MLB handicappers have eight games to pick from tonight and six of them have reasonable prices. Surprisingly, there are no afternoon games, even though those are usually a Thursday hallmark, so we have plenty of time to analyze and break down tonight’s matchups. There are a few numbers that stand out in a pretty big way, so let’s dive right in and get down to business.
Things finally bounced back nicely for us yesterday. The Rangers outlasted the White Sox as Mat Latos’s regression most certainly continued. The Royals/Yankees game flew over the total as Michael Pineda pitched poorly again. Picks from the BangTheBook Radio broadcast on the Cardinals and Mets both came through as well. The Pirates won in a play that was talked about in Tuesday’s article before the postponement, but it wasn’t included in yesterday’s piece, so my apologies for that.
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.
Kansas City at New York (AL) (-135); Total: 8
I’m not a big fan of the Yankees for the season, but I’d be comfortable laying the price here on Thursday night. Regression is coming for Ian Kennedy and Yankee Stadium seems like a pretty good place for that to begin. Kennedy is a guy that we have backed with some success this season, but now the tables have turned. Kennedy has a 2.13 ERA with a 3.61 FIP and a 4.43 xFIP. We’ve seen the strikeout and walk rates go the way we would expect moving back to the AL. It’s the 88.2 percent LOB% that I’m looking at. His 6.7 percent HR/FB% is also going to regress. In Kennedy’s six full seasons as a starter, he’s had a HR/FB% below 10.8 percent just twice. I’m certainly not looking for it to happen in the AL.
We’re starting to see Nate Eovaldi’s potential. His ERA is still high thanks to his hard-contact rate, but his strikeout and walk rates are very exciting. He’s struck out 37 over 37.2 innings of work and his walk rate is down around five percent, which is spectacular. The issue for Eovaldi is a 19.4 percent HR/FB%. But, he gave up four of his six home runs over his first two starts this season. Keep in mind that some stats are influenced by one or two starts, so Eovaldi’s HR “problem” really isn’t one.
The Royals offense has taken a big step back this season and I’m not the least bit surprised. After two years of guys having career seasons, this is more like what we should expect. With the blowout loss yesterday, the Yankees were able to get the bullpen back in order, so everybody should be available tonight. I’m laying it with the pinstripes.
Houston at Boston (-145); Total: 8
What a fascinating game this is. Spoiler alert: No play here. But, if you’re interested in getting better as a handicapper, you should read on. Dallas Keuchel is finding out how baseball is truly a game of adjustments. With a walk rate almost double the one he posted last season and a drop in strikeouts, Keuchel owns a 4.70 ERA. There are some signs of positive regression, namely in his .344 BABIP against. His first-pitch strike rate and his swinging strike rate are basically the same. The biggest difference for Keuchel right now is bad luck. He’s getting less Zone-Contact and hitters are chasing a little bit less, but they are making less contact when they chase.
With RISP, Keuchel has allowed a .326/.462/.561 slash. With the bases empty, it’s .287/.330/.426. So, basically, hitters are putting balls in play are hitting them where they ain’t. Then, they’re taking advantage of what looks like a mechanical problem from the stretch with Keuchel, where he’s not pounding the zone as much. He’s working in too many hitter’s counts, but I see some positive signs here if balls start getting hit at people. I’m not saying I’m buying him against a Boston lineup that is terrorizing pitchers this season, but I think he’s a play-on candidate soon.
David Price is making some mechanical adjustments right now. His fastball velocity is down and his rate of hard contact is through the roof. He’s still striking guys out, but he’s allowed a .373 BABIP and has only stranded 54.2 percent of runners. My guess is that he’s dragging his arm through the windup a little bit from the stretch. That’s where all of his problems are. He has a .258/.305/.337 slash from the windup and a .282/.376/.548 slash from the stretch.
I don’t know what impact his adjustments, which include a higher arm slot and a higher leg lift in an effort to generate more velocity, will have right away. That’s why I’m staying away from this game. I’ll be watching these two over the next few starts, as I think we see some positive regression from both guys.
Philadelphia (-130) at Atlanta; Total: 7
We were fortunate to get bumped off of the Phillies/Braves game because Jhoulys Chacin was traded to Atlanta. That’s a reminder that you should always make sure that you only want your action to count with the pitching probables scheduled to go.
As for today’s tilt, Vincent Velasquez goes against Aaron Blair as the Phillies are big road chalk. The Velasquez hype seems to have leveled off now. After posting a 25/3 K/BB ratio over two starts, Velasquez is now at a more modest 19/8 K/BB ratio over his last 22.1 innings of work. Teams adjust and it happens. The Braves have not seen him yet this season, so there are still some positive elements here for Velasquez. He’s also had an extra day between starts for the first time since April 26, when he had two extra days between starts. That could help him in a pretty big way.
Aaron Blair should be a pretty good middle of the rotation starter one day for the Braves. That day doesn’t seem to be today. Through three starts, Blair has only struck out five of the 65 batters he has faced and has walked nine of them. He’s doing a great job of mixing pitches and inducing weak contact, which is really what he had success with in the upper minors with the Diamondbacks.
