For our purposes, this is the end of the MLB first half. Sunday is one of the worst handicapping days of the year because it’s the day before the All-Star Break and it’s a day to pass on the card. Teams and players are looking ahead to the time off and it can be very difficult to keep up with line moves based on lineups and motivation. In solidarity with our stance on the last day of the first half, we won’t have a DFS piece or a picks and analysis piece. We’ll return a week from Monday with both articles. The first series out of the Break can be a little bit tricky as well, so we’ll take the full week off and look ahead to the second half, the Trade Deadline, and the playoff push.
Before we look at Saturday, let’s see how Friday went for us. Of course Sean O’Sullivan and the Red Sox found a way to beat the Rays. That was a disappointing outcome to be sure. We stayed away from Nationals/Mets, but the injury to Noah Syndergaard is sad and frustrating and depressing. We’ll follow that as more comes out. The Indians rolled as heavy chalk, much to my surprise. The Cardinals also lost. The night wasn’t a total loss with Seattle’s win, but it wasn’t good. Another example of why limiting exposure this weekend is good.
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.
Los Angeles (AL) at Baltimore (-130); Total: 10
Listeners of BangTheBook Radio, The Bettor’s Box, or readers of this column know how much I love sabermetrics and apply it to my betting analysis. I don’t take a hard-line stance with saber, though. I try to understand other variables. Nick Tropeano is one of those “other variables”. The Angels starter is basically Chris Young with a K rate (pre-2016 Chris Young, anyway). Tropeano is an extreme fly ball guy, hated by the advanced metrics because of his BB rate and HR/9 rate. I’m finding out how useful fly ball starters can be and how it’s important to keep those statistical anomalies in mind.
On the other hand, sometimes a fly ball guy just runs into a bad situation. That’s the case today. Tropeano’s high walk rate, high home run rate, and signs of regression are a terrible fit for a game against the Orioles and a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This is a park where the ball flies in the summer months and Baltimore is second in wOBA against right-handed pitchers. They are just .002 behind Boston in SLG against RHP. They may hit a handful of solo dingers because they don’t draw many walks, but Tropeano has this big HR rate and still has a .315 BABIP against. Remember that HR don’t count against a pitcher for BABIP purposes. That shows poor command all around. Add in an 89.7 percent LOB% and you’ve got a guy with a 3.28 ERA, but a 4.90 FIP and a 5.06 xFIP.
Yovani Gallardo is what he is. His spike in walks is really concerning this season and his 6.10/5.24/5.36 pitcher slash doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Angels are okay offensively, in the middle of the pack in splits vs. LHP and RHP, but I feel like they’re going to have to hang a big number to be in this game. Gallardo should be able to limit damage to a degree. The Angels are also a team dying to get to the Break and I think that comes through here.
I’d lay it and play it with Baltimore today.
Seattle at Kansas City (-125); Total: 8.5
The Wade Miley Road Show makes a stop in Kansas City today. Royals fans are lining up to get tickets. Miley has allowed a .303/.363/.473 slash in 202 plate appearances away from Safeco Field. There’s very little to like about Miley this season. His walk rate is about league average, but his strikeout rate is poor. His 15.8 percent HR/FB% is concerning. He has a 5.36/5.01/4.61 pitcher slash. He’s actually getting more swings and misses in the zone than he has at any other point in his career (per Baseball Info Solutions), so a regression in that could drive his numbers up even more.
Edinson Volquez’s magic horseshoe finally fell out and we’re seeing the results. Volquez has a 4.87 ERA with a 4.11 FIP and a 4.42 xFIP. The xFIP isn’t that far off from his last couple of seasons, but the ERA is up because his strand rate has gone down in a pretty significant way. His .305 BABIP is his highest since 2013. He should be going in the opposite direction with a spike in both strikeouts (per K/9) and ground balls, but they’re not getting hit at people. Is that variance? I’m not sure. He’s allowed more pull-side contact this year and guys tend to pull the ball harder than they hit it up the middle or opposite field.
I do think that Volquez and the Royals have a better shot than the Mariners today. Lefties are only batting .233/.309/.335 off of Volquez. His career splits are about even between LHB and RHB, so there may be some sustainability to this. I’m also really down on Miley. I do like Seattle’s bullpen more than Kansas City’s with Wade Davis on the shelf, so maybe this is a first five innings play on the Royals, but I don’t see Miley faring well today.
