Some lopsided lines are on the board for Thursday’s MLB action, but a big series begins between the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs that everybody seems to be talking about. That game and others will be discussed in today’s picks and analysis piece, as we look to find some more value than we’ve found the last couple of days. Selectivity is important during the MLB season because it’s just so long. A lot of people abandon baseball once football comes back, so it’s basically just about getting action on a regular basis. That’s why it’s important to be responsible. You definitely don’t want to have to reload for football season because you overstepped during baseball.
The lean on the Angels came through yesterday, but the Orioles were unable to score any runs off of CC Sabathia, which is one of those in-season anomalies that seem to pop up at the worst times. As promised, I did get some eyes on Cesar Vargas and you can hear my thoughts on today’s edition of BangTheBook Radio. I actually got to watch a few of the afternoon contests, so tune in for some thoughts on that and also the Thursday night card.
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.
Detroit at Cleveland (-125); Total: 8.5
There’s actually only one getaway day game today in MLB between the Phillies and the Cardinals. In this one, the Indians are looking for their second consecutive sweep of the Tigers. Michael Fulmer stands in the way of that, although it may be Trevor Bauer that stands more in the way of that.
Fulmer threw five solid innings in his MLB debut against the Minnesota Twins with seven hits scattered over those frames. He struck out four and walked one. Fulmer flashed premium velocity with a four-seamer sitting 96 and a two-seamer sitting 95. His slider had pretty good bite, as four of his 11 swings and misses came on his slider. The Indians have been swinging and missing a ton this season, so this could be a pretty good matchup for Fulmer, even without a viable third pitch.
It’s tough to make a lot of conclusions from Trevor Bauer’s start to the season. He was working in relief until he had to relieve Carlos Carrasco in Detroit when he strained his hamstring. Bauer was pretty good in that outing once he got settled in, but struggled in Philadelphia in his next outing. Bauer has made a concerted effort to pitch to contact this season in an effort to lower that walk rate. He’s given up quite a bit of hard contact, but, again, it’s hard to make many determinations.
He’s become more reliant on his two-seamer, which strikes me as a worry against Detroit. That pitch is probably most effective running back in over the inside corner against lefties. If he can run it up and in to righties, it’ll be a good weapon, but if it leaks out over the middle of the plate, it’s trouble. He’s cut his changeup usage, but that may have just been a byproduct of working out of the pen.
I’m not sure which way to go with this game. I think the value is on Detroit, because Fulmer against the Indians is a better matchup than Bauer against the Tigers. The Indians bullpen did get last night off and Cody Allen’s velocity returned a bit on Tuesday night when he appeared to close out the game. For better or worse, Bauer’s in the rotation until June when Carrasco returns, so he’ll be a guy worth monitoring.
New York (AL) at Baltimore (-110); Total: 7.5
Kevin Gausman favored over Masahiro Tanaka is certainly interesting. That was the opening line at most books, though some Yankees money has trickled into the market. Yesterday’s game looked like a trap line and became one. This one looks like another trap as well, as the books appear to be trying to entice Yankees backers to come in on this one.
UCL worries or not, Tanaka continues to be an excellent starting pitcher. He has elite K/BB rates and a 3.13/3.47/2.97 pitcher slash. Command has been an occasional problem, but that’s not an issue so far this season. Tanaka has increased the use of his splitter this season and his ground ball rate has shot up through his first five starts. That’s a blessing and a curse, because the Yankees aren’t very good defensively around the horn, but you can’t hit a home run on a ground ball. If Tanaka can continue this strikeout rate with this ground ball rate, he’s going to be the brightest spot in a bad season for New York.
Kevin Gausman announced his presence by almost going pitch-for-pitch with Chris Archer on April 25 and he threw the ball okay last time out against Chicago. With Baltimore’s unwillingness to let its pitchers throw cutters, Gausman has decided to increase his slider usage and that’s a good idea. It gives him a third pitch to go with a pretty decent split-change.
I’m not quite sure what to expect here either. I think the line feels trappy, as I mentioned, so my lean would be to Baltimore. But, I’m a big believer in Masahiro Tanaka and his skill set. Unders are dangerous with any AL East interdivision matchup, but that’s the way I’d go here.
Arizona at Miami (-140); Total: 8
Flavor of the month Adam Conley is back on the bump again. Both of these offenses rank in the top five in wOBA against left-handed pitching and Robbie Ray, the starter for Arizona, also throws left-handed. That makes a pretty interesting dynamic in this game. I actually like both starters. The Conley hype train is getting a lot of steam, as both Jeff Sullivan and Eno Sarris of Fangraphs have written about him so far.
Conley is a tough guy to handicap in this start. This is only his second outing of the season at Marlins Park. He’s thrown two outstanding starts, two mediocre starts, and one awful start this season. The unfamiliar lefty angle is in play with both of these guys here tonight. My worry about Conley here is that he has walked four in back-to-back starts. Arizona’s been great at working counts against lefties this season with a 10 percent BB%. I worry about efficiency for him. He got an extra day off after flirting with a no-hitter last time out, but Don Mattingly (correctly) pulled the 25-year-old after he set a career high in pitches. Will there be a hangover?
I’m a believer in Robbie Ray. He always flashed good swing-and-miss stuff with iffy control in the minor leagues. That’s the case this season, as he has 27 strikeouts in 25.1 innings, but also 15 walks. Consistency has not been his strong suit in five starts. He has a .343 BABIP against and has already allowed four home runs in 25.1 innings after allowing nine in 127.2 innings last season. All four came last start against Colorado, though. Remember, that’s why looking at game logs is important.
