It was a tough day on the diamond yesterday with my picks, though it wasn’t all bad thanks to Toronto’s huge comeback. The Athletics had another bullpen meltdown to lose and the Nationals struggled yet again, as the Brewers banged out 16 hits against Washington’s horrible defense. The lean on the Tigers came through against the line move and those that considered Baltimore the value side picked up a nice winner.
It’s time to get back on the horse and break down the Saturday card. Everybody is in action and there are quite a few day games to consider, so I’ll dive right in.
Regular listeners of The Bettor’s Box know my feelings on the Minnesota Twins and Saturday’s starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey. I’ll start with the Twins, who are 27th in wRC+ and 27th in xFIP. Their performance to date is not sustainable and they have lost seven of 10 and four in a row, so regression has started. Looking specifically at Pelfrey, the Twins hurler has a 2.28 ERA with a 3.83 FIP and a 4.36 xFIP. Among the 12 pitchers with a ground ball rate above 55 percent, Pelfrey’s BABIP against of .282 is the fourth-lowest and his team is not very good defensively.
How’s this for unsustainable? With men on base, Pelfrey’s slash line against is .215/.325/.267 and he has only struck out nine of the 124 batters he has faced. That’s a .235 BABIP against. That number will normalize and when it does, Pelfrey is in trouble. His 60 percent strand rate with men on base is the best in baseball, even though his K% is the lowest of all 111 qualified pitchers. Rotation mate Kyle Gibson has the third-lowest K% in those situations.
As far as Colby Lewis goes, I’ve never been a big fan, but I can’t argue with his terrific walk rate this season. A glass half full approach says that bad sequencing luck is to blame for his 4.42 ERA since his LOB% is just 66.5 percent. A glass half empty approach says that it could be worse with the regression coming in his HR/FB rate.
I believe that Lewis and the Rangers are the play here, but I also believe that they should be a bigger favorite. That gives me some cause for concern because oddsmakers have been expecting the Minnesota drop-off and the Pelfrey/Gibson blow-ups. Seems like a little bit of a trap. The line did open in the -118 range and money has come in on the Rangers. Sometimes if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. Perhaps that’s the case with this line.
Justin Verlander makes his season debut for the Tigers against Carlos Carrasco and the Indians. The Indians did absolutely nothing against David Price on Friday night as he threw a Maddux, a coin termed by Jason Lukehart of the blog Let’s Go Tribe that is used to classify a completely game shutout with less than 100 pitches. Price scattered seven singles, struck out eight, and the Indians only saw 3.1 pitches per plate appearance.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Verlander in this outing. He had mixed results in Toledo during his rehab stint and there’s a lot of pressure on him to perform with the Tigers’ rotation troubles. Verlander saw a big strikeout drop and a velocity drop last season as both were career lows. His command on the secondaries could be lacking a little bit in his first start back, so be wary of that.
With Carrasco, the breakout right-hander from last year has been very good by advanced metrics. He has a 2.78 FIP, a 2.85 xFIP, and a 2.92 SIERA, even though he has a 4.35 ERA. Carrasco has been a victim of terrible defense with a .333 BABIP against and an uptick in his home run rate has exacerbated that problem. His 21.1 percent K-BB ranks 13th. His command from the stretch has been a little bit shaky with a 22.5 percent line drive rate and a .342 BABIP against. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the Indians defense.
Carrasco seems like a surer bet than Verlander coming off of the injury, but I’m not entirely sure about this one. It looks like a stay away game.
With his third different organization, Mike Montgomery made it to the big leagues. In two starts, he is 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA, a 3.71 FIP, and a 4.66 xFIP. He’s a pitch-to-contact, standard-issue, four-pitch mix left-hander. He sits in the low 90s with a slider/cutter, a curve, and a change. The change is his best offspeed weapon and he throws it 22 percent of the time. Nothing really jumps out about Montgomery and he lacks a third pitch, which is a major problem against an Astros lineup that needs to be kept off-balance.
