It could prove to be a tough day to bet on baseball. There are a lot of back-of-the-rotation starters on the mound and some of the game’s top arms are laying big prices. There are 13 games on this Monday and none of them are getaway day games, so at least there’s a lot of time to put together some thoughts and research. Major League Baseball is such a grind and it already feels like the season is two months old, when, in reality, it’s less than a month and a week old. Hopefully you feel like you have advanced as a handicapper through the information here at BangTheBook and the info heard on BangTheBook Radio.
It was not a good Sunday for us, as most of the leans and value sides went down in flames. But, it’s important to learn something from every bet that you make and some of those losses will wind up working out in the long run. The night ended on a positive note with Luis Severino and the Yankees going down. Nothing else really worked out, but we picked up some things to focus on in the future.
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) (-120); Total: 8.5
A lot was made of Kansas City’s pitching staff entering the season, but there’s not enough focus on the offense right now. Mike Moustakas is out and a lot of Royals are really scuffling right now. The idea of Alcides Escobar batting leadoff was unconscionable for me, but it worked because at least three Royals players had career years last season.
Take a look at how they are doing offensively across the board. The Royals are 22nd in wOBA with a .253/.304/.376 slash. Two hitters, Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, are above league average by wRC+. Lorenzo Cain has a .286 wOBA and has hit for no power this season. Alex Gordon is striking out a ton and has an 86 wRC+. Kendrys Morales has been one of the league’s worst hitters. I don’t know if this is regression or a World Series hangover or whatever, but the Royals overachieved in a lot of ways last season and this year’s offensive performance is pretty telling. As a team, the Royals are striking out 19.2 percent of the time. Last season, it was 15.6 percent.
We’ll have to see if these offensive woes continue against Ivan Nova. Nova has been working out of the Yankees pen, but he’ll get a chance to go back into the rotation here for a little bit with CC Sabathia on the DL. Nova wasn’t very effective as a reliever, which is concerning because you’d like to see strikeout rates go up in that role. His velocity was also down in a relief role, which means it will be down even more in a starting role. There are very few positives heading into this start.
Chris Young takes his fly ball act to Yankee Stadium, which could be troublesome. Young has a 5.76 ERA, a 5.74 FIP, and a 4.63 xFIP. His high run metrics are really surprising because his strikeout rate has taken a big jump and his LOB% is still fine. But, even with a massive increase in home runs, hitters have posted a .286 BABIP, 77 points higher than what it was last season. Have hitters finally figured him out? Opposing batters are hitting .370/.473/.935 against his fastball this season. He’s throwing 58 percent sliders to try to compensate. He’s given up at least one home run in every start this season.
Can the Yankees offense get on track here? They should. The Royals offense has a decent matchup as well. I really don’t know what to expect here. My lean would be to the Yankees at this low price, but if this is a game about balls in play and defense, Kansas City has a big edge in that department. It’s a more exciting game than it appears on the surface, but it’s not a great one for betting.
Oakland at Boston (-125); Total: 8.5
The Athletics kind of got the shaft from the schedule makers. They came east for a 10-game, three-city road trip from April 19 to April 28 and didn’t get a day off on that swing. They went home for six against Houston and Seattle and then came right back east again. They got May 5 and 6 off due to a rainout, but had to play two on Saturday and then lost badly on Sunday. They have six more on this nine-game road trip. We’ll have to see at the tail end of it if the A’s start to show some signs of fatigue.
Today’s matchup features Sonny Gray and Clay Buchholz. Are we starting to see some regression from Sonny Gray? There have been some rumblings about whether or not the A’s right-hander could continue to thrive with average walk rates and low BABIPs. This season, strikeouts and walks have both increased in volume and hitters are taking advantage. Also, his home run rate has gone up.
It’s tough to tell if this is a sequencing issue or if Gray’s breaking stuff hasn’t been as sharp. Hitters are only chasing 27.2 percent of pitches outside the zone, 3.6 percent below last season’s pace. He’s also seeing more contact on pitches in the zone. He cut his slider usage in half and has gone with more changeups. Not sure the reason behind that, as his slider was his best secondary offering last season.
But, it’s hard to back Clay Buchholz in any situation. He’s been all over the place to start the year with some ugly peripherals and a major drop in strikeouts. He’s given up five runs in four of his six starts and wasn’t all that impressive in his other two starts. His velocity is down and hitters are not chasing pitches. The fact of the matter is that last season seems like the anomaly. If his batted ball luck and sequencing improve, he can get to league average. If not, the Red Sox won’t wait too long to pull the plug.
I want to believe in Gray. Also, the Red Sox are coming off of a Yankees series and a late game. Plus, the A’s, for all the innings they’ve played lately, haven’t used their key relievers at all. A very, very minor lean to Oakland in hopes that Gray gets it together.
Pittsburgh (-120) at Cincinnati; Total: 9
Tyler Glasnow needs to be in the Pittsburgh rotation. He probably wouldn’t bump Jon Niese, but we’ll see what Niese does here in this outing against the Reds. Cincinnati counters with Dan Straily. It hasn’t been pretty for Niese, who owns a 5.94 ERA, 5.74 FIP, and 4.78 xFIP. He’s given up seven home runs in 33.1 innings of work, which could speak to some issues getting on the same page with his catcher. Of course, it could also speak to Niese being a replacement-level starter. Whatever the case, it hasn’t been pretty.
