinion here with two unknown commodities on the mound.
San Francisco (-140) at Milwaukee; Total: 8
The Giants blasted the Brewers to open the season and send prized free agent Johnny Cueto to the mound for Game 2. Milwaukee counters with probably their most talented starter in Jimmy Nelson. Bumgarner was a much bigger favorite for the Opener and money poured in on the Brewers. Oddsmakers have adjusted the line down about 50 cents from open and about 25 cents from the close on Monday. That seems like a pretty big adjustment, possibly an overreaction. Bumgarner did get nicked for a few runs by Milwaukee’s righty-heavy lineup, so maybe the betting market was right in that respect, but this is a really strong San Francisco position player group.
San Francisco probably has some value here. Jimmy Nelson is a decent starter, but there’s nothing overly special about his performance or potential. He’s basically average or worse across the board and Milwaukee is not a particularly good defensive team to help him out. I’m not big on laying anything over 140, especially on the road, but the Giants are on the warpath this season.
Colorado at Arizona (-150); Total: 9
Colorado’s offensive explosion allowed them to cash a big ticket for Rockies backers. The Diamondbacks are already having problems. Chip Hale whined to the media about the spotlight on his team and it’s clear that AJ Pollock will be sorely missed. Add in a GM that is totally clueless and the Diamondbacks need to get some positive feelings going very soon.
Personally, I like Chad Bettis. Well, as much as you can like a Colorado starting pitcher. He’s got some swing-and-miss ability and a nice ground ball split. If he can cut down on his walks, he can be a really viable option for a rotation in desperate need of serviceable arms. On the Arizona side, Shelby Miller comes over with high expectations that he probably cannot reach. His strikeout gains from 2014 to 2015 are really impressive and his improved command is as well. Unfortunately, he’s going to Chase Field, which is not a good pitcher’s park. If the ground ball and strikeout increases are sustainable, he’ll be a 3.25-3.50 ERA guy. If they aren’t, well, it will be kind of ugly, particularly with what Arizona gave up to get him.
I don’t have a side opinion here, but I do like under the total. Yesterday’s offensive explosion led to a little bit of recency bias in this line and I don’t think oddsmakers appreciate Chad Bettis very much. Neither bullpen is solid and that’s a worry in April, but I’d be surprised to see a slugfest with two guys that are pretty adept at keeping the ball on the ground.
Chicago (AL) (-110) at Oakland; Total: 7.5
With Rich Hill thrust into action on Opening Day because of Sonny Gray’s food poisoning, Chris Bassitt will get the nod here for Oakland. That generates an interesting storyline for this game because Bassitt was a White Sox draft pick back in 2011. Bassitt is actually an under-the-radar guy that I am interested in. He’s got the requisite three pitches that a starter needs because he refined his changeup. Also, he has some platoon splits, but they won’t be as noticeable against a Chicago team that trots out quite a few right-handed bats.
On the other hand, I’ve always been a big Jose Quintana fan. Don Cooper took a waiver pickup and turned him into a bona fide middle of the rotation starter that keeps getting better every season. His walk rate has gotten better in each of the last four seasons and his strikeout rates have improved as well. I’m really high on both starters here, though Quintana is the proven commodity. As a result, the White Sox have to be the side that you look at in this matchup.
Chicago (NL) (-140) at Los Angeles (AL); Total: 7.5
I’m scratching my head about this line. Jake Arrieta was lined about the same against Garrett Richards at open yesterday. The Cubs opened a slightly smaller favorite at -130. We saw some foreshadowing regarding the Angels bullpen on Monday as they struggled mightily to get outs. I’m not sure why it would be any different tonight or any other night. Jon Lester goes for the Cubs against Andrew Heaney here.
In looking at this game, I just don’t see Heaney having enough stuff to baffle this lineup three times through the order. I like him and think he’ll be a decent guy to back at home, but he’s a contact-based starter and the way to shut down the Cubs is to strike them out. I just don’t see Heaney having enough to navigate this lineup. On the other side, Jon Lester is pretty good and this is an excellent park for a guy like Lester to pitch in. The Cubs have an extra hitter in the lineup and that makes them so much stronger than the Angels.
This is a no-brainer. After trying to go against Arrieta and the Cubs last night, I’ll be on the Cubs tonight.
Los Angeles (NL) (-125) at San Diego; Total: 7
The Dodgers put a beating on the Padres to open up the 2016 season with a lopsided 15-0 pasting. Tyson Ross was not sharp at all over his 5.1 innings and the Padres offense barely managed a whimper against Clayton Kershaw. Now Scott Kazmir goes up against James Shields. We’ve seen some Shields love on the overnight lines, probably assuming that this was an inflated line based on the blowout.
Kazmir is a tough guy for me to peg. He’s in the National League, which should help him and he’s also in a good pitcher’s park now. But, he always seems to be battling some sort of ailment. He’s a great story after playing independent ball while trying to hold on to his MLB dream and he built up his arm and his velocity to make a very impressive return. He’s easy to root for. The Padres lineup is pretty bad. They have a platoon advantage overall against left-handed starters, not that it helped them against Kershaw, but Kershaw is on another level.
Shields saw some major command regression last season, but he also set a career-best in strikeouts rate. So, what will 2015 hold? Honestly, who knows. Shields was the subject of some trade chatter late last season and that will pop up again this season. The home run rate was a bit of a surprise, but it should also regress positively this season. The scary thing is that it didn’t improve throughout the season.
This is a stay away game on all fronts. These are two unknown commodities getting the start and the Padres offense has some upside against lefties, but who knows if they will reach it.