Another day, another opportunity to make dollars. A full slate of night games is on tap for tonight’s Major League Baseball card and there are some very interesting lines. The Mets are once again north of -200 at the Phillies. The top two teams in the AL West are both road favorites. In fact, nearly half of tonight’s games have road favorites. Will the dogs have their day or will it be another chalky day after nine of the 10 favorites won on Monday?
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Both offenses were shut down in the pitcher’s duel between Scott Feldman and Nate Eovaldi on Monday. Will they snap out of it against Dallas Keuchel and Ivan Nova? Both of these homer-happy lineups have struggled lately. Nobody’s really talking about it, but the Astros are 30th in wOBA over the last 14 days and the Yankees are 27th. It’s a small sample size and not entirely significant, but it is worth noting because teams that rely on power can go into these prolonged slumps. The Astros have struck out in over 27 percent of their plate appearances in that span.
Looking at the pitching matchup in this one, Keuchel and the Astros have an advantage, which is why this line has moved on their side. Keuchel is proving that last season was no fluke with better numbers across the board. Over 25 starts covering 178.2 innings of work, Keuchel owns a 2.37 ERA with a 2.74 FIP and xFIP. His strand rate of 79 percent might be a little bit high, but his strikeout rate has improved and his pitch mix is producing a lot of weak contact. I understand the move on the Astros here because Keuchel is a bad matchup for the Yankees. They only have 12 home runs and a .240/.313/.352 slash in 667 plate appearances against ground ball pitchers and Keuchel is one of the most extreme.
Ivan Nova’s return to something resembling solid has been big for the Yankees. With CC Sabathia out and Michael Pineda on the shelf over the last few weeks Nova’s 58 innings have been a godsend for the Bronx Bombers. He hasn’t been great or dominant, but a 3.72 ERA with a 4.12 FIP almost always gives an offense like New York’s a chance. His strikeout rate is down a little bit overall, but he’s still inducing ground balls at a good clip and he hasn’t fallen victim to the high BABIP against that has plagued Nate Eovaldi.
The Astros are definitely the side here, even if some of the line value is gone. Nova isn’t a strikeout pitcher and the Astros have certainly faced their share of those lately. Keuchel should get enough support, but, more importantly, he should be effective against the Yankees.
Jered Weaver as a road favorite is terrifying. On the other hand, so is backing Alfredo Simon. This is the most fascinating line of the day to me. Weaver’s assortment of junk that includes the kitchen sink is still useful at Angel Stadium, but it’s hard to say that it’s useful anywhere else. Comerica Park has a big, spacious outfield, but it’s not a coincidence that Weaver has a .389 SLG allowed at home with a 3.02 ERA and a .482 SLG allowed on the road with a 5.40 ERA. Last year’s home road split was 2.68, .310 and 4.70, .469. As his stuff declines, so does his value. As terrible as Alfredo Simon generally is, Jered Weaver should not be a road favorite against almost anybody, especially a team with a lineup like Detroit’s.
But, then there’s Alfredo Simon. Simon incorporated the “Blind Squirrel Theory” into his season with a complete game one-hitter against the Rangers last time out. The stuff is good, but the command is poor and the lack of depth in his arsenal allows teams to have a lot of success the second and third time through the order. Simon is very defense-dependent and that’s not really a good thing with the Tigers, even though they are nowhere near as bad as they were a few years ago. The saving grace for Simon is that Albert Pujols and Mike Trout bat right-handed and righties are hitting .215/.285/.315 against Simon. It’s lefties that massacre him and nearly two-thirds of Anaheim’s plate appearances this season have been by a right-handed batter. Also, Angels lefties are only posting a .242/.299/.360 slash against right-handed pitchers. They actually have a reverse platoon split as a team.
With that, I’ll take the Tigers. Backing Simon is scary, but not as scary as backing Jered Weaver on the road.
The betting market hasn’t been supportive of Mike Foltynewicz since his recall, but they may have no choice on Tuesday against Chad Bettis. Bettis is making his first MLB since going on the disabled list on July 18 with elbow inflammation. I actually liked what I saw from Bettis earlier this season in his 13 starts, as the strikeout stuff was back and some unfortunate batted ball luck and sequencing turned a 3.97 xFIP into a 4.88 ERA. But, Bettis is a guy with shaky control and fringe command. Returning to the bigs after a long layoff rarely helps guys that struggle to command the ball.
Speaking of fringe command, Foltynewicz has shown basically no command at the MLB level. He’s struck out 74 batters in 81.2 innings, but his straight fastball and undeveloped secondaries have led to 17 home runs allowed. Among pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched, only Kyle Kendrick, who pitches his home games in Colorado, has a higher home run rate than Foltynewicz. Even with that ridiculous home run rate, Folty has a BABIP against of .357. Since home runs don’t count towards BABIP, because they’re not “in play”, that number is terrifying. In fact, it’s the highest in the league. Not only that, but Folty is a fly ball pitcher, so a BABIP that high for a fly ball pitcher is really disastrous because it means doubles and triples.
