A new week of baseball begins with 10 games on Monday night. There are a lot of lines hovering in the -115 range, so it’s going to be an interesting night with what appears to be a lot of coin flip games. There are a few games with some lopsided lines. Now that we are into May, fans and oddsmakers are really to make a lot of conclusions about teams based off of about 25 games worth of action. Usually the benchmark is 40 games, so it’s a good time to reevaluate how teams have done to this point and see how you feel about them. Most individual stats have not reached points of significance yet, so keep that in mind as well.
We had a very light card yesterday, but the Rockies came through in the only game that was a concrete pick. Leans were a mixed bag, as the Phillies won again and the Nationals swept the Cardinals, but the Mariners lost. Hopefully there are some better options today.
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.
Chicago (NL) at Pittsburgh (-115); Total: 7
This is the type of series that will draw a ton of buzz that it probably doesn’t deserve. There’s nothing to be learned from this early May matchup between the Cubs and the Pirates. We know that the Cubs are the best team in baseball and we know that the Pirates are once again silencing the critics. The first game of the series is on ESPN, so we know that the hype machine will be in full swing.
On Monday night, the Cubs will send Jason Hammel to the mound. Once again, Hammel is off to an excellent start. In the first half of 2014, Hammel hung a 3.01 ERA with 107 K in 113.2 innings, while opposing batters hit .223/.277/.360. In the first half of 2015, Hammel posted a 2.86 ERA over 103.2 innings with 105 K and a .206/.251/.361 slash against. Don’t look at the second halves because they were hideous. So far this season, opposing hitters own a .193/.283/.268 slash and Hammel has 22 K in 24 IP.
When you have a 0.75 ERA, there are always signs of regression present. His strand rate of 92.3 percent is unsustainable and his .262 BABIP is as well. The velocity is down a tick, but the other plate discipline metrics are mostly in range. He’s worked exactly six innings in every start and has faced Cincinnati twice, which certainly helps the bottom line. He’s sequenced well and has helped himself out by posting a 13 percent IFFB%. Pop ups are basically strikeouts, which helps the strand rate. Obviously regression will hit at some point, but his command has been terrific to this point.
Gerrit Cole is still building velocity, but there are some early-season developments that I don’t like. His contact rate is up quite a bit and he’s not getting swings and misses in the zone. After posting zone-contact rates of 88.2 and 88.3 percent over his first three seasons, his zone-contact% is 94.7 percent this year.
I’m curious to see if Cole starts to make adjustments. Maybe he couldn’t get a feel for the slider on the road and abandoned it. He didn’t throw it much in his last start in Colorado, focusing solely on fastballs. I think we see the slider more tonight. But, it’s a feel pitch, and it could hang in the middle of the plate a bit too much. He worked in a lot of changeups to the Reds in his first start and has gone back to more traditional usage.
I’d very slightly lean to Chicago here. I love Gerrit Cole, but he’s not the same Gerrit Cole that he will be later this season. I think he’s doing some experimenting early in the season, which is fine, but it’s not something I want to get involved with.
Texas at Toronto (-135); Total: 9
AJ Griffin is such a great story, but I wouldn’t want to touch him here today. He’s done a great job of inducing weak aerial contact, but Rogers Centre is a great park for power hitters and Griffin does have the possibility to give up several home runs, as evidenced by his 4.80 xFIP. Per PITCHf/x, Griffin’s chase rate is just 19.5 percent. That’s not going to play when you can’t throw the ball past anybody.
But, it’s hardly cut-and-dry to take Toronto because RA Dickey is on the mound and his command and control have been subpar this season. Dickey’s giving up a lot of hard contact and he’s barely mixing in the fastball this season. PITCHf/x has his FB usage at 5.8 percent. He needs that wrinkle to surprise hitters, but as it loses velocity, it becomes more and more hittable.
Everything about this game suggests that runs will be scored and that the bullpens will have to decide it. As crazy as it is, I might have more trust in Griffin, but I won’t be playing this game.
Los Angeles (AL) at Milwaukee (-115); Total: 9
I’m very conflicted about this game. This is exactly the type of lineup that Jered Weaver can have success against. The Brewers strike out 25.2 percent of the time and are very young. But, they also hit a good amount of home runs and Miller Park is less than ideal for Weaver. Jimmy Nelson is due for some regression. He has a .214 BABIP against with an 81.1 percent strand rate. Remember that home runs don’t count towards BABIP and six of the 24 hits he has allowed have left the ballpark, so it’s not just fortunate batted ball luck leading to that low BABIP. His swinging strike rate is down to 6.3 percent.