One thing that does stand out in the small sample size is that he’s been pretty good in pitcher’s parks. His last two starts have been ugly, but he tossed six shutout at AT&T Park and a quality start at Dodger Stadium, despite five walks. He does tend to have more of a fly ball split.
I’m watching both guys closely here. My lean would be to Arizona because the Marlins have won two close games in a row, so their bullpen usage is a little bit more noticeable than Arizona’s, but that’s a very slight lean. I do think the Conley hype is also a little bit out of control, so if the market floods with Marlins money, the Diamondbacks gain value.
Milwaukee at Cincinnati (-115); Total: 9
How bad has Chase Anderson been lately? The Reds are favored with Alfredo Simon on the mound. As a rule, some people will auto-fade Simon as a favorite and I don’t have an issue with that. The guy is positively awful. Chase Anderson hasn’t been must better. After a couple decent outings to open the season, he’s allowed 17 runs in his last 13.1 innings on 28 hits with 6 HR allowed and eight walks. He’s faced Minnesota (on the road), Philadelphia, and Miami in those three starts, so we’re not talking a murderer’s row of hitters. He actually caught Miami in a pretty bad fatigue spot as well.
You can’t go wrong with throwing a few dollars on the over first 5 or over for the game. These are two poor bullpens as well, so a full game over makes some sense.
Washington at Chicago (NL) (-150)
Remember how I told you that the Chicago vs. Pittsburgh series meant nothing? That still holds true. We know the Cubs are good. We also know that the Pirates will be better when they call up Tyler Glasnow. Both of those things were proven in that series. The Cubs are historically good, with the third-best run differential over the first 26 games since 1900. Also, over their last 11 games, they have more runs scored than strikeouts. So, yeah, they’re good.
I’d lay the price here today as well. With a lineup this good, a guy like Joe Ross is limited in his ability to shut them down. Ross is predominantly a two-pitch guy with a fastball and a slider. He does mix in some sink with the straight four-seam, but the Cubs can basically cut the plate in half against a guy like that. Ross is also due for some regression. He has a 0.79 ERA with a 2.89 FIP and a 4.18 xFIP. His .231 BABIP against and 91.3 percent strand rate are not sustainable. His first-pitch strike percentage is 51.7 percent, which isn’t a good idea against a lineup that can hurt you so many different ways.
I really like Kyle Hendricks a lot. He’s completely overshadowed by Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, but all he’s done in his career is post 5.6 fWAR with a 3.49/3.28/3.41 pitcher slash. He gets his fair share of strikeouts and doesn’t issue walks. This season, he’s inducing even more ground balls. There are no flaws in his profile. His fastball velocity is down a little bit this season, so I’ll watch that, but he should have been able to use his time off to build up arm strength. Because of a rainout, he hasn’t started since April 26. That’s the only worry about the Cubs today.
Might as well try and catch the Cubs when they have some kind of line value because that won’t be the norm.
Boston at Chicago (AL) (-105); Total: 9
Henry Owens and Erik Johnson sound like a bad buddy cop duo for a CBS sitcom, but they’re actually Thursday’s starting pitchers. Owens is a stuff guy with no clue how to use it and Johnson is a guy that has gotten by without stuff. It’s pretty uncomfortable to back Owens right now because there’s nothing overly exciting. The pure stuff is good if you can watch a game, but the results, the control, the command, and the sequencing are all lacking polish. He’s basically dependent on his defense to get him out of bad situations.
Erik Johnson was a second-round pick in 2010 and has made 16 MLB starts with a 4.17 ERA, a 5.32 FIP, and a 5.00 xFIP. He’s the rotation replacement for John Danks, which, probably isn’t that much of an upgrade. Johnson has a 4.17 ERA solely because he owns a 76 percent strand rate at the big league level. He’s very fastball-heavy in his usage patterns and a third pitch is basically non-existent.
As ugly as it is to back Owens here, in what probably becomes a battle of the bullpens early, I’m still banking on that Chicago wide-scale regression. Things have been gradually regressing, as the team BABIP against is up to .271 and the strand rate is down to 78.5 percent. Erik Johnson shouldn’t help either of those things.
Seattle at Houston (-110); Total: 9
Are we buying into the positive regression coming Wade Miley’s way? Miley has a 5.06 ERA with a 3.91 FIP and a 3.97 xFIP and that ERA is still high after a complete game shutout of the Royals last time out. His BABIP against is .337 and his strand rate is 67.7 percent. The thing is, Miley’s BABIP against has always been pretty bad and his strand rate without the pitcher hitting looks pretty similar. If you look at his NL vs. AL splits with strand rate, it’s pretty clear that he probably overachieved a bit in the NL.
I just don’t think Wade Miley is that good. I appreciate his ability to eat innings at a league average level and his ERA will gradually come down, but I don’t think it will come down as much as the advanced metrics expect. FIP and xFIP weigh heavily on walk rate and Miley has a very good one this season.
Chris Devenski gets another crack at starting after a decent outing on April 30. He gave up two runs on five hits over five innings, with three walks and four strikeouts. In his start, Devenski went away from his fastball/changeup arsenal and threw more curveballs. I’m not sure that’s a good idea for him. We’ll have to see what happens here in this outing, but it’s in his best interest to use that CH more.
If I had to take this game, I’d lean Miley here. The Mariners bullpen has been used more over the last few days than Houston’s has, so that has to be a consideration. Maybe Miley and the Mariners for the 1st 5 and then let the bullpens decide it on somebody else’s dime.