It feels like it’s been an extremely long week, but we’ve been plugging away at each and every MLB card with the same focus and analysis. It produced some great results on Thursday night and now we roll into Friday with a little bit of momentum on our side. Friday’s card is full of intriguing pitching matchups, but a lot of high prices. Let’s see what we can find to bolster that bankroll once again.

A quick look back to yesterday, as our top pick on Colorado came through easily. This was a really surprising closing number, but all favorites count the same when they win. It was a great situational spot, arguably the best of the season, and we took full advantage. The Mets were also a top pick in yesterday’s write-up and they came through easily. The under was an easy winner in the Windy City in the Gonzalez battle. Leans on the Mariners and the Astros failed, but it was a really strong day overall on the picks made with conviction.

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.

 

St. Louis at Pittsburgh (-140); Total: 8

The market likes the Cardinals as a dog in this one on Friday night. It could be because of the situation, with the Pirates back home after that makeup game in Colorado. The more likely explanation is that this is still a great offensive ballclub that can hit just about anybody. It’ll be Michael Wacha against Gerrit Cole in this one.

Wacha hasn’t been very good this season. In 12 starts, he owns a 5.16 ERA with a 3.54 FIP and a 4.08 xFIP. He’s always been good at suppressing home runs, so I feel like the FIP and xFIP could be a little bit misleading here. He does have a .343 BABIP against and a 59.6 percent strand rate, two stats that usually contribute to regression. In that respect, Wacha should improve soon. The thing is, I’m not sure.

Wacha has the highest line drive rate of his career at 27.5 percent, well above league average, and he’s not getting many swings and misses outside or inside the zone. He’s not giving up dingers, but the command just isn’t there right now. Opposing hitters are batting .359/.387/.519 against his fastball because he can’t locate it. On 4,000 fastballs over his career, hitters are only batting .265/.325/.403, so that tells you just how good his fastball command was previously.

Speaking of fastball command, Gerrit Cole has had some issues with his. His strikeout rate has dropped down to 18.6 percent and he has the lowest ground ball rate of his career. Premium velocity and good secondaries have kept his ERA low at 2.85, but his 4.27 SIERA is pretty worrisome. Cole, like Wacha, is a guy that suppresses home runs, so the 4.04 xFIP isn’t a concern here. His swinging strike rates are down across the board on every pitch and he’s not getting swings and misses in the zone.

This total seems about half a run too high at PNC Park, which is why I think the over is in play. The Pirates bullpen hasn’t been great and has thrown 215 pitches in the last three days. The Cardinals see Cole a lot and handle right-handers well. Wacha is having his issues. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a few runs tonight.

 

Baltimore at Toronto (-135); Total: 8.5

Here’s your prototypical “Fade the high xFIP guy” game with Marco Estrada and the Blue Jays against the Orioles. Kevin Gausman goes for Baltimore. To be fair, this number did open entirely too high at -160, but the market is showing no resistance as this line freefalls. Estrada has a 2.41 ERA with a 3.82 FIP and a 4.68 xFIP. There are definitely a lot of regression indicators in Estrada’s profile. The ERA-xFIP discrepancy, the .191 BABIP against, the 80.7 percent strand rate, just to name a few. He does have an elite-level changeup, which is a go-to pitch for him in tight spots, but I do understand the concerns.

I have some of the same ones. He has done a fantastic job suppressing home runs since he came to Toronto, so it’s not really a home run concern. It’s more of an overall concern because he creates some of his own problems by walking guys and has a .209 BABIP against with men on base. There’s something to be said about inducing weak contact and Estrada does that well. One thing that stands out is how he attacks lefties. Lefties have a 43.7 percent ground ball rate, while righties have a 28 percent rate. His pitches are all clustered down and away, a sign of his changeup usage. With that split, 158 of his 558 pitches are changeups and the vast majority of them are on the outer half. Most of his fastball usage is as well.

Against righties, Estrada really tries to bury the changeup down out of the zone and the majority of fastballs are on the outer half. He has a high walk rate, but he has controlled his pitches well, from a cluster standpoint. Where lefties roll over on that changeup and ground out, righties dig it out and pop it up in the air. It’s a really good mix and when he can command those pitches, he’s a very useful starter. I think it’s more sustainable than most would suggest and I’m not looking to fade him based solely on the signs of regression.

That being said, a sub-.200 BABIP is not sustainable in any context. However, if you look among qualified starters since 2002, the lowest BABIP in a full season belongs to…Marco Estrada in 2015 at .216. It’s an interesting list of names that includes 2006 Chris Young, 2016 Estrada, Dan Straily, and Julio Teheran, 2015 Zack Greinke, 2002 Damian Moss and Derek Lowe (which was insane because he had a 67 percent GB%).

So, this line did open too high, but I think the rush to fade Estrada isn’t as cut and dry as people would expect. I have no play on this game, but I wanted to illustrate why digging deep is important.

 

Oakland (-115) at Cincinnati; Total: 9.5

I’m a big fan of this game here tonight. Sonny Gray, one start removed from the disabled list, takes on Anthony DeSclafani, who is coming off of the disabled list after an oblique injury. As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, the Reds have been a very solid offensive team of late, ranking fifth in SLG over the last 30 days entering yesterday’s action. That means this will be a tougher matchup for Gray than you might expect.

