Major League Baseball’s schedule makers had some fun with this week of games. Every series that begins on Thursday is a continuation of the series that began on Monday, just at a different venue. All 30 teams are participating in the second half of a home-and-home four-game series, so some teams will go back to the DH, while others will have pitchers hitting. Interleague line moves are always interesting to watch because of the inherent imbalance between the DH and the pitcher hitting. American League teams are much better equipped for the extra hitter in the lineup. Let’s see if that impacts any of the games on June 17.
The NBA and NHL Finals are both finished. Baseball will start to draw even more public action as bettors look for something to get down on during the long lull between the end of the winter sports and the start of football season. Keep that in mind as you evaluate line moves.
I’m not even going to pretend to have a side in this game with the Orioles listed as enormous road favorites, but we’re going to see a lot of Phillies lines like this unless Cole Hamels is pitching. Ryne Sandberg may have lost the clubhouse even more by leaving Jeff Francoeur in the game to throw over 40 pitches in yesterday’s blowout loss, prompting Chase Utley to make his feelings known to the pitching coach. The bullpen phone was literally off the hook and the dugout was trying to make contact. It was a disaster all around. The Phillies are basically 90 percent below the surface with just the tip of the boat visible on the water line.
I’ll try to find spots for value on the Phillies going forward, but don’t expect much.
Well, this is another interesting Boston/Atlanta line. Oddsmakers seem to be shading against the Boston move because Joe Kelly has a 5.45 ERA, but a 4.05 FIP and a 4.00 SIERA. In other games with a discrepancy that big, the market has been coming in on that pitcher. I’m not sure they need to worry about that with Kelly and the Red Sox. There’s not a lot of confidence in the market with this team right now. On the surface, it looks like bad sequencing luck has hurt Kelly with a 63.4 percent LOB%. I have a different take. Kelly has a 21/15 K/BB with men on, compared to a 34/11 K/BB with the bases empty. Against 166 batters faced, Kelly has allowed nine extra-base hits. In 126 plate appearances with men on base, he has allowed 10 extra-base hits. To me, this is about mechanics from the stretch. There aren’t any big deviations in his BABIP against. He’s just a guy that fights with control and command from the stretch.
Alex Wood has seen some regression, which is not particularly surprising. He stranded over 80 percent of his base runners last season en route to a 2.78 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and 3.19 xFIP. The Braves downgraded defensively in the outfield and that has had an impact on his BABIP and LOB%. Wood struck out 24.5 percent of batters faced last season and has fallen to 16.9 percent this season. Still, he’s pitching well with a 3.56 ERA, 3.35 FIP, and 3.99 xFIP. There’s a little bit of deception to his delivery, which the Red Sox have not seen. He has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 12 of his 14 starts this season.
The biggest issue has been fastball command. Hitters posted a .248/.315/.382 slash on his fastball last season. This year, it’s .317/.372/.433, with a BABIP that is 65 points higher. The Red Sox are 24th in wOBA against lefties, though they do have a .258 BABIP that should regress positively at some point. I don’t think it happens today. Take the Braves bullpen out of the equation and play the 1st 5 line. The 1st 5 under may not be a bad play either, since Kelly has reverse platoon splits with a .230/.278/.331 slash against lefties and a .285/.372/.461 slash against righties.
There’s some debate about the best pitching matchup on Wednesday. The Detroit Tigers send David Price to the bump against Johnny Cueto. In Seattle, Felix Hernandez faces Madison Bumgarner. The Reds ace may only have five or six more starts with the team, if they decide to trade him (which they should). Expect some scouts to be in attendance for this one. Cueto may be the most underappreciated ace in the Major Leagues. His first two seasons completely skew his career numbers, since he has a 2.53 ERA in 114 starts from 2011-15 with a 649/193 K/BB and a 3.35 FIP.
David Price is coming off of a Maddux, a complete game shutout with less than 100 pitches, against the Cleveland Indians. He’s on pace for another terrific season as he approaches free agency with a 2.44 ERA, 2.89 FIP, and a 3.62 xFIP. I wouldn’t worry about the xFIP with a guy like Price. He’s inducing more fly balls this season, but a three percent increase in pop ups from last season fills the gap. His swinging strike rate is the highest it has been in his career outside of his 14-inning stint in 2008.
On the other hand, we’ve got Johnny Cueto, who is posting the best walk rate of his career and one of the top K%-BB% marks in the league. Neither offense faces these pitchers very often, which should give both guys an advantage. The Reds are among the league’s best in hitting lefties, but Price is on another level. Despite a month of struggling, the Tigers are still tied for fourth in wOBA against RHP.
Honestly, this is a stay away game, but if you can watch it, take advantage because both pitchers are special.
From that pitcher’s duel to whatever the hell this is in Chicago between Jeff Locke and John Danks. The game above is filet mignon and this is chuck steak. A reader/listener reached out to me about the line in this game, as it bounced around a little bit in the overnight market, mostly sitting in the -115 to -120 range. I’ve gone on record as saying that the White Sox are not as good as their record and that regression was coming. Will this game be part of it?
First, let’s look at Jeff Locke, who has an extreme ground ball split with a below average K/BB ratio. His 4.90 ERA is accompanied by a 4.18 FIP and a 4.07 xFIP. The first thing I notice about Locke is that his fastball command is bad. The next thing I notice about Locke is that he is facing a White Sox team with a .234 wOBA and a 41 wRC+ against lefties this season, with a 5.6 percent walk rate and a 23.5 percent strikeout rate. Whatever problems Locke has, they should be masked in this start if the season-to-date numbers hold up.
