A little bit of good and a little bit of bad from Saturday, with bad calls on the Reds and Mets, but good picks on the Padres and Royals. The grind of baseball continues into Father’s Day as we celebrate the men that, in most cases, got us into sports. To all my readers and listeners out there that are Dads, the happiest of Father’s Day wishes go out to you. The beat goes on in Major League Baseball with everybody in action before several teams get a much needed day off on Monday.
Here’s a look at some of the games for June 21:
I won’t have a pick on this game, but I do want to discuss the line and the situation. The Tigers send Anibal Sanchez to the mound against Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka is clearly one of the game’s best when injuries aren’t preventing him from making fools out of Major League hitters. Tanaka has a spectacular 6.43 K/BB and a 2.49/2.71/2.76 ERA/FIP/xFIP. I may start referring to that as the pitcher slash. The thing about this start is that Anibal Sanchez is not a stiff. He has a 4.65 ERA, but with a 3.99 FIP and 3.70 xFIP. His big issue this season was an abnormally high home run rate. It’s hard to tell if he made a mechanical change or not, but he has mowed through the Cubs and Reds with 16.2 shutout innings and a 14/2 K/BB over his last two starts.
He’s back to facing American League lineups now, which come have an impact, but I’m inclined to believe that what Sanchez has done over his last two starts is worth believing in. The strikeout rate was there, the command wasn’t. It was basically an all-or-nothing command profile with strikeouts or home runs and not a whole lot in between. The Tigers had a team meeting on Saturday in which Brad Ausmus questioned his team’s compete level. I’m not saying you should run and back the Tigers, but this line does look a little high given Sanchez’s advanced metrics.
Oddsmakers keep expecting the Indians to get it rolling and the Indians keep falling short of expectations. Their offensive performance has been atrocious in medium and high-leverage situations this season. There’s reason to believe that it will turn around, but who knows when? Cody Anderson is favored in his Major League debut and some small overnight steam has come in on the rookie. The Rays are countering with Alex Colome.
Anderson is a ground ball guy, which looks a lot more attractive with Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela on the ballclub now. He pitched well at Double-A Akron before making three starts at Triple-A Columbus. He has a workhorse type of frame at 6’4”, 235 lbs. with a heavy sinker that can touch 95, but mostly sits 91-93. He has the standard four-pitch mix with a slider that flashes plus and two other unpolished pitches. It’s not a thrilling profile against a patient, platoon-heavy lineup like the Rays. Unlike most teams facing a call-up, the Rays will have a better idea about Anderson because Kevin Cash used to be in the Indians organization as the bullpen coach and has to be familiar with Anderson.
As far as Alex Colome goes, his poor command profile has come to the forefront this season. He missed Spring Training with pneumonia and has only averaged five innings per start this season with a 5.14 ERA, 5.10 FIP, 4.05 xFIP. Hitters have reached base 77 times in his 215 plate appearances, with nine home runs. The Rays had to use their bullpen extensively on Saturday after Erasmo Ramirez left the game hurt in the third inning.
The lean in this game would be the Indians, though a lot of things I’ve seen would tell me to look at the Rays. The difference here is that Colome will have to hang in there and endure some tough innings if he struggles early. The Indians have a knack for putting together that game that makes you think they’ve turned the corner after looking dead and lifeless in previous games. This may be that game.
The surging Pirates were no-hit, and almost perfect gamed, by Max Scherzer on Saturday afternoon. They’ll get back at it with Charlie Morton against Gio Gonzalez on Sunday. Charlie Morton is the biggest benefactor of the Pirates and their dramatic defensive shifting. In five starts, Morton has one of the league’s lowest K%, but has a 67 percent ground ball split and a .229 BABIP against. That leads to a 1.62 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 3.46 xFIP.
It’s fair to wonder how sustainable this type of performance is from Morton. Hitters are making contact 4.2 percent more often and they’re getting more aggressive with a five percent jump in Swing% from last season. The Pirates want ground ball guys because of their defensive schemes, so it plays into their strength, but this is a lot more contact and results in a 7.3 percent drop in strikeouts.
Gio Gonzalez got an extra day of rest prior to this start, so we’ll see what sort of impact that has. He has certainly been the victim of bad batted ball luck with a .368 BABIP against. A couple interesting things stick out about his stat profile. His ground ball rate is by far the highest of his career at 56.3 percent. He has a 4.82 ERA, a 3.21 FIP, and a 3.53 xFIP. The Nationals aren’t much of a defensive team, and a spike in walks and an increase of balls in play has hurt Gio this season.
I don’t see enough context clues in Gio’s stat profile to tell if this is more of a command issue or a Nationals defense issue. My best guess would be defense issue, as Gonzalez is using more two-seamers this season to actively keep the ball down, which has lowered his home run rate. I lean to the Pirates here, but it’s hardly a strong lean.
