Sundays can be very tough for handicappers in the MLB investment community. A slew of day games create a lot of different challenges. Hitters get days off, teams look forward to wrapping up road trips or heading to a new city, and there’s not as much time to study the matchups and make informed wagers. We tend to see fewer line moves from the professionals and sharp players as well, so those that do happen are worth paying close attention to and respecting. It’s a day of aces on the mound, which adds to the hardship, because you’re paying big favorite or big underdog prices in several games.
Looking back at yesterday’s work, the Rockies picked up a nice underdog win at PNC Park over the Pirates in what was probably the strongest opinion. A lean on Tampa Bay didn’t come through as Michael Fulmer dominated the Rays in Detroit’s 5-4 win and an over lean in the Marlins/Nationals game fell flat. It wasn’t a big card, so hopefully you erred on the side of caution.
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.
Tampa Bay at Detroit (-120); Total: 8
This is a really tough game to pick. You have two pitchers with competing types of regression. Chris Archer has a 4.38 ERA, a 4.48 FIP, but a 3.43 xFIP and a 3.69 SIERA. His command has been terrible this season, even though he’s still missing quite a few bats because the raw stuff is so good. Archer is currently posting the highest line drive rate and the highest hard-contact rate of his career. He’s not throwing strike one. Hitters are ahead 1-0 in 47.9 percent of their plate appearances this season and that makes it hard for a guy like Archer, whose secondary stuff is elite. He’s been forced to throw more four-seamers this season and his fastball command has been terrible.
So, while regression signs are present, I’m not so sure that they show up here. In theory, this right-handed-heavy lineup should be a tremendous matchup for Archer. His stuff can be downright dominant against same-side hitting. But, those command problems are a lot to overlook and Detroit has been swinging it well of late, particularly Miggy and JD.
On the Detroit side, Jordan Zimmermann is looking like a guy that is going to blow up at any point here. He has a 2.45 ERA with a 3.50 FIP and a 4.24 xFIP. He’s always been a guy to induce a lot of weak contact, but at least his strikeout rates were around average. They’re well below average and his 80.7 percent strand rate doesn’t seem sustainable, especially in the American League where the pitcher can’t kill a rally.
His low walk rate is a saving grace, but the Tigers are 28th in defensive runs saved, so I’d be surprised to see that low BABIP continue. A .279 BABIP against with a 44 percent ground ball rate isn’t going to hang around very long without an above average defense. You’re probably thinking that the over is an auto play here, but this is an early getaway day Sunday game.
I’d still lean that way and I think there’s a bit of value on it.
Cleveland at Boston (-115); Total: 8.5
I’m an Indians fan, so forgive my homer-dom here, but Danny Salazar should be getting serious buzz for the Cy Young. He’s unquestionably been Cleveland’s best starter and there are some really big changes that could bode well for the future. Salazar’s always been a guy with explosive stuff, but there was a bit of a home run problem. This season, Salazar is posting a career-best 51.4 percent ground ball rate. His .227 BABIP isn’t going to hang around and his 85.1 percent strand rate probably won’t either, but he’s taking the next steps forward because he’s learned how to pitch. He used to be a “throw it past you” kind of guy and now he’s got a serious plan of attack on the bump.
There aren’t any earth-shattering usage changes, but he has developed a fastball with more two-seam run, a likely byproduct of hanging around Trevor Bauer, and he’s scaled back his slider a little bit to give it more movement. He already has an elite split-change, which was 19 runs above average last season and is already 8.8 runs above average this season. Aside from some natural regression, I think these are sustainable trends and he could be a sub-3.00 ERA guy with a FIP in the 3.10 to 3.15 range this season.
Speaking of guys off to solid starts, Rick Porcello seems to have figured a lot out. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Porcello showed signs of coming out of it with a 3.53 ERA in the second half of last season with 70 strikeouts in 71.1 innings of work. In eight starts this season, Porcello has kept up those strikeout gains while posting a 3.51/3.81/3.54 pitcher slash. He has been a little bit more hittable of late, giving up 11 runs on 20 hits over his last 18.2 innings of work, so maybe there’s a little bit of regression or a small mechanical hitch there.
