Eleven games are on the docket for Thursday around Major League Baseball. Overall, it’s a little bit of a chalky day with several games lined in the -130 and up category. If you can find value on underdogs on days like today, it can be a lot of fun and it can really help your bottom line. Today’s card is kind of interesting because there are some top-tier pitchers on the mound, but also a lot of back-end guys. Let’s dive in and see what kinds of edges we can find.
Peeking back to yesterday, the Red Sox couldn’t muster enough offense in Game 1 to make Steven Wright a winner, even though he tossed a complete game. Though there was no total at time of posting, the Indians and Reds flew over the number, as we expected. Gio Gonzalez’s regression did hold off for at least another start, so the Nationals cashed for us. The Dodgers/Angels game crept over the total, wrapping up a solid night overall.
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 (-145) at Cincinnati; Total: 8.5
This is a really scary ballpark for Josh Tomlin. I’m actually a bit concerned for his stat line today. The Reds are a horrible offense, but they are 16th in SLG despite a .237 batting average. They have hit 43 home runs, which is pretty decent for the collection of names that they are trotting out on a daily basis. They don’t walk, but Tomlin doesn’t walk anybody anyway. Tomlin will have to have excellent command of his cutter and curve and rely heavily on those.
Tim Adleman is a regression candidate with a 3.38 ERA, a 4.59 FIP, and a 4.54 xFIP. Adleman’s arsenal includes some pretty heavy curveball usage around 20.7 percent. The Indians should try to be aggressive early in the count here, but that’s not something that they do with regularity. Only the Minnesota Twins have put fewer first pitches in play than the Indians among AL teams. Adleman has a good swinging strike rate and a great first-pitch strike rate. The Indians may want to jump on that first good fastball because he has okay breaking stuff.
The regression stems from an 84.2 percent LOB% and a strikeout rate around league average. He can’t sustain a strand rate like that. Not many pitchers can. His walk rate is a little bit high as well, though that’s mostly a sample size thing since he isn’t working deep into games.
The Reds are impossible to back in full-game situations right now with the worst bullpen ever built. As much as it pains me to say this, there could be some 1st 5 value on the Reds. I have concerns about their ability to keep showing up at the ballpark engaged, given all of these reliever meltdowns, but they have some guys that can hit for power.
Washington (-115) at New York (NL); Total: 6.5
I’m not quite sure why people are backing Matt Harvey in this start. This appears to be one of those instances where early bettors are simply looking at the ERA-xFIP discrepancy and assuming regression. I’ve cautioned you against this on a daily basis of late because there are no guarantees. Harvey comes in with a 4.93 ERA, a 3.35 FIP, and a 3.77 xFIP. The strikeout rate is down, the walk rate is up, and the biggest story is the command from the stretch.
Harvey has allowed a .341/.383/.529 slash with men on base over 96 plate appearances. He’s already allowed 10 extra-base hits in this split. He allowed 15 extra-base hits with men on all of last season. There’s a mechanical flaw here that Harvey has not been able to figure out. Until he does, he cannot be trusted. There are some signs of regression, like his .373 BABIP against and presumably his strand rate, but I can’t back a guy that can’t get out of jams. You shouldn’t either. The Mets might win. If they do, that’s great. But, Harvey’s command problems from the stretch are too big to overlook.
Does that mean that we fire on Washington? Stephen Strasburg certainly makes a compelling case. The Nationals right-hander owns a 2.95/2.54/2.86 pitcher slash on the year with 65 strikeouts in 55 innings. He’s had command of all of his pitches and his hard-contact rates are down across the board, including line drives and HR/FB%.
There’s a new wrinkle for Strasburg this season and it’s a good one. Strasburg is throwing a very hard slider at almost 89 mph on the season. It may border on being a cutter, but PITCHf/x is classifying it as a slider and he’s throwing it 17.1 percent of the time. It comes at the expense of his curveball, which is just fine. Hitters have had okay success against the slider with a .281 batting average, but they’re also pounding it into the ground.
Is it possible that Strasburg’s SL is helping his other pitches? It very well could be. On 129 changeups, a pitch that Strasburg is using more frequently this season, hitters are batting .023/.045/.023 with a 23.3 percent whiff rate. That’s a 1-for-43 split with one hit-by-pitch.
I’d definitely look at the Nationals here in this one. Take a deep dive into Strasburg’s stuff and you’ll see plenty of evidence on just how good at has been.
