Now that off days are behind us for this week, we’ll take a look at a Friday slate filled with excellent pitchers. There are a lot of reasonable lines today because the list of pitchers and some of these pitching matchups are all kinds of fun. The guys in action today include, but are not limited to, Max Scherzer, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Marcus Stroman, Cole Hamels, Vincent Velasquez, Zack Greinke, Danny Salazar, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Martinez, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Archer, and Noah Syndergaard. Oh, and there are also guys like John Lackey, Jordan Zimmermann, Yordano Ventura, and Drew Pomeranz.
It’s a very big day for pitching to say the least. As for yesterday, the Tigers lean was an epic fail, but the Orioles/Yankees under came in nice and easy, as did the over for Reds/Brewers. The Reds also got the 1st 5 over by themselves. The big price on the Cubs was a winner and so was the small price on the Boston Red Sox. Seattle was a winner, though the 1st 5 was a push. The Astros bullpen continues to be a mess. All in all, it was a really solid day for us on the diamond, even with Arizona failing to score against Miami.
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.
Washington at Chicago (NL) (-105); Total: N/A
With the early start, I won’t go too in-depth on this game, but Max Scherzer has been battling his mechanics a little bit here this season. He has the stuff and velocity to dominate any lineup, but it has been a little bit of a struggle for him this season. Of course, “struggling” for Max Scherzer is a strikeout per inning and a 3.55 ERA and a 3.64 xFIP.
If the mechanical change he made for Sunday’s start is something he can do consistently, about the only way you beat the Cubs is with a dominant starter. I won’t have a play on this game, but this is a big start for Scherzer.
Oakland at Baltimore (-110); Total: 8
I hope this game is being billed as a matchup of two former Cleveland Indians! When it comes to baseball for me, I have a hard time just enjoying the moment. I’m always thinking a pitch or two ahead. That’s why it’s hard for me to simply sit back and appreciate what Rich Hill is doing. Like most people, I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, here he is, still striking out over 30 percent of batters with an excellent GB%.
One thing I have a problem with for Oakland in this game is that their offensive philosophy has changed quite a bit. They’re not walking anymore. They’re trying to copycat the Royals’ contact-based approach. Oakland has only walked in 6.4 percent of its plate appearances. The way to beat Ubaldo Jimenez is to draw walks. Balls in play are iffy. This season, Jimenez’s command has been terrible, so perhaps that benefits Oakland’s new-look offense. Usually, though, Jimenez does well to post low batting averages against. His career BABIP is .295, but his career batting average against is .240.
I’m befuddled by this game. I think the line is pretty accurate and the A’s have been playing some pretty decent baseball this season. I want to lean Baltimore because part of me still can’t believe Rich Hill is real and the A’s don’t walk enough anymore. But, maybe I’m the idiot for not believing in Rich Hill.
Boston at New York (AL) (-110); Total: 7.5
Sign me up for the Red Sox here in this game. The total is perplexing, but I’m also way out on Michael Pineda. Pineda has impressive K/BB rates, but his command is terrible. He has now allowed 211 hits and 28 HR over his last 187.2 innings of work. Yes, he’s struck out nearly a batter per inning, but that’s the only reason his ERA hasn’t been worse. His advanced metrics are very good because he’s a high-K, low-BB guy, but the positive ERA regression suggested by xFIP/SIERA implies a reasonable level of command. Michael Pineda has no command.
His hard-contact rate is 34 percent so far this season and he hasn’t induced a single pop up. Sure, New York’s bad defense hasn’t helped the last two seasons, but it’s also part of the job description to throw good pitches. Pineda doesn’t throw enough good pitches. This is the second time in a week that Boston will be facing Pineda, so they should not be surprised by anything. The best offense in baseball by wRC+ belongs to the Boston Red Sox.
Rick Porcello was a bounce back candidate entering the season and he has clearly bounced back. For the Red Sox to do anything this season, Porcello needed to improve. He has in a big way. He’s already 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA and his K and BB rates are outstanding. Regression is coming for him, though, with a .241 BABIP against and a 88 percent LOB%.
It’ll happen, but I like what I’ve seen. He’s gone back to the sinker/changeup mix that gave him success later in his tenure with Detroit. He abandoned that a little bit last season and it didn’t help him at all. His velocity is down a little bit, but he’s clearly okay with commanding a two-seamer with more movement because it’s taking more time to get into the hitting area.
I like the Red Sox here and I also like the over. While I’m enjoying Porcello’s positive regression, he allows a ton of contact and throws a lot of strikes. The Yankees are 28th in offensive BABIP, so some positive regression will come their way soon. The stronger of the two plays for me is the Red Sox, but catching a 7.5 at reasonable juice would be a solid over play.
Los Angeles (NL) at Toronto (-150); Total: 8
Look at that inflation! Toronto scored 12 runs on Thursday night and all of the sudden they’re back! When we see a team with big preseason expectations struggle out of the gate and then win four of six or five of seven, oddsmakers are just dying to adjust their numbers.
