It seems like a much smaller MLB card on the first Monday of June, but there are actually 10 games on tap. Two-thirds of the league is getting a much-needed break on June 6 and 20 teams will be right back in action. All the games are at night, so we have our pick of the litter with all day to study the matchups and monitor the investment market. A lot of reasonable numbers are out there as well, so there’s some money to be made here tonight.
Looking back to yesterday, we followed up a solid Saturday with a strong Sunday. Sonny Gray was good in his return and helped us to an under victory in that matchup between Oakland and Houston. The Rangers picked up a nice little plus-money ticket at home over the slumping Mariners. Carlos Martinez and the Cardinals cashed as a chalky Sunday Night Baseball participant. All in all, it was a good weekend for us and one that was needed.
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.
New York (NL) (-115) at Pittsburgh; Total: 8
Steven Matz and Jon Niese get together in one of three games with all left-handed pitching matchups. There are actually quite a few lefties going tonight. Out of 10 games, only three of them feature two right-handed starters. That’s fairly rare in MLB, since hitters usually take about 70 percent of their plate appearances against righties.
In any event, we have a matchup here of one team that hits lefties well and one team that doesn’t. One starter that is good and one starter that isn’t. One bullpen that’s good and one bullpen that isn’t. These are games I tend to stay away from because there are edges, but there are also things that cancel out those edges. If Steven Matz pitches well, the Mets should win this game. If he doesn’t, the Mets could still win this game. If Jon Niese handles his former team, the Pirates will win. You can make arguments like that about every game.
My goal in breaking down a game is always to make cases for both teams and decide which is stronger. I want to see a reason both sides could win because I’m not giving myself enough perspective if I keep a closed mind.
So, with this game, I see a guy in Matz that has been the Mets’ second-best starter behind Thor. He’s improved his control from last season and he has a great understanding of how to pitch. His ground ball rate is up 10 percent and his strikeout rate is above average. There’s a ton to like about his pitching profile. We’ve also seen the Pirates have some ups and downs against LHP, with a high BABIP starting to regress towards the mean.
Jon Niese is basically what he was in the NL East, but he’s facing better hitters in the NL Central, so that has hurt his command. Niese is still a below average strikeout guy with an above average ground ball rate and uninspiring peripherals. That’s everything he was with the Mets for so long. He could pad his stats a little bit against teams like the Phillies and the Marlins, but he hasn’t been able to hide much in the NL Central.
He’s actually thrown the ball really well over his last five starts. In that span, Niese has a 2.64 ERA, but he has a 93.6 percent strand rate and a .258 BABIP against. Maybe he’s learning how to pitch into that Pittsburgh shift. Maybe he’s just getting lucky. My money is on the latter. His recent results have influenced that market, despite some unsustainable trends.
With that in mind, I’ll look at the Mets here in this one. The Pirates have a .337 BABIP against LHP. Only Boston’s is higher. Matz is a guy that can take advantage of Pittsburgh’s 23.8 percent K% against LHP. Also, if this is a close game late, the Pirates have one of the worst bullpens in baseball this season. That’s a big advantage to the Mets.
Toronto at Detroit (-120); Total: 9
Michael Fulmer’s been getting a lot of attention lately. The rookie right-hander seems to have found his comfort zone at the big league level with one earned run allowed on nine hits over his last 22.1 innings of work. He’s got a 22/4 K/BB ratio. Interestingly, not that it’s predictive, this will be just Fulmer’s second home start. He draws a pretty good Toronto lineup, but it’s a group that is just 13th in wOBA against right-handed pitching.
Sometimes there are biases that you need to get over in order to have success as a handicapper. The idea that Toronto’s offense is the same as last season because it has the same personnel is wrong. There’s a lot of upside and potential here, but last year’s offensive performance was not only unsustainable, but was influenced by a couple months of absolutely tearing the cover off of the ball.
That’s not to say that Fulmer is an auto-play today. JA Happ has been good, though astute observers will immediately notice the 3.06 ERA with a 4.20 FIP and a 4.57 xFIP. There’s regression present with a .259 BABIP and an 81.1 percent strand rate. Happ’s career marks in those stats are .290 and 74.1, so he’s definitely overachieving, particularly with a lower-than-normal K rate.
Everything points to Fulmer in this start and yet the line seems rather small. I’d still prefer the Tigers over the Jays here, but this line is a little bit of a head-scratcher.
Tampa Bay (-120) at Arizona; Total: 9
I really feel for the Tampa Bay Rays. Their entire plan of attack on offense is constructed around the idea of using platoons. With Brandon Guyer, Logan Forsythe, and Kevin Kiermaier all on the DL, it’s really difficult to do that. Chris Archer and Robbie Ray are the scheduled starters here for this one. Tampa Bay is still third in wOBA against LHP, but they are missing a couple of their better hitters in that split. I think that the line is influenced by Tampa Bay’s success against LHP, but it hasn’t been adjusted for the fact that their offense looks drastically different right now.