I’m going to go with Colorado and the over as my leans in this one. Bettis actually sports reverse splits, with a .234/.320/.387 allowed to lefties and a .279/.342/.496 to righties. The Braves have gotten most of their offensive contributions from left-handed bats this season. Both of these bullpens are horrible, so maybe Colorado first 5 and full game over are the way to go.
Southpaws Mark Buehrle and Derek Holland are on the bump in this one. The Blue Jays would seem to have a huge advantage in this game from a starting pitcher standpoint. Holland is solid, but Holland just returned one start ago after suffering yet another injury back in April. He threw the ball very well against the Mariners with two earned on eight hits over 6.1 with a strikeout per inning, but the Blue Jays lineup dwarfs the Mariners lineup in terms of offensive production. Specifically, the Blue Jays lineup dwarfs most teams against lefties.
The Rangers are in the middle of the pack offensively against lefties, with a .309 wOBA and a 90 wRC+. The Blue Jays are first in wOBA with a .356 and first in wRC+ at 127. That means that the Blue Jays are essentially 37 percent better against left-handed pitchers than the Rangers from an offensive production standpoint. wRC+ starts at 100, which is league average, and goes up or down from there. Globe Life Park is a good hitter’s park, so Holland’s margin for error is very thin in this game.
The Rangers are surging, but this is not a good spot for them. The Blue Jays just scored 36 runs in three games against the Angels and they have owned lefties all season. Mark Buehrle isn’t the sexiest of pitchers in terms of his stat line, but he manages to be really effective. He has the best walk rate of his career by far and the third-lowest BABIP against of his career, third only to his lone season in the National League in 2012 and his first full season in 2001.
Take the Jays in this one.
Robbie Ray was pushed back a day by the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals took advantage with a series-opening win over Jhoulys Chacin. Ray will now go on Tuesday night against Jaime Garcia, who has been extremely effective when he has been able to take the ball every five days. Garcia is an extreme ground ball guy with good control and one of the worst injury histories you will find in baseball. This year, Garcia has used the Cardinals defense to post a 1.79 ERA over 80.2 innings with a .234 BABIP against and an 82.6 percent strand rate. As a team, the Cardinals have an 80.3 percent strand rate, which is by far the best in baseball.
The Diamondbacks are a top-10 offense against lefties and the Cardinals are among the 10 worst teams in the league. The St. Louis offense hasn’t done much lately with Randal Grichuk, Matt Adams, and Matt Holliday on the shelf. They’ve had problems against lefties for the better part of the last four seasons and Robbie Ray is an interesting opponent. Ray is just 3-9 because win-loss record is stupid. He has a 3.38 ERA with a 3.31 FIP and a 4.02 xFIP. The Diamondbacks have one of the best defensive infields in baseball and that has helped Ray. He’s also getting timely swings and misses and is working from ahead in the count.
I actually like Ray in this spot. The Diamondbacks were in a tough position on Monday with their first home game after a 10-game road trip and then the fact that Ray got pushed back a day. The Cardinals have lots of troubles with lefties and I have trouble believing in the sustainability of Garcia’s .234 BABIP against, no matter how strong the Cardinals defense is.
Oddsmakers seem to be taking a pretty strong stance on this game. Mike Montgomery, Seattle’s starter on Tuesday night, waited a long time to get to the Majors and didn’t waste any time in having an impact. Over his first seven starts, he threw two complete games, held the opposition to a .191/.254/.270 slash, and posted a 1.62 ERA. But, once of the reasons I like to use sabermetrics in my handicapping is because they show regression. Montgomery had those numbers with a 31/13 K/BB ratio over 50 innings and had a .221 BABIP against.
Over his last eight starts, the Mariners are 0-8 and Montgomery has a 7.45 ERA with a .311/.402/.530 slash against. As hitters have adjusted, his BABIP has ballooned to .350. Amazingly, his line drive percentage is the same 24 percent in both sample sizes. So, what that tells us is that he was getting extremely fortunate with batted ball luck. However, we can also reasonably assume that his true talent lies somewhere in between these two extremes. He’s not as good as he started and not as bad as he has been lately.
Is this the start in which Montgomery gets back on track? The A’s are 24th in wOBA at .298 against southpaws this season, so there’s hope. Oakland starter Jesse Chavez has quietly put together another solid season. Undeterred by not making the Opening Day starting rotation, Chavez has a 3.75 ERA with a 3.60 FIP and a 3.83 xFIP over 139.1 innings. He has been a consistent starter for Oakland over the last two seasons and the Mariners’ rank against righties is right about where Oakland was against lefties.
Oakland is just 11-23 against left-handed starters this season, which is part of the reason why oddsmakers have shaded them against lefties and why the betting market has faded them. I’m not sure what to expect in this game. If you like the matchup for Montgomery, the Mariners are the side. If you like the way Chavez is throwing, Oakland is your pick. My lean in this one is to Seattle, because things have to even out for Montgomery, but Chavez clearly has the higher floor.