Philadelphia at Colorado (-160); Total: 11.5
I’m very disappointed that we missed the line move on this game. Colorado -140 would have been a very strong play. The current price is a lot to lay. Tyler Anderson has pitched very well in his first five big league starts and doesn’t have that first win to show for it. We know pitcher wins are useless, but it’s something every young arm wants. Anderson has a 3.03/3.34/3.00 pitcher slash, with a spectacular ground ball rate of 62.1 percent. The way to survive at Coors Field is to avoid walks and induce ground balls. In three starts, Anderson has done a decent job of that.
This start is mostly a fade of Jerad Eickhoff. Forty percent of Eickhoff’s pitch usage is comprised of curveballs and sliders. Those are pitches that don’t have a high rate of success at Coors Field. The spin rates are different and they tend to flatten out in the thin air because the conditions aren’t right to help drive the ball in a downward motion. There’s a major learning curve, pardon the pun, to pitching in Coors, especially as a guy dependent on two pitches like this.
Normally I really like Eickhoff because I think the stuff plays at the big league level. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Phillies buy back hit the market today because this is a big line on a bad team, irrespective of the pitching matchup. If you want to play Colorado -1, use our BangTheBook -1 Run Line calculator to determine the amounts you want to lay on the straight money line and the -1.5. I do think there’s some value in going that route today.
Minnesota at Texas (-110); Total: 11.5
It’s a day that ends in –y, so the market has faded the Texas Rangers. Cole Hamels and the Rangers won yesterday to spite a 35-cent line move. Today, the number opened in the -118 or -120 range at most shops and wound up close to a money line pick ‘em by the early morning hours. Ricky Nolasco takes the hill for the Twins against Nick Martinez for the Rangers.
I’ve focused on Nolasco a lot lately, because there aren’t many compelling wagering candidates on the Twins. Nolasco was one because he had that higher ERA/lower xFIP combination that suggests regression and also induces line moves. That’s still there, as Martinez has a 5.26 ERA with a 4.00 FIP and a 4.30 xFIP. Nolasco’s FIP is driven by a really low walk rate and a slightly below league average K rate. He used to have a much better K rate, but he’s stopped striking people out lately.
Nolasco has a .328 BABIP and a 62.6 percent strand rate. That’s the regression that people are betting on. Part of the problem is that the Twins aren’t good defensively. Another part of the problem is that Nolasco hasn’t had very good command. I talked recently about some signs of injury for Nolasco. His velocity has come back up over his last couple of starts, so maybe it was a timing mechanism in his delivery. I’ll keep watching it to see if it’s a lingering injury or just a mechanical flaw. His Zone% looks okay, so maybe I jumped the gun screaming injury.
However, over his last five starts, Nolasco has allowed Zone-Contact% of 93.8, 96.2, 91.2, 96.6, and 96.3. That’s not a way to succeed in Texas. You need guys to swing through pitches every now and then. They’re not missing in the zone. Nolasco has given up 19 runs on 38 hits in 31.1 innings in his last five starts.
Nick Martinez is horrible. He’s one of the worst pitchers in baseball. In 22.1 innings this season, he has a 6.45/7.34/7.28 pitcher slash. For his career, covering 287.2 innings, he has a 4.44 ERA with a 5.15 FIP and a 5.29 xFIP. He’s awful. Oddsmakers have clearly incorporated both of these starters into the total and Minnesota has also been a great over bet because the offense has some pieces and parts and the defense is bad and the pitching is worse.
This one could very well find its way over the number. I have a slight lean to the Rangers here because these prices are getting to be pretty incredible. Every day there’s a Rangers fade because the advanced standings metrics hate them. They’re still a better team than Minnesota with an enormous defensive advantage. If they somehow become a home dog or this thing stays around a money line pick ‘em, there’s no doubt that the Rangers are the side in my mind.
On a personal note, I want to thank you for being with me throughout the first half. Truthfully, I don’t know what my record is, though I feel like we’ve had more good outcomes than bad. My true joy and passion in this industry is to be able to share knowledge with other handicappers and broaden their horizons. Through these write-ups and my sabermetric ideologies, I feel like I’m able to do that in a way that benefits all of us. It forces me to expand my baseball thoughts and also challenge some of my personal beliefs. It also helps me spread the world of advanced metrics to those that can and want to use it in a practical sense. I hope you stick with me through the second half and I hope that you have incorporated some of these concepts into your personal handicapping.