We’re strapping in for another day of MLB action. The day is filled with baseball from 12:05 p.m. ET until early Sunday morning for the east coast crowd, so there are a lot of opportunities to get some action in and follow along. It’s going to be unseasonably warm in some parts of the country, so the ball could be flying in some of the games today, like in Cincinnati, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh. Keep weather in mind because it does affect the flight of the ball and it’s little edges like that that the oddsmakers don’t account for. They let the market dictate those things.
Looking back at yesterday’s action, we got lucky with the over in the Cardinals/Pirates game with extra innings pushing that one over the total. The Reds/A’s became a pitcher’s duel with the Redlegs coming out on top, so hopefully you followed that first five under and not the A’s. Houston lost a tough one in Tampa, but our top pick on the Indians came through as they took advantage of Corey Kluber’s pitching and Anaheim’s fatigue.
Our focus, as it always is, will be on the games that provide a lot of line value and those that give us the opportunity to dig deep and find the wagering angles and betting tips that will produce winners.
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Per usual, the games with big lines will be overlooked, unless there is something particularly noteworthy about them or a play on the underdog is a possibility. Also, day games are usually skipped due to the lead time of the article. That will not be the case on Thursdays or Sundays when there are a lot of day games.
Oakland at Cincinnati (-135); Total: 9.5
We’ll jump down the card a little bit with a late start to my Saturday morning writing. Kendall Graveman and the A’s are a sizable dog to Dan Straily and the Reds. Let’s take a deeper dive into this game, because there aren’t a lot of people willing to lay 35 cents on the Reds against anybody.
Kendall Graveman has been a big disappointment this season. As a ground ball pitcher, he’s given up 11 home runs in 57.1 innings and has compounded that problem by having a higher walk rate this season than last. He is striking out more hitters, but all that has done is keep him from having an ERA close to 6.00. His 75.4 percent strand rate seems a little bit high given the K rate. Graveman has a high home run rate and still has a .324 BABIP, as he’s given up 69 hits in 57.1 innings of work. There’s really not a lot to like here and the Reds, as I’ve been mentioning, have been much better than expected offensively.
Graveman’s sinker, which he throws 42.5 percent of the time, rates 12.6 runs below average. Fastball command means everything for a pitcher. Nearly every pitcher works off the fastball and needs to spot it to set up the secondaries. For Graveman, his sinker has undeniably been his worst pitch and one of the worst in baseball. That makes it easy for the opposing offense.
On the other side, we’ve got Dan Straily. Straily’s been a great story this year. He only made three starts last season with Houston, but he’s now a fixture in the Reds rotation. On the year, Straily has a 3.34 ERA with a 4.43 FIP and a 4.61 xFIP. He’s done a really good job of inducing weak contact in his starts, as hitters are only batting .206/.304/.346.
While I like Straily, and I’m rooting for him as a Driveline Baseball client, I’m not sure how sustainable this is. Straily has a .237 BABIP against as a starter with an 80.4 percent strand rate. The strikeout rate is about league average for the NL and the walk rate is too high. Some regression is coming for him and a sultry day in the Queen City could be the day where it shows up.
This is a high total, but I’m expecting runs here today. At some point, Straily will get hurt by the 25/20 K/BB he has against lefties, who are batting just .167.
Houston at Tampa Bay (-130); Total: 7.5
This is such a hard game to handicap. There are a lot of conflicting angles. Chris Archer should be a great matchup against Houston because his raw stuff is outstanding and he gets a ton of swings and misses. On the other hand, his control and command haven’t been there and the Astros work counts, draw walks, and punish mistakes. In my mind, there is a wide range of possible outcomes for Archer in this start.
He has the strikeout rate to pitch around the walks, but pitching around a lot of home runs is far more difficult. The odd thing is that Archer is really struggling from the windup. With the bases empty, hitters are batting .281/.368/.503, but he’s buckled down with men on to post a .234/.302/.407 slash against. The SLG is still a little high, but he has a 41/21 K/BB with nobody on and a 47/13 K/BB with men on. Perhaps he should make an adjustment and throw from the stretch all game until he figures out the windup problem. That’s usually a timing issue. But, as I’ve talked about, the hard part with guys like that is that they are always capable of coming out and being dominant.