Collin McHugh hasn’t experienced the same batted ball success as last season. His BABIP against has jumped 52 points, causing his ERA to rise 1.6 runs this season. That’s not the only difference, as his home run rate has jumped up, despite an increase in ground balls. He’s thrown the slider a bit more this season and the problem has been command of that pitch. Last year, hitters batted .206/.230/.329 on it. This year, hitters are feasting at .341/.379/.538. The Mariners rank 27th in runs above average on sliders. McHugh’s 3.65 SIERA suggests improvement and I’ll buy in and lay the price here.
Well, this is an interesting line. After oddsmakers and bettors took a skeptical approach to Jacob deGrom this season, the shoe is on the other foot as deGrom is a big home favorite against Shelby Miller. Right off the bat, I can tell you that I almost never go above -140, so the Mets will not be the suggested play in this one. In fact, I won’t have a play, but I do want to address both of these pitchers and this line, because it intrigues me given the market trends of the season so far.
Bookmaker actually opened this number -140, so Mets money has come in heavy. Automatic line moves on pitchers whose ERAs are much lower than their xFIP and SIERA has been noticeable in the market this season and Miller fits the bill with a 1.84 ERA and a 3.93 xFIP. The big weapon for Miller this season has been a cutter, which he has thrown nearly 20 percent of the time. It’s his version of a hard slider and it has been his most effective pitch. It has led to a higher chase rate and also a higher swing-and-miss rate. While I don’t expect Miller to maintain a 1.84 ERA all season, I do think that some of these improvements are legit.
Jacob deGrom has been better than last season when he won the NL Rookie of the Year. He’s cut down on his walks and has induced more swings outside the zone as he learns the hitters and picks up tendencies. He has also forced hitters to put more balls in play to the opposite field, so he’s getting to a point where they are hitting “his pitch” more frequently. He’s a special pitcher.
I think this total is about a half-run too low, even though both of these pitchers have been good and both of these offenses are mediocre to below average depending on the metric you look at. But, that’s a lean for the sake of giving one since I wrote about the game.
The Yankees and Orioles meet on Saturday with CC Sabathia against Bud Norris. It’s been another tough season for Sabathia, who was ejected in his last start. He has a 5.25 ERA as his second straight season of awful batted ball luck has wreaked havoc. The home run rate is still a major concern and balls finding holes turn solo shots into two and three-run homers. His 4.15 FIP and 3.49 xFIP show a similar pattern to his last three seasons.
Projecting regression is hardly foolproof and Sabathia is proof of that. Three straight seasons of underperforming against his advanced metrics may be more of a trend than anything. Command and decreasing velocity are the big reasons why. Hitters can lay off more borderline fastballs at 89-90 than at 92-93. Sabathia still gets swings and misses, but his career swing rate is 47.9 percent. Over the last three seasons, it has dropped from 46.8 percent to 46.3 percent to 45.9 percent. Hitters are being more selective and therefore forcing Sabathia to work in the zone and be predictable. His 89.2 percent contact percentage in the zone is worrisome. The Orioles swing early and often, which may help Sabathia, but only if his command is sharp.
Norris has only made seven starts this season and most of them have been bad. Poor command has been his Achilles’ heel with an 8.63 ERA due to a .352 BABIP against, a 53.3 percent LOB%, and a 24.3 percent line drive rate. What’s interesting for Norris is that he has gotten 5.2 percent more swings and pitches on pitches in the zone, but hitters are making contact 11 percent more often on pitches outside the zone. To me, that’s a sign that his secondaries are not sharp and that hitters just happen to be swinging through pitches to hit.
I’m not in love with either side here, but I think there could be some runs in this game.
Allen Webster opposes Ryan Vogelsong. The Giants were shutout by Chase Anderson, who almost no-hit them on Friday night. The Giants were coming off of a late game on the East Coast and got in very early on Saturday morning. This 4:05 p.m. local start time is not exactly a good spot for them either. I really liked Arizona with Josh Collmenter on the mound, but the switch to Webster for his Diamondbacks debut took me off of this game.