I prefer to focus on Straily’s starts rather than the whole body of work. So far, he hasn’t been bad. Opposing batters own a .215/.318/.416 slash against Straily in his four starts covering 22 innings of work. Of course, he also owns a 5.30 FIP and a 4.56 xFIP. A .228 BABIP against has been a big help in his starts and it has allowed him to mostly work around an 11.1 percent walk rate.
To his credit, he has battled in his starts. He’s given up one, three, two, and three runs while giving Cincinnati a little bit of length. The Reds bullpen is kind of a mess right now, with a lot of moving parts, and JJ Hoover already DFA’d. They’ve also worked a ton lately. With that, a small lean to Niese and the Pirates, although their bullpen has seen quite a bit of action lately as well.
Chicago (AL) at Texas (-115); Total: 9.5
The trend of bad starters continues with Miguel Gonzalez against Colby Lewis. Gonzalez was bad in a spot start against Toronto on April 25, allowing five runs on 11 hits in 5.1 innings of work. Lewis is doing his usual thing of managing to be terrible, but not letting it hurt his team too much. Lewis has a 3.32 ERA thanks to a 93.1 percent strand rate. He has a 5.34 FIP and a 4.84 xFIP.
Gonzalez was throwing the ball well in Triple-A, but it’s fair to wonder how much that actually means. He is what he is. A guy that eats innings and give up quite a few home runs. That’s not really a ringing endorsement heading to Globe Life Park. Also, that White Sox regression is coming. What they are doing is wildly unsustainable.
With that, I’d go with the Rangers tonight. We’ve seen a little bit of sharp money pop this line around a bit, so the Rangers have gotten some love. Lewis knows how to get by and survive in these conditions. The White Sox are getting incredible pitching and have won games in spite of the offense. I think they’ll need the offense tonight and I doubt it’ll be there. Chicago is 22-10, but 6-0 against Minnesota with a 30-9 run differential.
Cleveland (-120) at Houston; Total: 8
This is a line move that I definitely don’t get, but readers know that I have no stock in Mike Fiers because I sold it all. Corey Kluber takes the hill for the Indians. Cleveland picked up a real gritty win to polish off a very strong 5-1 homestand and their key relievers are coming around a little bit. Bryan Shaw has been great lately and Cody Allen is looking sharper.
Reports of Corey Kluber’s demise were very overblown. His velocity is gradually coming back and he’s starting to mix in a changeup, which is unfair. He already had two plus pitches in the cutter/slider/slutter and the curve. Now he’s adding some depth with a changeup. The Astros don’t fare real well with swing-and-miss guys and that’s exactly what Kluber is. Also, Kluber has finally gotten some BABIP luck over the last season and a half after dealing with awful defenses in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
The only thing I like about Fiers in this start is that he throws a lot of high fastballs and the Indians have had plenty of trouble with those. The market is coming in on Fiers because he has a 5.35/4.97/3.40 pitcher slash and we know that big ERA-xFIP discrepancies get everybody all excited. I simply think that hitters have adjusted. Remember when I showed Fiers’s home/road splits prior to his last start. Miller Park was a good yard for hitters. Minute Maid Park is the same way. His pitching style doesn’t lend itself to pitching in good home run parks. Add in a DH and this is what you get.
The Indians may lose, but there’s value on them at this number. With Michael Brantley back and Carlos Santana batting leadoff, the 1 through 6 in this lineup is pretty spectacular and Kluber is throwing the ball very well right now.
New York (NL) (-110) at Los Angeles; Total: 7
Now healthy, and not being misused by Terry Collins, Steven Matz is showcasing his true talent. The Mets left-hander has been brilliant this season with a 2.83 ERA, 2.37 FIP, and 2.79 xFIP. Matz has over a strikeout per inning and none of his peripherals suggest major regression. His BABIP against is .333 and his strand rate is 78 percent. Even if both regress a bit, they should cancel each other out. His strikeout rate could see some regression with a low swinging strike rate, but his swinging strike rate should go up as his chase rate normalizes. Basically, all of the red flags that Matz is showing are counterbalanced by something else.
Scott Kazmir has had good stuff his last two times out. He had a thumb issue late in Spring Training and that led to a bit of an uncomfortable start to the season. He gave up four runs on seven hits in his last start, but he has a 15/2 K/BB ratio over his last 12.2 innings of work. He’s walked one batter or less in five of his six starts this season. The stuff has been there. The BABIP luck has been hit or miss.
My lone worry here about the Dodgers is that they are coming back from Toronto with a tired bullpen. Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen have worked two straight days and Chris Hatcher threw 22 pitches yesterday. It’s not in dire straits by any means, but the first home game back off a road trip can be a tough spot and Kazmir, while pitching well, often deals with a lot of foul balls that run up his pitch count.
My lean in this spot is actually on the Mets because Matz has been so tremendous and this is a very good park for him to pitch in. The Mets have also been better against left-handed pitching this season, so I trust them a bit more given the matchup.