The grind of Major League Baseball continues. It feels like the season has been going on for about three months already, but a lot of teams are right around that 40-game mark, so only about a quarter of the season is in the books. A lot of people can’t handle the swings or the day-to-day responsibilities presented by handicapping baseball. Even the most seasoned handicapper is going to go through lulls and streaks on the diamond, much like hitters do, so, you have to keep everything in the right frame of mind.
Looking back to yesterday’s action, it was another mixed bag. Regression did hit Gio Gonzalez as the Mets took home a 7-1 win over the Nationals in one of our favorite sides. We did get some closing line value, but that only matters if it wins. The Indians fell flat in Game 1, but managed to take down Game 2, so we needed to flip-flop those picks. But, it wasn’t all bad news. The Tigers actually won a game that Mike Pelfrey started and the under hit in both the Cubs/Cardinals and Giants/Padres games. We nearly grabbed that huge underdog gamble on the Reds, but that was a low-risk, high-reward situation.
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.
Toronto at New York (AL) (-125); Total: 8
It’s really not a great day to bet, with a lot of lopsided lines. That really narrows our focus a lot, unless you want to gamble on those 30 percent underdogs. We’ll start in the Bronx with the Blue Jays and Yankees, a couple of teams that enjoyed yesterday’s off day. As a general rule, I stay away from knuckleballers, because you just never have any idea what’s going to happen. Things haven’t gone well for RA Dickey this season with a 4.50/4.45/4.21 pitcher slash. His strikeout rate is up a bit, but most of his other peripherals have been disappointing.
I’m not sure what to make of the 42-point OBP spike with men on base that has really hurt his LOB%. Quietly, he’s been a lot better in May than he was in April, but I simply look at that as variance. I don’t know if it’s predictive in any way. I feel like knuckleballers are a mystery.
So, we’ll look at a guy we can get a better read on in Nate Eovaldi. Eovaldi has a 4.44 ERA with a 3.24 xFIP, so the potential for positive regression is there. The weird thing about his regression is that everything seems to be lined up in a pretty normal way, except for one thing. Eovaldi has great K/BB rates, a .301 BABIP against, and a 71.1 percent strand rate. All of that seems normal. His 16.7 percent HR/FB% is not. His career HR/FB% is 7.7 percent. He gave up 10 HR in 154.1 innings last season. He’s already allowed seven in 48.2 innings this season.
Take a deeper look. What you see is that he gave up four HR in his first two starts, including one against Toronto, but he’s given up three HR in 37 innings since. Eovaldi is giving his team a chance just about every time out and you can’t always say the same about Dickey. I’d look to roll with the Yankees tonight, with their elite bullpen and a starting pitcher advantage.
Milwaukee at Atlanta (-120); Total: 7
Any time the Atlanta Braves are favored, you do a double take. Quietly, Jimmy Nelson is down to a 3.07 ERA, though his 4.60 FIP and 4.24 xFIP don’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence. Nelson is really spitting in the face of a lot of his peripherals, like a declining strikeout rate, an increasing walk rate, and a career-worst home run rate. His .239 BABIP against has been a feather in his cap in terms of ERA. The Brewers have been a pretty good defensive team this year, so kudos to them for that. It may make Nelson a little bit more sustainable than meets the eye.
One random thing about Nelson is that his two worst starts have come against two of the worst lineups he has faced – Cincinnati and Minnesota. These signs of regression certainly worry me, but it’s always hard to figure out whether or not bad lineups can be the catalyst for said regression.
On the Atlanta side, Julio Teheran is building up some trade value. The right-hander also shows some signs of regression with a 2.73/3.67/4.30 pitcher slash, but he’s back to inducing weak contact and his walk rate has gone back down. His ground ball rate has spiked as well. Last season seemed to be an anomaly for Teheran. He’s not great, necessarily, but he has been a guy to perform a little bit better than his xFIPs.
With two pitchers that show signs of regression, the over is certainly a possibility tonight. It’s very low at seven with two subpar offenses, but there’s always that chance that these two pitchers struggle, as their advanced metrics suggest. I do trust what Teheran is doing a bit more than Nelson. So, a bigger lean to the over and a smaller lean to the Braves.
Chicago (NL) at St. Louis (-110); Total: 7.5
I have concerns about Michael Wacha, so this is another tough game to cap, despite some good situational angles. Monday’s loss for the Cubs was a pretty tough one to swallow. They got into St. Louis very late after playing San Francisco on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and then were positioned for a win after six innings and it fell apart in the late innings. A lot of ex-players will say that the fatigue factor hits the second day and I’m hoping that’s the case here for the Cubs.
It also helps that I’m looking for regression from Jason Hammel. Hammel has a 2.31 ERA with a 3.34 FIP and a 3.88 xFIP. These are solid numbers and he’s been a good first-half pitcher over the last few seasons. There are some things that stand out. His strikeout rate isn’t high enough to support an 83.6 percent strand rate. His HR/FB% is just 7.3 percent, which is well below his career average of 11.1 percent.
