Friday night’s MLB card has quite a bit of intrigue. There are quite a few series between teams that don’t play very often, which is kind of nice because those misleading, small sample size “pitcher vs. team” trends will be out there. Don’t fall victim to stuff like that. When teams play twice a year, those sample sizes may date back quite a ways. Instead, focus on your analysis and handicapping. Let’s dive in and see what we can find on today’s card.
This is certainly an interesting matchup to start today’s picks and analysis. Corey Kluber and the Indians are road chalk against Wei-Yin Chen and the Orioles. Things haven’t gone particularly well for the reigning Cy Young Award winner this season, thanks to shoddy defense and unfortunate sequencing. Kluber’s LOB% has dropped by more than eight percent and his BABIP against has climbed 19 points. The end result is a jump of 1.21 runs in ERA. His FIP is up .32 runs and his xFIP is up .22 runs. A small increase in home runs and a slight drop in ground balls are also to blame. Overall, however, Kluber is basically the same pitcher he was last season, but with no run support. Nobody gets worse run support than Kluber, who is getting 2.17 runs per nine innings. The next worst run support belongs to Cole Hamels at 2.45 runs per nine.
Will the Indians score for Kluber on Friday? That remains to be seen. Wei-Yin Chen returns from his demotion to Single-A for “General Soreness”, a move that surprised a lot of people, Chen included. The Orioles wanted to get Kevin Gausman in the rotation to face the Toronto Blue Jays and the way to do it was to exploit the fact that Chen had an option. He threw three innings in High-A to stay fresh. On the year, Chen is showing regression in his peripherals with a 2.89 ERA, 3.94 FIP, and a 3.83 xFIP. A high LOB% is due in part to a spike in strikeouts, as Chen has gotten better in his fourth full season in the Majors.
Kluber has been steamed in just about every start this season, so if you like Baltimore, wait this line out. Kluber’s .362 BABIP against with men on base and .360 BABIP with RISP are ugly. They should turn around at some point, but who knows. Baltimore will become the value side later if this line does indeed go up.
There are four huge lines in the 7 p.m. ET games. This is one of them. The others are Washington as more than a two-dollar favorite over Philadelphia, the Pirates as a two-dollar favorite over Atlanta, and the Tigers in the -165 range against the White Sox. This one is the most interesting because the Blue Jays have Mark Buehrle on the mound, clearly the worst pitcher of the four big favorites. Nick Martinez is on the bump for the Rangers.
Martinez’s impending regression has been on hold for basically a month-and-a-half now. His 2.77 ERA is accompanied by a 4.31 FIP and a 4.92 xFIP. That’s a big reason why this line is so high. Also, the Rangers have dropped five straight and oddsmakers feel validated for shading against the Rangers for so long now that the bottom appears to have fallen out. Martinez made some arsenal changes over the offseason that seem to have worked. He created more separation in velocity by adopting a slower fastball and a slower slider. His slider velo is 3.5 mph slower this season and he’s throwing the pitch more often. The result has been more movement on both his two-seamer and slider. After hitting .316/.413/.447 on the two-seamer last season, opposing batters are hitting .212/.316/.318 with a .236 BABIP. Similar results with the slider are present, with a .278/.325/.417 slash dropping down to .197/.254/.288.
It’s hard for me to admit this as a student of sabermetrics, but sometimes the metrics don’t tell the entire story. By no means do I love Nick Martinez, but I think that some of his overachieving to date could be sustainable. His 9.3 percent increase in ground balls hasn’t come with an increase in BABIP, which is a bit of a surprise, but his control and command have both improved. Don’t forget, he never pitched a day at Triple-A and only had 41.2 innings of Double-A experience before he got the call last season.
Overall, I think this line is too high, as elite as the Blue Jays lineup is. Don’t run to play it, though. I actually think the line could go up, because of Martinez’s regression in the advanced metrics and the public perception of Toronto. The Rangers offense is a big worry right now, but if line value is your thing, the Rangers will have it.
The premature Rick Porcello extension doesn’t look good for the Boston Red Sox. He’ll be paid more than $20M per season for the next four years. The thing about his statistical profile this season is that there are some outliers, but there are also some really bad signs. His 64.6 percent LOB% is the worst mark of his career, but it’s the decrease in ground balls that is the worst development. Porcello’s ground ball rate dropped below 50 percent for the first time in his career last season. This year, it has fallen all the way to 43.1 percent. He’s thrown all of his secondary pitches less this season because he has been falling behind early in counts, which has led to a lower chase rate. His changeup, his best secondary pitch, is now his worst.
Fenway Park can’t be blamed because Porcello has a 4.93 ERA at home and a 6.37 ERA on the road. His splits are about the same except lefties are hitting for more power, which is no different than the rest of his career. Fortunately for Porcello and the Red Sox, Alex Colome hasn’t pitched very well this season either. His mechanics from the stretch have kept him from working deeper into games with a 13/11 K/BB rate with men on base. His LOB% is actually a bit high for a pitcher with his K%, so things could be worse.
To me, this game looks like an over. Both pitchers allow a lot of contact and Colome has some command issues that the Red Sox may be able to exploit. On the other hand, the Red Sox are without Dustin Pedroia, a key component in their lineup, and David Ortiz is showing signs of age. Maybe the Rays team total over is the way to go, with a slight lean to Tampa.