Let’s start with DeSclafani, though. One of last season’s most underrated pitchers, DeSclafani makes his 2016 MLB debut after five uninspiring rehab starts. He pitched five good innings in Single-A, but gave up six home runs and 16 hits in 17 innings at Double-A and Triple-A. He did have 16 K against one walk, though, so that’s a good sign. This is a good one to ease back into the MLB gauntlet because Oakland is awful against RHP, ranking 27th in wOBA at .296.

I do like Sonny Gray in this matchup. Gray was very effective against the Astros his last time out. He was pulled after five, but gave up one run and struck out five. He *looked* better, which is the important thing. He threw his pitches with confidence and mixed them effectively. Gray had lost his mechanics because of a nagging back injury and that’s a problem for pitchers. Bad things happen when you lose your mechanics, especially as a finesse pitcher like Gray.

I do like Gray a bit in this spot. The Reds haven’t seen him and his plan of attack is to change speeds to induce weak contact. This Reds lineup has done some damage against lefties this year, but they rank 25th in wOBA against righties with a 23.2 percent K% and one of the lowest BB% at 6.2 percent. They’re not patient. Gray has success against impatient lineups.

I want to see how DeSclafani fares, but I do like Gray in this matchup. I’d also consider the first five under because this is a high total. Remember, Reds full game totals are a struggle with their bullpen and DeSclafani will probably be on an 85 or 90 pitch limit.

 

Houston (-115) at Tampa Bay; Total: 7.5

I still believe that the Astros have a run in them and this is an excellent spot for them from a pitching matchup standpoint. I like Lance McCullers a lot, because he has tremendous raw stuff and the ability to miss a lot of bats. Tampa Bay has been falling down the offense rankings of late with all of their injuries and they haven’t fared all that well against this split on the year anyway. Only the Brewers and Astros strike out more against righties than the Rays. McCullers is a strikeout guy.

Matt Andriese is not, which is why Houston can have success. The Astros have issues with guys that can get lots of swings and misses, but Andriese only has 25 strikeouts in his 39.1 innings of work. He’s a finesse guy, looking for weak contact. The Astros don’t make a lot of weak contact. Andriese showed plus command in the minor leagues, but his 2.7 HR/FB% is really unsustainable at this level. His 4.08 xFIP may not be a true barometer, since he shouldn’t post a league average HR/FB%, but his 2.52 ERA won’t hang around for long.

He doesn’t walk guys or give up home runs, so FIP loves him, but his 4.23 SIERA doesn’t like his hard contact or low strikeout numbers. I’ll trust the SIERA here in this instance. There’s regression coming for Andriese and Houston has the lineup to deliver it.

 

New York (NL) (-130) at Milwaukee; Total: 8

When you do this for a long time, you develop some hunches. I have a hunch about this game tonight. I can frame a statistical argument for it, but I do like what Matt Harvey has done in his last two starts and the Brewers aren’t a great lineup. My hunch is this: The Mets came off of that tough series against the Pirates and rallied nicely for that series-opening win on Thursday night. I feel like this is a letdown spot for them.

Junior Guerra has proven to be a pretty uncomfortable at bat this season with a 3.61 ERA, a 3.51 FIP, and a 4.05 xFIP. He’s getting a lot of weak contact as teams face him for the first time and has nice strikeout-to-walk rates. It feels like a good spot for the Mets to lay down. Guerra has pitched shutout ball twice and has allowed at least three runs in his other five starts, but he gets an extra day between starts here and I like what I’ve seen so far.

Again, this is more of a gut instinct play, and it could be a loser, but I think the Brewers have value here tonight.

 

Cleveland (-145) at Los Angeles (AL); Total: 7.5

Hopefully you took advantage of the overnight line because this thing has shot up like a rocket this morning. The Indians picked up a big win on Thursday night to split with the Mariners and then took the late-night flight to Anaheim. Meanwhile, the Angels were taking a 5.5-hour flight from New York to home. Oh, and they got swept in New York. Oh, and Hector Santiago is starting this game against Corey Kluber.

The Angels are in a horrendous spot. Most of the line value is gone on this game, but the Indians are in a perfect spot.

 

Los Angeles (NL) (-160) at San Francisco; Total: 5.5

Hello. A 5.5! We don’t get a lot of these in the regular season, but they’re warranted when we do. Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. I can’t even call them video game numbers because I’ve never had performances like this in a video game. He has a 1.46 ERA, a 1.60 FIP, and a 2.09 xFIP. He has 109 strikeouts and SIX walks in 92.2 innings.

Johnny Cueto’s been pretty good in his own right with a 2.16 ERA, a 2.63 FIP, and a 3.43 xFIP. He’s back to getting weak contact, which is good, and he’s really benefitted from the change of scenery from a home run standpoint. He’s allowed just three home runs in 87.2 innings of work. There’s some regression coming in that number, I would think, but who knows how much. He mixes his pitches and commands the ball so well.

If anybody has a shot to beat Kershaw, it’d be Cueto. The Dodgers and Giants both had yesterday off. Realistically, there’s probably value on Kershaw tonight, simply because you can never catch him at -155 or -160. But, it’s probably just a game to watch and enjoy.