In a new feature starting today at BangTheBook, Adam Burke, host of The Bettor’s Box, our MLB betting podcast, will take a look at the MLB schedule and give some extended thoughts and insights on some of the games on the schedule. Listeners of the show have asked for more analysis on non-show days and this look around Major League Baseball will dig a little bit deeper for those days. On show days (Monday and Thursday), please listen to The Bettor’s Box for additional thoughts, but use this look at the games as you see fit.
Lines will be listed as a general price taking into account most of the sportsbooks. Shop around for the best prices.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are rolling right now, winners of 13 of 16. The Milwaukee Brewers have the NL’s worst record at 20-37 and are just 15-31 against right-handed pitchers on the season. This has been a concern throughout the year for the Brewers, who have a right-handed heavy lineup. Injuries to Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy have not helped their scuffling offense (the second-worst in the NL).
Jimmy Nelson has pitched better than his traditional metrics with a 3.87 xFIP and a 3.85 SIERA despite a 4.41 ERA. Nelson’s strikeout stuff has gotten better and hitters are making less contact across the board, so it has really been an issue of sequencing for him. His strikeout totals from the stretch are down substantially compared to when throwing from the windup. He has struck out 30.5 percent of batters that he has started with a first-pitch strike.
He’ll be opposed by AJ Burnett, who shows some signs of regression. Burnett’s 2.20 ERA is accompanied by a 3.25 xFIP and a 3.35 SIERA. Not that those are bad numbers, but Burnett has been fortunate to hold batters to a .179/.258/.268 slash with runners in scoring position. Interestingly, righties have a .370 BABIP against Burnett, due in large part to how much harder it is to shift on the infield against righties.
The value side in this one is probably the Brewers, but a better approach is to take the under. Nelson has thrown the ball better than his traditional metrics and PNC Park should suppress some of that home run issue that he has had at times.
The influence of Cole Hamels on the betting market is clear in this game. The lowly Phillies are a virtual pick ‘em on the road. Hamels is on track to post the best strikeout rate of his career and is certainly building up his trade value. Leake snapped out of a season-long struggle to flirt with a no-hitter in his last start against the Phillies, who have a great chance of getting no-hit by somebody in the pitching-rich NL East this season.
Leake’s biggest issue has been his home run rate, with a 19 percent HR/FB%. His career average is 14 percent, so it has always been a problem, but not to this extent. I’ll rarely advocate going against Cole Hamels, because the opposing pitcher has no margin for error, but the Reds are probably the value side in this game. That’s just a lean. I’d avoid the under because the Reds bullpen is not great and the presence of Hamels keeps it below 7.5.
After saying on the recording of The Bettor’s Box that the line on Shelby Miller was too high, several books have moved as much as 20 cents on this line. Miller has been unable to replicate the strikeout success he had in the minor leagues and then carried over into his first full season as a starter with the Cardinals. He’s been fortunate this season with a .215 BABIP against and an 84.8 percent strand rate. As a result, his advanced metrics show a regression of his 1.89 ERA. Different variations of fastballs have led to more ground balls, which have helped to offset the lack of strikeouts.
It is interesting to see a move on Kennedy on the road, given his 6.60 ERA over five starts and 5.85 FIP. His xFIP of 3.84 is a better indicator of future performance because his home run rate is going to come down. He actually has a higher swing-and-miss rate this season than last season, when he had a 3.63 ERA.
The line value is gone on this one, as Kennedy had value in the +140 range, but not so much now. Pay attention to this game, though, because these are two pitchers that may see similar line movements over the next few starts.
Seeing Marco Estrada as a -175 favorite sort of defies logic, given how he struggled with the Brewers before getting traded to Toronto in the Adam Lind deal. But, the Marlins are coming in from Colorado and have all sorts of issues of their own. This isn’t a play on Estrada, rather a play on the Blue Jays offense. The lack of depth in Estrada’s arsenal has shown up as a starter with a .257/.316/.439 slash in 152 plate appearances compared to the .114/.244/.229 in 41 plate appearances as a reliever.
After a total move off of 9 down to 8.5, the over is juiced too high to play, so this is a stay away game, but Estrada is certainly priced too high for my liking.
If you like strikeouts, this is the game of the night for you. Lance McCullers has continued his 2015 dominance right on into the big leagues with a 4.83 K/BB and a 29.6 percent K%. The White Sox offense is not very good. The Astros offense is pretty good, but they swing and miss a lot. That’s where Chris Sale comes in, with 53 strikeouts over his last five starts. Take away Sale’s ugly start against Minnesota on April 30 and he has allowed 16 ER in 63 innings. Yeah, you can’t do that, but he has a 2.28 ERA in his nine other starts.
The under looked more attractive at 7.5, which you can still find at some places, but it may be worth a look at 7 as well. For more thoughts on this line, check out Monday’s edition of The Bettor’s Box.
From lots of strikeouts to lots of contact, the Royals and Twins play on Monday night for AL Central bragging rights. Jason Vargas has been replacement-level when not injured this season. He’s one of the few Royals pitchers that hasn’t benefitted in a big way from the team’s elite defense. Vargas’s 4.79 ERA is accurate and the advanced metrics agree. That’s not a pitcher you want to back very often.
On the other hand, Phil Hughes has regressed, as expected. The combination of a bad Twins defense and a 6.6 percent drop in strikeouts has turned a .265 batting average against into a .299 batting average against. The reason to stay away from the over here is that both teams have above average bullpens, especially Kansas City, but there’s no value on either side since both starters are capable of getting blown up.
David Hale went from a mediocre situation in Atlanta, where he was blocked by better arms, to Colorado, where he will make a spot start almost by default in the depleted Rockies rotation. Pitching in Colorado is never a picnic, but Hale had a 5.97 ERA and 4.69 FIP in six starts for Triple-A Colorado Springs. Hale is making his third start at the MLB level this season, where he hasn’t walked a batter, but has allowed three home runs in 51 plate appearances.
John Lackey is one of baseball’s best bargains with a 2.93 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 3.95 xFIP while making $500,000 in the last season of his contract. Lackey’s swing-and-miss stuff is declining as he approaches 37, but he still has a lot of pitchability, and that’s what it takes to withstand Coors Field. The Cardinals are the side to take in this game.
Today’s winner for the line that is too high is the matchup between Rubby De La Rosa and Mike Bolsinger. De La Rosa has been steamed a few times in the betting market of late and could be a late mover on Monday as well. De La Rosa is a guy that has had some command issues that have led to a 5.09 ERA, but his 3.32 xFIP and 3.36 SIERA predict good things in the near future. Eno Sarris of Fangraphs recently raved about RDLR’s whiff rates on certain offerings and it’s time to be a believer. The HR issue may not go away at Chase Field, but he’ll be a valuable road dog in pitcher’s parks.
Did we start to see the decline of Mike Bolsinger last start? He gave up four runs, a new season-high. In six starts, Bolsinger has a 1.98 ERA with a 3.36 FIP and a 3.68 xFIP. Small sample sizes are an issue in projecting Bolsinger, but his mediocre strikeout-to-walk ratio has been aided by a .253 BABIP against and sequencing luck with an 86 percent strand rate. The Diamondbacks aren’t getting enough respect here and those that can do it should take Arizona.