The month of July is always an interesting one in Major League Baseball. The late push for the All-Star Break is on. After those days off, teams spend two uneasy weeks wondering who will stay, who will go, and who will arrive prior to the MLB Trade Deadline. This year, because July 31 falls on a Sunday, August 1 is actually the deadline, but it’s still a two-week period overshadowed by uncertainty. Friday night’s card offers us an interesting perspective into how oddsmakers are viewing specific teams and pitchers, so let’s dive in and see what we can make money on tonight.
Before we do that, we’ll take a quick look back at yesterday’s results. They weren’t good. The lean on the Indians hit and the Tigers came through, but we lost on the Cubs and the plays that were discussed on BangTheBook Radio, the Marlins and Orioles, also failed to come through. It was a tough way to end the month, but a sobering reminder of how much variance there is during the MLB season.
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.
Cleveland at Toronto (-120); Total: 9
I’ve had this game circled throughout the week as a spot to fade the Indians. Unfortunately, oddsmakers were hip to what a lot of people wanted to do. Marcus Stroman hasn’t pitched well at all. This is a difficult start for Josh Tomlin against a powerful lineup, but it’s clear that the oddsmakers don’t think much of Tomlin overall and that’s a mistake to me.
Tomlin gives up home runs. It’s why his FIP will always be a little bit high. But, most of them are solo home runs and he’s got a good pitch mix and plus-plus control. There’s a reason that Tomlin has been one of the most valuable pitchers in the betting market this season and it’s not just because of his stats. It’s because the market doesn’t trust guys that give up home runs, but it’s all about context.
Those that listened to BangTheBook Radio yesterday heard me talk about BaseRuns, as it pertains to the Texas Rangers. BaseRuns is an adjusted standings metric that takes sequencing out of the equation. In Neil Weinberg’s example in the explanation at Fangraphs, a single, walk, home run, groundout, strikeout, fly out is the same as a home run, single, walk, groundout, strikeout, fly out, but it’s not because of the sequencing. It’s three runs allowed or one run allowed. Tomlin gives up home runs. Lots of them. In 602.2 career innings, he’s given up 101 HR. Fifty-eight are solo shots. He doesn’t walk guys and induces a lot of weak contact, aside from the HR.
Marcus Stroman has had some issues this season with sequencing. He has a 5.33 ERA with a 4.05 FIP and a 3.89 xFIP because he’s only stranded 63.9 percent of his runners. When you’re a ground ball guy with a low strikeout rate, batted ball luck is so important. Stroman can’t survive a .322 BABIP against. With the bases empty, hitters are batting .251/.295/.402. With men on base, those numbers balloon to .327/.400/.500. Is it a problem from the stretch or simply variance? I have to assume it’s a lot of both because his walk rate is much higher from the stretch.
The oddsmakers put me in a very difficult position here. I wanted to fade the Indians. I wanted to catch Stroman at -105 or even plus money, but I guess that was a pipe dream. I’m still leaning Toronto because of the bad spot and because the Indians have some offensive regression coming and squandering opportunities with a contact-based pitcher is a way to end a streak, but this is a great line by the guys on the other side of the counter.
Kansas City (-120) at Philadelphia; Total: 8.5
Ian Kennedy should be a great pitcher to back tonight against the Phillies. The Phillies rank 28th in wOBA against right-handed pitching and Kennedy, who has his shortcomings, should be able to take advantage. Home runs have been a big issue for Kennedy, which is why he has a 3.96 ERA despite an 84.3 percent strand rate and a .250 BABIP against. These are numbers to keep watching. I do wonder how long he can outpitch the 5.25 FIP and 4.72 xFIP. We know that extreme fly ball guys can hang peripherals like this, and Kennedy gets a lot of strikeouts, but it may catch up with him.
In any event, the Royals are quietly playing well again. They’ve been overshadowed by the Indians and their run. Jeremy Hellickson has actually been okay this season, which is an upgrade for him. He’s posted a 4.23 ERA with a 4.46 FIP and a 3.84 xFIP. The ERA and FIP are below average for the National League, but his strikeout rate has impressed me.
The thing here is that the Royals don’t strike out. Hellickson has given up 16 homers and 91 hits in his 93.2 innings. The strikeouts have spared him from having a much higher ERA. The command profile has been pretty subpar over the last few seasons and that’s why I don’t like this matchup for him against the Phillies.
I do find this line pretty interesting, since the Phillies have been awful for the last six weeks, but it does speak to the lack of confidence in Ian Kennedy. I’m not a huge Kennedy fan, but I think there’s value on him against teams like the Phillies.