I’m not surprised to see Mike Fiers struggling. I always worried about the sustainably of his upper-80s elevated fastball, particularly against American League hitters. His strikeout rate has taken a tumble and, even though he’s not walking as many guys, he’s giving up a ton of barrel contact. He’s allowed 78 hits and 11 home runs in his 66.2 innings of work. His 28.7 percent line drive rate is among the highest in the league. He shows signs of positive regression, but those are mostly because he doesn’t walk anybody.
His swinging strike rate is right in line with his last two seasons, so it’s pretty clear to me that he overachieved from a K standpoint prior to this season and this is more of what we can expect from him. Is that good enough against Tampa Bay today? I’m going to say no. I trust Archer to figure it out more than I trust Fiers to do the same. The Rays also have a solid bullpen and can win a close game here. I like the Astros and I think they’ll go on a run soon, but they aren’t consistent at all right now.
St. Louis (-110) at Pittsburgh; Total: 8
Oddsmakers had to have a hard time with this one. Francisco Liriano has good career numbers against St. Louis, but he’s been stunningly awful this season. Liriano has walked 13.5 percent of opposing batters and owns a 5.25/5.65/4.53 slash line on the season. He’s also given up 12 home runs in 61.2 innings, so nothing has worked out for him. His command and control have both been problematic, but, again, he fares well against the Cardinals, so oddsmakers are protecting against that.
Last time we had this matchup, we went against Liriano and the Pirates and he struck out 10 over seven innings in his best start of the season. Liriano doesn’t seem to be making any major strides, though. Over his last couple of starts, he’s given up 12 runs on 16 hits in 9.1 innings with eight strikeouts and eight walks. I’m not backing that guy. It’s a matter of whether or not the price is good on the other guy.
In this case, that other guy is Carlos Martinez. He’s had his share of hiccups this season, but he’s got a 3.76/3.79/3.90 slash as the guy that now has to lead this rotation with Adam Wainwright in the tank, Lance Lynn on the shelf, and Michael Wacha all out of sorts. Martinez has had an interesting season. In his 11 starts, he’s given up one or zero runs four times, four or more runs four times, and three starts are in the middle. I’m a little concerned about his .254 BABIP against with a very low percentage of pop ups, but he’s made it work by avoiding barrels so far.
If I had to roll with anything, I’m looking Cardinals here. The Pirates pen has worked a ton lately and Liriano isn’t being very economical with his pitches. St. Louis should have the starting pitching edge.
Detroit at New York (AL) (-125); Total: 8
Justin Verlander and Masahiro Tanaka square off in this matchup and it should be a good one. Verlander’s ERA doesn’t tell the whole story, but he’s got his mojo back. He’s struck out over a batter per inning and has solid peripherals with a 3.56 FIP and a 3.57 SIERA. Two bad starts stand out for Verlander. He gave up seven to the Indians on May 3 and seven to the Pirates on April 11. Outside of that, he’s given up three runs or less in eight of his nine starts.
The high spin rate on his elevated fastball is a tremendous weapon. Sometimes he doesn’t get it up enough and guys hit it out. More often than not, they swing through it or hit the bottom half of the ball and hit a weak fly ball somewhere. There’s a lot to like about what Verlander is doing and I’m not sure it’s getting enough respect.
Masahiro Tanaka is doing something interesting over his last few starts. Truthfully, it’s probably not a good development, but we’ll have to see. Tanaka has stopped striking guys out. Over his last four starts covering 27 innings, Tanaka has just 13 strikeouts. Before that, he had 46 in 51.1 innings of work. He’s basically shelved his curveball in those four starts, so it does make me wonder if there’s some sort of underlying issue. He wasn’t throwing a lot of them to begin with, but three of his last four starts show the lowest CB usage of the season.
Tanaka’s lowest swinging strike rate through his first eight starts was 8.9 percent. Over his last four starts, it has come in at 8.7, 8.5, 5.8, and 6.6. Is this a conscious effort to pitch to more contact or is there something more? Are his pitches losing spin and movement? That’s one of the best injury indicators that we have. It does appear to be the case per PITCHf/x data.
I have a hard time with this game because it’s Tanaka and it’s Detroit’s right-handed-heavy lineup, but I feel like Verlander might be the way to go and we’ll have to watch Tanaka very closely in the coming starts.