The Cardinals may be just the offense to deliver that regression. The Cardinals own a .360 wOBA against right-handed pitching, which is second only to the Boston Red Sox. They’ve been extremely good against righties and there’s one here with some signs of impending struggles. Hammel’s 46.8 percent ground ball rate seems unsustainable for a guy that hasn’t been above 40 percent since 2013.
Just like yesterday when Adam Wainwright gave us reason to pause, Michael Wacha is doing the same. Wacha has a 4.03 ERA with a 3.47 FIP and a 3.80 xFIP. Everything was humming right along until his last three starts. He has allowed 16 runs in 14 innings of work. His defense really hurt him in that start against the Dodgers on May 13, when he allowed four unearned runs. He has a .338 BABIP against, which should come down, but his command hasn’t been great this season. His SIERA last season was 4.02. His current ERA is 4.03. Perhaps this is what Michael Wacha really is?
I wanted so badly to fire on St. Louis for a number of reasons, but it doesn’t seem to be lining up very well. If Wacha continues to struggle and Hammel’s regression hits, we could see some runs here. Leans to the home team and the over aren’t as strong as I wanted them to be, but they are there.
Kansas City (-115) at Minnesota; Total: 8
Things in Minnesota are not going well at all. Miguel Sano was chided by Paul Molitor and the media for not hustling yesterday and Byron Buxton is more like Byron Buston right now. They have no idea how to handle a pitching staff and have made some very strange roster decisions all season long. This is a really embarrassing team and organization right now and that leaks over to the field.
If you’ll recall, Minnesota’s season win total under was one of my strongest prior to the season. They had a lot of signs of regression and they all seem to be hitting. As far as this game goes, the first thing I notice is that Ervin Santana has been a lot better than I expected. Santana has a 3.13/3.52/3.94 pitcher slash. There aren’t any overly obvious signs of regression, though the xFIP is a little bit higher than his ERA, due in large part to his walk rate and the increased rate of home runs around baseball.
On the other side, Edinson Volquez has a 3.79/3.96/4.19, with relatively similar peripherals to Santana. The big difference is that his HR/FB% is up a little bit higher, though he has stranded a higher percentage of his runners. Volquez is doing a much better job this season of limiting hard contact, with a 14 percent line drive rate and a big drop in hard-contact. I feel like this is a pretty good indicator of what we can expect from Volquez moving forward. I think a lot of his stats are going to stay in this range.
I’m not so sure that’s the case with Santana. We’re talking about a guy with a below average fastball every year since 2009. This season, it’s slightly above average. I think we’re looking at a guy that has experienced some sequencing luck this year. I’m looking for the bottom to fall out a little bit here. With that, I do like the Royals tonight.
Baltimore (-110) at Houston; Total: 8.5
The market has spoken a little bit here in this one with some initial money on Chris Tillman and the O’s. Doug Fister is on the mound for the Astros. Tillman just keeps getting it done. He’s 6-1 with a 2.61 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and a 3.95 xFIP. That low home run rate is starting to stand out, but he’s struck out over a batter per inning with his new arsenal. That slider/cutter/slutter, depending on which classification system you use, has been a major separator for him and his changeup has been a lot better as well.
His swinging strike rate is now 10.4 percent, which is easily a career high. The odd thing is that he’s missing a lot of bats in the zone. His Zone-Contact% is just 81.1 percent. That’s over seven percent better than his career average. I don’t know how long he can keep this up. That’s 11th in MLB, with names like David Price, Rich Hill, Max Scherzer, Danny Salazar, Jose Fernandez, and Clayton Kershaw ahead of him. Hitters are actually chasing less outside of the zone. I’m not sure how much longer all of this can go on.
Doug Fister, on the other hand, allows the second-most contact on pitches in the zone and he’s wholly dependent on his defense. He has one of the league’s lowest strikeout rates and a 4.22/4.53/4.38 pitcher slash. Overall, Fister has been pretty decent, when you lower your definition of that word. More often than not, he’s gone “quality start”, with that three earned over six innings line. That’s a 4.50 ERA, yet it’s perceived as a quality start. He’s been a little bit better than that and his walk rate is skewed by one game against Seattle when he walked seven.
His ERA is actually skewed by one start against Kansas City in which he gave up six runs. He’s a guy that will never be loved by any advanced metrics and he has more practical value than theoretical value. I’m not sure what to do with him, to be honest. I do think that there’s a chance that we see some Tillman regression here today. His 3.8 percent HR/FB% is not sustainable at all and Houston has some power and a good park for hitters.
Against my better judgment, I’ll go with Fister and the Astros here. I’m just not sure when the wheels fall off of Chris Tillman, but I’m confident that they will. At least we know what to expect from Fister, even if it’s not great.