Chicago (NL) at New York (NL) (-110); Total: 7.5
This is a game with a lot of depth to it. You’ve got Jason Hammel up against Jacob deGrom after the Mets gutted out a win last night in a game where I did like the Cubs because of the Matz injury. I’ve talked a lot about Hammel this season and he’s due for some serious regression. Hammel owns a 2.58 ERA with a 3.89 FIP and a 4.36 xFIP. He’s got a .246 BABIP against and an 83.3 percent strand rate. You usually don’t see pitchers improve this dramatically from a BABIP standpoint with an increase in ground balls.
To Hammel’s credit, he’s limited hard contact, but not to the point where his BABIP should be 54 points below his career average. His strand rate is 12 percent above his average. The Mets don’t impress me offensively. They are 25th in wOBA against right-handed pitching, so it’s a tough sell for me to think that they will be the team that deals Hammel his regression. It is, however, coming and should come very soon. We’ve seen Hammel get off to starts like this and fade. Hitters are making a lot more contact on pitches in the zone and are chasing less. The Cubs are an elite defensive team, but still. This is too much for Hammel to sustain.
Slowly, but surely, Jacob deGrom is getting back on track. deGrom had a miserable start to the season and his wife’s complications with their first pregnancy were clearly weighing on the former NL Rookie of the Year. It took a little while for JDG to get going, but the switch flipped in late May. Since May 27, deGrom has posted a 2.25 ERA with a 2.54 FIP and a 2.65 xFIP. He’s struck out 47 in 40 innings with just eight walks. This is the pitcher we expected to see.
This is the pitcher I’m backing tonight. deGrom is in a groove and the Regression Monster is lurking behind Jason Hammel. I don’t know if the Mets are the team to do it, but somebody’s going to, and I’m going to be on the right side in that game. I’m content with fading Hammel in all of his starts before the All-Star Break and then those immediately coming out of it as well.
Detroit (-110) at Tampa Bay; Total: 8.5
I’m not sure how long Michael Fulmer can keep this up, but it’s been everything the Tigers needed. With a terrible rotation, Fulmer’s surprising performance at the big league level has allowed the team to stay relevant in the AL Central picture. Unfortunately, the other shoe should drop at some point. Fulmer has a 2.40 ERA with a 3.82 FIP and a 4.07 xFIP. He’s living off of an 86.2 percent strand rate.
Like the previous game, the problem is the opposing lineup. The Rays are terrible against right-handed pitching. They are 24th in wOBA with one of the highest K% in the league. That plays into everything that Fulmer does well. He’s actually held lefties to a .194/.308/.233 while righties have batted .227/.289/.420. We know that the Rays live and die by platoon advantages, so that kind of plays into Fulmer’s hand as well.
Surprisingly, the right-handed-heavy Tigers have scuffled a bit against lefties on the season. Drew Smyly is an interesting one. Smyly has a 5.32 ERA with a 4.43 FIP and a 3.90 xFIP. He’s struck out 100 in 89.2 innings, but he has Michael Pineda Disease with a lot of K, a great K/BB, and then a lot of hard contact and home runs. Including his last start against Detroit on May 21, Smyly has allowed 12 HR in his last 40 innings and has a 7.65 ERA with a 5.64 FIP and a 4.16 xFIP, despite a 42/8 K/BB ratio.
This is a game where all the signs point to Detroit. If Fulmer’s regression hits, you tip your cap and move on. If it doesn’t, the Tigers should be the correct side. I’m looking Tigers here again tonight.
Baltimore at Seattle (-115); Total: 8.5
Somebody has to explain this to me. Wade LeBlanc is favored over the Baltimore Orioles? LeBlanc was Triple-A fodder two weeks ago and has basically been a fringe AAAA player throughout his career. He’s favored tonight against Kevin Gausman and the AL East-leading Orioles.
LeBlanc scattered three hits over six innings in his first MLB start since September 23, 2014. The Cardinals are now 25th in wOBA against lefties. The Orioles are 10 spots higher. I’m honestly not sure what the hell to make of this game. I know that LeBlanc shouldn’t be favored. I know that Seattle was an underachieving team for a while and they are better than their record and their performance to date.
It’s not like Kevin Gausman is some stiff. He has a 3.93 ERA with a 4.24 FIP and a 3.89 xFIP on the season. He’s got good K/BB rates and none of his stats are too much out of the average range. His high HR rate counteracts a slightly elevated strand rate. He has reverse splits, so lefties are batting .226/.264/.341 with a 33/6 K/BB ratio and righties are batting .283/.340/.500 with a 36/12 K/BB ratio. That’s interesting against the Mariners, who are left-handed-heavy aside from Nelson Cruz.
Baltimore’s going to close a favorite in this game, so take the line value now if you want it.
Be sure to tune into today’s edition of BangTheBook Radio for thoughts on Texas vs. Minnesota and New York (AL) vs. San Diego.