We’re looking ahead to a full night of MLB action on May 20. All 30 teams play under the lights, so we have all day to study the matchups and analyze the line moves. There have been some early line moves, mostly to turn favorites into bigger favorites. It’s always interesting to see where the money is coming in and to find out why and that’s a big part of this article. There are opinions, leans, and picks, but the process is always the focus.
The process failed us a little bit yesterday, as it wound up being a disappointing night. The A’s couldn’t muster any offense in their game against the Yankees. Tim Adleman’s injury brought the Reds bullpen into the fray early and they got blown out again by the Indians. Jon Gray was shelled for the Rockies. The lone bright spot was Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals taking care of the Mets. That was the strongest of the picks, so hopefully that’s the one you isolated for yesterday’s card.
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.
Cleveland (-120) at Boston; Total: 9
The Indians roll into Fenway with a little bit of momentum after a four-game sweep of the lowly Cincinnati Reds. Cleveland scored 43 runs over those four games. They’ll need to keep scoring in order to keep pace with Boston, the best offense in baseball by most metrics this season. The weekend set in Beantown begins with Corey Kluber and the Tribe as small favorites over Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox.
Corey Kluber’s advanced metrics look just fine. His command has actually improved from a home run standpoint, but sequencing has been a big issue. Like so many pitchers we see on a regular basis, pitching from the stretch has been a big problem for Kluber. Kluber has a .191/.244/.270 slash against with a 40/8 K/BB ratio with the bases empty. With men on base, those numbers balloon to .310/.368/.536 with a 12/5 K/BB. With RISP, .389/.463/.629 with a 6/4 K/BB. It’s probably mechanical more than anything from the stretch. It may be usage-related. It may be sequencing and bad luck. Whatever the case, it should even out at some point.
Similarly, Clay Buchholz appears to be having some command troubles from the stretch. Six of the eight home runs Buchholz has allowed have come with men on base, which is a really good way to blow up your ERA. In 89 PA with men on, opposing hitters own a .542 SLG. Buchholz isn’t generating many ground balls anymore, which is definitely a problem with his home run rate this season. That’s why he has a 5.42 FIP and a 5.18 xFIP to go with his 6.11 ERA. He’s also walked 20 in 45.2 innings after walking 23 in 113.1 innings last season.
So, you basically have to ask yourself which starter can get it figured out? Or, if neither one of them do, which bullpen do you trust? I’m wary of Kluber as a road favorite in a park like Fenway with how things are going so far, but I’m wary of Buchholz anywhere. Lefties have also blasted Kluber to the tune of a .281/.340/.442 slash so far. We know there are a few decent lefties in the Boston lineup.
If this total closes 9, it will be the first game started by Kluber with a total of 9 since May 14, 2014.
Tampa Bay at Detroit (-115); Total: 8.5
Oddsmakers weren’t quite sure where to put this number, so they let the betting market decide. Some shops opened Tampa Bay a slight favorite and others opened Detroit a slight favorite. Now, the Tigers are favored across the marketplace. Considering Matt Andriese has given up just one run on six hits over 16 innings with an 8/3 K/BB ratio, the move here is not surprising at all. There’s an obvious expectation of regression when your strikeout rate is 14.8 percent and you’ve given up one run in two starts.
On the other hand, Anibal Sanchez isn’t very good. The Rays are quietly a top-10 offense and Sanchez has basically lost everything that used to make him good. He used to thrive on command, but he’s given up 37 home runs in his last 199.2 innings of work. He used to thrive on control, but he’s walked 24 batters in 42.2 innings of work. As his velocity continues to tick down, his usage continues to include more breaking stuff. He’s actually scrapped his changeup, which is weird because that was his best pitch once upon a time.
There’s nothing to like about Sanchez and there probably some regression coming for Andriese. The Tigers are a bit of a mess right now, as Brad Ausmus sits and waits to get fired. The Tigers are still a top-10 offense, so there could be some over value here. I wouldn’t expect Andriese to keep having success with a 92 percent Zone-Contact%.
Washington (-135) at Miami; Total: 8.5
Tanner Roark and Justin Nicolino are the slated starts for Friday’s NL East tilt in South Beach. Roark has been overshadowed by others in the rotation, but he’s been really excellent so far this season. The big thing is the strikeout bump, which is probably a little bit unsustainable, but we have seen guys go to the bullpen and come back better as starters. Roark, quietly, has one of the best changeups in the big leagues so far.
Unfortunately, I’m not buying in. His out-of-zone contact rate is down a lot with the help of that changeup, but he’s throwing just 54.3 percent first-pitch strikes and his swinging strike rate is actually lower than his 2014 rate when he had a 17.3 percent K%. This season, he’s at 21.9 percent. Roark is the second Washington starter to make huge gains with a changeup. The other is Stephen Strasburg. Opposing hitters are batting .080/.148/.080 against Roark’s CH this season with a 17.2 percent whiff rate. This may be something to monitor going forward with this rotation.
