We’re almost halfway through the month of August and the light at the end of the tunnel is vaguely visible on the horizon for the MLB season. For many handicappers, the MLB season ends when football begins, so maybe you only have a couple of weeks left in your season. For the others, there’s another month-and-a-half of regular season games and an additional month of playoff matchups. We’ll keep taking it one day at a time and that day is Saturday August 13.
Before we look ahead, let’s see how yesterday went for us. Picks from BangTheBook Radio did okay, as the Reds and Brewers both combined for some runs and the Orioles took care of business against Matt Cain and the Giants. A pitching change took away our Seattle/Oakland matchup, though the lack of an adjusted line with Sean Manaea was surprising. Hopefully you read between the lines and took the A’s. The Astros did hit as a lean against the Blue Jays. The White Sox won to miss on that lean, but the under hit, so we broke even there. It was a day where we were on the mark more often than not and those are good days.
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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 Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Sundays when there are a lot of day games.
Pittsburgh at Los Angeles (NL) (-125); Total: 7.5
Numbers started trickling in for this one as I started today’s article, so we’ll add it to the mix as the only day game under the microscope. The Pirates are sending Gerrit Cole to the hill against Brandon McCarthy, who experienced a little bit of soreness after his last start. It’s easy to forget that the Pirates are just a game out of the wild card hunt because the Cubs are blowing people away in the division race, but the games still hold high importance for the Buccos.
Gerrit Cole is having the quietest 2.94/2.85/3.93 season ever. Cole is 7-7 in his 17 starts with that pitcher slash line. His K% has gone down, but he’s been able to thrive because of a league-low 3.4 percent HR/FB%. That’s some really elite command and he’s really taken it to the next level after posting a 6.5 percent HR/FB% last season. The big question for Cole is whether or not that will regress as we move forward. He hasn’t given up a home run since May 20. That’s a span of 49.2 innings. In that span, Cole has a 3.08 ERA with a 2.51 FIP and a 3.72 xFIP.
Brandon McCarthy says that he feels good after throwing all of his pitches during a side session a couple days ago, but it’s always important to monitor these post-Tommy John guys. That’s back-to-back starts in which McCarthy has walked five and he only has two strikeouts over his last 6.2 innings of work. He hasn’t been very efficient over his last three starts and that could put some additional strain on the Dodgers bullpen. McCarthy is a bit of a wild card right now and he’s a tough pitcher to back with the health concerns.
As a result, you really have to look Pittsburgh or nothing in this one. Cole’s ability to limit the long ball has forced the opposition to string hits together to score runs and that’s not how offense goes in MLB anymore. In the high-strikeout, high-power run environment, walks, bloops, and blasts are the way to go. People haven’t done that against Cole, so there’s a lot of value in that.
Colorado (-115) at Philadelphia; Total: 7.5
I like this pitching matchup on Saturday in the City of Brotherly Love. Tyler Anderson goes for the Rockies against Jerad Eickhoff for the Phillies. Anderson has been excellent this season with a 3.04 ERA, a 3.31 FIP, and a 3.41 xFIP. He’s actually been able to sustain some of his MiLB positives and his performance is made that much more impressive by the fact that he missed the 2015 season to injury. Anderson doesn’t walk people and has an elite ground ball rate. His LOB% could regress a little bit and I think we’ll see that at Coors Field in some of his upcoming starts, but he’s been a safe guy to back in Rockies games.
Jerad Eickhoff is an interesting at bat for teams that don’t face him a lot. He has a 3.78 ERA with a 3.87 FIP and a 4.05 xFIP in his first full season in the bigs. A lot of what he showed in last year’s eight-start sample size has carried over to this season, but regression in key statistics has driven up his ERA by a run. That was expected and there’s nothing to fret about.
Eickhoff does an excellent job of mixing pitches and changing speeds. That’s why he has one of the higher pop up rates at 13.5 percent. With a 20.4 percent K%, the mix of strikeouts and pop ups means a lot of innocuous outcomes. Eickhoff is north of 40 percent with his curveball and slider usage, so he’s a tricky plate appearance for teams that don’t get a chance to see him very often. The Rockies, obviously, do not see him often. They’ve seen him once. It was a start at Coors Field and Eickhoff gave up eight runs in 5.1 innings. You know my feelings on a guy’s first start at Coors Field and Eickhoff’s breaking stuff wasn’t going to be as effective.
I agree with the line here, with the Rockies a slight favorite. I’m also curious to see the line movement here. Eickhoff’s one start against Colorado went badly, but there’s that major caveat that this start isn’t at Coors Field. I’m staying away from this game, but I do like both pitchers moving forward.