Colorado at St. Louis (-130); Total: 7.5
People are starting to take notice of Jon Gray. The Oklahoma product has thrown 28.2 innings this season and has a 4.71 ERA, but a 2.32 FIP and a 2.19 xFIP. His LOB% of 60.9 percent explains the ERA. He’s struck out 36 in 28.2 innings. It’s really unfortunate that he’s in the Rockies organization because his prospect hype status would be a lot higher in a place that actually rewarded pitchers for having good stuff. This start is in St. Louis, so he gets a break.
In road starts, Gray has held the opposition to a .180/.258/.263 slash over 129 plate appearances with a 41/11 K/BB ratio. His home stats are abhorrent, which you would expect from Coors Field. This kid has some serious stuff with four pitches he can throw for strikes in any count and he’s also got premium velocity. He’s doing it this season with a fastball and slider exclusively. He’s shelved the changeup that he threw 17.2 percent of the time last season. His CH/CU usage combines for just 6.6 percent of his pitches thrown. In road starts, he’s absolutely worthy of consideration, including tonight’s.
Michael Wacha was hurt badly by his defense last time out in what was a terrible spot for the Cardinals. They were playing a game after a long extra-inning game on the west coast and looked like it. Wacha has a 3.23/3.64/3.94 pitcher slash on the season, though his walk rate has increased a little bit. This is basically what we’ve come to expect from Wacha. He has a lot of pitchability and can work out of jams to keep that ERA low.
I do see some worrisome trends with Wacha. The fastball velo is down and the rate of contact is up across the board, particularly outside the zone. He’s throwing more cutters now at the expense of his secondaries, which does make some sense given the dominance of the cutter. It could also signal something far worse, since pitchers don’t like curveballs when protecting their arms. I’d watch Wacha closely over the next few starts to see if that velo starts coming around or to watch those contact rates. He’s posting a similar strikeout rate to last season with fewer swings and misses. That may lead to regression.
I’d give the Rockies some consideration here, given how good Gray has been away from Coors.
New York (AL) (-115) at Oakland; Total: 8
I really don’t understand the oddsmakers’ stance on the Yankees. They got too much respect in the series against Arizona and Ivan Nova probably shouldn’t be favored over anybody in the American League. Batted ball luck has been on Nova’s side in his 10.1 innings as a starter with a .242 BABIP against and a 100 percent strand rate. It goes without saying that won’t continue. Lefties own a .229 BABIP against Nova, despite a 72.2 percent ground ball rate, a good amount of hard contact, and a 7.1 percent K%. That sets up for some regression in the very near future.
Maybe I’m the idiot for still liking Kendall Graveman. This season, he’s given up an inordinate amount of home runs for a ground ball pitcher. That may speak to a bigger issue, as Graveman has now allowed 25 HR in 157.1 MLB innings. Graveman has thrown 21 pitches classified as four-seam fastballs this season. Hitters own a .400/.500/1.600 slash. My guess is that these are more “flat cutters” than fastballs. He has a 10.1 percent whiff rate this season, but his K% doesn’t reflect that. He’s actually getting quite a few more swings and misses in the zone. I have to think that starts to pay off at some point.
Here’s why I like Graveman today. He has a .246/.288/.348 in 73 PA at home. On the road, it’s a .296/.385/.722 in 92 PA. That even includes a good start at Yankee Stadium. He’s faced Detroit, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay on the road. We know that O.co Coliseum generally suppresses home runs. I’m content with giving him a shot here against Nova, who has some major regression coming as far as I’m concerned.
Los Angeles (NL) at Los Angeles (AL) (-120); Total: 8
Ross Stripling gets another start here today against the Angels. The Angels will counter with Jhoulys Chacin. Stripling has been pretty decent this season, though a 65.7 percent strand rate has hurt his traditional metrics. His 4.26 ERA and 4.02 xFIP are accompanied by a 3.38 FIP. His low home run rate is the reason for the low FIP. Stripling has allowed some hard contact, particularly with his fastball, which is already four runs below average.
Chacin made his Angels debut and threw seven pretty good innings, scattering five hits, including one that left the yard. Like I’ve said about Chacin in the past, I have no idea what to make of him. He’s a pitch-to-contact righty with a long injury history and a lot of Coors Field data, which skews everything. He’s in the American League for the first time in his career, which is an interesting development. We’ll have to see what that does to his K/BB rates and his other metrics. My guess would be that nothing good comes of it.
I’m staying off of this game tonight, but Chacin is definitely on my radar. If he can be a viable starter for the Angels, he could be a good pitcher to back with a team that has a very low perception. If he isn’t, he’ll fit right in.