Justin Nicolino is maddening to bet on or against. He doesn’t strike anybody out, but manages to bob and weave his way through starts. Nicolino has four strikeouts out of 101 batters. Amazingly, only one of them, Scott Kazmir, was a pitcher. It would only make sense to go against him every time he pitches because he’s so defense-dependent, and yet he has a 3.75 ERA and the team has won two of his four starts.
Roark and the Nationals have to be the side that you look at here.
Seattle (-150) at Cincinnati; Total: 8.5
So, people have taken notice of how awful the Reds pitching staff is. This line opened Seattle -125 or -130 and it has been steamed. I’m not interested in laying this price with Hisashi Iwakuma in Seattle, but I can’t fault anybody that would. Just wanted to make a quick note of this line move. Expect things like this from here on out. Until the Reds pen stabilizes, if it does at all, they’re toxic.
Toronto (-125) at Minnesota; Total: 8
I understand the love for Aaron Sanchez here in this start, but I’m a big Tyler Duffey fan, so I’m conflicted. Sanchez was rocked last time out, which was going to happen because the signs of regression were too strong. Now, things appear to have settled in a little bit. He was a low BABIP guy in the minors, so a .271 BABIP against isn’t that crazy. He’s got a very high ground ball split and his strikeout rate has normalized about where it should be. His 3.29 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 3.51 xFIP all seem pretty reasonable for how he’s pitched so far.
I’m still kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop with his platoon splits, but the Twins don’t have the necessary left-handed hitters to make it happen here. All their best hitters are right-handed and Sanchez has held righties to a .168/.241/.211 slash in 346 PA. He’s given up one home run to a right-handed batter. That’s a stat you’ll want to remember against right-handed-heavy lineups.
Tyler Duffey should have made the Opening Day rotation, but I’m convinced that nobody in Minnesota knows what’s going on. Duffey’s 1.85 ERA will regress back towards his 3.02 FIP and 3.50 xFIP, but it should be a gradual thing. Keep in mind that two earned runs over six innings is a 3.00 ERA, so that’s technically regression. Duffey has 23 K in 24.1 IP with good peripherals and a 17.8 percent K%-BB%. That’s really strong for a middle of the rotation type arm. Like Sanchez, there are some platoon split issues, but, also, like Sanchez, this is a lineup that would have a hard time exploiting those. The Jays are right-handed-heavy from a production standpoint.
I’d expect a low-scoring affair here. This is a good matchup for both of these starters and both guys could work deep into this ballgame.
New York (AL) at Oakland (-125); Total: 8
It screams volumes to me that early money on this game is on CC Sabathia, who is returning from the disabled list, because his opponent is Sonny Gray. Not only is Sabathia returning from the DL, but you have to go back to 2012 for the last time he was a reliable pitcher. His command and control have been non-existent since then. This season, he’s actually suppressed home runs, but he’s issuing more walks and getting fortunate to pitch out of jams.
Sabathia’s velocity is completely gone and his swinging strike rate is at its lowest point ever. I just don’t see how you can back him. Frankly, if you’re worried about Sonny Gray, and we all are, just stay away from this game. Gray’s command hasn’t been good this season, which is very rare for him, but I have a lot more trust in him than Sabathia. Gray will get this thing turned around here soon, or at least he should. He hasn’t been spotting his breaking ball and it seems mechanical. Jeff Sullivan wrote an excellent Fangraphs piece about it 10 days ago. It seems like sequencing + bad luck + bad defense + mechanics + command. There are a lot of pluses in there, but things should gradually return to normal.
Regardless, I’m not touching this game.
Baltimore at Los Angeles (AL) (-125); Total: 8
Mike Wright was uninspiring as a prospect and he’s uninspiring as a Major League starter. He has a career 5.67/5.30/5.14 pitcher slash in his 81 innings with below average peripherals across the board. One would assume that a forgiving park like Angel Stadium could help him, but that’s not exactly a guarantee. He’s given up 13 HR in 81 innings as a MLB pitcher.
He’s a guy. A guy that throws strikes and eats innings for an organization that hasn’t developed a decent MLB pitcher since the Clinton Administration.
As for Hector Santiago, we’re still watching him. Over a three-start span, those early-season ground ball increases tailed off, but then he masterfully worked through the Mariners for eight shutout with a lot of ground balls. He still shows the bad signs that we look for with a 3.42/4.44/4.63 pitcher slash, but he’s continuing to be effective. I still contend that his .250 BABIP against is unsustainable with this ground ball increase. His Zone-Contact% is down 3.4 percent from last season and I expect that to climb as well. I still think he’s a guy that will get some visits from the Regression Monster. They’ll probably come on the road, as they usually do.
I did just realize today that the Angels are actually somewhat close to .500, which is surprising. Maybe I’ve been undervaluing them. Of course, they have won six of seven to get to that point, so I probably just haven’t been paying much attention this week.
There is a little bit of a situational angle in play here. The Orioles have played two road games since April 27. They’ve been at home a lot, so going out on the road may be a little bit problematic for them, particularly with such a long trip and a time change. Based on that, I’d lean Angels here tonight.