Another day beckons in the Major League Baseball investment market. A full slate of games is on tap with all day baseball, beginning at 2:20 p.m. ET and carrying on through to Sunday morning for a good portion of the country. We’ve got one of the biggest favorites in history, as the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw are north of -400 at several sportsbooks, with some showing -430. Other than that, there are a lot of reasonable numbers and some very good betting opportunities on Saturday.
Peeking back to yesterday, the chalkier of my two favorite plays was a winner, as the Rangers coasted to a triumph over the Mariners. The White Sox bullpen failed to give them a chance to come back against the Tigers in our top underdog look. The under did come through for Minnesota and Tampa Bay in our top total and those that listened to BangTheBook Radio got a winner on the Oakland/Houston over. Colorado did fail us in a couple of ways, as Drew Pomeranz’s great run continued.
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.
Milwaukee at Philadelphia (-110); Total: 7.5
I was talking with a good buddy of mine recently and he was discussing some of the trends he has seen with the Milwaukee Brewers, particularly since David Stearns took over. They made it a point to scout the minor leagues for guys with great numbers that were being overlooked. Saturday’s starter Junior Guerra looks like one of those guys. In six starts covering 36.1 innings, Guerra has been a strikeout per inning guy with reasonable peripherals and plus command. He never really got a fair shake at any one of his minor league stops and actually played in the Mexican leagues for a while.
The Brewers may have found something here. The arsenal features a fastball, curve, and splitter, and, as I talked about on Friday’s BangTheBook Radio, I think splitters could be the next big inefficiency. We’ve seen every pitcher and his brother add a cutter to the repertoire of late. A splitter may be the next big pitch. I actually like this mix of pitches and Guerra has shown command and control of all of them. If he can improve on his 58.9 percent first-pitch strike rate, he could really take off.
Jeremy Hellickson is what he is, an innings eater with rare flashes of brilliance. He has a 3.68/3.88/3.38 slash on the season here with over a strikeout per inning and a really strong walk rate. I don’t see any big arsenal changes, but his changeup is back to its 2011-12 level, so that has been a big pitch for him. Hitters are swinging and missing 12.6 percent of the time, which is a career best for Hellickson.
Hitters haven’t exhibited a whole lot of patience with Hellickson, whose 39.7 percent Zone% is one of the lowest in the league. I’m not sure if Milwaukee will, but they are third in BB% against RHP on the season. That’s a really surprising stat. They also strike out a ton, but we knew that would be the case.
I’m going to look to the Brewers here in this spot. There are a lot of similarities between these two teams, and also these two starting pitchers, but Milwaukee’s offense is 16 percent better against right-handed pitching and we know about the regression the Phillies have coming as a team.
Toronto at Boston (-115); Total: 9.5
We’ve seen a line move of 10-15 cents in this AL East showdown at Fenway Park. The Blue Jays are sending Marcus Stroman to the hill against knuckleballer Steven Wright. Sequencing has been an issue for Stroman, who has a 4.46 ERA with a 3.69 FIP and a 3.79 xFIP. His 64.7 percent strand rate is the reason for his high ERA, as he has allowed a .301/.379/.476 slash with men on base and just a .226/.262/.344 slash with the bases empty. It appears to be a mechanical issue from the stretch, since Stroman has a 36/7 K/BB with the bases empty and a 15/13 K/BB with men on base.
That’s not really a good thing to have heading into a start against the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox have traffic on the bases with regularity and pitching out of those jams is the only way to win. Stroman doesn’t have a lot of strikeout upside right now, which is also limiting his ability to get out of messes. I understand the line move here in the sense that Steven Wright is probably going to hit some regression, but I don’t like this spot for Stroman.
Speaking of Wright, the knuckleballer has a 2.45/3.18/4.15 slash, but it’s really hard to decipher the stats of a knuckleballer. In a general sense, they have average strikeout rates with high walk rates and low BABIPs. That’s a mix that will not show well in advanced metrics. Knuckleballers almost need their own grading system, but there’s so few of them that it would be a waste of time. Wright’s numbers weren’t this good last season, but he made a handful of relief appearances and knuckleballers need time to develop a feel for the pitch.
As a starter, Wright has a 3.16 ERA with a 3.91 FIP and a 4.40 xFIP. He’s held batters to a .211/.289/.330 slash with a .247 BABIP against. I don’t know what the sustainability of that is, but I know that an aggressive, hard-contact-oriented lineup like Toronto probably isn’t a good matchup for it. I understand the line move, but I don’t agree with it. I’d roll with Boston here.
Oakland at Houston (-125); Total: 8
Houston is finding a groove. The Astros got off to a really slow start, but they’re 9-2 in their last 11 and I would start looking at futures prices for this team. Both Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh are figuring it out. Lance McCullers is back now. With Mike Fiers and Doug Fister, they have more stability at the back end of the rotation. Speaking of McHugh, he’s the guy on the hill today against Kendall Graveman.
