It should be a pretty interesting slate of Hump Day baseball. There are actually 16 games on the slate today because of a day/night double dip at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The odds are all over the place today, with a lot of “money line pick ‘em” situations, some medium-sized favorites, and some very big favorites. We’ll try to sort it all out for you here in today’s picks and analysis article.
Looking back at yesterday’s results, it was a strange day and not much of it worked out in our favor. The Astros won in extras and the Khris Davis show pushed the Oakland game over the total in what became a homer-happy slugfest. Rick Porcello struggled for the Red Sox. But, we got winners on Arizona and the Seattle lean. So, a mixed bag, but an odd night with a lot of runs and a couple of early blowouts.
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.
Boston at Kansas City (-105); Total: 8
Those of you sitting in your cubicles probably want some daytime action, so we’ll give some time to Game 1 of the double dip in KC. Steven Wright takes the mound against Ian Kennedy. Playing doubleheaders is not easy because you never know a team’s mindset or what the lineup will look like. My uneducated guess is that it sucks to face a knuckleballer in Game 1, so the Royals may not put their best foot forward today.
Switch hitter Omar Vizquel used to bat right-handed against knuckleballers because he felt that he was able to pick up the ball better. That’s something that has always stuck with me. If you look at the splits for Steven Wright, nobody’s having a lot of success, but lefties are batting .188/.278/.281 compared to righties batting .216/.304/.284. Righties had a lot more SLG success last season. That concerns me a little bit here for the Royals, since a lot of their production generally comes from the left side. With Mike Moustakas out, there’s another right-handed stick in the lineup, but that’s a subpar offensive player, whether it’s Cheslor Cuthbert or Christian Colon.
On the Ian Kennedy side, regression is still coming for the right-hander. We backed him at the outset, but now the value is to go against the 31-year-old. Kennedy has a 3.25 ERA with a 4.37 FIP and a 4.68 xFIP. His .243 BABIP against is not sustainable, nor is his 83 percent LOB%. The Red Sox are a very good lineup capable of expediting this regression process. Kennedy also has some reverse splits this season that are a little bit surprising. Normally lefties post pretty good slugging numbers against him. That’s not the case this season. With regression coming in that regard, I’m definitely looking Boston in Game 1.
Seattle at Baltimore (-115); Total: 8
The line move in today’s Seattle vs. Baltimore game isn’t surprising at all. Taijuan Walker has been terrific this season. So has Chris Tillman, but Tillman shows that ERA-xFIP discrepancy that induces betting action. The stuff wasn’t as sharp for Walker his last time out, which we expected because he was coming off of some neck spasms. He gave up four runs on five hits, but did strike out nine in 5.2 innings of work.
I feel like Chris Iannetta has been a huge help for Walker. The Mariners haven’t had a great stable of catchers over the last few seasons and Iannetta is one of the best framers and a strong veteran presence. One of the first things that Jerry Dipoto did when he took over the GM gig with Seattle was bring in Iannetta. I think Walker has been the biggest benefactor. His 2.63/3.11/3.03 pitcher slash doesn’t show any real big signs of regression, so that’s part of the reason why he’s getting attention today.
The other part is Chris Tillman. I talked about some of Tillman’s upgrades this season, as he increased the use of his slider/cutter, depending on which classification system you use (BIS or PITCHf/x). If the Orioles knew it was classified as a cutter, he’d probably be instructed to stop throwing it. That pitch has been a big separator. Tillman’s whiff rate is up 3.5 percent from last season and he’s getting a lot less contact on the pitches in the zone.
Those early velocity gains have tailed off a little bit. It didn’t hurt him against the Tigers, but it could hurt him here. Traditionally, Tillman has reverse platoon splits, but this increased slider usage has neutralized righties. The Mariners bring a lot of lefties and lefties have a .317 wOBA compared to a .239 wOBA for righties in the small sample sizes this season.
I’ve bought in with Tillman and he’s cashed a few tickets for us this season. In this start, I’m not so sure. The value is probably gone on Seattle with the line move on Walker, but I’ll be watching this game closely.
Tampa Bay at Toronto (-120); Total: 8.5
I give up on trying to figure out both of these teams, to be honest. The Blue Jays had one of the top rotation ERAs over a couple-week span and then JA Happ and Marcus Stroman both struggled against the Rays to open up this series. Jake Odorizzi hasn’t taken the steps forward that I hoped he would. His command profile is pretty concerning this season. His strikeout rate is down, but his .305 BABIP and 10.3 percent HR/FB% are not good trends. He’s a guy that should thrive on low BABIPs with a high fly ball rate, but that hasn’t been the case thus far. To be fair, his HR rate ballooned after allowing three last start against Oakland, so it’s not time to panic about that.
He’s been good in his two starts against Toronto, with two earned allowed over 12.2 innings, 16 strikeouts against four walks, and just six hits allowed. That’s probably the biggest reason for this line move. It’s a small sample, so I’m not getting overly excited, but the Blue Jays offense is continuing to struggle. What worries me about Odorizzi the most is that he’s only struck out 26 in his last 39 innings. Consistency seems to be a big issue.
Speaking of consistency issues, RA Dickey is like a knuckleball version of Ubaldo Jimenez. You have a better chance of guessing the Powerball numbers than figuring outw what to expect from Dickey. His last three starts have all been pretty good. His others vary from “meh” to *shrug*. I don’t know what to think about Dickey. I’ll pass on this one, but I feel like this is a pretty important start for Odorizzi.