I’m not looking to back Nelson at all. In fact, despite my very obvious concerns with Weaver on the road, I actually think this isn’t a bad matchup for him. It will help to face one fewer hitter each time through the lineup as well. Weaver can be worthwhile in certain spots and hopefully this is one of them.
Washington at Kansas City (-115); Total: 7.5
As a general rule, I worry about Gio Gonzalez in interleague play. His walk rate can be a little bit disconcerting and he has had some high BABIPs against over the last two years. The numbers, albeit in a small sample size, back up my concerns. From 2013-15, Gonzalez posted ERAs of 7.42, 6.33, and 6.32 over six, five, and six starts, respectively. Adding that extra hitter to the fray is tricky for him.
The Royals obviously aren’t a team that walks a whole lot and this is a bit of a different matchup because they have so many left-handed hitters. Gonzalez is throwing the ball extremely well so far and everything seems within his usual range. The BABIP is low because he’s gotten a good number of pop ups and those are easy outs. I like how he’s throwing the ball and nothing seems to be too far out of whack.
Edinson Volquez ran into the brick wall of regression last time out. After giving up three earned over his first 24.2 innings, he gave up eight earned on 12 hits in a loss to the Angels. Those things happen as a ground ball guy with a low strikeout rate. His velocity is still up a little bit from last season, which is a good sight to see. Sometimes guys see some velo gains and then can’t sustain them. Volquez has been able to maintain his.
I like both of these guys in these matchups here and I think the under is a real possibility. All of Volquez’s impending regression hit in one start and this is a decent matchup for Gonzalez because the Royals are so left-handed heavy.
Seattle at Oakland (-105); Total: 7.5
This AL West battle is effectively a money line pick ‘em between the Mariners and the Athletics. These are two guys that I like for different reasons. Nate Karns is a guy that has some really good raw stuff and has that third pitch that starters need to succeed. Graveman is an extreme ground ball guy that can thrive in the right environment. I’m not sure if Oakland is the right environment because the defense isn’t great, but the park allows plenty of margin for error.
I’m not sure people realize that Nate Karns has 193 strikeouts in 193.1 innings in his MLB career. That’ll definitely play. The command is a little bit iffy, but pitching at Safeco, O.co, and Angel Stadium more often than not is going to help him long-term. He does have some control issues and those have been at the forefront of this season’s slow start. The best asset for Karns is that his quality secondary stuff is good enough to keep him from having lopsided platoon splits. It’s mostly about being efficient enough with his pitch count to work deep into games. That may be a challenge with Oakland, but this isn’t the same Moneyball A’s team that we remember. They’re actually dead last in BB% this season.
Graveman, a sinker/cutter guy, has reverse platoon splits, which is kind of strange since sinkerball pitchers usually struggle with the opposite side. That may actually play to his advantage against a very left-handed heavy Mariners lineup. I like the improvements Graveman is making this season with more swings and misses, more chasing, and a sharper ground ball split.
I’m buying both of these guys, so the under makes some sense here. No lean on either side, but the under would be a reasonable play.
Colorado at San Diego (-115); Total: 7.5
The downfall of James Shields is incredible. This season, he’s not even striking people out. The loss of command has coincided with the loss of control and these things were not supposed to happen in the National League. It’s long been rumored that Shields is extremely unhappy in San Diego, even though he’s making $21 million to pitch close to home, just like he wanted. He can opt out after this season, but his performance suggests that he should probably just be happy with making $21 million per over the next two seasons.
This is his second straight season with a pretty significant velocity drop and this may just be a case where he’s wearing down. It’s hard to believe that Shields is 34 now, but he’s crossed that 2,000-inning plateau where most in the baseball community think that performance starts to drop off. Shields threw at least 215 innings in seven of the previous eight seasons before he joined the Padres and worked 202.1 last season. With over six innings per start so far this season, he’s on pace for his 10th straight 200+ inning season. There aren’t many bullets left in the gun.
It hasn’t been pretty for Jon Gray so far. Gray has given up 11 runs on 16 hits in 8.2 innings, but he does have 12 strikeouts against three walks. Gray got a late start to the season due to injury. He’s getting a lot of swings and misses in the zone, which is often unsustainable without elite stuff. He’s not getting ahead of hitters and that’s why they’ve been able to hit him around the park.
I understand the fade of Shields. The Rockies also have a top-10 offense away from Coors Field, which is rather incredible. With a 20-cent move on the Rockies already, I know there’s no value on them. In all honesty, the value side here is San Diego, if you can stomach betting on Shields. I can’t, so it’s a very light night of action overall to kick off the week. There’s nothing wrong with being selective.