Pitch-to-contact guys can be tough to gauge. There’s a lot more volatility there than there is with a strikeout guy like Velasquez. If balls get hit at people, they can have success. Hard-throwers need strikeouts because they usually give up hard contact on pitches that get too much plate.
Obviously I’m not interested in the Braves, because that’s just common sense, but I’m not ready to fire on Velasquez. He should be good here, but Blair has mastered the weak contact thing and that’s worrisome.
San Diego at Milwaukee (-140); Total: 8
When I first saw this line, my initial thought was to run to back San Diego. The Padres shouldn’t be this big of an underdog to Milwaukee. James Shields gave up a home run to Bartolo Colon and that’s the only thing he’s been known for this week, so of course he must be terrible. To be fair, he pretty much has been with the Padres, but I’m not going to fully write him off yet. The Brewers have some power and this isn’t a good environment for Shields, but it’s not like Shields has been awful every time out. He hasn’t given up more than four runs in a start and has worked at least six innings in every one of them.
Jimmy Nelson isn’t exactly lighting it up here either. Like Shields, he has homer-itis and an elevated walk rate. He’s really benefited from a .237 BABIP against to keep his 3.74 ERA from being closer to his 5.14 FIP or 4.22 xFIP or 4.34 SIERA. I don’t see the justification for making Nelson a -140 favorite here.
I’m willing to gamble with the Padres in this spot. I may come to regret it, but the Brewers are a below average offense by wRC+ and I don’t see Nelson and the Brewers living up to this -140 price. Maybe I’m getting suckered in, but Nelson’s lines have been surprising to me all season long.
San Francisco at Arizona (-105); Total: 7.5
Johnny Cueto has been everything the Giants could have asked for. Zack Greinke has joined Shelby Miller as a disappointment for the Diamondbacks. It’s a bit unfair to call Greinke a disappointment. The natural regression of going from Dodger Stadium to Chase Field has impacted a lot of his numbers and the regression of last season’s unsustainable performance is in there as well. Greinke wasn’t going to replicate a .229 BABIP against and his 3.22 xFIP and 3.27 SIERA were better indicators of what to expect as a baseline. Add in Chase Field and you’re looking at a 3.40 or 3.50 ERA. Right now, his SIERA is 3.57 and his xFIP is 3.41, but his ERA is 5.15.
Why? Mostly bad luck and sequencing. Greinke’s K/BB rates are about the same, but his BABIP against is .360 and his strand rate is 67.9 percent. His line drive rate is up a bit, but his hard-contact rate is down. A .360 BABIP shouldn’t hang around long. The days of Greinke being a sub-3.00 ERA guy are over, but he’s definitely not this bad. The Giants haven’t done a whole lot offensively here of late, so maybe this is the start he needs to get back on track.
Cueto has been a bit of a surprise so far this season in that his BABIP against is very high at .324. This is a guy that became an ace in Cincinnati by inducing weak contact. His career BABIP against is .278 and there are some ~.240 seasons in there. Line drives are up a little bit this season, but it seems to be nothing more than variance for Cueto. His velocity is down a little bit, but his first-pitch strike percentage of 72.5 percent has hidden that decrease nicely.
Cueto is a pretty safe bet on a nightly basis. Greinke is not. I see positive regression coming Greinke’s way, so I think there’s some value coming, though I don’t know if it’s there tonight. I’d stay off of this game, but keep an eye on Greinke. He’ll be a candidate to play on over his next few starts if the matchups align.
St. Louis (-140) at Los Angeles (AL); Total: 8.5
This game is just depressing. Adam Wainwright’s skills seem to be eroding and Jered Weaver have already turned into sediment at the bottom of the ocean and have floated away. Every start is a struggle for Wainwright, who hasn’t allowed fewer than three runs in an outing yet this season. The walk rate has finally normalized, but the swings and misses still aren’t there. Wainwright’s location is simply not good enough right now and he hasn’t been able to get out of many jams.
Fortunately, he draws a lifeless Angels team in this start, so that may generate some better feelings. The Angels are probably just waiting for Mike Trout to get injured at this point because everything seems to be going down in flames this season. The Angels do, however, have the lowest BABIP in baseball at .265. One would assume some positive regression coming in that area. The usual range is .290-.310 and that’s where a lot of teams will eventually sit. I’d expect the Angels offense to get it together here soon and have a few games where they look competent.
Jered Weaver’s declining skills are just painful to watch at this point. He’s allowed 19 runs on 43 hits in 34.1 innings and has just 19 strikeouts. He’s still not walking guys, but his .328 BABIP against suggests that hitters are just making solid contact more often than not.
Playing an over 8.5 in Angel Stadium is not a +EV move. In fact, it’s pretty counterintuitive. With the command problems of both of these guys right now and some of that positive regression for the Angels lineup, I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor today.