Another work week begins and a mostly new round of games is on tap. One wraparound series between the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics is the lone series to carry through the weekend. As you know, Monday means another edition of The Bettor’s Box, with great baseball betting insight and analysis. The Monday version of this article is always a bit shorter because of the show, so make sure to check out my thoughts on the latest from around MLB.
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What an interesting matchup this is. Danny Salazar has been steamed in the betting market for Monday as the Cleveland Indians head up to Fenway Park to take on the Boston Red Sox. The Indians will take on former first-round pick Matt Barnes, who will be making his first Major League start. Barnes has 21 poor relief appearances under his belt on the season and 26 for his career.
While I certainly understand the desire to back Salazar, pushing the Indians to -145 on the road without Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis is a scary proposition. Brantley may play on Monday, but if he does, he’s far less than 100 percent. With Salazar, bettors are banking on a pitcher with a 3.26/3.54/3.20 pitcher slash and over 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Salazar has actually benefitted this season from some good batted ball luck, as evidenced by a 78-point drop in BABIP against. The Indians are one of the top teams in defensive runs saved since Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela became everyday fixtures on the left side of the infield, but this is still a remarkable increase in batted ball luck. Better sequencing has helped Salazar, but considering that he has dropped to a 6.5 percent pop up rate, down from over 13 percent last season, that makes the BABIP decrease that much more intriguing.
Looking at Matt Barnes’s minor league numbers, it’s tough to see why, exactly, he was moved to the bullpen. There are no major command issues in his minor league numbers and the control was serviceable through the low minors. After 22 starts and one relief appearance at Pawtucket last year, the Red Sox opted to put him in the bullpen. He has really struggled in relief, so whatever Boston was trying to cover up has backfired. Barnes made five starts at Triple-A to get stretched out before getting recalled. Perhaps his command is poor, given some high BABIPs over the last couple of seasons.
This is a strange game to gauge. Salazar clearly has a starting pitching edge, but are you going to be eager to lay -130, let alone -145, on the Indians on the road? Not me. But, the market is doing it.
Nobody’s really talking about it, but the Texas Rangers are still hanging around in the AL Wild Card chase, even though Cole Hamels has not had much of an impact. He can possibly be a factor in this one against the Seattle Mariners. Hamels was skipped for a minor groin issue in his last start, so he’s going on extended rest in this one. The Mariners will counter with Taijuan Walker.
Walker has been maddening this season. He’s flashed the front of the rotation potential that had Mariners fans and front office personnel overjoyed about his ceiling. On the other hand, his command has left something to be desired and he has been extremely inconsistent. Walker had a dominant stretch from May 29 to July 1 when he posted a 51/3 K/BB ratio over 48.1 innings and seven starts. Opposing hitters batted .199/.221/.318 in that span. Over his next four starts, he posted an 8.02 ERA with a .310/.359/.583 slash against. Now, over his last three starts, hitters are batting .141/.194/.256. Small sample size alert and all of that, but this kid clearly has some pitching chops, he’s just so inconsistent. Not just from start to start, but from pitch to pitch. He’s only 22, so there’s a lot of growth potential left.
As for Cole Hamels, there’s not a lot to learn about him. He’s posted great K/BB rates in his first two starts with an AL team, but he’s also given up five home runs out of 55 batters faced. With Hamels, there are a lot of contributing factors. His groin is clearly an issue and uprooting his family and leaving the only organization he has known were two tough things to do. I’d be very skeptical of Hamels right now until I know how he looks with that groin problem. This is a stay away game or take the Mariners. I’m worried about Walker’s inconsistency, so I’m avoiding it, but it’s hard to take the Rangers at this price with Hamels’s injury issue.
What does a sweep of the Washington Nationals get you? Nothing in the betting market, apparently. Chris Heston has been a pleasant surprise for the Giants and, frankly, without him, they may not be in the position that they’re in. With more injuries to Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, Heston has saved this team with 141 innings of a 3.38 ERA. His 3.49 FIP and 3.74 xFIP are very reasonable figures as well.
This would seem to be a good matchup for Heston given the Cardinals’ pitch values against fastballs and sinkers. The Cardinals rank 25th in baseball at 9.3 runs below average in batting against sinkers per PITCHf/x data. Heston is at about 60 percent usage with his sinker and a 52 percent ground ball rate. The Giants are a pretty good defensive team, though not on the level of the Cardinals.
The Cardinals will counter with Michael Wacha. After some issues getting strikeouts early in the season, Wacha’s strikeout rate has gradually risen to around the same one that he posted last season. More importantly, Wacha is healthy. His numbers are strong across the board and his feel for pitching continues to develop. Wacha has stranded more runners this season than last, with a higher ground ball rate. The velocity is strong and the stuff is good across the board. He’s really one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball.
I really like the under in this game. There’s always some concern with a ground ball pitcher on the mound, but these are two really good defensive teams and two pitchers with a very good feel for the strike zone. There won’t be many free baserunners and should be a playoff-like atmosphere to this one.
Is it a trend that the Angels have struggled so much with left-handed pitching lately? They had no luck last week against Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, and Monday’s starter Carlos Rodon. They were also shut down by Danny Duffy in Kansas City. The Angels are in a bad spot right now and Mike Scioscia isn’t helping matters with some questionable managerial decisions. The White Sox aren’t really playing for anything except pride at this point. These are two teams in really different situations and that has certainly influenced the line.
The White Sox are no longer the worst offense in baseball against left-handed pitching, due in large part to their .290 BABIP. The Milwaukee Brewers now hold that dubious distinction, though the teams are tied with a .276 wOBA. The Rockies and Brewers each have a lower wRC+ than the Pale Hose. Yay for small victories. The White Sox will have to contend with Andrew Heaney for the second time in a week. Heaney shows a good feel for pitching with good FB command and two plus secondaries. He’s a tough guy to hit and should be tougher in his home ballpark.
Carlos Rodon was really good last week against the Angels. It’s so hard to figure out what version of Rodon you will get. He walks a lot of guys and gives up more than a hit per inning, but he also has more than a strikeout per inning. More often than not, Rodon is a guy to stay away from because you just don’t know when he will be dominant or terrible. With the Angels off of a tough road trip and the Sunday Night Baseball game late last night, this isn’t a great situational spot. They’re also 24th in wOBA against lefties.
I like the Angels for this one because I think they turn it around and have a good game to open up the homestand. Perception and recency bias have put this line into a place where the Angels have pretty good value as well.