This is a fun one to break down. The Dodgers are sending Brett Anderson to the mound against Justin Nicolino. Anderson has done a good job of sequencing to keep hitters off-balance this season, which is why he has a 3.29 ERA with a 3.67 FIP and 3.57 xFIP. He pitches to contact, but over 67 percent of balls in play have stayed on the ground and his line drive rate, as it has always been, is very low.
Justin Nicolino won his Major League debut with seven good innings against the Reds in his last start. It’s hard to take too much out of one start, but there are some obvious concerns with Nicolino. His minor league strikeout rates are not impressive, but he pitches to contact, so they weren’t designed to be. He combated low K rates with a low BB rate, so the two cancel out. He’ll be a defense-dependent pitcher for as long as he’s around. The Marlins are +17 DRS on the infield and +4 DRS in the outfield.
The difference in this game could be how both teams fare against southpaws. The Dodgers are coming off of a win over Jon Lester, who was squeezed by the plate ump, who subsequently made the game about himself. This season, the Dodgers, who are the league’s best offense against right-handed pitching, are 23rd in wOBA against lefties and have a 92 wRC+, which is eight percent below league average. The Marlins, on the other hand, are third in wOBA and 11 percent above league average. They are second in OPS.
The experience edge certainly goes to Anderson, but the Dodgers are continuing a long road trip after a tough series in Chicago and the Marlins are throwing an unfamiliar lefty at them. The Marlins have some value in this game, even though both pitchers could be felled by bad batted ball luck given their pitch-to-contact stylings.
I told you to pay attention to Trevor May a few weeks ago and he has a 1.88 ERA with a .236/.295/.375 slash in the month of June. The profile isn’t sexy, by any means, but May has started to settle in at the big league level. Nothing flashes well above average about his stuff, but his control is good, and that plays in today’s OBP > BA world. May has a 4.03 ERA, but a 3.10 FIP and a 3.72 xFIP. Righties are batting .262/.303/.455 against him, so he has had some arm-side command issues, which is a reason to be cautious.
Former Minnesota Twin Kyle Lohse is still doing his thing of throwing strikes and letting his defense work. This season, however, it hasn’t gone nearly as well. The difference between control and command is a big one. Control is throwing strikes and not walking people. Command is throwing quality strikes. One is more important than the other. The more important one is command and Lohse has none of it this season. His 6.30 ERA is a byproduct of allowing 17 home runs in 85.2 innings of work. His BABIP is at .303 after sitting at .269, .262, .276, and .278 for the last four seasons. Not because of bad luck, but because his batting average against is .282. The velocity hasn’t declined, but the quality of the stuff has. At 36 years of age, Lohse may simply be hitting the wall.
This line is off. Take the Twins. The Brewers are playing a little bit better, but Lohse has been a punching bag this season.
Remember what I said above about pitcher vs. team stats? You’ll see a lot of them today regarding Jake Arrieta and the Cardinals. Since coming over from the Orioles, Arrieta is 3-1 with a 1.51 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and a 49/15 K/BB ratio against the Cardinals in 41.2 innings of work. The Cardinals have taken some better swings this season after Arrieta had a 1.21 ERA over four starts last season. What I’d rather focus on is that Arrieta is just good across the board. His 3.07/2.90/2.82 pitcher slash is really solid, with a great K/BB ratio and an above average ground ball rate. Guys that keep the ball on the ground and miss bats are my favorites. Arrieta is legit.
On the other side, John Lackey is the league’s best bargain this season. With a $500,000 option, Lackey has a 3.41/3.42/3.96 pitcher slash and has been worth 1.6 fWAR. Lackey has shown better command this season and the same good control he has always exhibited. He mixes his pitches well and has a great rapport with Yadier Molina. This is a key series for both teams, as the Cubs look to gain some more respect and legitimacy and the Cardinals look to continue the momentum of their sweep in Miami and maintain their division lead.
I feel like this first game will play a lot like a playoff game. Two pitchers at different stages of their career, but with a lot of positive attributes. I think this one stays under the total.
Another day, another chance to struggle for Matt Shoemaker. It just hasn’t worked out for him this season. As mentioned at various other points in today’s article, command is more important than control. Shoemaker has the control thing down once again this season, but the command just isn’t there. Prior to his last start against Oakland, Shoemaker had gone four straight starts without giving up a long ball. He only had two starts without a home run prior to that point. Scout Bernie Pleskoff talked about how “uncomfortable” Shoemaker looks this season. His velocity is down, along with his slider usage, which could be a sign of underlying injury. That’s not a guy that I want to back.
Taijuan Walker found something five starts ago. Whether it was something mechanical or just a lack of confidence, Walker has allowed eight earned over his last five outings with a 38/3 K/BB ratio. The right-hander has a 4.94 ERA with a 4.21 FIP and a 3.80 xFIP on the season, so he has gotten a bit unlucky, though his spotty command has a lot to do with that. The Angels offense has been hit or miss throughout the season, as they are just 22nd in the league in wOBA against RHP.
Shoemaker had his start pushed back a couple of days, possibly to work out mechanical kinks, but I’m inclined to believe that it’s injury-related. The Mariners offense hardly impresses me, and they rank 29th in wOBA against righties, so this is a no play. But, keep an eye on Shoemaker here for future opportunities to bet against him.