I think the oddsmakers are giving Salazar a ton of respect here by only posting the Indians as a small dog against a dangerous Boston lineup and an above average starter. I believe that they are suggesting the Indians on Sunday. I also think the total is a little bit strange for this game. I’m buying both pitchers, so the under, particularly on a getaway day, has a bit of value, but I’m also looking at the Indians here. I should reverse jinx it and suggest Boston because this would be a huge game for the Tribe to get heading into Chicago, but Salazar’s been really special this season.
Colorado at Pittsburgh (-145); Total: 8
Like Tyler Chatwood yesterday, I like what Chad Bettis has been doing this season. He’s doing it with an even better walk rate than Chatwood. Bettis has a 4.18 ERA, but a 3.71 FIP, and a 3.61 xFIP. His ground ball rate is north of 50 percent and he doesn’t have any stats that are wildly out of range. He throwing more first-pitch strikes, which is how a ground ball guy has success. If ground ball guys have to spot up in the zone to get back into the count, they get hit. If they can get ahead and force hitters to bite on those low pitches, the job gets a lot easier. This is one of the few line moves we’ve seen today, with the Pirates growing by about 15 cents.
Juan Nicasio draws his former team here, and I’m not sure if that’s an angle that people are actually playing up or not. Nicasio hasn’t been in the org since 2014 and there have been some personnel changes since he was there. It may simply be that he’s getting bet because he owns a 4.46 ERA with a 3.88 xFIP. He has racked up more than a strikeout per inning on the season, so that’s a big reason why his advanced metrics look good. He has struggled here a bit of late, giving up 13 runs on 21 hits over 15.1 innings to the Cubs, Reds, and Braves. He’s still missing bats with 14 strikeouts in that span, but I wonder if his lack of arsenal depth is popping up now.
He’s predominantly a two-pitch pitcher, which is why so many guys like him get banished to the bullpen. He’s a fastball/slider guy with very occasional changeup usage. Slider command has been an issue, so he can sometimes become a one-pitch pitcher. I think hitters are figuring that out. I’d look to the Rockies here once again, given the advantage in the matchup. It’s a getaway day for them, so that may present some problems, but they’re not flying home, so it doesn’t matter as much.
Arizona at St. Louis (-125); Total: 7
Gradually, Zack Greinke should start going back to the pitcher we expect him to be. It won’t be like last season for the Dodgers, but a return to his 3.39/3.32/3.47 career pitcher slash is hardly a reach. That’s about where his advanced metrics sit with a 3.51 FIP and a 3.32 xFIP. His 5.08 ERA is a byproduct of some uncharacteristically-bad command. Opposing hitters own a .345 BABIP against and he’s given up seven home runs in 56.2 innings. He gave up 14 in 222.2 innings last season.
The thing is that we built Greinke up into something he isn’t. There has been an adjustment period with a new team, a new catcher, a new ballpark, etc. It really didn’t surprise me to see that his home splits are ugly (6.63 ERA, .310/.354/.556) and his road splits aren’t nearly as bad (2.25, .247/.275/.312). There’s a learning curve to a new ballpark that he hasn’t mastered yet. Busch Stadium is a much more forgiving venue.
Jaime Garcia continues to be effective. The southpaw owns a 2.86/2.75/3.11 pitcher slash on the year and has 51 strikeouts in 50.1 innings of work. He’s only given up 33 hits in 50.1 innings with an extreme ground ball split and a .238 BABIP against. The BABIP against is very stunning based on the number of ground balls, but he must have some sort of deception that creates a ton of weak contact. His career line drive rate of 18.3 percent is very impressive. He’s got excellent command.