Remember what I told you about pitchers due for positive regression getting steamed? Say hello to Jose Quintana, whose 4.03 ERA is accompanied by a 3.46 FIP and a 3.83 xFIP. Quintana has been victimized by a .338 BABIP against that just seems to coincide with a slight uptick in walks and home runs allowed. Changeup command has been the biggest problem for Quintana. Last season, on 416 changeups, hitters batted .286/.320/.357. This season, they are hitting .344/.364/.594 on 136 changeups. The poor changeup has been an issue against righties, who are hitting .311/.372/.455 off of Quintana. Lefties are batting .152/.222/.246, which is worth noting for this start since lefties make up a good chunk of Texas’s offensive weaponry.
Yovani Gallardo has become even more extreme of a ground ball guy. I’ve talked about this before, but the way he reinvented himself as a pitcher with declining velocity in Milwaukee was impressive. He’s been an underrated middle of the rotation arm throughout his career, due partially to the fact that he had to be an ace in Milwaukee for a bit. He does show some signs of regression this season with a 3.16/3.59/.366, but that’s pretty minor. His .273 BABIP against is a concern, since his career BABIP rests at .294. He has thrown more sliders instead of curveballs this season, which has been a positive change.
There are a few things I really don’t like about the White Sox here. They are tied for last in wRC+, second-last in wOBA at .282, the worst defensive team in baseball by a large margin, and, well, they’re terrible. On the other hand, the Rangers are 22nd in wOBA vs. LHP at .301 and the books are right to expect them to fall off the pace. I think my look in this game would be the under rather than a side.
Garrett Richards has certainly had his problems with Oakland in his career. In 12 appearances, eight starts, Richards has a 5.10 ERA. He threw six good innings against them in his previous 2015 start. It’s truly amazing that anybody can hit him with a heavy sinker in the mid-90s and a plus slider. But, he often creates his own problems with walks and that walk rate is elevated this season. The BABIP against remains low, since it’s so hard to barrel him up.
Scott Kazmir is pitching himself into a great prospect for the A’s. He’ll be one of the most attractive starting pitchers on the trade market and he has been very strong in 13 starts with a 2.84/3.60/3.69. There’s some regression showing in those numbers based on his walk rate, but he’s increased his strikeout output to offset the bump in BBs. One area that shows positive regression is that only 1.4 percent of fly balls have been pop ups. That’s the lowest in the league among qualified starters and some of those home runs leaving the yard will be pop ups throughout the season. His Zone-Contact% went down, which means he’s sequencing better and throwing better fastballs in the zone.
The Angels are 20th in wOBA against lefties and the A’s have had success against Richards, and pitchers like him, in the past and this season. I’d lay the price with Oakland today.
This first of two very strange lines in the 4 p.m. ET first pitches. This one has seen some Astros movement on the overnights. Vincent Velasquez takes the mound for the third time this season for the Astros. He has flashed good strikeout potential with 12 strikeouts in 9.2 innings of work, but he has also walked six. Command has been a little bit of an issue as well with a .391 BABIP against. He’s shown fly ball tendencies so far, which certainly play better at Safeco than they do at Minute Maid Park. For as lefty-heavy as the Mariners are, they rank 29th in wOBA against righties at .290 with one of the league’s highest strikeout rates.
JA Happ has cut down on the walks and has been able to pitch to Safeco Field’s pitcher-friendly conditions this season en route to a 3.79 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 3.82 xFIP. Nothing is wildly out of range for Happ, though his 76 percent LOB% should go down due to a lack of punchouts. Happ has a 1.88 ERA at home, which likely explains why this line opened where it did. I’m not really buying Happ and I agree with this line move. I think the Astros are in a better position for this game.
The market has moved this game closer to a money line pick ‘em with Andrew Cashner against Jeremy Hellickson. Cashner certainly has more upside of the two. Like Tyson Ross and other Padres, Cashner has been victimized by the terrible Padres defense, but he’s also made his own problems by allowing a total of 13 home runs in 85 innings. He allowed 12 over 175 innings in 2013 and seven over 123.1 innings last season. I believe that’s an anomaly. Cashner is throwing his slider more, which is a sign of better elbow health from a guy that has had some issues. His velocity is there across the board. He has really struggled lately, which concerns me in this start that maybe something is acting up, but it’s probably just mechanical.
On the other side, Jeremy Hellickson has a 5.10 ERA, a 4.77 FIP, and a 4.24 xFIP. He’s a guy that regularly outpitched his advanced metrics in Tampa and has not been able to replicate it for three years in a row. I’ve never been a big believer in the control. He’s a guy with marginal stuff that requires hitters to chase. He does have much better splits against righties this season. Lefties are killing him with a .303/.393/.517 slash and a 19/17 K/BB ratio. Righties are a more pedestrian .243/.282/.456. His 5.91 ERA at home is pretty indicative of what Chase Field can do to pitchers that struggle with control and command.
I think the San Diego line move is justified, but I wonder if Cashner can smooth things out. On the other hand, I wonder if Hellickson can shake off his home performance to date. To me, this looks like a small play on the first 5 over and see what happens. Cashner has the higher upside to justify a play on the Padres, but I don’t like what either of these guys are doing lately.
St. Louis at Philadelphia