Cleveland at Cincinnati
At time of post, no line was available for this game. As always, when there are new starters, I like to give you a little bit of a crash course on what to expect. Mike Clevinger brings some plus-plus flow to the mound for the Indians here tonight against Brandon Finnegan and the Reds. Clevinger has a really interesting arsenal, but this is not an ideal spot for the right-hander. His wife gave birth a couple weeks ago and now he’s getting called up to The Show. The Jacksonville native will have plenty of friends and family on hand for this one.
Clevinger was a lottery ticket that the Indians scratched off in the Vinnie Pestano trade with the Angels. He’s got four pitches that he can command for strikes and a fastball that runs up in the mid-90s. His slider has a plus ceiling and his changeup has enough to be a viable third pitch. Tommy John stunted his development and he has shown control problems throughout his MiLB career. But, he has good command, so he’s been able to work around it. Clevinger has a Major League future, probably near the back end of the rotation. This is a good start in terms of matchup, since the Reds don’t have a ton of guys that can hurt him. In terms of situation, it’s dicey.
The Indians have pummeled the Reds with 28 runs in two games this week and they’ve torched everybody from starters to relievers. The task for Brandon Finnegan is not easy. We’ll have to see what the number comes out, but runs would make some sense tonight. Unfortunately, you’ll probably have to pay the over 9 price.
Washington at New York (NL) (-105); Total: 7.5
The Nationals and Mets will play a pretty interesting one here today. Gio Gonzalez takes on power hitter Bartolo Colon. Once again, I’m looking for regression from Gio Gonzalez. The southpaw owns a 1.93 ERA with a 2.99 FIP and a 4.14 xFIP. As I talked about on Tuesday’s BangTheBook Radio, regression is a certainty with low ERA, high xFIP guys. It’s not always the case with high ERA, low xFIP guys. I do like Gonzalez in a general sense. He’s actually lowered his HR/FB% each of the last two seasons and so far this season, so maybe he’s just commanding better. He’s always had elite command with low HR rates. He’s pitching to contact more this season with a lower K rate and a lower BB rate. Is that sustainable? It certainly could be, but if it is, I doubt a .262 BABIP against is.
For Gonzalez, some batted ball data has me worried. His hard-hit rate of 32 percent is the highest of his career. To be fair, a lot of those hard-hit balls have been grounders, but that’s another reason why the .262 BABIP is unsustainable. Another reason is that Gio is enjoying the spoils of a 17 percent IFFB%. His career average is 8.8 percent. Once that normalizes, that BABIP is going up and so is his ERA.
Bartolo Colon is what he is and if you can bet on him in the first half, you’re better off. The 42-year-old turns 43 next week and his second halves have been a bit disappointing over the last couple of seasons. He just goes out there and throws a ton of fastballs with impeccable control and hopes that they aren’t hit out of the ballpark. It’s incredible what he’s been able to do.
My biggest worry in this start is that the Mets aren’t very good against southpaws. Lefties neutralize guys like Michael Conforto and that’s problematic because there’s not a ton of great offensive pieces here. My lean is to the Nationals because of that. I know there’s regression coming for Gio Gonzalez, but I’ll wait for it until he draws a tougher assignment.
Los Angeles (NL) vs. Los Angeles (AL) (-115); Total: 8
Mike Bolsinger returns from an oblique injury to make his first MLB start of 2016. He worked eight innings at the Triple-A level on a rehab assignment and now toes the rubber at Angel Stadium. He’ll be opposed by Nick Tropeano.
Bolsinger was a fun arm last season as a guy that was a bit of an overlooked commodity. He posted a 3.62/3.91/3.82 pitcher slash over 109.1 innings, which will definitely play. He showed some good strikeout upside, carrying over his MiLB rates to the big leagues. He’s also a pretty extreme ground ball guy. The worry here, as you would expect, is his long layoff. Bolsinger was hurt in Spring Training and made two starts. His arm can’t possibly be where it needs to be in mid-May. It’s like going through Spring Training all over again. We saw Ian Kennedy have to do something similar last year for a two-week hamstring injury and he was terrible for several starts after that.
Nick Tropeano is a guy to keep on your radar. He’s an extreme fly ball guy in a great park to be one. He’s also struck out over a batter per inning over his last 74.1 big league frames. That’ll play. This season, however, the command and control have been pretty disastrous. BangTheBook Radio listener and Twitter follower Eric Cross mentioned to me last week that Tropeano was having issues from the stretch against the Mariners. It makes sense. He has a 16/10 K/BB ratio in 70 PA with four home runs allowed with men on. From the windup, Tropeano has allowed a .333/.402/.563 slash. It seems that Tropeano has benefited from some batted ball luck in med- and high-leverage plate appearances. He has a .180 BABIP against with men on and an .083 BABIP with RISP.
If he’s going to have issues from the stretch, these bases empty numbers from the windup are really concerning. I’d look for some runs tonight, even from the terrible Anaheim offense. It’s hard to expect Bolsinger to be sharp given the layoff and Tropeano seems to be working on some mechanical issues of his own. Also, the Dodgers are better-equipped than most NL teams to add an extra hitter to the lineup, which is a consideration in their interleague games.