Archer as a favorite here may make a tiny bit of sense, but this is not a good park for struggling pitchers. The Diamondbacks, like the Rays, own the split against lefties and can’t really hit righties. Archer is one that they don’t have much exposure with, so that’s a problem. He’s still missing a ton of bats, but he’s not missing a ton of barrels when contact is made. Archer gave up 12 home runs in 194.2 innings in 2014. He’s given up 12 HR in 66.1 IP this season.
He also has to hit here in a National League park. For a guy trying to fix his command and recoup his lost velocity, the last thing he wants is another distraction like swinging a bat. This is also where Tampa Bay’s injuries come into play. They’re losing a hitter from the lineup while already using some lesser hitters in the starting eight in the field.
Robbie Ray is basically the left-handed Archer this season. Both pitchers have a similar K rate and a similar command problem. Neither team is much to write home about right now, but I’d give the Diamondbacks a look here in this one. I don’t like this spot for Archer for a lot of reasons and I think the unfamiliar lefty angle with Ray, coupled with the injuries, is a compelling reason to take the home dog.
Atlanta at San Diego (-135); Total: 7.5
We’re seeing numbers all over the place for what is the least-anticipated game of the night for everybody except for BangTheBook Radio listener mg86. He’s not the only one, since it has some intrigue to me, as well. The Padres have been atrocious against right-handed pitching all season long and that has to be a consideration, even against a terrible right-hander like Williams Perez. Perez has one of the lowest K rates among starters with at least 40 innings pitched this season. He’s a BABIP-dependent guy with a high ground ball rate.
His walk rate is actually decent when you take away the three intentional walks out of 14 free passes. The thing about pitchers like this that there’s a wide range of outcomes. If BABIP luck is on his side, he can hold the Padres to a couple of runs over six innings. If it’s not, the Padres still have to string together hits because he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs. That’s not the strength of the Padres offense, which is hitting against pitchers that throw with the other hand.
Christian Friedrich is a really interesting case. The former first-round pick dominated the low levels of the minors and then seemed to be ruined by the Colorado Rockies. That organization hasn’t been able to develop a pitcher in years, so that’s not a big surprise. Friedrich was moved to the bullpen permanently last season and then the Padres scooped him up to try as a starter.
He has decent raw stuff, but it’s hard to put the complete package together. He’s got a very high walk rate so far, but he has decent command and a solid ground ball rate. He’s a 2.53 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 5.44 xFIP guy through four starts this season, so regression is very much expected. The Braves, however, have a .256 wOBA and a 57 wRC+ against lefties on the season, so this isn’t a bad split for Friedrich.
This is where the dilemma often falls with bad starters. Both offenses are awful in this split, but you’re asking two bad starters to sustain that level of offensive futility. I know I’m not laying the increasing price on the Padres, which is inching up towards -140. I’d give the under some thought at even money or better if I had to make a play on this game. Maybe the first five under since the bullpens can be taken out of the equation.
Cleveland at Seattle (-120); Total: 8.5
It’s not surprising to see money coming in on James Paxton for this one. The Indians are trending up, with a four-game sweep of the Royals and a five-game winning streak. The Mariners are trending down with a three-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers and a long series in San Diego last week. The Indians are making this long trip out west for the first time and had their travel plans delayed by more than three hours of a non-rain delay in Cleveland on Sunday.
It’ll be Trevor Bauer for the Tribe, which is interesting because he’ll be pitching near his training facility, Driveline Baseball, so the staff and some clients will probably be on hand for this one. This isn’t a great matchup for Bauer, but it’s actually not that bad either. He’s had some reverse platoon splits this season, with lefties owning a .294 wOBA compared to a .331 from righties. He has a 24/6 K/BB against lefties and a 23/15 K/BB against righties. The Mariners are left-handed-heavy and have a top-five offense in wOBA against RHP on the year.
James Paxton’s 2016 debut was interesting to say the least. He struck out seven in 3.2 innings, but gave up eight runs, just three earned, on 10 hits. That start came against the lowly San Diego Padres as well. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs did a comprehensive breakdown of Paxton’s start the day after.
So, what can we expect from Paxton tonight? That remains to be seen. Despite an influx of right-handed bats prior to the season, the Indians haven’t fared all that well against lefties, owning the 20th-ranked wOBA at .313. They have also been a bad offense on the road, which seems coincidental more than anything else. I think the biggest worry for the Mariners here tonight is that Paxton may not work deep into the game and their bullpen has worked a ton lately.
I’m staying away on this one. I don’t know how the surging Indians will react to the late start time and I don’t know how Bauer will fare. A lot of reasons to go against the Indians are present, but Paxton is a big unknown in his own right.