Cincinnati at Milwaukee (-125); Total: 8.5
Dan Straily and Zach Davies have been solid starters for their respective teams this year and they face off on Saturday night. Straily has a 3.76 ERA with a 4.61 FIP and a 5.02 xFIP as he fits the anti-sabermetric mold of an extreme fly ball pitcher with below average K/BB rates. Straily has a .220 BABIP against and a 76.5 percent LOB% by being such an extreme fly ball guy. Fly balls go for hits far less often than ground balls, so guys can carry lower BABIPs. Also, home runs don’t count for BABIP, so that’s another factor.
The thing about Straily is that there’s no sense in projecting regression because the stats say so. These extreme fly ball guys are an anomaly in the saber community, so they are what they are. Straily can be subject to some blow-ups if the ball is carrying, but he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in his last seven starts.
Zach Davies has been really strong for the Brewers in his 20 starts this season. Davies has a 3.58 ERA with a 3.96 FIP and a 4.01 xFIP. His K rate is a little bit below average, but he has a solid walk rate and the rest of his peripherals are pretty good. If you dig a little bit deeper, there are a few worries. Davies has a very high pull percentage, so he has given up some hard-hit balls this season. I wonder about the sustainability of a .248 batting average against and a .284 BABIP with a lot of contact quality from the opposition. He doesn’t induce a whole lot of pop ups either.
I’m actually leaning ever-so-slightly to the Reds in this spot. Neither offense is all that great and both bullpens have had rocky stretches this season. I’m just wondering if Davies has a little bit of regression coming. I’d look at the Reds here.
Los Angeles (AL) at Cleveland (-115); Total: 9.5
There’s not a lot of faith in Mike Clevinger in the business community, which makes sense. He’s struggled in his MLB appearances thus far. The Indians are also taking on Matt Shoemaker, who has been the lone bright spot of the season for the Angels. We’ll start with Shoemaker, who has a 4.07 ERA, a 3.52 FIP, and a 3.97 xFIP on the year. He hasn’t hurt himself with walks, so hitters have had to hit their way aboard.
The light came on for Shoemaker on May 21. He started to get a feel for his splitter. Since then, in 15 starts covering 103 innings, Shoemaker has 101 strikeouts with a 2.80 ERA, a 2.80 FIP, and a 3.59 xFIP. The Indians are hitting just about everything right now, but this is a much trickier matchup than the last two starters. If Shoemaker can keep carrying that high K rate, his LOB% is certainly sustainable. This game opened about 20 cents higher and the market correctly capitalized on a bad number.
The downside to the Angels here is that they’ve been absolutely trucked in the first two games of this series and they’ve looked lifeless offensively and defensively. Aside from some solo dingers, they haven’t done much in the way of stringing hits together. Defensively, they’ve been abhorrent, with misplays all over the outfield. It’s hard to back a team like that, especially when you consider that Shoemaker has only struck out 33 over his last 45.1 innings with a 3.97/3.75/4.77 pitcher slash.
The Mike Clevinger fade still makes sense. He has a 6.97 ERA with a 5.89 FIP and a 5.31 xFIP in 20.2 innings at the big league level. His problem has been working out of jams and keeping his composure. The first time through the lineup, he’s been okay. But, as he gets to facing guys a second time, it all falls apart. Command and control are still problematic for the 25-year-old. The interesting thing here is that Clevinger was drafted by the Angels and acquired in the Vinnie Pestano deal by the Indians. Can Clevinger get his first big league win against the team that drafted him?
Back-to-back blowouts have allowed the Indians to rest the key cogs in their bullpen. Maybe the value side is the Indians at this point. It’s probably a stay away game with a wild card like Clevinger, but the Indians are playing very well once again and the Angels will really fold the tent if Shoemaker struggles.
Baltimore at San Francisco (-150); Total: 7
Look, I get it. The Orioles are a good team and the Giants are not playing well. It makes sense for the market to take the dog here. But, as I sit and look at this game, I can’t help but wonder if there’s value on Madison Bumgarner and the home team now. Gausman has been pretty good this season and he’s going to a place that suppresses home runs in AT&T Park. That’s been the worst thing about his season. Gausman has a 4.02 ERA with a 4.38 FIP, but a 3.82 xFIP. Gausman also has those huge reverse splits that we’ve discussed. The Giants have good lineup balance from a L/R standpoint, so those may not surface too much.
It’s Bumgarner that I’m focused on. The 27-year-old just seems to keep getting better. For the fifth straight year, he’s increased his K%. His BB% is up a little bit this season, but it’s nothing to worry about. Bumgarner is unhittable at home with a .176/.231/.266 slash against and a 1.59 ERA in 84.2 innings of work. This is a case of betting numbers and not teams. I understand the theory behind it and I realize that it works for a lot of professional handicappers. I also realize that I have to LIKE the team I’m betting and not just the number that I’m betting.
I don’t like the Orioles against Bumgarner in this situation. Yes, there was line value on Baltimore at +165. There’s line value on the Giants -150 to me because Bumgarner is that transcendent of a pitcher and the Orioles don’t face many lefties, if any, like him on a regular basis. Give me the elite starting pitcher at a manageable number.