John Danks isn’t much to look at either. He has made strides in his strikeout and walk rates this season, but the awful White Sox defense has saddled him with a .329 BABIP against. His bread-and-butter pitch, the changeup, is 8.6 runs below average this season. It’s the worst changeup in baseball by more than three runs, yet he throws it nearly 30 percent of the time. The Pirates haven’t been great against southpaws with a .306 wOBA and a 94 wRC+ despite a .326 BABIP. Also, the Pirates are the third-worst offense in the league against changeups at 9.5 runs below average.
Frankly, I don’t know what to think about this game. I’d lean the Pirates, but it isn’t a strong play.
Mike Fiers and the Brewers face Joe Blanton and the Royals in this one. This is Blanton’s first MLB start since July 22, 2013. Fiers is a guy that sharp bettors have looked to back with regularity this season. He has been victimized by batted ball luck with a .365 BABIP against and a 4.04 ERA despite a 26 percent strikeout rate. With a 3.58 xFIP and a 3.42 SIERA, he fits the mold of a pitcher that would get action in the market. He’s an intriguing pitcher, sort of cut from the Chris Young mold, but with more strikeout potential. He’s a fly ball guy that works up with the fastball at 89, but his secondaries induce more whiffs.
His main problems tend to come from home runs, which the Royals have stopped hitting. The Royals hit 18 home runs in April. They have 30 home runs since. Only the Twins, White Sox, Braves, and Phillies have hit fewer home runs. This is a tricky start to handicap because Kauffman Stadium has big alleys and a spacious outfield. But, Milwaukee’s worst defensive outfielder, Khris Davis, is on the DL.
Joe Blanton will be working with a pitch count in this one, which means another long day for the Royals bullpen. The stuff has been good, with a velocity spike into the low 90s and a high chase rate. He has pitched 2.2 and 3.1 innings over his last two appearances and is slated for 75 to 80 pitches. I’m not ready to buy in. It’s a great story, but starting is a lot different than relieving. His velocity will trail off. His command won’t be as sharp.
The Royals are playing well again, but this has the potential to be a stumbling block for them. I’d lean Brewers here.
Does this line scare you? It probably should. Kyle Kendrick, who has a 5.87 ERA, 5.88 FIP, and 5.09 xFIP is a slight underdog against the wildly-powerful Houston Astros and Brett Oberholtzer. Kendrick has allowed a .285/.256/.579 slash at Coors Field this season, as the sinker has not had much sink. Of course, Kendrick has been bad on the road, too, so maybe he’s just not a very good pitcher.
The perception will be that this is a field day for the Astros, who lead the league in home runs with 91, eight more than the Dodgers. They’re facing a pitcher that has allowed 16 of them in just 79.2 innings. He allowed 25 in 199 innings in 2014 and 18 in 182 innings in 2013.
Yet, the Astros are a small favorite. Oberholtzer has not made any significant arsenal changes, but he is suddenly a ground ball pitcher with a 51.6 percent rate of worm-burners. In his previous MLB stints, Oberholtzer showed fly ball tendencies. Perhaps the increase in two-seamers and drop in curveballs is to blame. An increase in chase rate may also be a factor. Oberholtzer allows a lot of contact, so he’s not going to be the side you want to be in, even though Houston may win the game. This looks like an over bet through and through.
This is a classic case of a game I want to play and there has been a big morning move on Hector Santiago and the Angels. Chase Anderson has been one of my guys throughout the season. He has an elite changeup, a good breaking ball, and a fastball that isn’t going to hurt him. He flirted with a no-hitter in his last start to lower his ERA to 2.82. His 4.00 xFIP shows some HR/FB regression in his future, but that shouldn’t be that big of a deal given the low number of walks. Solo home runs aren’t a big deal. It’s the multiple run shots that are a problem. The big drop in strikeouts is a little bit concerning for Anderson, though that appears to be a result of not pitching ahead in the count as much. At least he has traded strikeouts for ground balls, which isn’t an ideal trade-off, but it’s better than fly balls at Chase Field.
Hector Santiago is a guy I haven’t believed in all season long. He has a 2.59 ERA with a 4.30 FIP and a 4.64 xFIP. A low BABIP of .249 may not be all that surprising with the pitcher-friendly conditions at Angel Stadium and Santiago’s fly ball split, but the rise in strikeouts and 87.7 percent LOB% are worth noticing. He may just be one of those guys that can outpitch his advanced metrics. But…
I don’t think it can happen at Chase Field. Fly ball guys don’t have a good track record in environments like this. His .221 BABIP against with men on base and .146 BABIP against with runners in scoring position are both due to regress. This is my strongest play of the card and, frankly, the only play I really like for Wednesday.
What a pitching matchup this is. Madison Bumgarner vs. King Felix Hernandez. Felix is elite, but I’d like to point out that the Giants have the league’s best wRC+ on the road at 119 and also the best wOBA at .347. Their team batting average is 17 points higher than anybody else on the road and their wOBA is 19 points better than anybody else. Their OPS is 50 points better than anybody else.
This line is out of whack. Felix is undoubtedly awesome, but Bumgarner is pretty damn good in his own right. The Mariners are 14th in wOBA against lefties, though Nelson Cruz has had a major say in that stat. The Mariners only walk 5.3 percent of the time against southpaws.
On value alone, the Giants are easily worth a look on your card on Wednesday night.