I will say this: Kenta Maeda has some regression coming. The Japanese right-hander has a 1.41/2.80/3.48 pitcher slash and he’s going to face an AL team with a DH. His strand rate is 92.2 percent and his BABIP is .253. I’m not so much worried about the BABIP because pitchers with arsenals and deception like Maeda can sustain that for a little while. Some regression came against Miami and some more could come here. But, also, this is the first time Toronto has seen him and it may take that free-swinging lineup a little bit of time to get acclimated to what he has to offer.
I’m a big Marcus Stroman fan. I love the makeup. I love the two-seamer. I love the weak contact. Stroman has a strange set of numbers so far. He’s 4-0 with a 3.77/3.82/3.91 pitcher slash, but he’s not missing a whole lot of bats. He has a .208 BABIP against, but only a 65.9 percent strand rate.
Ah, but we find a major mechanical flaw! With the bases empty, Stroman has a 22/1 K/BB ratio. With men on base, it drops to a 6/10 K/BB ratio. With RISP, it’s a 2/7 K/BB ratio. We’ll have to keep an eye out for this. Pitching from behind in the count in high-leverage plate appearances rarely works out.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I think this line is high. The Dodgers aren’t exactly playing well right now, but I’m not ready to say that the Blue Jays are back. Adding an extra bat to the lineup should probably help the Dodgers because they can focus on putting a better defensive lineup out there. I definitely lean LAD here.
Texas at Detroit (-135); Total: 8
It appears that the segments of the market that chase regression are bringing pitchforks at Jordan Zimmermann. The new Tiger had a great month of April in the AL, but that hardly tells the whole story. We usually see pitchers decline by about 10 percent when they go from the NL to the AL. Zimmermann, to his credit, has done a good job of sequencing. He has a 0.55/2.72/4.05 pitcher slash this season over five starts. He’s not walking people, which is good, but his strikeout rate is down 2.3 percent, which is bad. He has a .267 BABIP against, well below his career .292, and his 92.3 percent strand rate is very unsustainable without elite-level strikeout stuff, the Royals outfield defense, and an infield of Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, Roberto Alomar, and Albert Pujols in his prime.
The idea that regression is coming for Zimmermann seems to have blinded people a little bit to the fact that Cole Hamels hasn’t been very good and also hasn’t been healthy. A groin issue has been bothering him and it has affected everything. His Zone% is down. His first-pitch strike percentage is the worst of his career. His command and control have been subpar. He didn’t pitch well in his return start and I’m not sure how I could back him in this spot.
But, the over looks like a great play here. The Tigers lineup will have a lot of righty/lefty matchups and Zimmermann has regression coming.
Seattle (-110) at Houston; Total: 8.5
Outside of some HR/FB% regression, what Taijuan Walker is doing so far this season has some sustainability to it. He won’t maintain a walk rate this low, but he’s pounding the zone with all of his pitches and he’s mixing so well. I think having a legitimate Major League catcher like Chris Iannetta has been a huge help to him. The worry about Walker is that we’ve seen him go through stretches like this before and then hang an 8.00 ERA over five or six starts.
Doug Fister is still a guy that I have no interest in backing. Fister has a low strikeout rate, a poor walk rate for a guy that can’t miss bats, and a 77.1 percent strand rate to go along with a .269 BABIP. None of these are good things in my handicapping process. He has a 4.60 ERA, but it could be worse. To be fair, his BABIP is a little bit low because home runs don’t count and he has already allowed five. But, that’s not a good thing either.
After yet another Houston bullpen meltdown, I have to look Seattle here tonight. There are some worries about Walker because he’s inconsistent, but they are quelled by just how awful Doug Fister is in my mind.
Pittsburgh at St. Louis (-130); Total: 7
I can’t help but think that this line should be a few cents bigger. Was Francisco Liriano’s 6.2 quality innings against the Reds a sign that he’s fixed, or just a sign that the Reds aren’t very good? Pitcher whisperer Ray Searage has been working with Liriano on his mechanics after he issued 17 walks in his first 21.1 innings of the season. I’m not convinced yet that he’s fixed.
In terms of pitcher vs. team stats, they’re rarely big enough to be suggestive, and pitcher vs. batter stats don’t mean anything. Liriano has faced St. Louis a lot. He dominated them in his first start with 10 strikeouts over six shutout innings. (Don’t ignore the five walks and the 100 percent strand rate!) He struggled against them in 2015, but was good in 2013 and 2014. People put a lot of stock into those things, even though teams change, pitchers change, and variables change.
Carlos Martinez has had an interesting start to the season. He was the subject of a domestic assault allegation that MLB decided not to investigate. He also had some control problems prior to his last start. I’m a big believer in him. I think the stuff is excellent and I like the ground ball stuff. His swinging strike rate is down a little bit, but his rate of contact in the zone is also down, so that’s a good thing. Hitters will eventually swing and miss more outside the zone.
I’m looking at the Cardinals here. I know Liriano has had some success against them, but I’m not convinced that he’s fixed. There’s also some offensive regression coming for the Pirates, who are enjoying the spoils of a .336 BABIP and one of the league’s best walk rates.