Eight games are on tap tonight for the Major League Baseball slate and we have a few reasonable lines to check out. It’s always nice to start a new week and to see how things shake out with some new series matchups. We’re reaching that 40-game point, where evaluators and teams start to assess how things have gone, where things might end up, and what the plan is going forward. Sample sizes continue to push towards significance for hitters and pitchers, so there may not be as many surprises going forward.
As usual, we took it easy on Sunday. Tampa Bay’s bullpen failure hurt our handicapping of Sonny Gray, who struggled yet again. The Twins cashed as a nice underdog. The under came through in Miami/Washington, but Cesar Vargas couldn’t get enough run support as both teams failed to take advantage of some RISP situations. The lean on the Rockies came in, but deGrom pitched pretty well, so that’s a good sign moving forward.
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.
Cincinnati at Cleveland (-155); Total: 8.5
Once again, the Indians are overpriced. Cody Anderson has really struggled in his big league career, with a 4.67 FIP and a 4.51 xFIP. This season, he’s been one of the least valuable pitchers in baseball. There has been some bad luck in there, as Anderson has given up 23 runs on 42 hits in just 28.1 innings with eight HR allowed. His BABIP against is still .358 with all those home runs, so there should be some positive regression across the board. However, who knows when that will actually come. The stuff just isn’t Major League-caliber.
John Lamb’s velocity is way down this season and that’s why he hasn’t been able to replicate last season’s strikeout rate. There may be an underlying injury here with a big drop in Zone% and velocity, so I’m not firing on Lamb today, but this price is too high. The unfamiliar lefty angle is in play and Lamb has swing-and-miss stuff. The Indians have swung and missed a lot. They’ve also been terrible against lefties, even though additions like Mike Napoli, Marlon Byrd, Juan Uribe, and Rajai Davis were supposed to combat that. The Indians are 26th in wOBA against LHP.
As an Indians fan, I’ll keep watching closely, obviously, but there are some really negative trends forming about the effort level of this team during day games. I’m not sure what it is, but they don’t seem to have a whole lot of energy. I’m expecting a bounce back game tonight, which is another reason not to fire, but they really have me perplexed this season.
Boston (-130) at Kansas City; Total: 8
Overshadowed by the dominance of the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox are playing exceptionally well this season. They have already scored 103 runs in the month of May and nobody comes close to their offensive performance over the last couple of weeks. Rick Porcello takes the hill for this one against Yordano Ventura and the Royals.
Porcello entered the season as a bounce back candidate after a strong second half in 2015 and some advanced metrics that were better than his traditional stats. So far, Porcello has been excellent. The strikeouts have climbed and the walk rate has stayed the same. His .250 BABIP against is probably in line for a little bit of regression and his strand rate will inch down as well, but he’s throwing the ball really well and mixing his pitches. A vastly improved changeup has been a big key to this season’s success.
On the other side, Yordano Ventura is a mechanical mess. He’s walked more than he has struck out in 37 innings of work, so that has overshadowed his low BABIP and really soft contact. Ventura’s 13.3 percent line drive rate is exceptional and his hard-contact rate of 26.3 percent is right in line with his career average. But, he’s walked 16.6 percent of batters faced. He’s gone with a lot of changeups this year, which is very interesting because it has come at the expense of his fastball usage. He’s throwing the curve just as much. His fastball velocity is down a bit and his command of that pitch has been poor.
Will Boston be patient enough to force him to throw that straight fastball in the mid-90s? If so, they’ll win this game and do so convincingly. If not, Ventura can have some success with weak contact. The value is gone, since this line has basically moved 20 cents, but Boston has to be the only option if you must play it.
Miami (-130) at Philadelphia; Total: 7.5
Another very big mover here today as Adam Conley went from a -105 “pick ‘em” to a -130 favorite. The betting market seems to be out on Jerad Eickhoff, who started well and has bottomed out here of late. Conley allowed four earned runs over his first 19 innings this season and has now allowed 16 earned runs over his last 21.2 innings of work. He also had 21 K over those first three starts. He has 15 over his last four.
It is a little bit rare to see the market come in against a guy with a 4.43 ERA and a 3.59 xFIP. Eickhoff has great K/BB rates and a decent HR rate. His 65.9 percent strand rate is his biggest problem.
The Phillies come into this game 27th in wOBA against LHP, which is probably part of the reason behind the move on the Marlins with Conley on the hill. Conley has been somewhat of a feast or famine pitcher this season. He’s given up zero runs in three starts, four runs in three starts, and three runs in one inning in his 2016 debut. He has averaged over a strikeout per inning and the Phillies have struck out a lot against LHP this season.
I understand the move. I think it’s gotten a little bit too high now, so buying Philly at the line’s peak would be getting the best number, but people are starting to look at the Phillies for regression on a daily basis. The Phillies are 22-16 with a 15-23 Pythagorean win-loss record. They are -30 in run differential, but 14-3 in one-run games. It’s all going to fall apart sooner rather than later. They’ve lost by five runs six times and own a -42 run differential in those games. We are probably going to see money come in against them on a daily basis with this regression coming.
Tampa Bay at Toronto (-120); Total: 8
Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays hope to have a puncher’s chance against Drew Smyly and the Rays today. Smyly is coming off of a surprisingly bad start against the Mariners, a lineup that he should have handled with relative ease. But, there was a little bit of regression in the metrics and hopefully that’s the last of it. He has a .248 BABIP against, but a lot of that has to do with a high fly ball rate and a high home run rate. If things stay the same, he can sustain a low BABIP. He’s striking out well over a batter per inning and his walk rate is excellent. It’s just those home runs that are hurting him.
JA Happ has been quite a surprise with his 2.05 ERA. His 3.90 FIP and 4.35 xFIP suggest regression on the horizon and that’s not a surprise to anybody. Happ isn’t missing many bats and he has an 89.9 percent strand rate. Sequencing is a pitcher’s best friend. Those balls hit right at people with RISP are a godsend. Happ’s had plenty of those. I’ll be looking for some hard times for Happ very soon, but probably not today.
The Rays just came back from the west coast, hosted Oakland, and then hit the road again. They’ve played some close games lately, so the relievers have been very busy. The incident in Texas may be what the Toronto lineup needed to get fired up. I’m scared of when Happ’s regression will hit. The Rays are a decent offense against LHP, so it could be today. I’d possibly consider the over here.
Tune in to today’s edition of BangTheBook Radio for in-depth thoughts and analysis on the Yankees vs. Diamondbacks and the Rangers vs. Athletics.