I’m actually surprised to see the number this low. McHugh has struck out 26 over his last 21.1 innings and the A’s have a bottom-third offense in wOBA against right-handed pitching on the season. The strikeouts may be a little bit of a surprise, but the string of solid pitching shouldn’t be. McHugh was a guy in line for positive regression and he still is with a 4.82 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and a 3.93 xFIP. His .354 BABIP against spoke to a major command issue, but it seems like he’s on his way to fixing that.
Kendall Graveman is a guy I like, but, again, much like yesterday’s starter Jesse Hahn, this is not a good matchup for him. Graveman is a pitch-to-contact ground ball type of guy. The Astros eat pitchers like that for lunch. The way to beat the Astros is to strike them out. Graveman won’t do that. Houston puts a lot of balls in play with high exit velocities and that’s not a good matchup for Oakland’s shoddy defense.
The Astros are an easy look today at -125. Hopefully it comes through. We deserve it.
Kansas City at Cleveland (-125); Total: 8.5
The Indians get a second crack at Ian Kennedy, a pitcher due for some regression. The Royals face Josh Tomlin. Kennedy is a guy that I really liked because he was going to a team with an elite outfield defense and he can miss bats. So far, both of those things have been beneficial with a .260 BABIP against, a high strand rate, and a 3.03 ERA. At some point, some bad luck has to factor in. An 84.6 percent strand rate is unsustainable. From 2000-15, the list of qualified starters with a strand rate of 84.6 percent or higher is 2000 Pedro Martinez, 2015 Zack Greinke, 2009 JA Happ, 2001 Curt Schilling. That’s it.
The Indians have a top-10 offense by wOBA and the ninth-ranked SLG against right-handed pitching on the season. Kennedy’s HR/FB% is a little bit above his career average, but he’s in the AL now, so it should be a little bit higher than his career mark. The Indians should have more success this time around against Kennedy.
Josh Tomlin is in a bounce back spot after getting tagged by the Texas Rangers last time out. He’s a guy with a pretty thin margin for error because he doesn’t overpower anybody. He relies on mixing his pitches and commanding all of them. The Royals lineup is pretty lackluster right now, with only a few guys capable of doing a lot of damage. The Indians lineup seems to have more of a 1 through 9 approach. At the risk of jinxing my Tribe, I do like them here today. They scratched out a win against the Royals bullpen on Thursday and didn’t have to use theirs on Friday night. Everything sets up well here.
San Francisco (-120) at St. Louis; Total: 8
The Giants could not be happier with Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, who have been terrific so far this season. Samardzija is road chalk at St. Louis here in this outing, which certainly caught my attention. The right-hander owns a 2.84/2.95/3.54 pitcher slash on the season with pretty good peripherals. He’s back to inducing ground balls and that has really helped because the Giants have a strong infield defense. He does have a 76.3 percent strand rate, which will have to come down, and that’s certainly a possibility against the Cardinals.
Once again, Michael Wacha doesn’t look right. He had a decent start against Washington, but a lot of pitches were up in the zone as he posted his second straight start with a 31.3 percent GB%. His fastball command has been terrible and he hasn’t been able to use his secondaries as effectively because he’s been working from behind in too many counts. Wacha has a 26.2 percent line drive rate against and has only induced one pop up after inducing 19 last season. If not for seven unearned runs, his ERA would look even worse.
I wanted to have a play on this game, because I think the line is pretty interesting, but I can’t fire on either side. I will be watching Samardzija to see how long he can continue this and to see how long Wacha can do the same with his subpar pitching.
Colorado at San Diego (-120); Total: 7.5
Chad Bettis and Andrew Cashner are the scheduled starters for tonight’s late game. I really liked Bettis entering the season, but he has been a massive disappointment. His strikeout rate is down, his command is gone, and he hasn’t been able to get out of jams. He’s been a bust in terms of undervalued starters I was hoping to back early in the season. This should be a good matchup for him against one of the worst lineups in baseball against right-handed pitching, but he hasn’t been very consistent.
Andrew Cashner wasn’t a guy on my radar, but he simply hasn’t been the same pitcher that he was in the past. A long injury history and now declining velocity have turned him into a guy to fade. He has a 4.79 ERA with a 4.55 FIP and a 4.82 xFIP. He hasn’t been able to work out of jams for the last two years, which is probably a big indictment of the Padres defense. They’re not as bad this season, but they were epically bad last year.
Runs are a possibility here, if Colorado wants to hit. I also think there’s something left in Bettis to where I would consider a play on him at plus money. It’s not a strong play, but it’s some late action for you if you can’t sleep.