These are two really good defensive teams, another reason why it’s surprising that the Diamondbacks haven’t helped Greinke out more. The Cardinals have the league’s best offense in wOBA against right-handed pitching at .365 and also the best wRC+ at 130. The Diamondbacks are fourth in wOBA against left-handed pitching at .351. That means that there is a lot to digest about everything surrounding this game. With so many stats pointing me in different directions, I can’t really play anything about this game. I think there’s positive regression for Greinke and some minor negative regression for Garcia. The Cardinals and Diamondbacks both excel with these particular platoon matchups, but these are also two good defensive teams. I think the most important element of this game is to see how Greinke fares against a strong lineup. I’d stay off from a betting standpoint.
New York (AL) (-125) at Oakland; Total: 8
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, the betting market is insane. Another day, another day with money coming in on Michael Pineda. Pineda has a 6.60 ERA with a 3.57 xFIP, so that’s the reason behind this line move. It may also be because the Yankees have held the A’s offense in check throughout all three games.
Theoretically, if Pineda is going to pitch well, it should happen here. His biggest issue is a 22.2 percent HR/FB%, which should be suppressed by O.co Coliseum. The ball does travel a little bit differently during the day here, but it’s still not an easy park to hit home runs. Pineda’s command has been terrible in every facet, however, as a .384 BABIP will confirm. Home runs don’t count towards BABIP. If you include home runs, Pineda has given up 58 hits in 144 at bats. So, when hitters put the ball in play, they’re batting .403. That’s not just a bad defense or bad luck. That’s bad command. Very bad command.
Jesse Hahn has gotten pretty lucky this season through three starts with an 84 percent LOB% because he’s not missing bats and he’s allowing a ton of baserunners. Twenty-eight batters have reached base out of the 79 that have walked to the plate. The huge ground ball split is still there, though Oakland has the league’s worst defense by DRS, so that may not be the best thing.
I agree with today’s line move. Out of principle, I can’t back Pineda, especially at this inflated price, but I understand where the market is coming from. Runs could be a possibility, but Oakland hasn’t scored off of a lot of worse pitchers this season, so I’d be wary of that as well. If you had to play something, you can take Pineda and hope Oakland helps him. Ideally, we get a good start here that lowers his ERA and gets people believing in him. Then we can fade him again at Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Chicago (NL) at San Francisco (-125); Total: 7
I’m still a big believer in Kyle Hendricks and if this new ground ball thing is legit, he may be the most underrated starter in baseball this season. Hendricks has gotten really unlucky this season to have a 3.51 ERA. That seems ludicrous to say, but he has a 64 percent strand rate. A big reason why is because his strikeout rate goes from 24.8 percent from the windup to 18.3 percent from the stretch. His BABIP against also goes up 80 points with men on base.
Readers need to realize how valuable Hendricks can be. He doesn’t walk batters and he’s sustaining last season’s strikeout rate. His ground ball rate could be attributed to an increase in cut fastballs and some more movement on his sinker at lower velocity. He’s also throwing a first-pitch strike 71 percent of the time. All of these are great developments. He won’t get priced like other Cubs pitchers, so look for him to carry value this season.
Is there value today against Madison Bumgarner? I don’t know. Bumgarner is elite and just keeps getting better. Once again, his strikeout rate is on the rise, making it the fifth straight season that he has missed more bats. His walk rate is up a little bit this season, but it’s not nearly enough to be concerned about. He’s in the prime of his career at 26 and he’s just mowing through lineups. His advanced metrics suggest a tinge of regression.
That being said, his swinging strike rate is a little bit lower than it has been over the last two seasons. That would suggest regression in his strikeout rate. Granted, hitters aren’t swinging as much, so he may just be sequencing better and getting strikeouts that way. I think he’s just a really special pitcher that will end up with a line similar to last season’s 2.93/3.00/3.34. Remember that “regression” for Bumgarner is two earned over six, because that’s going to raise his 2.45 ERA.
I love both of these pitchers. With an evening affair in AT&T Park, the marine air should be settling in and I don’t think we see a lot of runs here, despite a lot of exciting hitters. Take away the perception of these two lineups and this is a 6.5 total. So far, it’s not, though it could get there.